Wednesday, March 30, 2011

ant in drop of water

this photo of an ant stuck in a water droplet was captured accidentally by photographer adam gormley.


"Trapped in a tiny perfect sphere of water, this unlucky ant is unable to escape. A sudden downpour gave it no time to take cover, and photographer Adam Gormley was there to snap the image. Adam, from Noosaville, Queensland, Australia, had been photographing spiders in his neighbour's garden when the rain came down. He had no idea there was an ant in one of the three millimetre droplets until he viewed the images later. He said: "I thought it was some dirt inside the drop, and it was not my main focus, I liked the way the drop was sitting on the aloe-vera leaf, with the tiny hairs. When I uploaded the shot to my PC, I viewed it large, and I think I shouted out loud in excitement when I realised what I'd captured by accident!" "

Sunday, March 27, 2011

european odyssey

today i begin a very large stretch of travel. first i fly to the UK, stop in my old haunt of nottingham to hopefully finish a couple projects with astronomers i continue to collaborate with there. then i'm off to oxford for the third installment of the exciting dotAstronomy conference series. you can read some of my previous posts about it if you dont remember the fun!

then its a whirlwind tour of universities and institutions to present talks about my recent research results, including: the university of cardiff, the max planck institutes in heidelberg and munich, and then the royal observatory in edinburgh (where maybe i'll get to see some cool first edition books by the likes of copernicus, galileo, and newton), and finally, a bit of holiday.

i think this will be an intense trip filled with lots of fun and lots of science. it will be good to see old friends, visit new places, share my research, and get both positive and negative (i'm sure) feedback about what i've been up to.

i havent had much time to actually get excited about this trip because i've been working really hard to get several projects to a point of relative completeness.... but i'm finally feeling relief and really looking forward be sitting on the plane, except for the fact that i woke up this morning feeling a little ill. boo.

anyway, get ready europe, here i come!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

KMOS on the very large telescope

the very large telescope array (VLT) is a fascinating and beautiful set of four 8-meter diameter telescopes in the high plains of northern chile. the telescopes can be used together to create one large interferometer, or they can each be used individually with the unique instruments that have been crafted specially for each one.

A new instrument that will be attached to one of the VLT telescopes in the not-too-distant future (next year?) is the K-band (near-infrared) multi-object spectrograph, or more simply, KMOS.

as part of his backstage science series, brady was lucky enough to get a tour of the instrument as it is currently being constructed in scotland. we are lucky enough that he made a video of his experience that we can all watch!

KMOS is an instrument i'm excited to (hopefully) use one day and this video gives a good idea of how technically challenging these upgrades are (remember, the telescope is already built, this is just how the light is processed after it bounces off the main big mirrors!), and it gives some insight to purpose of the robot on the UK schmidt telescope that i showed photos of a few weeks ago.


Friday, March 25, 2011

flowery milky way

masahiro miyasaka shares gorgeous astrophotos among his flickr pages. as i was flipping though his images, i realized that i chose one last year for my april apparitions gallery for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year project sponsored by the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

looking forward to more great work!

found this time via luminous red nova

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the aurora

an aurora is a colorful dance created by energetic particles from the sun interacting with a planet's magnetic field.

i. must. see. earth's. aurora. in. person. one. day!!!

this is just beautiful...

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

star wars is for *everyone*

i was completely disheartened the other day when i read an account of a 7 year old girl who was bullied because she liked star wars so much that she carried a star wars backpack and matching water bottle to school!

apparently some kids at her school think star wars is only for boys and made her feel so bad that she made up excuses for her mother in order to take a *pink* water bottle and blend in with the other girls at school. she didnt want to be different anymore. seven years old and these kids in groups are already absorbing nonsensical gender identifications and bullying other kids to conform.

the mother of the little girl solicited her female readers to share stories of their enjoyment of star wars, which she then shared with her daughter. the article is definitely worth a read.

so, here i am saying not only do i like (the original) star wars series, but i have an entire tag on this blog dedicated to the science fantasy space opera!

to show my enjoyment of how the series continues to inspire, i was going to choose just one of these great posters by olly moss to share. but i couldnt decide on only one and i really like the whole set. (just when i start to think there was no original star wars stuff out there...)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

messenger's orbit around mercury

in honor of the MESSENGER space craft successfully maneuvering into orbit around mercury this week, i thought i'd share a blast from the past from sixty symbols. if i remember right, this one one of first videos i recorded with brady :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

es ist wie es ist

it is what it is, it was what is was, and i'm working myself nearly into a stupor right now so i'm prepared as much as possible for what will be soon. life is good at throwing curve balls, and many at once!

(image link)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

nuclear reactors in japan

i wanted to share some information about the issues surrounding the nuclear reactors in japan since the massive earthquake and tsunami hit last week.

you can read an informative article by maggie koerth-baker: nuclear energy 101.

or watch below as the professor from the periodic table of videos sits down to have a chat about what's going on inside the nuclear reactors in japan:

here's another video that really shows in the strength of flowing water. its amazing how quickly the volume increases. (thanks to commenter kevin for the public link!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

fun night time exposures

at the australian astronomical observatory, i work with the people behind a project called GAMA: Galaxy And Mass Assembly. my recent trips to the observatory have been to help the team collect data for the project and determine redshifts for the galaxies observed each night.

one particularly cloudy night (at least in the direction where our targets were located), we decided to have some photographic fun with long exposure images! what you see is the dome of the AAT telescope we use, GAMA, a capital greek letter "gama" in green, and the milky way galaxy with the southern cross to the left of the dome (can you spot it?)...

how did we do it?

we sat a digital camera on a tripod on the ground and opened the shutter for about 4 minutes. usually when you take a photo, the shutter opens for roughly a second and then closes again.... viola, a photo! but, you can usually set the shutter to stay open for a little longer if you want, if the target is faint and you want to collect more light, or shorter, if the target is particularly bright and you dont want to saturate the image. the trick is that you need the camera to remain very stable during the longer exposure or else the lights will form wiggly trails.

we had a slightly fancier-than-average digital camera that allowed us to expose for 4 minutes (and by "we" i mean el lobo rayato ;). there was one person up on the dome's catwalk who slowly spelled out "GAMA" (backwards) with his flashlight/torch during the exposure. meanwhile, i was standing next to the camera with my green laser pointer and i made a very quick shape of the capital greek letter gama on the side of the dome below. the rest of the 4 minutes we kept all our lights off so that the stars would come through. near the end of the 4 minute exposure, a flashlight/torch was passed over the whole dome in strips to illuminate it a bit in the shot... or else it would have been completely dark. the result came out really nice, i think!

here's another example of a long exposure photograph. this one was 15 minutes and shows the trails of the stars as they rotate around the southern celestial pole.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

say something

this design was a finalist in the say something poster project.

i like the clever way the artist makes me think of an old cliche in a completely new way.

Friday, March 11, 2011

rainbow panorama

remember that bright rainbow that appeared last week at the observatory? i finally got the panorama together. actually, thats a lie. what i did was mention the idea of the panorama to a fellow astronomer that i was observing with and he offered to do the whole thing in photoshop ;) it took him about 30 minutes and the result is stunning (click to see a larger version)...

muchas gracias el lobo rayado!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

bye bye kangaroos!

back to the big city today... just as well as there are rain storms all around!

the best kangaroo moment this week happened three days ago. as i was walking along the path between the telescope and the hotel-style rooms, a couple kangaroos were sitting next to the path, mindlessly chomping away at grass. as usual, one of them looked up at me as if i was just a harmless creature passing by. but the little one startled at the sight of me and turned to bound away in haste. after one bounce, the poor thing landed on some loose brush, lost his footing and completely wiped out! i had to stop in my tracks to laugh because he looked so awkwardly funny! his head popped up instantly from his splattered position on the ground and he looked around as if disoriented. then he quickly jumped up and bounded off a few bounces in a different direction, but friend just remained still watching the whole scene, chomping away.

they're such cute little clueless creatures.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011



ceres is an object in our solar system that lives in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of mars and jupiter. ceres was discovered on 1 January 1801 and for the next 50 years, it was classified as an eighth planet in our solar system!

so what happened?

many bodies started to be discovered in the region between mars and jupiter, ceres just happened to be the first one we saw. william hershel first called them asteroids ("star-like") because "they resemble small stars so much as hardly to be distinguished from them, even by very good telescopes." planets, on the other hand, could be resolved at the time and features on some of their surfaces seen.

once it was realized that there existed an entire class of these objects, ceres was no longer considered a planet, but designated officially as "1 Ceres" since it was the first asteroid discovered.

a similar series of events recently caused the demise of pluto's status as a planet. astronomers started discovering many objects like pluto that even had the same strange orbital quirks as pluto. by the mid-2000s there were enough of these objects in the "kuiper belt" that mike brown argued, successfully, that pluto should no longer be classified as a planet.

in fact, he just wrote a book about his entire experience demoting pluto called "why i killed pluto, and why it had it coming." i'm reading this book right now and i can highly recommend it to anyone who might be interested in the story of pluto, or just generally in how astronomy/science is done.

anyway, i first started this blog around the time the IAU voted on pluto in 2006. you can read an entry about the process: here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

the elements, a song

what do you get when you combine the periodic table of videos, a song called "the elements" by tom lehrer, and brady's editing skills? watch:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

invaders have landed at siding springs observatory!

many observatories have an all-sky camera in place to help monitor the cloud levels throughout the night. they are incredibly useful and also beautiful when you can see the milky way galaxy stretched overhead.

sometimes they have even detected critters crawling across our known universe! ;)

this photo was spotted the other night by a fellow astronomer up here at the AAT this run.

moons of many colors

i like this series of false-color moon photos created by peter cuba. you can see the full set here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

the UK Schmidt Telescope

just across the mountain from the AAT lives the UK Schmidt telescope, a 1.2 meter scope built in the early 1970s. in the photo below, the UKST is the dome on the left as seen from the catwalk of the AAT.

solid 70s construction (the tape is not part of the support structure ;)

the rooms inside this telescope dome feel like museums of old equipment and techniques in astronomy. this is the original analog mini-dome model that is still in control of moving the opening of the dome relative to where the telescope points.

while we can make much more precise measurements with digital CCD technology, there's something romantic about investigating old developed images.

nowadays, the UKST is used to survey the sky and collect velocities of 1 million stars zooming around our milky way galaxy for a project called RAVE. this robot works hard to position all optical fiber on the heavy plates in order to collect spectra of each individual star.

here's an old note i found in the dome...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

rainbow bright

the first stretch of this long observing run is over. i've had a few hours of sleep, and i'm off to the town of mudgee for a couple days to relax and visit several local wineries! the last time i stopped in mudgee, i had lunch at a resturant called "fish in the bush" (tee hee ;)

clouds are generally bad for using telescopes, obviously, but they often produce interesting terrestrial phenomena. the same night we saw the moon next to venus, we also saw a brilliant morning double rainbow!

at one point, both bows stretched around to make 3/4 of a full circle. it was stunning, but i couldnt fit it all into one photo (wish i had a fish-eye lens!). i took a lot of photos that i'd like to try to mosaic together - any recommendations for software to use to do this?

in the meantime, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the integral of the moon and venus

just before the sun rises for the next couple days, you can see the crescent moon close to a bright venus. we had clouds for most of our observing tonight, but they cleared for just a few minutes this morning, long enough to see the spectacle in our solar system!

while out on the catwalk, i also noticed a sign in the clouds... what looked to me to be an integral sign! ;)