Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

daddy long legs

he has a point...

but i remember when my tiny niece was obsessed with chasing these harmless spiders around the yard and her way of saying "addy ong wegs" (or something) was absolutely adorable!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a simple reminder

it's almost easy to forget where i am after a day of sitting at a desk with my laptop thinking about the same type of universe-related questions that i think about most days.

but then i get up to use the bathroom and find squatting toilets waiting for me. oh right, still in asia!

most toilets stalls dont provide handles...

many places offer both the squatting option and the western-style toilet... just remember not to flush the toilet paper!

so far this trip reminds me of something my good friend said recently about adjusting to having a new baby and a toddler in her family:

"it’s a question of managing all the moving parts and making sure everyone eats, sleeps and poops in the appropriate places."

only i just have to look after myself. props to all you parents!

ps. today i'm off to the western social media deadzone of mainland china, during their national holidays, which should be a sufficiently crazy time to visit beijing! talk to you from hong kong next week...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

coastal climbing

i managed to get out of the city over the weekend and up to taiwan's northern coast. i went with some seasoned rock climbers who, thankfully, let me borrow their equipment! i'm not a very strong climber, but it was a lot of fun and the views from high up the rock face were worth the effort!

i also walked around a bit and found a family fishing. overall, the day was lovely - even when it started really raining late in the afternoon!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

a talk, a recital and dumplings

the populations of taiwan and australia are roughly equal at 23 million people, yet taiwan is an island 500 km (310 mi) long and 200km across, while mainland australia is over 7.5 million square kilometers! taiwan has roughly 200 professional astronomers compared to australia's 500.

after my talk yesterday, there was a reception with an array of snacks set out to welcome a mexican concert pianist who gave an amazing piano recital! the event was to honor mexican and tawainese relations as they move forward to build a telescope in mexico with the aim of detecting small (~1 km diameter) objects in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system.

listening to piano music in a lovely recital hall is now officially my favorite way to relax after giving a talk.

my hosts then took me out to dinner to a very famous dumpling restaurant in taipei city. there were many people standing outside waiting and i thought we would never get into the tiny place, but they took our table of six up and up and up 5 flights of stairs to a room with a large table!

the food was incredible! some of the steamed dumplings actually had soup inside so they morphed their shape as i picked them up with my chopsticks, dipped them in the vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger mixture, and placed them on my spoon to cool. the bite was an explosion of goodness.

i was so entranced by the textures and flavours of the food and the scientific conversation, that i forgot to take any photos! i realized this at the end of the meal and so my hosts insisted on ordering another round of red bean dessert buns so they could take this photo for me ;)

Friday, September 23, 2011

some food in taiwan

anyone living in australia during the last ~year knows how exorbitantly priced bananas have been since the floods hit queensland and wiped out most of the crops.

anyone who knows me reasonably well understands how devastated i have been about this unfortunate occurrence! but despite my love of bananas, i refuse to pay $15 to $20 AUD per kilo (or even more) for this delicious fruit.

now i hope everyone can appreciate just how big my eyes must have grown today at lunch with astronomers in taiwan, when i was finishing my bowl of noodles and the woman placed on our table one tasty, tiny, bright yellow, gorgeous looking banana for each of us!!

maybe it wasnt the best early impression to make on the professionals here, but i dont really care, because i was incredibly excited. and after hearing the sad story of the floods, i was offered another banana, which i happily accepted!

the other dessert offering was a bowl of hard candies. i took two that looked peculiarly interesting, pictured above. one was corn flavoured, which didnt seem quite as odd as the apparently goldfish flavoured sweetie. the fish one was colored pink and surprisingly tasted quite good! i ate it first in case it was horrid and i needed to cover the flavour. this was a mistake, because the brown colored "cornee" thing was absolutely awful! i cannot do any more justice to the flavour other than to say that i had to spit it out.

in other food news: sushi-flavoured pringles!?!

ps. there were probably supposed to be at least 10 hyphens in the post, but i gave up trying to remember the rules and just removed them all! please forgive me (or teach me...).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

light reading

successfully made it to taipei! it has the old familiar smell of asian cities in the summer: sewage.

the trip was mostly uneventful, but i managed to get in a bit of light reading on the plane ;)

off to work today - give my first talk tomorrow. the extragalactic astronomy community in taiwan is rather small, but quite active, and apparently they will all be at my talk tomorrow! looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

asian research trip

tomorrow i start another extended research tour - this time around asia! i'm giving 9 talks at nine different institutions in 5 countries. in my experience asian countries are exhausting to travel in, mostly because i have no intuition whatsoever for the languages and outside of big cities, there is not much english spoken or written.

so i've been getting myself mentally ready for this trip by doing some research about the different cultures i will be visiting: taiwan, china (beijing), hong kong, south korea, japan.

i went from feeling very excited a few weeks ago, to being a bit anxious over the last week. now my talks are ready, my research is at a relatively settled state, i have ideas to discuss, and i'm *really* excited again! i cant wait... to eat...! :)

but i still have to pack :( i want to travel, but i dont want to pack. i want it to be that moment where i sit on the plane and wonder what movie i will watch.

anyway, i should get on with the packing. hopefully i'll be able to post regularly over the next 5 weeks and fill you in with stories and photos.

more soon!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

flying over the earth

here is a timelapse video taken from the international space station as it travels around the earth. i think the lightning looks amazing as does the edge of the atmosphere floating lightly above the surface.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

water sculptures

this is so neat! the kids are pretty funny too - that's exactly how i felt!

Friday, September 16, 2011

tatooine-like planet found

NASA's Kepler space telescope has found a distant planet orbiting around TWO stars! remember the binary sunset seen from the planet tatooine?

Sunset on Tatooine from Star Wars.  link

that might be what the sunset would look like if you lived on "Kepler-16b" (astronomers still arent very good at naming things...)

there are currently 680 known exo-planets, which is a dramatic increase to the last time i remember checking, which was just a few months ago, and there were about 560 or so! exciting astronomical times to be living in for sure!

i knew this announcement was coming today because all day yesterday, i could hear my office-neighbour, simon o'toole, talking on the phone to several newspaper reporters, radio people, and various other media outlets about it. simon searches for planets too and is the AAOs resident expert on all things exo-planetary. as he described to the sydney morning herald:

"When you have two stars forming close together you have a big cloud of gas and dust and gravity pulls this into a disc of material which orbits both stars. If there is enough gas and dust left over you can get a planet."

since i knew this announcement was coming today, i wore my star wars t-shirt to work in honor of the new system :)

note the great view from my new office (i can hear very odd and interesting bird sounds all day), and my new hair cut!

(i'll update this post with a fun photo later today.....)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

intellect vs artistry

its a true test of understanding if you can explain something to other people - regardless of the complexity of the issue!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Milky Way Galaxy: A Memoir

Galaxies like me live for hundreds of billions of years, which seems like a long time, but a lot has happened in the mere 13 billion years of my existence so far. My life has been anything but boring.

Galaxy Birth

The memories of my very first years remain fuzzy and diffuse, but I know I came into existence soon after the Big Bang. The first stars that formed in the Universe were BIG! So big that they lived very brief and powerful lives and quickly exploded, causing a series of events that resulted in my formation!

The energy from the explosions of the first stars initiated the gravitational collapse of huge halos of material. I am the result of one of these gravitationally bound systems. When I was born I contained lots of dark matter and gas, which quickly churned into thousands of millions of stars.

Star Formation and Supernovae Explosions

Hydrogen gas was the fuel inside me that I turned into a range of stars, big and small. The stars were either born as twins, gravitationally bound to each other as they slowly moved around my center every 200 million years or so, or they formed their own planets, or both!

I contain about 400 billion stars today and continue to form new stars at a steady rate of a few each year. I probably harbour more planets than stars, but the planets are very hard for me to sense since they are so tiny and do not produce their own light.

A recently discovered supernova in the Pinwheel Galaxy.  Image Credit:  LCOGT

My biggest stars shine very brightly from nuclear fusion in their cores, turning hydrogen into helium and eventually into oxygen and carbon. During my adolescent years of formative star formation, which lasted several billion years, once every hundred years or so one of the most massive stars in my spiral arms would explode as a supernova, sending surrounding gas flying forcefully out in all directions.

When I was young, the gas near the supernova left me for good and was lost in space, because I wasnt yet big enough to gravitationally keep hold of it after the explosion. Eventually I gained enough mass, by collecting more loose gas and forming new stars, that I was able to hold onto almost anything that passed nearby, including other very small galaxies!

My life progressed in much the same way for a few thousand million years, and I grew massive enough that supernova explosions no longer blew away my loose gas.

Supermassive Black Hole

One year I realized something was growing deep inside my core. It felt like indegestion, but it was actually a supermassive black hole! No one seems to know exactly how the supermassive black hole initially formed at my center, but almost every massive galaxy that has been thoroughly examined has been found to bear one as well. Strange, huh?

I first noticed my supermassive black hole because the material near my center was swirling in closer and closer and heating up. During my supermassive black hole's most active phase, the gas in my core reached temperatures of millions of degrees and started emitting X-ray radiation into space.

This active phase only lasted a few million years before the supermassive black hole exhausted nearly all the energy around my core and quietly faded away, to the point where I sometimes forget it's still there.

One species of tiny lifeforms on a planet named Earth, 26,000 light years from my center, calls the region around my supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (pronounced "Sagittarius A star"). The mass of the black hole at my centre is four million times the mass of that planetary system's sun.

Merging with Neighboring Galaxies

I live in a small neighborhood of galaxies unimaginitely called the Local Group. There are about 50 of us living here, gravitationally bound to each other despite the expanding universe around us. I'm the most massive galaxy in the group, and there is one other big spiral galaxy nearby called Andromeda.

Arp 271 - a hint of what the Milky Way and Andromeda might do one day.

Since my gravity is the strongest in the neighborhood, I recently devoured a few dwarf galaxies living nearby. They remain visible though, as streams of stars orbiting around my central core.

My biggest gravitational attraction is to the Andromeda galaxy, which lives a mere three million light years away. The two of us are slowly spiraling toward each other in a fateful gravitational dance that will guide us to become one massive, egg-shaped galaxy in a few billion years.

The space between our individual stars is so huge that probably no two stars will collide during our eventual merger, but their orbits will change completely and my beautiful spiral arm disk will be destroyed as a result.

Despite losing my shape and gaining so much more mass, I'm looking forward to merging with Andromeda. Its spiral shape will look incredibly beautiful in the sky as we gradually approach each other, and our merger is sure to form a whole new generation of stars.

I've always been referred to as the Milky Way Galaxy by the inhabitants of Earth, but I wonder if I will acquire a new name for the next phase of my life. Something to look forward to!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

spiders of unusual size

my first real life encounter with a huntsman spider after i moved to australia was rather unpleasant, but not quite like this, thankfully! the final line of the video is great!

hunstmans are uncomfortably HUGE. but luckily, they arent really poisonous and in fact, they EAT roaches! i much prefer seeing the occasional massive fuzzy spider than pooping gross roaches crawling around!

Monday, September 5, 2011

orion overhead

i love the lights of city shining through the low clouds in this shot, and seeing most of orion hanging brightly overhead.

i first saw this image a while ago and might have even posted it here, but i cannot remember. while i saw it this time around here, i dont know who to give credit to for creating the image. (please cite your findings, tumblrs!)

UPDATE: thanks for the comment, chris! the photo was captured by david kaplan and reminds me of his incredible photo on APOD earlier this year showing the moon and venus over switzerland.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

macro timelapse: ferrofluid and soap bubbles

a ferrofluid is essentially a liquid magnet. you can make them at home if you're keen, and i assume that's what kim pimmel did to make this interesting macro timelapse video.

"I combined everyday soap bubbles with exotic ferrofluid liquid to create an eerie tale, using macro lenses and time lapse techniques. Black ferrofluid and dye race through bubble structures, drawn through by the invisible forces of capillary action and magnetism."

Compressed 02 from Kim Pimmel on Vimeo.

maybe NASA will one day use something like a ferrofluid as the blood of a robonaut...!?!