Monday, December 31, 2012

hope and happiness

tis the day to reflect on the past year.  

days are long, but years are short. 

i hope you all have learned some good lessons, shared some insights, had hearty moments of laughter, and pushed yourselves beyond what you think you are capable of.   and i hope that next year will be fulfilling.

i dont know why, but i've been motivated to do spring cleaning today.  my seasons are all messed up.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

the courage of our questions

carl sagan remains a constant source of inspiration.  here he is teaching a class of young students about the cosmos.   it's interesting to remember back at how lessons and talks were given before the digital days of power point presentations. 

near the end of this video, carl says "there are in fact 100 billion galaxies, each of which contain something like a 100 billion stars....we find that we live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe, in which there are far more galaxies than people."  

"we make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers."


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

christmas sting

this is the first christmas day that my skin is stinging from a sunburn.   yesterday's trip to the beach was wonderfully warm and sunny - just wish i had applied a second round of sun block!

Monday, December 24, 2012

they're asleep

sound asleep, waiting for the big day.

this image comes from a project called darkened cities by thierry cohen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

the world continues

hello everyone.   nice to write to you a few days after the solstice, a few days after the date some people feared the world would end.  i'd like to say "i told you so," but mostly i'm just happy that i wont be receiving ridiculous emails anymore (after having received them steadily for the last THREE years) or witnessing young students i talk to about science genuinely fearful because they heard some adults talking about this nonsense. 

my cynical side reminds me that it's just a matter of time before these easily-influenced people latch onto the next doomsday scare-for-all.   my optimistic side hopes those people will remember this non-event and believe in trusted sources of information instead of believing in silly rumours that dont make sense.   please trust me, the so-called planet niburu does not exist

anyway, here is a beautiful photograph of the mayan pyramid, el castillo, located at chichén itzá in the yucatán peninsula of mexico.  orion is there, peaking brightly behind the illuminated clouds. 

christmas tree food


Friday, December 21, 2012

a cloudy night observing

the consolation prize of a cloudy night at the observatory is usually a gorgeous sunset.

stanley pickle

here is a very interesting short film (11 min).   the technique is interesting and the story is surprising.  nicely done!

Stanley Pickle - FULL FILM ONLINE from Vicky Mather on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

AAO planning day

i'm up at siding spring observatory for a quick two-night data collection frenzy.   unfortunately, we're under a thick blanket of clouds, so not much data has actually been collected :(  instead, i'll show you some photos from the australian astronomical observatory's "planning day" that was held up here a couple weeks ago. 

the big 4m telescope lives in there.

several people from the astronomy side and from the engineering side of the operation gave short talks to highlight their work, science, and upgrades to all the facilities.  it was cool to sit on the dome floor next to the beast while listening to everyone speak.

a few instruments that manipulate the light collected by the telescope mirror live in a cage under the telescope at the cassegrain focus.

it was there that i found this note, in permanent market on metal: good luck :)

this black thing is the 2df instrument that usually sits way atop the prime focus cage at the end of the telescope when i'm observing.  (you can watch a beautiful video of 2df at work here)

there are many other telescopes at siding spring observatory.   this building is where the 2.3m telescope lives.  the entire building rotates around so that the opening on the top faces the same direction as the telescope points.  astronomers have to be careful though, because the bathroom is located outside the dome, and they can easily get disoriented if the dome spins while they are doing their business in the middle of the night!

this is the 2.3-meter telescope that lives within the square building.

and this is the ancient little computer that one uses to change filters for one of the instruments. 

for dinner at the AAO planning day, we traveled ~15 minutes north of coonabarabran to an aboslutely gorgeous winery.  

of course we set up some small telescopes, and enjoyed looking at the sun through solar filters.

unfortunately, thick clouds covered the night sky.  we enjoyed a wine tasting after the meal, and watched as a spectacular lightning storm performed all around us. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

mote of dust

carl sagan is an author i often go back and reread.  his COSMOS series, written with ann druyan and steven soter, has made an impact on many people i know.   his "pale blue dot" monologue provides a chilling perspective on our special place in the universe.  

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

pythagorean visualization

remember learning that relation about a triangle with a right angle: A squared plus B squared equals C squared?  i think a lot of people can rattle that off off right behind E equals M c squared.  

the relation actually refers to the area inside the squares whose sides are the lengths of the edges of a right triangle. 

a little visualization goes a long way to understanding the popular phrase, eh?!

spotted by orbiting frog

Monday, December 17, 2012

NASA johnson style

this gangnam style parody is equal parts embarrassing, entertaining, and awesome. it was made by the student's of NASA's johnson space center, as an educational outreach tool. 

also note that the woman and two men wearing blue body suits are actual astronauts:  Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Mike Massimino and Clay Anderson.   

the gift

during the build up of the holiday season, it doent get much sweeter than this :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

a SUPERnova

another member of the super team!  ;)

i got this among the gems regularly posted by the i fucking love science facebook account.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

the future belongs to us

the winners have been announced for the science, it's your thing video contest.  the australian video i previously posted took 3rd place!   

a great effort was made by all the entrants.   i really enjoyed watching these videos! 

here is the winning 1-minute video:

2nd place goes to an animated video called science, it's your thing:

congratulations to all involved!

Friday, December 14, 2012

a long week

this nicely illustrates my week. 

“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty........ but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is  wrong.”
- buckminster fuller 

i'm happy for the weekend!

twinkle, twinkle: the new version

remember the new version of twinkle, twinkle little star that i wrote for science in the pub a couple months ago?

here's a video reminder

i'm showing it again, because several people have asked me to provide the lyrics.  so, here you go!

twinkle, twinkle little star
how i wonder what you are

opaque ball of hot, dense gas
million times our planet's mass
looking small because you're far
you really are a super star

fusing atoms in your core
hydrogen, helium, carbon and more
with such power you shine here
twinkling through our atmosphere

shining like a cosmic czar
i'm finding out just what you are

the largest stars glow hot and blue
supernova when they're through
or form a black hole or neutron star
outcomes that are quite bizarre

the smallest ones burn cool and slow
still too hot to visit though
most have planets zooming 'round
home to life we have not found

our sun's average as stars go
formed 5 billion years ago
half way through its life so far
twinkle on our mother star

twinkle, twinkle little star
now i know just what you are

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

even elves look up

adorable holiday shot by timothy boocock

i spy with my little eye orion and the pleaides. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

saturn is cool

thanks to the bad astronomer, phil plait, i have just spent quite a bit of time enjoying entertaining videos by charlie mcdonnell.  charlie is a twenty-something british guy with a lot of hobbies, talents, and interest in science, which he likes to share through clever youtube videos he makes. 

here's a recent one about saturn, the floating planet with a death star moon :)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

space whale

if you stare into the sky
on a clear winter night

when the starts are aligned
and the magic is right,

you may catch a glimpse
of the space whale's flight,

as he sings his song with
celestial might...


from poorly drawn lines

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

anti-stress for free

i wish this installation was located in my neighborhood!   italian artist, biancoshock, posted squares of bubble wrap - those little plastic pockets of air that create so much relief and enjoyment when popped.   he cut the bubble wrap into squares and listed the approximate time it would take to pop the full sheet.   so fun.   perfect for late trains!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

cheetahs on the edge

what a beautiful animal the cheetah is.  this big cat is the fastest animal on land, running nearly 70 miles per hour in short bursts.

a recent study has investigated why bigger and bigger animals dont run faster and faster.     studying various types of lizards, the study found that lizards ran faster as they got bigger, but only to a certain point.   “Larger lizards’ legs can no longer support their body weight, and they have to change their style of running, making them slower," the study found.

the cheetah has achieved the right balance of weight, agility and strength, and it's amazing to watch.   just look how steady its head remains while running so fast...!

Cheetahs on the Edge--Director's Cut from Gregory Wilson on Vimeo.

link via its okay to be smart

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

a sunny thanksgiving

we cooked up a thanksgiving bbq feast for about 25 friends over the weekend.   of course sydney decided to be sunny, hot and gorgeous on the day i wanted to turn the oven up to full blast, cook on the stove and work the grill.  oh well, it was good fun and well worth the effort!

the beginning of the spread...

the beastly bird.

 she made a black forrest cake from scratch.   she wins!

songs were requested... i forgot to take my apron off before playing!

the lovely sydney harbour over the weekend.

Friday, November 23, 2012

bjork: mutual core

bjork mixes music, art and science with this interesting new song, mutual core, and official video.

her musical stylings and artistic tastes have always been about 20 years ahead of the current time, in my opinion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

science, it's YOUR thing!

remember the science, it's a girl thing debacle a few months back?? 

well, they solicited videos from the public and now they are all available for you to VOTE on to determine the winner!

i'm not endorsing any particular video, but i'll show the only australian entry here, because i know some of the scientists featured near the end :)

watch the videos and VOTE now!

drenched in light and fog

stunning photos by boguslaw strempel.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

chasing shadows

i wrote a guest post for COSMOS magazine about my total solar eclipse experience last week.   i wanted to reproduce it here so i could include photos!

Last week, I traveled to Far North Queensland to witness one of the most amazing astronomical events accessible to earthlings: a total solar eclipse. My perspective was unlike most amateur and professional astronomers who traveled from afar to feel the chill of the Moon's shadow, because I camped out at a music festival that occurred along the path of eclipse totality. From our location, the eclipse, when the Moon passes exactly in front of the Sun, was perfect.

a Can-Clipse

The energy among the crowd the night before the eclipse was intensifying. Many festivalgoers stayed up all night, listening to the continuous music from any one of six stages. I opted to wake up early, before sunlight brightened the horizon, in preparation for the 6:38 am beginning of totality. I walked to the main open area of the festival park, along with thousands of other excited people.

When the Sun finally broke above the line of distant mountains, the crowd basked in a crisp orange sunrise glow. We all cheered with the recognition that the Moon was already covering a tiny sliver of the Sun. Our anticipation grew as the Moon slowly slipped in front of the sun, and the pair rose slightly higher above the horizon.

About 40 minutes later, the light around us started to fade and grow noticeably redder. The temperature had risen with the sunrise, but dropped down several degrees as the Moon covered more and more of the Sun. We looked through our solar glasses, awaiting the big event.

And then it happened. The otherworldly moment when the Moon's shadow swept over us, and the very bright, eye-damaging yellow photosphere we recognise as our star disappeared. A dark orb hung in the sky, unrecognisable as the Moon, backlit by huge, unfamiliar, shimmering rays of white light.

The sight felt so strange, so eerie. The excited crowd settled into a stunned silence, before erupting in a collective rumble of appreciation and awe. What must ancient people who witnessed this event have thought when the sun faded to black so unexpectedly, only to pop back to normal mere minutes later?

Intellectually, I thought I knew the feeling I would be experiencing, since this would be the second total solar eclipse I would witness, after an eclipse in China in 2009, but I was completely overwhelmed. As soon as the darkness set in, the Sun's corona stretched so unbelievably far out around the tiny black moon, my mouth stuck itself in a goofy grin of pure pleasure, and tears came instantly to my eyes - much to my annoyance, because they blurred my vision!

During totality, I was overcome with a feeling that I was more unified with the universe. Despite knowing the fact that we live on a giant sphere of rock, zooming around a big ball of fire at an unfathomable pace, witnessing this event made me feel that power. For two full minutes we sat wonderstruck, staring at the surreal object hanging in the sky, yelling out insufficient adjectives while feeling the chilled air on our skin.

Solar Eclipse Totality.  Photo Credit: Alex Cherney
And then it was over. The brightness of the edge of the Sun crept around the Moon. The small black circle disappeared in a flash and we were instantly back to normalcy. How quickly the vision of the bright Sun snapped us out of our revelries. Home again, more connected to the cosmos.

Most of us sat still, watching the Moon finish its path across the Sun's face, reflecting on the experience and its unexpected intensity. After another 30 minutes, the music started playing again and many entranced witnesses began dancing in the restored morning sunlight.

dancing in the sunlight

I have not seen a single photograph or video that has captured the pure magic feeling of witnessing a total solar eclipse. It's an unexplainable life event. It's a lucky coincidence that our Moon and our Sun happen to appear as the exact same size in our sky and even cross paths once every 18 months or so. Incredibly inspiring.

reflecting after the eclipse

I'm already excited for the possibility of chasing the Moon's shadow and witnessing another eclipse, despite the knowledge that earthly weather could prevent the success of such an endeavor. The feeling is worth the effort. I'm officially hooked!

so get ready -  there will be a total solar eclipse across the center of the USA on August 21st, 2017!!   mark your calendars!

i still went for a swim :)

link for the full COSMOS article

Monday, November 19, 2012

done trying to please bullies

i think this kate or die! cartoon is great.   powerful. 

here is a link to the full size version, if it's hard to read. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

moon shadow

yes, i was in far north queensland, australia last week to see the total solar eclipse!   i'm writing up a whole post about it and will share some photos soon. 

the challenge in sharing the experience is that i have not seen a single photograph or video that can capture the pure magic feeling of witnessing a total solar eclipse. it's an unexplainable life event.

that being said, APOD has shared some great captures since the event last wednesday.  one of my favorites so far is this one by ben cooper

just imagine that backlit black orb hanging in the sky.  it's an incredible sight!  unfortunately, even the fanciest of optics and cleverest of photographers cannot capture the dynamic range our eyes witness or the otherworldly appeal of the brief phenomenon.    more soon.

Friday, November 16, 2012

views from the ISS

during the total of 370 days that donald pettit lived on the international space station, he took some absolutely stunning video and photos of his unique perspective of earth, which i have previously posted here and here.  

his talk at luminance 2012 about how he took these shots is definitely worth watching:

Donald Pettit speaks at Luminance 2012 from on Vimeo.

Monday, November 12, 2012

hip hip ohio!

my 2012 US presidential election experience was condensed into the last two weeks before the big vote.  i landed in the focus zone of ohio, to be bombarded with TV and radio advertisements, newspaper endorsements, active political discourse (some positive, but mostly negative), and a general feeling of excitement and importance. 

in the end, ohio went to obama, although he would have won the election without ohio's 18 electoral votes since he took 7 of the 8 "battleground" states.  

what still baffles me is just how strongly urban areas support more liberal policies while rural areas, with lower populations, are conservative.   take a look at the map of how the states voted

presidential electoral results by state.  (Credit: Huffington Post)

compared to a map that shows results from individual counties within each state.  almost all the blue counties represent the big cities inside each state.  there are a lot of red counties, but there are also very few people living in most of those counties.

US presidential votes by county.  (credit: common cents)

when i moved away from the US, i started carrying a small map of the US in my wallet.   when people ask where i'm from, and give me a confused look when i try to describe where ohio is among the states, i ask them to identify the right state on my map.  i think only two people in the last 5 years have answered correctly!   i wonder if people will guess correctly more often after this election.   (i doubt it...)

another interesting aspect of this election was the global perspective that i gained while living abroad and having many international friends on twitter and my facebook feed.  while i heard support for romney among my US-based acquaintances, essentially NO ONE that i know abroad even mentioned his name, much less showed support for him.   globally speaking, obama was the overwhelmingly obvious choice.

now, i dont talk politics on this blog very much, but i'm feeling proud of my state and country.  i'm particularly proud of the efforts of one friend who organized the heck out of obama's "get-out-the-vote" campaign in a couple key counties in the state.  her efforts were well rewarded!

i'll share two quick videos and then leave the topic to rest.  first, rachel maddow gives a concise summary of the election results and the current state of the US in 3 min and 12 sec:

second, president obama tells the story of "fired up! ready to go!"   this gives me goose bumps every time i watch it.