Friday, August 31, 2012

explorers of the world

keri smith scribbled this list one sleepless night. 

i think it's a perfect recipe for engaging with the present and/or potentially getting out of a rut.  she eventually turned this list into a book, for our creative pleasure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

neil armstrong

the inspired face of neil armstrong, inside the lunar module, still siting on the surface of the moon, shortly after his walk on the moon on 20 July 1969:

Photo Credit:  NASA
one amazing thing that he did was to allow every other human being pretend they could be there in that moment to feel what is reflected in his face in that image.

he lead a private life after his moon walk, but you can watch a rare interview with neil armstrong, which occurred in australia just last year. 

also, i read on twitter that apparently neil used to tell unfunny jokes about the moon, and follow them up with "ah, i guess you had to be there."  :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the happy isles of oceania

a quote from the happy isles of oceania, by paul theroux.

Travel, which is nearly always seen as an attempt to escape from the ego, is in my opinion the opposite.   Nothing induces concentration or inspires memory like an alien landscape or a foreign culture.  It is simply not possible (as romantics think) to lose yourself in an exotic place.  Much more likely is an experience of intense nostalgia, a harking back to an earlier stage of your life, or seeing clearly a serious mistake.   But this does not happen to the exclusion of the exotic present.  What makes the whole experience vivid and sometimes thrilling is the juxtaposition of the present and the past. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

moon meets morning star

in mid-august, the moon met venus for a somber ascent.

Photo Credit: APOD

as you can see the from video below, the clouds cleared just in time over taebaek, korea, so that Kwon O Chul could capture the moon passing in front of venus on the rise.

Venus - Lunar Occultation. 2012. Aug. from kwon, o chul on Vimeo.

if it seems unlikely that such a thing would happen, just remember that the moon is always moving around the earth.   it covers the full 360 degrees in about 29 days, which mean it moves 12 degrees in the sky each day! if you reach your hand out at arms length, pinky and first finger spread, that is 15 degrees! 

Photo: link
that's almost how far the moon moves every day.   but the moon itself is only half a degree across (half of your first finger held out at arms length), and moves about the size of itself in the sky every hour.

what does all that mean?  it means the moon is actually moving quite quickly all the time, we just dont notice at a quick glance.  it becomes very clear when it is shown during occultation like this!

Friday, August 24, 2012

a good laugh and good boots

just cant be beat a hearty laugh with friends and/or a good pair of boots!

i cut this image out of a newspaper in austin several years ago.   i just found it last weekend in a notebook and it made me smile enough that i thought i'd share it here.  i'd love to find a better version somewhere online, but some quick google searches produced many images that i was definitely not looking for! 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

the moon, mars, saturn and spica

we managed to get a few good shots around siding spring observatory this week, including the lovely trio of mars, saturn and spica

the dome of the AAT 4-meter telescope

Photo Credit: @mehmsy

you can see the AAT dome's silhouette in the lower left.   the top of the triangle is a mars, the bottom right is saturn and blue star at the bottom left is spica.  what struck me about this conjunction on the sky was how obviously the distant star spica twinkled through the atmosphere while the mars and saturn shined unflinchingly.

Photo Credit: Gabriela Iacobuta
Photo Credit: Gabriela Iacobuta

you can see the coalsack dark nebula right in the middle of this lovely image.

Photo Credit: @mehmsy

and because i never get tired of watching these creatures hopping around and eating grass....

Photo Credit: @mehmsy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

planetary triangle

be sure to pop outside for the next couple nights to watch the sunset and the show soon after.   you'll see a crescent moon above the setting sun, which will sit in the sky very close to a special planetary and stellar alignment.   forming a nearly equilateral triangle is a bright mars, saturn, and spica. 

notice at how amazingly red mars looks compared to the other two!

Map from Sky & Telescope
this is a perfect setup to view with binoculars, as they typically have a 7 degree field of view and the triangle fits within 6 degrees. 

enjoy, and dont forget to wave to curiosity ;)

Monday, August 20, 2012

curiosity's landing: play by play

this video gave me goosebumps! 

it's a play by play of curiosity landing on mars, showing the high resolution images taken by curiosity as the NASA folks at mission control were receiving signals on earth.   the way their commentary and cheers line up with the real images is great!

i have to admit, i'm still amazed that the whole 7 minutes of terror, including the use of a sky crane, to land a car-sized rover on mars actually worked!   but it DID work, and we really shouldnt forget how awesome that is. 

i read a great tweet today:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

walking the great wall

in honor of the international astronomical union (IAU) general assembly meeting being held in beijing, china over the next couple weeks, i thought i would share some photos of my hike along the great wall last year.  we completely lucked out with the weather on the day in october that we hiked.  

certainly the most challenging part of the trip was getting to the wall.  our taxi driver dropped us off in a small town, and we started walking up.  it took us almost three hours of a tough climb to make to the wall!

the section of the wall we started walking along was built around 700 years ago and has not been restored.

there are many towers built along the wall that were used to send signals quickly by smoke, etc... today, people hiking large stretches of the wall sleep in these towers.  some towers have smooth floors, others are covered in chunks of rock...

but they all have lovely views!

i've heard the wall described as being the largest dragon in china.  walking the wall felt like i was conquering the dragon, and sometimes it even looked like it too!

this stretch was dangerously steep and slick! we had to hold on tightly as we slowly slid down the slick, smooth rocks.  good thing there were trees growing through the old wall during this steep descent!

the great wall is estimated to stretch 13,000 miles across china, but it is not continuous.  it was built in many long sections, during different time periods starting in 700 BC, designed by different architects.   here's a map - in case you enjoy looking at them as much as i do!

Photo: link

i imagine each section has its own personality, built with different local stone, by different architects, and surrounded by unique mountainous landscapes.  even during our day trip, after hiking for about 2 hours on the original wall we crossed over to a recently restored section and the wall took on a completely different personality!   

walking on this section, i could imagine men on horses, side by side, surveying the landscape in ancient times. 

the mountain's spine. 

a feature of the day that i wasnt expecting, was getting down from the wall by riding a luge!   it was so fun, and they wisely didnt let me go as fast as i really wanted to!

despite what you may have heard, the great wall is not visible from the moon! it's barely visible from the window of the plane as i was leaving beijing! it was fun to spot though, because it weaves along the peaks, as opposed to roads and rivers which either curve around or follow the valleys.


summer romance

nice photo by martin bogren.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

handwritten charm

we so rarely send handwritten letters these days, and i sometimes think that's sad. 

mail has changed over the years.  remember 10 (or 15?) years ago when receiving an email was exciting and a letter in the post was a nuisance?  now i receive a hundred emails a day and feel thrilled when i see my name handwritten on a card in my snail-mailbox.  

we are taught standard letter shapes in school that we practice, but then we each develop unique peculiarities in letter shape, slope, sharpness, size, and spacing.  eventually our handwriting becomes identifiable as our own and continues to slowly change over time.  i find this fascinating!  

Photo: link
i also find it comforting that i can recognize the handwriting of my immediate family and best friends.  yet, i would not recognize the handwriting of other people who i currently spend the most time with: colleagues, my flatmate, most friends... 

a handwritten message provides a special intimacy that cannot be duplicated in modern times, i think. 

that's one reason why i still send postcards when i travel.  i like the idea that the people i care about know what my handwriting looks like, especially my niece and nephew.  

despite my lack of typed capital letters, i do capitalize when writing by hand.   this was a postcard i sent during a trip to greece last year.   

the front of the postcard probably looked something like this:

ps. if anyone wants to send a postcard or a note, just ask and i'll give you my address :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

written in the stars

i've advertised the galaxify project before, but now there's a video from the deep sky videos series! 

thanks to steven "the bamf" bamford at the university of nottingham, you can now write words with real images of galaxies from the galaxy zoo project!   check it out...

ps. keen followers of this blog might also recognize steven from his solid tim tam slamming skills!

pps. those who watch all the way to the end of the video, will be treated to a hint of dirty space news ;)

Monday, August 13, 2012

the moon meets jupiter

this almost looks like it should be a painting out of a fairy tale book, but it's not!   this telescopic photo was taken by cristian fattinnanzi in italy on july 15th.  the shot captures earth's moon in crescent phase, with the dark part slightly illuminated by reflected earthshine, and jupiter peering behind with all of the galilean moons visible: callisto, ganymede, io, and europa, from left to right. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

yosemite: views of half dome

presiding over the yosemite valley is the portentous granite monolith known as half dome.  we hiked down from glacier point one day, seeing many views of the spectacular half dome...

the ominous clouds provided constantly changing patterns of shadows on the lovely landscape.  

one of my favorite activities in the valley was trying to spot rock climbers ascending the incredible 3000 ft el capitan cliff face.  maybe on my next trip i'll attempt some climbing myself...

one of the most well-known views down the valley; the sublime of nature. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

stars above innsbruck

i'm starting the long journey back to sydney today (just after i watch the women's soccer olympic final - go USA!).  i will leave you with this lovely photo of "stars above innsbruck" by norbert span of austria. 

this photo was one of the 2012 winners of the sky at night earth and sky photo contest.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

watching curiosity land on mars

in the few days since curiosity landed, some amazing images have arrived on earth from the event!

in addition to robots roving around on the surface of mars, there are satellites orbiting around it as well, taking photos and monitoring different features of the red planet.  prior to curiosity's landing, scientists running NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent the satellite over to the curiosity's predicted landing spot and told it to shoot some photos of the event.  

this is a section of the result, which is a cut out of a much larger, longer image!  you can actually see curiosity, hanging from its parachute as it falls down toward the surface of mars during the seven minutes of terror part of its descent. 

and a zoom in...

how cool is that?

my other favorite view of the landing of curiosity on mars comes from an instrument dedicated to recording the event:  the mars descent imager, MARDI.

in the video, you can see the heat shield falling off curiosity.  the shield is about 15 feet wide and roughly 50 feet away from the rover in this shot.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

to keep up to date with what curiosity is doing each day on mars (each sol), follow emily lakdawalla's blog.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

NASA's mohawk guy

the flight director on the mars science laboratory curiosity mission, bobak ferdowsi, caught people's attention last night with his mohawk.  he tweets that he's not quite ready for all this attention, especially as the reality of successfully landing a space craft on mars sinks in!  

he tells a nice story in this interview.  "If my mohawk gets a few more people excited about science and this mission, that's awesome."  absolutely!  great job, bobak!

dirty space news: mars edition

nope, this is not a mistaken face on mars.   this is definitely high-resolution, exciting dirty space news! i'm posting this in honor of curiosity's landing on mars this week, even though the image below was taken by NASA's mars odyssey satellite that is orbiting around the red planet! 

Photo Credit: NASA
when a chunk of rock falls to the surface of a planet, it is called a meteorite and its impact produces a crater.  if that chunk of rock happens to split into two pieces right before it hits the ground, it creates two blast regions that overlap with a wall between.   the impact causes an ejection of material to shoot out... and i think that's all i need to say about that.

thanks to phil plait for showing me this marssack ;)

Monday, August 6, 2012

curiosity: your excuse for anything

... at least today... because the newest rover, curiosity, successfully landed on mars!  how exciting was that event to watch live!?!  what amazingly crazy technology.

Credit: xkcd
a friend also sent me this shot of a funny conversation he had with his brother :)

it seems that the mohawk hair style (or "mohican" as they say in the UK, apparently!) has made a random resurgence for the landing of the curiosity rover on mars.  the flight director on the mars science laboratory curiosity mission, bobak ferdowsi, got a lot of attention for his colorful do - he cuts his hair differently for every mission.  well-played, sir!

NASA's "mohawk guy" - flight director for MSL, bobak ferdowski

i'm in tuscon right now at the ASP science communication meeting and at our party to watch the landing last night, one enthusiastic volunteer sported a fantastic mohawk as well!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

curiosity lands on mars soon!

dont forget that in a few hours, the newest addition to our roving robot expedition fleet on mars, curiosity, will go for a gold landing on the red planet! 

Illustration Credit: gavin aung than

you can WATCH THE LANDING LIVE at any of these resources.  

the first signals from curiosity will be received by the parkes radio dish in australia - another historic moment for "the dish!" 

this whole thing is amazing.

Friday, August 3, 2012

london 2012 olympics

i've been enjoying these olympics so far.  but maybe not as much as the lady in this video!

crazy cool shot from the big picture of some swimmers coming out of the water!

the cauldron this year is great!