Wednesday, February 27, 2013

dalí's adventures in wonderland

in 1969, salvador dalí illustrated the classic lewis carroll novel, alice in wonderland.

there are a total of 12 illustrations, but these are my favorite.


Down the Rabbit Hole

Advice From a Caterpillar

Mad Tea Party

The Mock Turtle's Story

Sunday, February 24, 2013

jupiter, moons, and comets

two comets visible from the southern hemisphere are caught in this lovely timelapse by alex cherney:

Comets Lemmon and PanSTARRS sweeping through the Southern Skies from Alex Cherney on Vimeo.

and a couple pictures of the recent conjunction of the moon and jupiter shot from around australia. 

from angel lopez-sanchez:

from david finlay:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

infinity handshake

shhhh.... don't tell anyone.   this is our new secret handshake, ok?! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

name that space rock!

this is a fun game to play with your friends: name that space rock!   amaze your friends with the knowledge you gain after reading through this informative graphic by tim lillis!

credit: narwhal creative

unfortunately, i cannot say that knowing the difference between these space rocks has ever helped me in a pub quiz, but that doesnt mean it wont in the future!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

near earth objects

last weekend was a big one for objects moving near and through earth's atmosphere!  the event many people had been looking forward to was the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA 14

it passed overhead during the second night of the return to operations for the 4-meter telescope on siding spring observatory after the fires swept through a month ago.  here are the images captured of DA14, which you can watch as a video below, put together by angel lopez-sanchez

colin legg made this lovely video of the event from his view in western australia.  what strikes me is just how many things are moving.   the points of light that all stay still relative to each other are all distant stars.   the asteroid is visible coming into the view from the left side, and a meteor flashes brightly as it disintegrates. all the other faint moving things are man-made satellites (i'm pretty sure)...

Night Wanderers from Colin Legg on Vimeo.

the serendipitous capture of the meteor is great because it highlights that small rocks are burning up in our atmosphere all the time.

and this brings me to the next big event, which trumped the asteroid thanks to the dramatic views and unexpected havoc it wreaked: the 17 meter wide meteorite that streaked across the sky to a land in russia about 8 hours before asteroid 2012 DA14 went by.

thanks to quick thinking at the time of the events and some forensic astronomy, it's clear that the building-sized asteroid, the huge surprise russian meteorite, and even the meteor that shot over the san fransisco bay area the next day, have nothing to do with each other and should not be cause of any "the world is ending" level of worry.  (please)

of course when we imagine asteroid impacts, we think about the big one that wiped out the dinosaurs and wonder "why isnt NASA protecting us?"  at least some members of the US government are asking similar questions and also recognize that we did predict asteroid 2012 DA 14, something we would not have been able to do decades ago because we just didnt have the technology. 

NASA has a near earth asteroid program which is always tracking objects that present potential risk.  but of course more funding is needed to continue these programs and develop technologies to change the potential path of an asteroid headed toward earth, if that is the best course of action for humans.   maybe americans should consider investing more than the current 0.5% of its federal budget towards NASA ($17 billion of the $3.7 trillion US budget), considering it was investing 4% at the time of the space race.

NASA isnt the only solution, though, and i think we should be funding private companies as well to develop telescopes and other technologies.

in the meantime, enjoy the show from the sky!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

rockstar or physicist?

back when i was a wee college student and had just started studying physics, i joined a rock band in cincinnati, ohio.  we called ourselves perelandra and played out pretty regularly for a couple years.  i remember getting recognized a few times around town and felt incredibly flattered.   i enjoyed the gig very much and i somewhat facetiously thought to myself, "am i going to be a rock star or an astrophysicist?"  ;) 

just this week, some video footage from a show we did in 1999 surfaced, and i watched with excited trepidation.   wow did i have long hair, and a little hippy shimmy up on stage!  some parts of this 45 minute set were a cringe-worthy to my ears, but overall i'm pleased to share it.   i'm amazed that some songs i had completely forgotten about came flooding back to my head with complete lyrics.  

this set was for a series of shows that required us to feature a cover of a TV show theme song - some of you will certainly appreciate the bit starting at 05:37.  other highlights for me:  a slow song called blue hotel at 13:00  and a song whose name i cant remember but might feature my favorite singing part and starts at 18:00.  (UPDATE: that song is called sparkling eyes.   and now i cant get the song starting at 06:30 out of my head!)

i didnt write songs back then, but i contributed to writing melodies, harmonies and lyrics.  i tried at one point to play the keyboards in the band, but i hadnt yet figured out how to sing and play the piano at the same time.   also, i was a poor college student with no money to buy myself a decent keyboard to use or practice on, so i just stuck to singing.   i think some of the band members wanted me to be more of a flashy lead singer, but it just wasnt my style.    

i remember a lot of rehearsals where i sat working out physics homework problems while they worked on technical details and song arrangements. 

perelandra played live radio shows a couple times and the first one was right after a phish show in town.  i have this uncontrollable arm-bending thing that happens sometimes when i sing and i'm not playing an instrument.  i saw alanis morissette play live around the time i was in this band and noticed she did the same thing on stage.

playing live on the radio, circa 2000

after two years of playing gigs together (and even traveling to the fine state of indiana for a weekend show), the band answered my long-standing question for me....

i lived in chicago for two summers to work for SDSS. when i returned to cincinnati after the second summer, the band was no longer.... one band member stole the girlfriend of another band member and then married her! those silly boys and their drama! sheesh!

even though physics was the answer to my career questions as a 20 year old, i still get to sing songs about the stars and previous planets and i feel very lucky to be able to do so. 

one of these days, i might even get around to recording my neil young cover song to share with y'all since i have finally figured out how to play and sing at the same time!   :) 

Friday, February 15, 2013

siding spring obs fires: back to science!

wonderful news from siding spring observatory one month after the fires swept through: we had the first successful night of observing with the 4m anglo-australian telescope last night! 

the first image was of the spindle galaxy, taken by research fellow angel lopez-sanchez.  angel wrote about his night observing which you can read firsthand here

congratulations and a big thank you to all involved!

let me know if you have any specific questions about the site or operations and i'll try to answer them. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

i like big buns. and bacon.

cute, nerdy valentine cards by adrienne berry.

 and the easy way to my heart...   ;)

Credit: link

happy hallmark holiday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

spiral galaxy M106

astrophotographer robert gendler decided to take some of his own images of the spiral galaxy, M106, and combine them with publicly available hubble space telescope images to create this gorgeous cosmological masterpiece:

they also created this video to give an idea of where M106 lives in the night sky.

i'm glad people enjoy making these fantastic views of the cosmos, because i certainly enjoy admiring them.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

visible asteroid 2012 DA14

on feb 15/16, a little chunk of rock (45 meters = 150 feet across), known as asteroid 2012 DA14, which has been orbiting around the sun for a long time on a not-quite-circular orbit, will pass close by the earth. 

Photo Credit: NASA

actually, asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to the earth - only 17,200 miles (27,680 kilometers) away, which is closer than the moon's orbit and even closer than some high-orbiting communications satellites!

but do not worry, asteroid 2012 DA14 will not hit earth

Photo Credit: NASA via Calgary Herald

the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but should be visible using binoculars to many people across the planet, if you know where and when to look.  check out or to see if it will be visible where you are. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

siding spring obs fire: burn scars

recovery at siding spring observatry after the jan 13th fires is coming along surprisingly well so far.  the ANU, owners and maintainers of the site, will open access to the observatory for operations on this coming week!  amazing, really.

the AAO will begin to test observing capabilities with the 4-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) toward the end of the week, using the new remote operations centre recently set up in the north ryde (suburb of sydney) office.  there will be some staff at site for the night and astronomers running 2dF remotely.  it's still not clear where staff at site will stay when observing.  hopefully things go well!

i don't know the status of many telescopes on the mountain, but i know iTelescope is already up and running.   does anyone have information on skymapper to share?  also, the visitor center seems undamaged, even though i originally reported that it might have been damaged inside.

i also want to share some amazing satellite images that were published this week by NASA's earth observatory.   the images come from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite and show both visible and infrared light in false color.

the dark red areas show unburned forest around the warrumbungle national park.   unburned grasslands are shown in pink and the burned regions are brown.  the buildings and domes on the mountain top that house the telescopes are the bright white.

the first image shows the full region of brown, burn scarred forest on february 4, 2013, three weeks after the fire. 

false color satellite image of the warrumbungles (Credit: NASA)

this image is zoomed in a little.  the white line at the bottom left shows 2 km.

false color satellite image of the warrumbungles (Credit: NASA)

the image below shows the area outlined by the box above.   the bright red in the middle, dotted with white telescope domes, shows just how close the observatory came to being destroyed. 

false color satellite image of siding spring observatory (Credit: NASA)

click the images to see bigger versions, or go HERE to see full sized versions. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

the nature of ambition

i'm in the thick of searching for a job.  again.  as are many highly qualified astronomers

my current contract ends this year and then i will no longer officially be a super scientist :(   not to worry, though, i will keep wearing the cape occasionally ;)

i have other career goals besides the standard academic path towards professorship, but the challenge is to find opportunities to make those goals happen.   i'm currently hopeful, and the next couple months will reveal much about my future, so stay tuned. 

meanwhile, enjoy this cartoon by grant snider which summarizes it all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013


in addition to this short story being super cute and wonderfully romantic, the video introduces new technical advances in merging computer-generated and hand-drawn animations. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

siding spring obs fires: before and after fires

today i received some photos from steve lee that incredibly demonstrate the destruction the wambelong fire around siding spring observatory.

the first two photos were taken from the catwalk of the 4-meter anglo-australian telescope (AAT), looking out over the warrumbungle national park. 

luscious and green.

Warrumbungles, 2008 (Credit: Steve Lee)
brown and barren.

Warrumbungles, late January 2013 (Credit: Steve Lee)

the next two show the view from the AAT catwalk to the northwest, over the water tower, the director's cottage, lodge, and lots of other white telescope buildings.

Siding Spring Observatory, 2004 (Credit: Steve Lee)
Siding Spring Observatory, late January 2013 (Credit: Steve Lee)

in the after shot, there is absolutely no ground cover left.   all grass has been decimated and only dirt and stones remain.   there are also fences blocking the area around the destroyed director's cottage and lodge because they are contaminated by asbestos. 

this image shows the road that leads up to the  observatory.   at least one hundred potentially dangerous trees have been cut down so far.   i cant even tell exactly where this is because usually the foliage is so thick i can't see the distant hills. 

Credit: Steve Lee
despite these photos looking so stark and harsh, it's interesting to consider that fires have swept across australia long before europeans landed a few centuries ago.   the original inhabitants of australia practiced regular controlled burning after learning its responses on various plants and animals. 

banksia, for example, have tightly-closed flowers that react to the heat from fires to open and release new seeds.  eucalyptus also fare well in fires.  they are highly flammable because they release oils into the air when their leaves are heated (causing the distant horizon to appear blue on a hot day), but they have "buds" buried deep in their bark that sprout so that they can survive the intense temperatures of most bushfires. 

since europeans landed and developed major settlements, the bushlands have thickened and grown more fuel so such controlled burnings are impractical.

i'm not an expert on these issues, but its interesting perspective and makes me even more overjoyed that the measures taken to save siding spring observatory against fire were enough in this case (when combined with a bit of luck)!