Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

nerd night sydney

if youre in sydney next wednesday, come check out nerd night sydney and say hello!  it should be a fun event where i drink a couple beers and tell the story of the "crash of the titans" - what will happen when the milky way and andromeda galaxies collide!

those big garbage piles in the middle of some oceans are scary, so i'm looking forward to hearing about them.   and an actual comedian talking about movies.   woohoo! 

see you there!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

middle earth

i spent last week working in christchurch, new zealand, and giving a couple talks.   now i'm going offline to explore middle earth on foot for a few days.   so... excited.... (please stop raining!). 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

lingering equinox sunrise

the lovely equinox sunrise
colorfully on the clouds 
as they strolled by overhead.

the hours of daylight and darkness all over earth are very nearly equal right now, while earth's spin axis sits perpendicular to the rays it receives from the sun.

from now until the solstice in june, the days will become longer in the northern hemisphere and shorter in the southern hemisphere.   this is because of earth's tilt on its nearly circular path around the sun.

i felt surprised a couple weeks ago when i drove through the blue mountains and saw bright red leaves on the branches of the japanese maple trees.  autumn is definitely upon us down here, yet i still enjoy this simple spring poem by chilean poet pablo neruda

happy equinox!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

dirty space news: comets

astronomers often refer to comets at "dirty snowballs."

NASA sent a space probe to investigate comet temple 1 on a mission that was called Deep Impact.

this one is called "comet cardinal."

Comet Cardinal (Credit: Nick Howes using Faulkes Telescope North)
since ancient times comets have been branded with such titles as "the Harbinger of Doom" and "the Menace of the Universe."  here are some old sketches of various comet sightings.    

1) Encke’s Comet – 1828, drawn by struve
2) Halley’s Comet – 1835, drawn by bessel
3) Biela’s Comet – 1846, drawn by struve
4) Great Comet of 1843
5) Comet of 1744, drawn by cheseaux

the comets all appear in the above sketches to have unique shapes, but they all have a few basic features: a tail, a nucleus, and a head coma.

when approaching the sun, a comet changes shape as the hotness of the sun's radiation causes the frozen ice and gases to puff up and form a head coma.  interestingly, comet tails always face away from the sun no matter what direction the comet is traveling, because of the scent of perfume carried on the solar winds. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

mom visits australia

my mom has been with me in australia for the last month!   she flew back to the US this week, after we shared many fun adventures!  here are some photo highlights of our time together:

we explored some of sydney's northern beaches on a very blustery day.

on a day drive southward, we stopped at this lovely spot for a relaxed lunch.

calming sun
 we were not the only ones enjoying this misty beach.


we flew north to the great barrier reef and stayed over night on a boat to maximize our snorkling time.

enjoying the salty air
we survived swimming with reef sharks, barracudas, sea turtles, incredibly diverse coral, colorful fish and we watched a giant fish turn over a huge rock looking for food. i only got stung by one tiny jellyfish.   it itched like a bug bite for a few days, but no worries.

green island
i think i saw comet panstarrs this night, but it was tough to tell.  mom wasnt convinced.  we still had a lovely view of the harbour bridge and the sunset!

sydney city light

we drove through the blue mountains and hiked to wentworth falls.   this photo only gives a hint of the full extent of the falls!

some of wentworth falls
while in the blue mountains, we stopped off to see the three sisters, all in a row. 

three sisters
we visited some lovely wineries a few hours away from sydney. 

peter van gent winery and vinyard
one day we enjoyed a sunny coastal walk and stopped at three blue ducks (one of my favorite restaurants!) for lunch. 

SPLASH! view to bronte beach
and we ended her trip with a bang - an opera at the opera house.   i enjoyed it, but didnt know la boheme is a tragedy!   oops.

mom and i go to the opera
isnt she lovely?   i think we havent spent so much continuous time together since before i moved away from home, many many years ago.   loved our time together.  :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

siding spring observatory: regrowth

two months have passed since bushfires swept through siding spring observatory in NSW, australia. 

an amazing aspect of nature is its ability to regrow so quickly.   here is an image taken by the AAO's fred watson last week from the UKST looking over at the 4 meter anglo-australian telescope (AAT).   green regrowth is everywhere on the mountain and the surrounding area!  

Regrowth at Siding Spring Observatory (Credit: Fred Watson)
these plants thrive on the occasional fire.   it's nature's way. 

while the site isnt fully open to the public yet, operations have resumed at the AAT.  most notably, our team in charge of an exciting new instrument called SAMI (the Sydney Australian Astronomical Observatory Multi-object Integral Field Spectrograph) has commissioned a successful upgrade and has collected spatially resolved spectra for hundreds of galaxies over the last couple weeks! 

Sam Richards with the original SAMI (right) and the upgraded SAMI2 (left), with the AAT behind.

i'm excited to start attacking all this new galaxy data!

a galaxy and its hydrogen alpha velocity maps from individual SAMI optical fibers (center) and smoothed from multiple pointings (right) (Credit: Lisa Fogarty)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

milky ways

milky ways is an installation by artist mihoko ogaki.  an innovative way to project the stars around a room!

she also produced this drawing for her collection called star tales.

Monday, March 11, 2013

JWST: a tennis-court-sized telescope

NASA is currently building the successor to the hubble space telescope.  it's 100 times more powerful than hubble, the size of a tennis court, and sits 4 stories tall.  it is called the james webb space telescope (JWST).

NASA is really stepping up this year with their visibility in the public forum and for that i say - well done!   they built a full-scale JWST model in downtown austin, texas this week as part of the infamous south by southwest (SXSW) festival.  sxsw is essentially three separate conventions, as is hosts a film festival, a music festival, and an "interactive" fesitval, which covers new technologies and digital creativity.

here is the beautiful JWST model all lit up in austin.

JWST model in austin, texas (Credit: NASA)
also, NASA earned a spot in the guiness book of world records during the event by holding the biggest outdoor astronomy lesson ever!  526 people joined Drs. Amber Straughn, Jason Kalirai, and Frank Summers to learn about how astronomers use light and color to study the universe.  

you can watch a video of the world record holding outdoor astronomy lesson: HERE.

i had no idea, but the previous world record was set in mexico in 2011.  so there you go.

here's a video of the building of the model JWST in austin's downtown:

i hope some of my friends in austin have been able to enjoy all this astronomy excitement amid the normal SXSW chaos!  :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

martian sunset

many humans wish to take the long journey to mars, to stand on another planet, feel gravity differently, watch dust devils zooming by, and see a strange-colored sky overhead.  

since mars has a thin atmosphere, it should have a blue sky due to rayleigh scattering, but mars also has a lot of airborne dust as well.  the dust absorbs the blue and causes its sky to look somewhere between a butterscotch and pink.  

it turns out to be a challenge to know the exact color our eyes would see a martian sky to be, because none of our eyes have ever seen it directly.   we are left to reconstruct images from the limited filters on the martian rovers, and it is not a trivial task to make those look like they might to our eye.

you may have been expecting a hazy or reddish sky on mars, but were you expecting the sunsets to look blue?

taken by mars pathfinder on 22nd june 1996 (JPL/NASA)
the blue color is likely caused by some blue light being scattered by the dust as the light goes through the long distance towards the horizon at sunset.  

from the spirit rover (NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell)
and... dust devils!!

dust devils captured by NASA's spirit rover in may 2005. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


from dutch director and designer mischa rozema comes this lovely 4 minute film called stardust.     it combines real NASA imaging with graphic artistic license, and its absolutely stunning. 

definitely watch this in fullscreen mode.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


despite the looming storm that swept over our tropical island with a vengeance, my mom and i have successfully spent the weekend snorkeling and diving around the great barrier reef! more photos soon!