They had to get their ideas from somewhere.
- PRECIPITATE! PRECIPITATE!
- CONFLAGRATE! CONFLAGRATE!
- Extermiknit Part II
-Trick or geek
In late 2010, amateur astronomers discovered a white spot on Saturn – a gigantic storm forming in its northern hemisphere. The storm grew rapidly, and within weeks had embiggened to an almost unbelievable size, much larger than our entire planet. The winds in Saturn’s atmosphere sheared the storm, pulling it apart while it still raged, and after three months the storm had wrapped completely around the planet, stretched to the ridiculous length of 300,000 km (180,000 miles) – 3/4 of the distance from the Earth to the Moon!
By mid-2011 the storm had nearly subsided – its remnants could still be seen in images taken by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting the ringed world – but the teeth had been taken out of it. Still, there was one surprise left in it.
Observations taken in the infrared by Cassini as well as from Earth show that the storm was not just big and violent, it also formed a vortex (a storm within a storm, if you like) that got hot – well, hot for frigid Saturn, that is. In the heart of the system, the temperature ...
My old friend Dan Durda is a phenomenal space artist. His digital pieces are incredible. Last year, he put a dozen of them together to create a 2012 space calendar he called "All these Worlds…".
If you’re looking for an early holiday gift, you’re in luck: he’s done it again this year, making a new "All These Worlds 2013". Here’s the cover:
I know, right? More of his artwork is linked in the Related Posts below, and you can go see his prints for sale, too. So go buy one already!
- All these worlds are yours…
- The Beauty of Space
- Motherlode of potential planets found: more than 1200 alien worlds!
- The galaxy may swarm with billions of wandering planets
A little while ago, the interwebz went all twitterpated over the Ohio State University marching band doing a halftime show tribute to gaming. Don’t get me wrong: it was really cool, especially the part starting at 6 minutes in. I was in a marching band for many years (shocker) and I’m amazed at what OSU did.
But somehow that particular show overshadowed the one OSU did on September 15 that was way cooler. And by cooler, I mean geekier.
I don’t want to spoil it, but if you want a cheat sheet, the You Tube page for the video has a list of the highlights and their times in the video.
My favorite part – duh – starts at 4:50. Make sure you keep watching for a minute. Make it so.
Tip o the shako to Heather Curtis.
Last weekend the Orionid meteor shower peaked. To be honest, it’s a rather weak shower, with a max of maybe 25 meteors per hour. I mentioned it on Twitter and other social media, but it’s usually a so-so shower at best so it didn’t seem worth it to plug it much. Even big showers like the Perseids, Leonids, and Geminids can be fairly variable in what you see, so I usually only plug the bigger ones.
Still, the Orionids can be nice if you have dark skies. Mike Lewinski went out to Embudo, NM (along the Rio Grande river) to do some meteor photography and happened to catch a spectacular fireball from the shower. It even left what’s called a persistent train, a trail of ionized, vaporized material that can glow for quite some time. I combined three of his images into one composite to show you the sequence:
On the left is the fireball, in the middle is the glowing train (as well as a second meteor that fell along the nearly same path as the first), and on the right the trail some minutes after the original ...
How much do I love Dusty Abell’s artwork?
A whole quadrant’s worth, that’s how much. And here’s why:
Oh, my. [Click to massively balokenate. This is only one small part of a much larger piece, and it's amazing.]
And why, yes, I do recognize Every. Single. Thing. in this drawing. Because my geekery is beyond even the capacity for Norman to coordinate.
Dusty also did this piece of awesomeness, too. And? He has the coolest name ever. He should’ve been an astronomer.
Tip o’ the Tranya to io9.
More art and science are colliding! The Lunar and Planetary Institute is hosting the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition. Kids from anywhere in the world ages 10 – 18 are encouraged to express their feelings about human spaceflight using "…visual, literary, musical and video artwork".
I’m a big supporter of scientific art, and I think this is a great idea. If you’re that age, or know someone who is, let them know! The deadline for submitting the work is midnight U.S. Central Standard Time, November 15, 2012. The website has the details.
Go! Be artistic!
- The Sky Is Calling
- Libration libretto
- Something Fierce
- The Universe Has Us in Its Crosshairs (and this followup)
- Zen Pencils: Welcome to Science
Hey, remember that one ton nuclear rover we sent to Mars? Yeah, that. On October 20, it aimed its megaWatt laser at the sand on Mars and blasted it 30 times in rapid succession, carving out a hole about 3 mm across. NASA kindly has provided a before-and-after animation of the damage inflicted on the Red Planet:
Cool, eh? [Click to coherentlightenate.]
Curiosity’s laser is designed not as a weapon against a hapless Marvin, but instead to do actual science. It very rapidly heats the rock (or sand or whatever) to the point where it vaporizes. Material heated like that glows, and in fact glows at very specific colors. By identifying those colors, scientists can determine precisely what the material is composed of. I gave the details in an earlier post when Curiosity zapped its first rock. You should read it, because spectroscopy is cool, and I spent many years doing it.
This sand was chosen to get lasered because it’s made of fine grains that are blown by the wind. Some Martian sand is bigger, some smaller, but it’s all pretty much formed from eroded rocks. But different grains may have different compositions, and ...
Our Milky Way galaxy is a sprawling collection of gas, dust, and hundreds of billions of stars, arrayed in a more-or-less flat disk. In the very center of the galaxy – just as in countless other large galaxies like ours – lies a hidden monster: a black hole. And not just any black hole, but one with four million times the Sun’s mass.
It’s called a supermassive black hole for a reason.
Usually, it’s not doing a whole lot except sitting there being black and holey. But sometimes it gets a little snack, and when it does it can let out a cosmic-sized belch. A very, very, very hot belch. Like it did in July 2012:
[Click to schwarzschildenate.]
These images were taken with NASA’s newest X-ray satellite, NuSTAR (more on that in a sec). NuSTAR can detect high-energy X-rays coming from space, and happened to be pointed toward the black hole when it erupted. On the left is an overview of the region near the center of our galaxy. The whitish area is the stuff immediately surrounding the black hole (the pink glow is most likely from a ...
Yesterday, an active region on the sun – basically, a collection of magnetically active sunspots – popped off a series of flares that were actually fairly energetic. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the action in this video:
Neat! These shots were in the ultraviolet, where flares are easier to spot.
Sunspots are where the Sun’s complex magnetic field pokes through the surface. The field lines store ridiculous amounts of energy (did you see my BAFact for today?), and allow plasma – superheated, ionized gas – to flow along them. Think of these field lines like a pillowcase full of tightly wound springs. If one of them snaps – which can happen if they get too close to each other, for example, or when the churning surface of the Sun ratchets up the tension in the field lines beyond their capacity to restrain themselves – it blasts out its energy, which then snaps other lines, which release their energy, and so on. You get a cascade of explosions, resulting in a solar flare.
Flares can be pretty small, or hugely huge. Scientists categorize them ...
Sometimes climate change deniers make it all too easy.
The UK paper Daily Mail has a long history of courting climate change denial, and apparently it has no wish to change. It recently posted an atrocious article called "Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released… and here is the chart to prove it". The article was written by David Rose, who wrote a pretty inaccurate article earlier this year on a similar topic.
In fact, this new article was so blatantly wrong that the MET office – the national weather service for the UK – wrote a rebuttal to it detailing the flaws. To start with, they point out they did recently update their global temperature databases, but that’s a very different thing than "quietly releasing a report", as Rose claims. Cue the conspiracy music!
It gets worse from there. They take on his points one at a time and take them down. I highly recommend reading them. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of it, or you’re still not convinced, you can check out The ...
Reliance on American vehicles to take humans back into space took another step up over the weekend, when the private company Blue Origin – founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos – successfully tested their crew escape system.
Putting people in space isn’t easy, and is fraught with danger. NASA requires that, in the case of an emergency, there is a proven escape system for the crew in case the rocket underneath them goes kablooie. One reliable system is to have a small solid rocket above the crew capsule that can pull it away to safety (which is how it was done for Apollo).
Interestingly, the Blue Origin method is to use a rocket underneath the capsule, so they call it a "pusher". Unlike other methods, this rocket is reusable, a technology NASA likes to explore. It lifted a full-scale suborbtial crew capsule to a height of 700 meters (2300 feet) and carried it 500 meters (1600 feet) downrange.
I couldn’t embed the video of the launch, but you can see it at the Blue Origin site. I recommend it. It’s pretty cool.
Blue Origin ...
[Update to the update (Oct 25): Apparently, the rock found is not actually a meteorite. These things can be tricky to identify, and the first conclusion was mistaken. Bummer.]
[Update to the update to the update; that is, update 3: (Oct 26): OK, see if you can follow along, since I barely can. A rock was found that was thought to be a meteorite from the fireball, and then thought not to be. Well, guess what? It's back on the list! A second rock was found a few kilometers away and identified as a meteorite, which prompted Peter Jenniskens to look over the first one again. He has concluded it actually is a meteorite. At this point, I think I'll hold off re-dis-un-updating all this, and if there's more news, I'll start a new blog post. Thanks to BABloggee Mike McJimsey for the link.]
This is exciting: a meteorite from last week’s fireball over northern California has been found! NBC is reporting a small chunk, 4-5 centimeters across and weighing about 60 grams, struck a house in Novato, California shortly after the fireball ...
I am greatly saddened to learn that one of the founders of modern skeptical outreach, Paul Kurtz, has died.
Paul was the motivating force behind the creation of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP, which recently changed its name to the much more palatable Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, or CSI), one of the leading centers of the skeptical movement. You can read more about Paul’s work on Wikipedia. Dr. Steve Novella, from the New England Skeptical society, wrote a nice piece about Paul as well.
I only met Paul a few times, and I don’t have any interesting stories of note, to be honest. I’m sure we’ll be hearing tales about the man over the next few days, and I hope you take the time to read them. Too many people in movements forget their own history, and knowledge of what happened in the past is always valuable in moving forward.
And move forward we must. There is no end to the weeds of nonsense that take root in the human brain, and we will never rid ourselves of them completely. As any gardener will tell you, it’s a full ...
Splash, a style magazine in Chicago, is reporting that they’ve hired Jenny McCarthy to be their new daily blogger.
Yes, you read that right. But it gets better. And by better, I mean worse.
Besides a daily blog, she’s being given a weekly advice column called "Ask Jenny", where, among other things, she will "tackle parenting".
Tackle, indeed. Body slam is more like it.
As someone who strongly advocates parents to get their kids vaccinated – y’know, to keep them from contracting potentially debilitating or deadly diseases, because I’m funny that way – I am not exactly a fan of Ms. McCarthy. I’ve written about her many, many times, because of her tenuous grasp of medical reality. She has for example repeatedly and fallaciously linked vaccines to autism, and has spouted inflated propaganda about toxic ingredients in them.
If you want the truth about vaccinations, and why they are critical for our public health, then go to the Immunize for Good website. Or talk to your board-certified doctor (good advice under any circumstances). But don’t talk to Jenny ...
Looking up into the night sky, it seems like you can see forever. If you use binoculars or a telescope that feeling is, literally, magnified – you can see thousands, millions of stars.
But what you’re seeing is barely scratching the depths of the Universe. You’re looking out a few thousand light years into a galaxy a hundred thousand light years across, in a Universe where we can see distant galaxies over 10 billion light years away.
We build bigger telescopes so we can see those far-flung objects, and we even put them in space so our bothersome atmosphere doesn’t interfere with the view. The most famous is of course the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s hard to describe just how much of an impact this Grande Dame of astronomy has had on our perception of the Universe… though looking into the Hubble Deep Fields, you get a glimmer of it. In 1995, Hubble stared at one spot in space for over 140 hours, creating the first Deep Field. It revealed thousands of galaxies at tremendous distance, showing us that the sky is filled with galaxies.
The region of the sky for the first Deep Field was chosen because ...
If you’ve read this blog before, then all I really need to tell you is that Thierry Legault took a picture.
While in Queensland, Australia, Thierry took this shot of Wallaman Falls. While the Milky Way shone down, a meteor zipped past, adding to the drama. But what’s that at the bottom? A rainbow? At night?
Yup. Well, kinda. It’s a Moonbow, the same thing as a rainbow but with the Moon as the light source. Well, and it’s not raindrops that cause it, but aerosolized water droplets acting as little prisms, breaking the light up into the usual colors. Moonbows are very faint, but they show up in long exposures like this one.
Leave it to Thierry to not be satisfied with just our galaxy, a bit of interplanetary debris vaporizing, and a waterfall in his shot. Amazing.
He has more pictures from that trip, and yeah, you want to see them. His photos have been on this blog so many times I can’t even list them, but check out the Related Posts below, click the links, then click the links at the bottom of those posts (or you can use my ...
The Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour made its way from LAX to the California Science Center a few days ago. A huge throng of people showed up to watch and take pictures. Among them was Matthew Givot and his team, who took many thousands of pictures, and then created a stunning and moving time lapse tribute to NASA’s youngest and now-retired Orbiter.
That was wonderful. As I’ve written several times, my feelings about the Shuttle program are mixed. But even as this amazing machine is put on display, Earthbound forever more, I’m hopeful about American space flight. We stand on the cusp of the future, and it won’t be long before we make that next giant leap.
Early this morning, while you were sleeping, or working, or reading Twitter, the Sun had different plans: it erupted, blasting an immense tower of plasma upward off its surface:
In my last post I talked about how knowing the science behind a picture makes it better. I still say that’s true, but also, sometimes, the beauty and awe of a picture can speak for itself.
Behold, swirls of sea ice off the coast of Greenland:
Breathtaking, isn’t it? [Click to phasechangenate.]
This was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on October 16, 2012. Aqua is designed to observe Earth’s water cycle: the oceans, evaporation, clouds, precipitation, snow cover, and, obviously, sea ice. It takes a vast amount of energy to move water from the ocean into the atmosphere and then move it around the planet, energy which comes from sunlight and steered by the Earth’s spin. Observations like those of Aqua show us how the constituents of the atmosphere change how that transport occurs, how that energy is stored, and how we humans affect that with our grand experiment of adding carbon dioxide to the air. That also affects our environment, how plants and animals eat, drink, live, and die.
We are animals, too, and we live in this environment created by sunlight, air, water, ice, and our own actions.