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  • Posts Tagged ‘cosmology’

    Ooh, ooh, this is righteously cool!


    2011 - 10.21

    Tomorrow I’m going to go do a little stargazing and hopefully come back with some new timelapse, startrails images, and maybe a little knowledge of telescopes depending on who all ends up at the Orionids Meteor Shower Star Party.

    I found this free program called Stellarium that basically loads up an Ultrasweet 3D Ultramap of the sky… which you can do tons of helpful stuff with: you can enable/disable things like constallations (lines or drawings!), labels, satellite orbits, see through the Earth, or remove the atmospheric haze. You can zoom in on anything, you can click on anything and it tells you what it is, you can sort objects by type (planets/nebula/galaxies), and there’s a night mode so everything turns red (to save your nightvision if you’re using it outdoors at night). You can advance (or rewind) the time to anytime you like, and reposition yourself anywhere on Earth to see how the sky looks. Man! That’s just, like, badass!

    It’s like Google Earth, for the sky. I’m pretty amazed that you can zoom way, way in and click on ANY star. I don’t know the last time you checked, but there are A LOT OF STARS in the sky.

    I think I’ll be using this a bunch to learn more about the heavens. Seriously this is mondo-helpful. If you’re into the sky, even just a little bit, you gotsta check this out.

    3 hours of night sky in under 30 seconds


    2011 - 10.09

    A short timelapse video I made, showing the night sky from 12:30am-3:30am.  I used 830 images to make this, and you can see the corresponding startrails images in the previous post!  Don’t forget to hit fullscreen and 1080p on the video.  A tiny preview doesn’t do the stars justice!

    I’ve wanted to get into making timelapse like this for a long time, so it’s rewarding to put one of these together.  I did a batch process on all photos in Photoshop before compiling into a video, which was an awesome idea; definitely want to do more and get better at all of this.  Check out that SKY!

    This JUST happened. 3 hours of starlight


    2011 - 10.08

    I’ve been up to my usual shenanigans tonight, which involve staying up till all unreasonable hours of the morning.  While doing so, I set out the camera and captured this sweet startrails image from 12:30-3:30am.  Saaweeeeet!

    Since the above image is actually composed of 800+ individual 10 second exposures, I also made this version which is only a short part of it; a good stretch without any clouds.  And just to keep things fresh, I flipped the canvas horizontally.  Because, ya know, why not?

    Note that clicking on either of these will unleash the 1920 x 1280 sized versions.

    So I didn’t get a timelapse video during the Perseid meteor shower, but I DID get this:


    2011 - 09.24

    Enough clear photographs to make a startrails image!

    I just now realized I could do this, using a program called StarStaX.  This is badass, and I am going to be doing more of it.  YES!

    Originally I had intended to use my intervalometer to shoot exposures all night (which worked) but something I didn’t anticipate ruined the fun: DEW on the lens!  Who knew.  In any event, a totally full moon also blew out the sky and prevented me from getting many stars.  The images used to build the star trails picture you see above were captured before the moon rose above the tree line behind me.

    There’s always next time.

    The Sky’s Not The Limit–It’s A Boundary To The Endless & The Timeless


    2011 - 09.08

    So right now there’s a supernova named SN 2011fe going on, one that’s visible with a set of binoculars, if you know where to look. That’s pretty awesome. I have to admit, I totally feel like I’m missing out on some rare, limited offer by not being in possession of a telescope.

    Let’s talk about that–how awesome it would be to have your own telescope. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time now, and I feel a steady itch building. Something tells me I might have one within the next year or so. My chief interest is of course, simply checking out the stars, but a close second priority would be using it to make pictures. I’ve read many articles about neat things discovered by amateur astronomers who just sort of happened to be looking at the right thing at the right time, and think, man, it would be so badass to join those ranks.

    Indeed, the picture on the wikipedia page for supernova SN 2011fe was generated by this guy, using a Canon 60D (which has the exact same sensor/guts as my very own Canon T3i). JEALOUS! SO COOL. TOTALLY JEALOUS! It’s my turn to exclaim, with no dignity, oh that should so be me taking that picture! Maybe someday. Maybe someday you too could get a wikipedia-worthy photo of a rare astro-event. Keep on dreamin’ kid.

    So I did some searching to see what people out there are already doing and get an idea of what kind of images I could potentially attempt to make on my own, and I happened upon a few websites that well, jeez, just about exploded my eyeballs with pictures you’d swear came from a hundred-million dollar Hawaiian telescope or something. The picture above is one such example, taken by Mr. Georgiy Suturin. I mean, I have no illusions that these guys are way beyond anything I could achieve, but STILL, the fact remains that they are doing this in their own backyards with cobbled-together setups. That blows my mind. Spend a little time checking out the galleries on the sites below, I promise you will not be disappointed:

    Steve’s Astro

    Igor Chekalin

    Georgiy Suturin

    So yeah, wish I had a telescope. I’d check out that supernova. Maybe it’s time to start researching and figuring out what hardware I’d need…

    When I’m Feelin’ Down, These Things Bring Me Back Up: Part II


    2011 - 08.18

    It’s been a hot minute since I wrote about anything space-related on here, and we’re due.  In the words of the late great James Brown, awwwww, git on UP!

    #1 news item: SETIstars succeeds! They raised their $200k and will use it to reactivate the Allen Telescope Array. That, my friends, is news sweeter than yams with extra syrup. Their website is curiously brief about the this victory and what comes next. Maybe I might email the people from SETI I had been talking with and see what they say. Inquiring minds want to know; what now?

    #2: The Juno probe has been launched to visit Jupiter in 2016, where it will orbit for 1 year in a highly elliptical path, dipping into the atmosphere repeatedly to make measurements. There’s two especially fascinating things about this probe: one, it will be subjected to radiation more harsh than any other space probe, EVARRR. This craft will serve as a test-bed for future missions into the most unforgiving environments; It’s even got a titanium vault for the electronics to withstand all those deadly alphas betas gammas and whatnot. And two: it runs on solar power, at a distance from the sun where the photons are 4% as bountiful as here on Earth. Therefore it must be very power-efficient, and uses special solar cell designs to derive the juice it’ll need way out there. Stunningly cool.

    Also, another awesome tidbit: the name is derived from the wife of the Roman god Jupiter, who was able to see through the veil of clouds that Jupiter drew around himself. Poetically done, guys! Popular Science has a solid roundup of the details here.


    #3: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has mapped Mars in greater detail than Google Earth’s satellite imagery shows our own planet, has spat out some eyebrow-raising images that seem to convey liquid water moving down some slopes on the red planet (see the streaks in the images above?!). You can maybe file this under ‘knew it was coming eventually, but still über-rad to have real evidence now!’


    #4: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has reached the asteroid Vesta, where it will orbit for a year before progressing on to Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. Now that it’s nice and close, the Dawn team made an eyeball-poppin’ movie showing the asteroid spinning. That’s pure spaceporn and I love it. Vesta is the brightest object in the asteroid belt and thought to be the source of many meteors that reach earth. If I read correctly, Dawn is done snapping pictures for now, and is commencing it’s “science orbits” where the many other instruments will check out all the asteroid’s vitals. Awww git it!

    #5: Mars Rover Opportunity has almost reached Endeavour Crater, its target since 2008. This crater is more than 25 times bigger than Victoria Crater, which Opportunity spent two years checking out. Endeavour has some exposed ancient rocks to study, spotted by the aforementioned Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Note that Opportunity’s primary mission ended in 2004, and they’ve been continuing on “bonus, extended missions” since then. That’s like… mega friggin’ triumphant. If the rover had beats for its mission, I bet it would be the second half of Ewan Pearson’s Ride A White Horse Disco Odyssey remix. That thing is out in the wilderness scoring so many points right now.

    All this stuff is so sweet. Seriously. It’s things like this that really help me maintain a positive outlook on us humans. As I said in my previous post of this same title, the people who are conducting these missions and operating the satellite dishes that recieve these images are called heroes. While the majority of us are concerned with daily operations on a tiny backwater outpost known as planet Earth, or the small quests like groceries and entertainment for the evening, these badasses are studying the timeless questions, about how the larger universe ticks–The larger universe that will be there still moving onward, long after the genus homo sapien is a minor footnote in the annals of what once was. Hopefully, due to the knowledge gained in these quests, an evolutionary descendant will be able to look back and think, ‘nice one ‘sapiens!’

    You’re not CARL!


    2011 - 08.10

    Okay, so I’ve got a story and a news item worthy of mention on here, and I think they’ll work best in that order.

    Sometime last year I discovered Carl Sagan’s glorious COSMOS series. I had maybe seen snippets of it when I was quite young, but never sat down and tackled the whole series, at an age when I could really appreciate what was being said and the context. As said elsewhere on here, it blew me away, seeing it effectively for the first time at this stage in life.

    When I finished all the episodes and was still craving some more Sagan in my life, I decided to check out his books. Of course one of the appeals of COSMOS is Carl’s talent as an orator, so I sought out an audiobook copy of Pale Blue Dot. This I downloaded, and found out that it apparently (at least the copy I had) was narrated partially by someone else. There I was, sitting on the couch with the Kindle, reading along on the ebook version while the audiobook files played narration when some other dude’s voice took over. Like a seven year old I shouted in outrage “You’re not CARL!!” My girlfriend burst out laughing.

    Since then, the refrain “You’re not CARL!” has served as a vehicle to express dissatisfation when presented with anything that isn’t the geniune article. Example: Standing in the grocery store and all the raspberries are from Driscolli’s instead of Richter’s? “You’re not CARL!”

    Hehehehe, I like this method of mocking lesser imitators.

    ~ On to The News Portion ~

    So.  I read in the interwebs today that there is a television program called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” being produced by Seth MacFarlane (mister Family Guy, American Dad, etc), Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s wife and co-writer of the Cosmos series), and Steven Soter (who is the other main writer on Cosmos and an astrophysicist).   Starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous popularizer of science/astronomy and Director at the The Hayden Planetarium in NYC.  Wait, WHAT?!

    They’re calling it a docu-series and it’ll be 13 parts long and air on primetime on Fox… of all places.

    Read the whole deal here, it really merits looking over.

    So yeah.  …What?

    I’m somewhere between elation and skepticism.  Seth MacFarlane??  Not sure how he fits into all this, but well, this whole deal could really be superb.  While Neil may not be Carl, as I was foreshadowing in the preamble, he IS a true astronomy warrior and decorated champion on his own right. Label me as cautiously quite optimistic.  We’ll all get to see in 2013 if that’s the right outlook.  I need more details…

    The original COSMOS leaves a whole lot to live up to.  The eloquence, the wide scope, the beautiful photography, a sweeping musical score, and just… the uplifting overall vibe of it; I think all that will be hard to recapture.  At least all the right people are clearly on the case here.  And prime time on Fox?  That’s exactly where it belongs, really.  Not on the discovery channel or PBS, preachin to the choir.  I think a dose of Sagan’s company is just what they need.  Awesome.

    I can just picture it now:

    Some unedited, stream of consciousness thoughts on the final space shuttle launch


    2011 - 07.08

    Watching NASA TV in the moments before the space shuttle launch, a brief video of the orbiter Atlantis rattles off a few facts: it’s travelled 115 million miles, was the first shuttle to dock with a space station, and first shuttle to launch a probe to another planet.

    I wish I were there.

    Although the camera views I’ll get from the online video will probably show the action closer than I’d see with the naked eye, there is definitely a lot to be said for ‘being there’ and feeling the energy of a crowd of people united to witness history.

    NASA TV has sort of a PBS/C-SPAN feeling where they will have an announcer list off a few factoids, then cut to a feed of the tower chatter, with long periods of silence. I like this better than having a constant stream of opinions and banter. It lets you think and reflect on your own thoughts.

    They’re showing a closeup of the engines with some kind of white clouds billowing off them as they await launch. It kinda reminds me of a steam engine. Some engineers used to say they preferred steam engines over diesel because they ‘felt alive’ with the rising and falling of pressures, the need to monitor it and adjust, instead of just setting a level and kicking back.

    I like watching the birds fly around the swamps as NASA gets ready.

    Although they don’t show them, there are fighter jets in the air protecting the launch. That’s pretty sweet. If you google search, you’ll find photos of this. I’m a fairly devoted dove, but this is one use of “defense” funds I approve of.

    After this, it’ll be up to the Russians to keep the International Space Station running. I sure hope they’re up to the challenge.

    I can’t believe this is the LAST one. It just doesn’t seem real. They’ve been launching the space shuttle my whole life.

    Astronauts get their go-ahead and reply (among other awesome words): “let’s light this fire one more time and witness this nation at it’s best”. It elicits feelings of deep admiration, wistfulness… huge pride, despair.

    They keep saying “godspeed.” I wonder how many of these people are actually theists?

    The camera shows a shot of the boarding walkway pivoting away from the shuttle “ATLANTIS” in big letters moving past the doorway, then a view of the coast, so far away. It’s almost eerie to think that walkway will never be used again.

    Shots of the crowd, a guy kneeling with a compact camera in a shirt completely covered with an American flag. Something about him with that shirt and his tiny camera is moving. How many pictures will be snapped today? T-minus 5 minutes.

    “firing chain is armed” BOOM–off it goes! And just like that they’re up in space! It all happens so fast. Less than 2 minutes later they’re 35 miles high. In the SRB camera, I love seeing the shadow of the smoke trail creep along the tops of the clouds as they escape the atmosphere. Go Rocketdyne.

    7 minutes in, “travelling more than 15,000 miles per hour” hooooo! They separate the main fuel tank “for the final time”. As huge as it is, that tank will completely disintigrate when it falls back into the atmosphere. Jeez.

    NASA TV shows a view of the crowd watching the launch. With +10 minutes on the big clock, everyone is packing up the tripods and the giant lenses. Maybe a million people showed up to watch the incredible spectacle which lasted (for those on the ground) maybe a minute or two. It speaks to the significance of this.

    Dudes in the control room shaking hands and slapping high fives. That’s right fellas. One hundred and thirty five flights. The footage speaks for itself. The hubble telescope, the space station, the dreams of innumerable schoolkids. Velcro, computers, advanced telecommunications, avionics, the best and brightest minds uniting our highest technologies for our largest achievements. Where do we go from here? Who will do the ‘big things’… now that NASA watches from the shores of the cosmic ocean, without a ship. Without a plan for another ship.

    Bon Voyage, American Exceptionalism! We had a great run!

    SETIstars Infographic


    2011 - 06.26

    So recently I was contacted by the SETI team regarding a sequel to the infographic I had produced a couple months back.  As many of you may know already, they’re trying a new way of keeping the Allen Telescope Array running: crowdsourcing.  There’s a new website over at SETIstars.org where anyone can go and give funds specifically for the restarting of the ATA. It’s a savvy move in the age of kickstarter, microloans, and grassroots funding.  And it’s pretty awesome to think that, well, if the people who should be paying for this won’t pay for it, fine, we’ll do it ourselves!

    I hope the venture is a big success.  It’d be reaffirming to see the citizenship of planet Earth as forward-thinking enough to collectively grok the profound implications that discovery of other intelligences would have.  It would be invigorating to know that we realize this meaningfully enough that we, as single individuals, would band together to sustain this important work.

    In the large scope of things, it’s not all that expensive either.  Just for perspective: the 1st infographic so far has seen over 40,000 views (just the flickr version, nevermind the ones I cannot track).  See the bottom of this new infographic to see how much 40,000 people would need to spend apiece to keep the ATA in action…

    There is a slightly-higher quality version available at flickr, as well as a whopping 11,749 pixels-long monstrosity of this new graphic combined with the original.  Anyone is welcome to use or repost this to their heart’s content.  All I request is a link.  And that you can chip in at least a fiver to SETIstars! Anyone can swing that.

    Also, I got a lot more creative with the background this time around.  Check out the remnants of Kepler’s supernova, comet NEAT, and the Andromeda galaxy!

    Special thanks to Phil Plait, Jill Tarter, & John Girard.

    Lastly, if you’re really into this sort of thing check out some other space-musings on the site

    Kepler Space Telescope Exoplanets visualized (great video comparing sizes and orbits) – video

    “oh, by the way” (a reminder of just how large the universe really is)

    Putting Things In Perspective: NEAT!

    When I’m Feeling Down, These Are Some Things That Bring Me Back Up (a roundup of inspiring projects)

    the microcosmologist frontpage

    Found on NASA’s flickr feed: the Kepler Spacecraft Launch.


    2011 - 06.08

    Isn’t it gorgeous?  What a stunner of a picture capturing this rocket launch, and just think of what it’s carrying!  The Kepler Telescope that brought us the discovery of over 1200 exoplanets.

    source: NASA flickr feed