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  • Posts Tagged ‘little mind-blowing things’

    Cloudy Sky Timelapse: A Taste of What’s Ahead


    2011 - 08.12

    As mentioned before, a goal of mine is to start getting into timelapse photography. In the words of Carl, “Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting.”

    I’ve done four different night-sky timelapses, each getting progressively better. I may yet post one of them, but I haven’t so far. I’ll lead off the timelapse posts with this short clip I compiled from around 300 photos of the clouds a couple weeks back. For those so interested, the exposure was 1/500th at f/8 with ISO100. This was actually done with the T2i that was briefly in my possession.

    More imporantly, the exposures were about 15-20 seconds apart (I don’t recall precisely, but it was inside that range). You can see how fast the clouds move! I had no idea they shifted so quickly. For my next attempt, I did the exposures 6 seconds apart, and that showed the cloud movement much more fluidly. I’ll post that one later when I figure out why the rendering always seems to come out choppy. I’ve had some rendering issues with these…

    Anyhow, here is my first, tentative step into the world of timelapse! It’s The Moment Of Genesis baby!… the instant when a once far-off dream makes its first step into being REAL. Gotta love the energy that comes off of a thing like that. Bodacious!

    (Yes, I did just say bodacious)

    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

    Alpha-dawg Magneto Spectroscopia. It’s a beautiful thing.


    2011 - 05.25

    Going immediately off of my last writing, why do we spend billions of dollars on particle accelerators and millions of dollars on antartic neutrino detectors? Answer: the quest to understand what we are made from, and how that matter is affected by the universe around us.

    It’s the story of where we came from, and how we’re connected–all of us–to events billions of years ago and as many light years away.

    In that spirit, I’m excited that the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour contained the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02. It’s an outer-space particle physics experiment that will study cosmic rays, antimatter, and search for dark matter. In short, it’s tackling the big questions. It makes me happy to think that if this is the second to last shuttle mission, at least it brought up a gigantic, heavy, badass physics experiment that’s going to be probing the secrets of the cosmos for the next decade. This thing is the silver lining in those opaque clouds that hovered over Endeavour’s launch.

    The AMS-02 is a particle detector, the most sophisticated ever sent into space. It was developed by a team of over 500 scientists and tested at CERN in Switzerland where they shot the particle accelerator beam at it. Let me just repeat that: they hit it with the world’s most powerful particle accelerator and now it’s going into outer space to listen to cosmic rays, those invisible beams of radiation that are literally shooting through the entire earth this very moment, emitted from the deaths of distant stars and playing some role in our evolution by causing random mutations. I think the awesomeness-detection circuitry in my mind is fried now. If you’d like to learn more, hit the wikipedia link, it’s utterly fascinating stuff.

    Check out this video to see them install it in time-lapse.  This slow-motion space ballet is the launching of a masterpiece.  So uplifting.

     

    It’s also a nice bit of irony that this big hunk of metal is up there in the sky, out towards the vast infinity of space; it was put there in order to study the tiniest sub-particles hidden deep in the infinity of the very small. There it is, up above the Earth, reaching for infinity in both directions…

    A thought that keeps going through my mind is that galaxies collide all the time, but collisions between stars or planets are rare. I remember watching a captivating animation of this at my local planetarium, where all the stars merged like a cloud of bees, flying in a small area but somehow not crashing. Galaxies, as giant as they may be, are made up chiefly of empty space!

    You could say a smiliar thing about the objects right in front of you on your desk: the spacebar on your keyboard is made up of lots of hydrogen and carbon atoms, jammed in tightly to make a solid piece of plastic. Those atoms are bumped up right next to each other, yet their electrons and nuclei are never colliding. By comparison, the electrons in their shells around the nucleii are just like tiny little planets in far away orbits around the atomic core, where literally >99.9% of the mass is concentrated. Those hydrocarbon molecules are made up cheifly of NOTHING.

    Atoms are made mostly of empty space, and galaxies are made mostly of empty space. Sort of takes me back to the Buddhist idea of emptiness; nothing has a unique identity (ie it’s empty) because it’s completely full of everything else. In this way, a tree is empty because it is filled to the brim with nitrogren from the soil, photons from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and maybe even the intention of someone who planted it. Our galaxies and our molecules may be made mostly of nothing, but they are in another sense quite full. Let’s explore!

    A little moment in the sun!


    2011 - 05.04

    Part I: blowin like supernovae

    I’m still buzzing from what went on this weekend!  I spent maybe two or three solid nights last week putting together that SETI infographic and wow, was it ever worthwhile!  (Understatement.)  On a lark, I sent an email to Phil Plait, formerly of the Hubble Telescope project and famous astro-blogger extraordinaire who has a devout following on his site Bad Astronomy, where he writes about all things cosmical and skeptical.  I’m surmising most of you are probably intimately familiar already, but just in case, this whole incident made me notice that I never called out his site on here–I check it nearly every single day and there is always something wonderful there.  If you aren’t familiar, get at it, post-haste!

    Yeah, so Phil liked it, put up the infographic on his site which also linked here, and then posted it to reddit.  Ho-leee bandwidth batman.  Site=crashed.  Blown up.  I was floored.

    This is my first time experiencing something of this magnitude.  Quickly the image was captured and rehosted elsewhere since the site was barely accessible.  I awoke Sunday morning to a whole bunch of email and a rapidly exploding string of comments, especially on reddit.  Reading the wealth of opinions has been fascinating!  Phil sent a message saying I should swap the infographic over to flickr, which I hastily did.  As of this writing it’s at 21,031 views and still climbing almost every time I hit refresh.  The one the redditors used for a mirror is at 3,983 views.  Considering it had almost 12,000 of those in the first 12 hours…  That kinda blows my mind.

    And delights me.  I’m happy that after reading science blogs and surfing sites like digg and reddit for so long I finally made something of interest to give back, something worth looking at.  Reading all the thoughts people have chimed in with has been simply excellent, and, AND!!  There have been some even cooler things that happened!  Let’s go down the list:

    1. People started talking.  Other bloggers chimed in, and Florian Freistetter, a PhD astronomer in Germany even wrote a blog post about it. (tip: use google translate) This thing went around the whole world!  CRA-ZEE

    2. I got to talk with the Bad Astronomer a little.  Phil is a really cool guy!  He was super nice to me, and generally a peach about everything.  I hope that maybe in the future I will come up with something else worth emailing him about (hint: it’s not this post!)

    3. Crossing over into the realm of ridicu-cool: one of the comments on Bad Astromony was from Jill Tarter.  Yeah.  That’s the woman who Jodie Foster’s character is based upon in the movie Contact.  Wow.

    So hey, there you go!  I really should try infographics more often.  I guess having a good idea for one is really the hard part.

    Part Deux: So You’re Here!  Now what?

    Well, I suspect that there is now a new crowd around here, or at the very least, a handful of elite surfers still hanging out.  And you’re probably interested in space.  Okay, space, we can do that! I’ll separate it into two nice categories for you:

    Category Alpha: “I’m one of those brainy types who needs in-depth, thoughtful prose to hold my attention”

    “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)

    Surfing the Nebulae

    Category Beta: “Who are you kidding, this is the internet!  I need short, quick space porn to gawk at between twitterati meltdowns and clicking refresh on gadget blogs”

    Sweet Shuttle Shot

    The Cassini Flyby of Saturn (real life, not CG) – video

    Take a Ride on a Solid Rocket Booster! – video

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

    Just Some Awesome View of the Sky

     

    And lastly:

    If you liked imaginary numbers, get a load of these: Imaginary Colors.

    A SETI Infographic


    2011 - 04.30

    UPDATE: At the behest of team SETI, a sequel to this infographic has been produced, showing how we can all pitch in a small amount of money, and DO something to restart the ATA.  SETIstars.org, get at it!

    So it looks like the Allen Telescope Array (which I mentioned previously on here) is falling onto the chopping block in this era of fiscal “emergency.”   To me, this sounds a lot like the recent battle to defund NPR or PBS, in that the money they need to continue is just . . . chump change in the grand scheme of finances.  They’re $2.5 million short, and for that, they’ll need to stop taking data and shut down the telescope array.  It deeply bums me out to think that such a low value is placed on the quest to find other intelligence in our universe.  When compared with so many other things that gladly get millions or billions of dollars, it’s maddening to see SETI so marginalized.  Do we really just not care??  Seriously??

    There’s an awesome article over at Wired Science, interviewing Jill Tarter about the whole deal.  Go check it.

    And to put things into perspective, I’ve whipped up this handy infographic, comparing how $2.5 million compares to so many other things that we absolutely must have, and will not hesitate to pay for:

    When I created this, I deliberately chose things that weren’t the most supreme.  For example, I priced a Predator drone @ $4.5M, instead of a Stealth Bomber, which is a cool billion.  The iPad sales dollars are probably much higher than I showed.  And I showed the Citigroup portion of the bailout, instead of the full bailout ($300B).  I also swapped the second and third to last entries in order to put the NASA budget immediately next to the DOD budget.  Imagine what we would know about the universe if those two were swapped.  (And maybe we could still lead the world by sheer power of inspiration.)  It’s the stuff of pipe dreams!

    Since the dawn of time, humans have looked up at the stars and wondered what they were, wondered what was out there.  Now that we have the technology to actually look, and even a good idea where to look, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, it’s all the more maddening that it should fall under the axe, deemed unimportant, unworthy of those precious dollars.  Sure, it’s true that there are innumerable causes out there which pull at our emotions and demand the attentions of our pragmatic sides.  But what outcome has higher stakes than finding out we’re not alone in the cosmos?  When that happens, human history will be split into two neat periods: before we knew about them, and after.  BC will stand for before contact, and AD will be replaced by AC; after contact.  Nothing else would transform our cultures, our politics, our religions, our folklores like knowing we’re not just a lone voice, but part of a galactic chorus.  The most recent findings tell us that “within a thousand light-years of Earth,” there are “at least 30,000” habitable planets, and there are “at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way” of which “at least 500 million” are in the habitable zone.  The glorious Milky Way, with its wealth of diversity and abundance of worlds  is right there waiting for us, if we could but pick up the receiver and listen.

    The Cassini Flyby of Saturn. This is real life, not CG.


    2011 - 03.21

    5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

    Take a ride on a solid rocket booster


    2011 - 03.06

    You may want to skip around to watch all the cool parts, like separation and splashdown, but damn, this video knocks me out.  These are some impressive views of the space shuttle Discovery in action, on its last mission.

    You just blew my mind: Imaginary Colors


    2011 - 02.15

    Move over imaginary numbers, there’s a new impossible-to-visualize concept in town: Imaginary Colors!

    Stick with me here: Cone cells are the photoreceptor cells in your retinas that allow you to see colors. Human beings have three sizes of cone cells, logically named S (small), M (medium), and L (large). Each of these three is best at a particular range of wavelengths of light, and the combinations of how much each particular cone gets ‘stimulated’ by a light wave will determine the color you see. The color yellow, for example, is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones and not much activity happens at the S cones. Yellow!

    So all colors are a combination of different cone responses. Here’s where things get wild: there are theoretical combinations of cone responses which cannot be generated by any physical light source! That means there’s colors that your eyes could see, but that no light could make!

    Dude.

    I found out about this when I was working on a Photoshop tutorial and started reading about Lab color. Lab color is an alternate colorspace (ie not RGB like a monitor or CMYK like a printing press) designed to mimic the behavior of the human eye. But there are a lot of colors which are possible to create in Lab color which cannot be reproduced by your RGB monitor. Or by ANYTHING!

    all the white=imaginary colors! So are you salivating yet, over these new colors that you’ve never seen before? Wanna know how to see them? Yes you do! It’s easy. And a little disappointing, because all you can get is a limited, fleeting glimpse. Says Wikipedia:

    “If a saturated green is viewed until the green receptors are fatigued and then a saturated red is viewed, a perception of red more intense than pure spectral red can be experienced. This is due to the fatigue of the green receptors and the resulting lack of their ability to desaturate the perceptual response to the output of the red receptors.”

    I think I remember having that effect at a 5th grade Science fair after staring too long at a giant posterboard colored bright neon lime. As a final note, one last anecdote from Wikipedia:

    “At Walt Disney World, Kodak engineered Epcot’s pavement to be a certain hue of pink so that the grass would look greener through the reverse of this effect.”

    Crazy!!

    Maybe someday when computers have the ability to interface directly with our retinas, we’ll be able to “see” other colors… Maybe like an augmented reality style HUD or something.  Or maybe just the most awesomest music visualizer ever.  Hello, Institute of Shockingly Incredible Research That Sadly Has No Practical Value?  I’d like to sign up for your Imaginary Colors program! ;)

    Kepler’s Exoplanets, visualized


    2011 - 02.14

    Over at vimeo, there is this excellent video comparing sizes, temperatures and orbital distances of the 1236 planets (I thought it was 1235… now there’s one more!) discovered by the Kepler space telescope. The two highlighted planets are the ones most likely to have ‘habitable’ conditions.

    And this also merits an addendum to my previous Kepler post; all the planets discovered have orbits very close to their stars–just look at the position of Mercury in that video! Which means that all of them have fast orbits.

    Kepler hasn’t even begun discovering the planets that have slow orbits, farther away from their stars. I see only one single planet out of those 1236 that has an orbit wider than Earth’s. Just think what this Kepler work will reveal as the years continue to pass.