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  • Posts Tagged ‘our incredible universe’

    What’s redder than red?


    2013 - 03.02

    Ever since I got my wonderful Canon T3i a couple years ago (which I STILL think is the sweet-spot in DSLR price/performance/features), I’ve had a perfectly good 10MP Canon XTi body which has been essentially gathering dust.  What to do about this…. I could sell it, although unfortunately, older generations of DSLR bodies depreciate pretty severely  in spite of the fact that it’s still eminently capable.

    A better option: convert it to an Infrared body.  This procedure can be a DIY modification, although it is NOT for the faint of heart.  I’d been thinking about this for a long time so I was excited when it came up in conversation that a coworker of mine repairs/resells DSLRs as a hobby.  It sounds like this might actually happen sometime in the next few months.

    In the meantime, I noticed this really badass timelapse video shot with an infrared DSLR:

    There’s a great explanation on Bad Astronomy of why thing appear they way they do in infrared.  Basically plants reflect a lot more infrared light than any other color–including green!  When you get these photos out of the camera, they appear almost all red in color, so heavy-duty post-processing is needed to get these greyscale scenes with blue skies.  I’ll need to learn about all that to get to the point of making videos like the one shown above, but I don’t think it’s anything beyond my abilities.  Time will tell, but it’d be awesome to make something like this…

    Beginners Mind again, for this: The Hubble Extreme Deep Field


    2012 - 10.21

    One of the first cosmological images which really and truly blew my mind as a young adult was the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field. Basically the idea was “Hey, what happens if we take our most powerful telescope and point it somewhere that’s pretty much empty and just stare at that spot for a really long time. What would we see?” The answer to that question was “We see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 very distant galaxies.” Pause and let that marinate for a moment.

    Here is a closeup on one small area of the image, a random part that I thought looked cool:

    For a long time I left that as the wallpaper for my computer at work and I’d come in every morning and stare at the image while my slow computer took forever to finish loading windows. What was cool about having it as the wallpaper I had to look at while I waited for the machine to become usable was just how much there is to look at in there. As long as I stared at it, I’m certain there’s oodles of things I still didn’t notice. Looking at it first thing in the morning too, when the mind is raw and still gradually awakening surely added some awe to the effect as well. It’s staring into an abyss. Staring into infinity. And knowing that it stares back at you too…

    As a humorous aside, I’ll note that the “Hubble Ultra-Deep Field” is actually the sucessor to the “Hubble Deep Field” which showed a different region in space. And this new image, the “Hubble Extreme-Deep Field” is a closeup of a smaller section within the Ultra-Deep Field image, adding around 5,500 galaxies to the original 10,000+. When the James Webb Space Telescope goes online, they have plans to image the same area with it’s mighty Infrared sensing capability. What will that image be called? The Ultra-Extreme Uber-Deep Field Tournament Edition Plus. Director’s cut. Enhanced, expanded edition. Two. Strikes Back. Reloaded. Chopped and Screwed. Remix. Turbo.

    Whatever, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just, everyone, do me a favor: full rez this new baby and spend at least two minutes staring, thinking about what it shows:

    Everything on the internet, everything in a book, everything you’ve ever heard, learned, imagined, or even dreamed, in the most remote recess of your subconscious, is all within the realm of the ‘Earth’ experience. And Earth is a single, small terrestrial planet out in some sleepy backwater arm of the Milky Way, a perfectly average spiral galaxy with about 300 billion stars, and about as many planets, with maybe 10 billion of these being in the goldilocks “habitable” zone. Or at least habitable to “life as we know it”. Nevermind moons, nevermind thermally-supported life, nevermind ‘Steppenwolf’ planets that were flung from their parent stars. If the entire breadth of human knowledge, emotion, and experience resides within our differential-unit-small grain of sand that’s floating in the Milky Way swimming pool, then try to concieve of the vast diversity of lifeforms, cultures, natural wonders, and sub-realities residing within the oceanic field of view of this image, depicting thousands upon thousands of distant galaxies. Try to imagine traveling there, surveying them. Imagine exploring just a handful of those galaxies and chronicling the habits of their residents.

    How could we explore it? First we’d need to aggressively master interplanetary voyages, remote communication and colonization. Fly probes and listening devices to the Kuiper Belt. Mount them to passing comets for a long voyage back out to the Oort cloud. Use those to learn about the radiation and galactic wind in interstellar space. Develop shielding, life prolonging and hybernation capabilities for deep space travel. Contact alien cultures within our own galaxy and master inter-species diplomacy. Develop non-invasive, non-destructive ways to study primitive life still early in its evolutionary tree. Catch the best bacteria to help us live longer, retain more knowledge. Authoritively chronicle the Milky Way with billion-year data storage capability. Pool resources with other intelligences to build intergalactic ships or probes. Scatter them in all directions to search for points of interest. Then, finally, research ways to reach the most distant of galactic neighborhoods like the ones we see in these pictures. My point: The actual exploration of these places is not something that’s a few ‘ages’ away in terms of a civilization. Exploring these places is an act for intelligences unthinkably more sophisticated than our own… But we can dream of it.

    When I look at this, I like to focus in on individual places and try to imagine what might be there. I like to find a pretty looking galaxy and think about what planets might be inside of it. Or sometimes find a teeny sub-pixel dot and wonder if that less-than-a-pixel point is a whole giant supergalaxy, burgeoning with life forms, interstellar commerce & conflict, culture & craftsmanship. Maybe these two galaxies colliding are locked in an interspecies war millions of years long. Maybe they’ve evolved organic-electronic synthetic intelligences that can instantly teleport between host bodies, allowing them to be anywhere their race has ever traveled instantaneously. I wonder what their music sounds like. I wonder what senses they have. Can they “see” radio waves? Does their culture have money, or government? I wonder what “pleasure” or “sex” means to them? Or consciousness? I wonder what THEIR telescopes have discovered about the formation of the cosmos. Does it look “the same in all directions” from the far-far edge of what we humans can see?

    It’s fun to try envisioning all these things. And then humorous, in a zen sort of way, genuinely humorous, knowing that it’s impossible. You can’t. You’re looking at something so much bigger, ancient, and wilder than the capability of the feeble human brain to comprehend. The are not human words in any language to meaningfully describe what any of these Hubble Fields show. These images, obscured by the thick, nearly-opaque veil of distance, give the most fuzzy, teasing glimpse of something beyond us. Something beyond even what our most distant descendant will ever become. I find that deeply exciting. This picture shows, unquestionably, indisputably, that the universe has more to explore than is possible to explore. What better reason to be alive in this cosmos?

    Armstrong’s gone & the full moon’s blue


    2012 - 09.03

    Still ruminating on the passing of Neil Armstrong.  As my tiny tribute to him, I decided to take a photo of the first full moon after his death, which also happens to be the last blue moon until 2015.  I added the blue coloration in post… the blues for one less moonwalker among us.

    Neil Armstrong,1930-2012


    2012 - 08.26

    The first man to walk on the moon died yesterday.  That’s a guy whose name will be printed in history books as long as humankind ever has them.

    Will there come a time when all people who’ve walked on the face of another world are no longer alive?  That’s a sad thought.  I hope that we get some fresh boots back into deep space sooner than later.  Armstrong would certainly want it no other way…

    The Summer Blockbuster of 2012


    2012 - 07.20

    It’s the 43rd anniversary of the moon landing today, so I gotsta post this:

    It’s coming. August 5th, 2012 at 11:30pm. The Seven Minutes of Terror:

     

    I dig how the official NASA video builds it up like a movie trailer. Because really, this stuff is honestly more badass than any movie. This is the exploration of other worlds, happing in real life and we get to watch it! Unless the sky crane doesn’t work and it crashes. Which is possible… keep your fingers crossed everyone. It’s gonna be an edge-of-your-seat ride, coming soon to a planet near you!

    A nice reminder


    2012 - 07.19

    This pic of the Orion Nebula is so fresh.


    2012 - 07.17

    No one can argue otherwise:

     

    Oh man, two new Hubble Space Teless–heyyyyyy wait a minute!


    2012 - 06.14

    I dig space telescopes. The images they produce are moving on an emotional level and alter the way I see the world around me on an intellectual level. I like talking about them, thinking about the things they are telling us about that giant universe that’s out there, lurking above the thin blue haze which protects us from vacuum. In the news last week I see that NASA has recently been given not one, but TWO spare telescopes from one of the sixteen different US spy agencies, the National Reconnaissance Office. In fact, the mirrors on these things are the same size as Hubble’s mirror (7.9ft). NASA isn’t sure yet how they’ll use these super sweet mirrors. The ‘scopes will need to be kitted out with cameras, spectroscopes, electronics, etc and applied to a specific mission before they see any use, which they’re saying will probably happen in the 2020s.

    But hold the phone here–these things were sitting in a warehouse collecting dust for who knows how long before some record keeper at the NRO said, gee, maybe someone could, like, use these? I recently donated some items to the local goodwill and all of it was stuff that had been sitting around forever; things I hadn’t interacted with in years and were essentially useless to me. The discoveries Hubble has made, the pictures it’s been taking, the realizations about the universe it’s spurred–you could argue that it’s the most important single instrument on the NASA inventory.

    And yet, at just one of our 16 spy agencies, they’ve got TWO of these things, mothballed. The optics on these, still considered “state of the art” to NASA, are ostensibly so old and outdated to the spy crowd that they’re literally giving them away. This raises so many questions… It makes you wonder what else your tax dollars have bought, sitting unused in a giant warehouse somewhere. It makes you wonder what the heck the NRO is using now that is so much better, to the point that a Hubble-equivalent is considered worthless. It makes you wonder how much THAT cost (and when they’re giving one to NASA). It makes you wonder why publicly-funded NASA has to struggle and languish and put a hundred other amazing missions on the chopping block in order to make their James Webb Space Telescope happen, while the also-publicly-funded spy agencies probably get a blank check in a blacked-out portion of the budget with carte blanche to build the best ‘scopes concievable… something far ahead of what NASA can do. It makes you wonder about the ability of democratic governments, of which we are made to believe the Unites States is supposedly the pinnacle, to allocate their collective resources into meaningful and worthwhile pursuits. It makes you wonder about our priorities as a society… which I suppose are decided on our behalves by a tiny elite, as they always have been throughout history.

    In the end, someone devoted to discovery, understanding, and endless research (aka science as a whole, science as a lifestyle) needs to calibrate their expectations. That’s a despicable euphemism but it’s a fact of life. In the world of academia, you will be hard pressed to find places where the engineering department funding and facilities outstrip that of the athletic department. Those rare enclaves exist as exceptions to the rule. Will governments continue to squander their cut of the GDP on self-indulgent machinations? Until the end of time. There is a constant battle going on inside of me, between cynicism and optimism. Which side of that battle rules the day comes down to what I focus on. For today, I want to force myself into focusing on the part of this tale where NASA gets two new Hubble mirrors for free. And remind myself that Kepler is still scoring more points every day while James Webb inches ahead here on the ground. All those facts are something worth toasting to. Here, here.

    Space News Quarterly


    2012 - 06.01

    A few space related odds and ends:

    Another awesome interview with Level 60 Exoplanet Wizard Geoff Marcy, from Wired Science. He talks about how he’s leaving the Kepler planet hunt and joining the SETI team, which is pretty sweet. He goes on to describe how alien civilizations probably use lasers to communicate–highly directed beams of signals–and that we’ve been beaming lasers into space ourselves, ironically from the adaptive optics systems of large telescopes! It’s a cool read, check it out:

    There’s also a cool interview with the outgoing SETI champion, Jill Tarter, who is stepping down from the leadership role to concentrate more on fundraising for SETI, which is good to hear. She cites last year’s shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array as a wakeup call–I’ll bet it was. As written about previously on here, they’re looking to do more crowdsourcing and other creative ways of securing the finances to continue their important work, and that’s a smart choice.

    Last thing I’ll highlight is that last week the SpaceX Dragon capsule at last docked with the ISS. That’s a significant event in space exploration, purely because until now only Japan, NASA, Russia, and the ESO had sent spacecraft there–all large governmental organizations. This docking is a feat of engineering and it’s really cool that SpaceX has gotten that far along.

    Infrared Telescope Action


    2012 - 05.25

    Just check this out.

    Now think about what the James Webb will be able to do in infrared….