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  • Posts Tagged ‘our incredible universe’

    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….

    Kepler lovers, get comfy


    2012 - 04.04

    The Kepler Space Telescope, which I was riffing on a while back was supposed to run out of funding this November.  Well, stock up on popcorn exoplanet hunters because the show is going to keep going for a long time!  As of today, NASA has extended the mission to 2016.  Yes, that’s right.  Pass the salt :D

    Timelapse… IN SPACE


    2012 - 03.26

    I’m guessing a lot of the readership is already aware of this video, but I’m going to post it anyway because this timelapse is just THAT badass. It’s shot from outer space (on the ISS) and shows some unbelievably spectacular views of the heavens in motion and earth spinning below them.  To me, it really drives home the notion that we’re floating in space… a fact that we seldom take time to appreciate.  Ultra-cool:

     

    And, unlike a lot of awesome timelapse videos, the music is surprisingly tasteful! I can’t get enough of this one.

    μC Bicentennial


    2012 - 03.12

    Well here we are folks, blogpost # 200. It’s nice milestone to be hitting!

    Hmm, pressure’s on, better bust out something cool… how about a photo I took…… of the moon?? 

    Shot with Canon 100-300mm @ 300 and cropped (1:1 original resolution shown). 1/125th @ f/11 ISO 100. w/ a Canon T3i. Mirror lockup and ten second delay on the shutter. Phase based autofocus (through the viewfinder). Light enhancements in CS5.

    It occurred to me that I’d never taken my 100-300mm zoom outside on a clear night at tried snapping shots of the moon at the long end of the lens. What you see here is a 100% resolution crop. So this is the max resolving power of my erm, best refractor, at the moment, coupled with the T3i’s max 18MP setting. I’d say it came out pretty well.

    And speaking of new phases, I will be moving soon! Which means a whole lot less time on the computer and thereby a whole lot less time available for posting on here for a while. Fortunately I’m way, way, way behind on posting my Primo Vino Art, so there will be a bountiful explosion of images for you photography nuts and oenophiles. I intend to schedule these posts in advance, so while I am busy shuffling boxes around there will still be a steady stream of things to look at.

    Speaking of things to look at, some of you may have noticed that the header image at the top of this blog has been changing recently. I happened upon a really sweet little piece of code that allows you to setup a directory full of images, and then randomly display any one of them. Currently there are 4 different header images that appear at random. Over time, I intend to continue expanding this until there’s like 10-20 different ones. Eventually the background may become randomized as well. Variety! It’s the spice of life. And we all know spice expands consciousness.

    Feels good to hit 200! Cheers people!

    A sampling of Nebulae from Other Galaxies


    2012 - 03.03

    A week or so ago I sent a brief letter to mister Phil Plait, aka the Bad Astronomer. I read his blog about every day and it’s almost always got something of interest to me. The letter was:

    I keep thinking about something you said on Bad Astronomy. You were talking about the Orion Nebula, saying how it’s so large and vibrant that it would stand out to observers from another galaxy who were looking at the Milky Way. That got me thinking: are there large nebulae in other galaxies that we can see, as ‘standout’ features? The biggest picture I’ve ever seen of another galaxy was Andromeda, and I looked for an equivalent of M42 in M31, but I didn’t spot much. Are there any well known examples of large beautiful nebulas in other galaxies?

    And he replied:

    Actually, yes. Look online for image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is lousy with nebulae. Also NGC 604 in the Triangulum Galaxy. One of my favorites!

    So let’s look at those things he recommended! We’ll start with NCG 604.  Since this one is actually located inside of a distant galaxy, I think it qualifies best as what I was originally thinking of.  First off, check out this sweet 25 hour “amateur” capture of the whole Triangulum Galaxy:

    If you didn’t spot NGC 604 already, it’s the large pinkish area straight below the two large yellow stars at the top of the picture.  The appearance of NGC 604 seems to vary a lot depending on what wavelengths you look at.  This one from Hubble is my favorite:

    I did a little reading based off Phil’s suggestions and found out that all the Nebulae I’ve been digging are called H II regions, for those who are ‘in the know’. As you might guess, this name refers to a concentration of ionized hydrogen gas, H2. Get the full lowdown on wikipedia, it’s a good read.  But back to the gawking.  Checking out the Large Magellanic Cloud, the biggest standout Nebula is the Tarantula, which is actually the most active starburst region in our local group of galaxies. Accordingly, it’s mondo-luminous. If the Tarantula Nebula were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, it would shine as bright as the full moon in the night sky. Think about that! It would cast shadows; you could possibly read by that light at night. Jeez.

    Also really sweet in the LMC is LH 95, another incredible-looking nebula where stars are being born.

    Just for a little perspective, here are some distances:
    Large Magellanic Cloud: 160 thousand light years (w/ Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070)
    Andromeda Galaxy (M31): 2.6 million light years
    Triangulum Galaxy (M33): 3 million light years (w/ NGC 604)

    Far out, maaaan. It’s cool to check out those starburst regions as parts of other galaxies. A brief blurb from wikipedia worth repeating:

    From a viewpoint in the LMC, the Milky Way would be a spectacular sight. The galaxy’s total apparent magnitude would be -2.0—over 14 times brighter than the LMC appears to us on Earth—and it would span about 36° across the sky, which is the width of over 70 full moons. Furthermore, because of the LMC’s high galactic latitude, an observer there would get an oblique view of the entire galaxy, free from the interference of interstellar dust which makes studying in the Milky Way’s plane difficult from Earth. The Small Magellanic Cloud would be about magnitude 0.6, substantially brighter than the LMC appears to us.

    One more to leave you with, N90, in the Small Magellanic Cloud:

    If you dig this, then check out what else awaits under the cosmology tag.

    Step One: Build Epic Space Telescope. Step Two: ??? Step Three: PROFIT!


    2012 - 02.17

    There’s been a lot of talk lately about the budget cuts facing NASA, and indeed they are deep, and correspondingly tragic. I’m sure the space crowd around here is already well versed, so we’ll skip the rehash.

    But I do want to remind us all that there are ultra-sweet projects nearing fruition: budget cuts can’t stop Curiousity, which is well on its way to the red planet. The biggest, baddest rover that ever was! That thing is going to get new high scores, starting in August.

    And, despite gobbling up all the money that could have been used for myriad enticing small projects, the James Webb Space Telescope will be built and launched. One could make a very strong case that this was the wrong decision, in light of the opportunity costs in scrapped missions the Webb consumed, but I say hey, what recent space project has done more to raise public interest in astronomy than Hubble? I mean, I’d put Hubble at #2 behind the Apollo missions in terms of ability to get people fired up and fascinated with the sky. Having a brand new, next generation eye up in space is going to create better images than ever before. Pretty pictures are important, to capture the imaginations of new generations.

    In the end, it is sad that our national priorities are what they are–jeez, on MANY levels! As the SETI infographic highlighted, there is a massive disconnect between planning for an inevitable future (ie space exploration/research) versus how our money/resources get burned away at the altar of short-term profit (war profiteerism/exploitation of natural resources with disregard to the planet/etc)

    Out of everything I’ve done on this website, that infographic brought way more people through the door than everything else combined. Even almost a year later there is a steady trickle of visitors every single day who come here to look at that. What does that say? I’d venture it says there’s a large group of people out there who agree that our destiny, as an evolving lifeform, lies beyond the shore of the cosmic ocean, here on Earth. And by extension, it means that our survival depends on knowing the Universe. How well can we explore it, exploit its treasures and avoid its dangers? The answer to our ultimate fate lies in how much effort we are willing to devote into these things.

    What would it take to shift our societal priorities away from petty conflicts and toward the next horizon? There’s no way of saying. But Curiosity and James Webb are two powerful steps toward raising public awareness that hey, there is this giant thing called the Cosmos; it’s all around us and inconcievably more vast, richer, and filled with more splendor than Earth alone could ever hold. Seriously. We should go check that out. We should be part of that. To the people already abundantly aware of it, it’s easy to feel like maaaan, why aren’t we doing this already? Why did we cancel Apollo? Why haven’t we set foot on Mars yet? Why does our brain power go to work on Wall Street, instead of at JPL? Don’t they understand that we have places to GO?

    I definitely feel that myself. But I also remind myself that it’s still less than one century since the theory of “island universes” became an accepted idea. It takes time to build concensus. It took eons for life to evolve from the sea to the land, and it will take perhaps a long time for humankind’s larger consciousness to grasp what the revelations of the last century in astronomy actually means for us all. I have to admit, I feel it does say something dark and disturbing about our society that we should develop fusion bombs well before fusion powerplants. But I keep hope that as James Webb lifts the veil from the great cosmic metropolis stretching to infinity in all directions, and as Curiousity digs to find martian secrets in our veritable backyard, it will open more eyes.

    Open more eyes to the unavoidable truth that the Universe is beyond our vocabulary for Ancient, Boundless, and Beautiful. It has existed for longer than the word Epochs can articulate and it will continue unaffected when we are gone. An extension of our word for “nature,” the cosmos is equally stuffed to the brim with magnificence as it is with impartiality toward the folly of its minor tenants. The sooner we awaken to our own frailty and societally grok the rarity, the sacredness of life, the better our chances to gain that lucky opportunity to be part of this cosmos, to savor it and chronicle it.

    To me, that’s the truth that Webb will awaken in more people. Curiosity is the other prong; doing. Being able to know what’s out there and prepare to go ourselves. That’s the part where the “homo” genus get to, you know, not become extict someday. But in order to get there, we need to prioritize it. We need the vision to see. Fortunately we’re going to get the most powerful set of eyeglasses yet, launching around 2018………

    Space Is The Place: The Carina Nebula


    2012 - 02.08

    Today in totally mindblowing space images, NGC 3372, aka the Carina Nebula, as captured by the Very Large Telescope in Chile.  Click to see the awe-inspiring 4000 x 2727 version; although the interwebs are abuzz with this image, I had a hard time finding huge-size versions, which was part of my motivation to post it here.  Also, if you wanna go whole-hog, check out the 13092 x 8926 version on ESO’s website.  WOW.  If you like the picture, do read the wikipedia article, as there are several neat facts about the nebula.  Foremost of which is that although the southern-hemisphere-only Carina is not as well known as its northern cousin, M42 (the Orion Nebula), it’s actually bigger and brighter.  For observers in the Andromeda Galaxy, this baby would be one of the standout features of the mysterious, nearby Milky Way.  And what a stunner she is:

    supernova goes pop


    2012 - 01.26

    You’d think that comets crashing into stars and supernovae are things that don’t happen too often. Eh, you’d be wrong if you thought that!

    Today on Ars Technica I read a super cool analysis of a comet crashing into the sun, along with the juicy nugget of info that sun-grazing comets actually come along about once every 3 days. Once every 3 days–that’s a lot of comets! I had no idea. Kinda makes one reconsider the notion that space is a mostly empty place.

    Also, the first supernova of 2012 has been spotted via automated telescope. On one hand, it’s kind of sad that the days of amateur astronomers discovering these things may be tapering off, since automated all-sky observations pick up anything and everything unusual these days. I guess the flip side of that coin is that we’ll learn more and learn faster. Also the amateur astronomers know where to point their scopes to capture abnormal events faster so maybe more observations will actually happen.  On that tip, it looks like some guys over at the totally badass astronomy forum cloudy nights were indeed snapping shots of 2012a.  Below I’m posting the amateur image, because it’s pretty sweet to see that weekend warriors can really do this stuff;

    More Startime in the Back Yard


    2012 - 01.07

    Here’s another one of those startrails images compiled with StarStax from 384 originals with 10sec, f/4.5, @ ISO 1600 exposure on each.  This image shows the time between 8:49pm 10:31pm.  I would have gone longer but the lens was starting to dew up!