Thursday, November 29, 2007

sounds from saturn

NASA has released sounds of saturn recorded by the cassini-huygens mission. the radio emissions from saturn are closely related to the auroras near the poles of the planet so they are related to the planet's magnetic fields.

scientists did some messing around with the radio emissions recorded from saturn so that they are actually audible to the human ear. listen here

as points out, saturn sounds an awful lot like the 1956 science fiction movie Forbidden Planet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

the pleasure of finding things out

richard feynman's precocious existence kept his colleagues and enthusiasts of physics intrigued for many decades! he was well-known as one of the best lectures ever recorded.

he won the nobel prize in physics in 1965 for the Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics.

i read his auto-biography, surely you're joking, mr. feynman! it's quite entertaining, but i wouldnt call it a "page-turner." as an undergrad physics major, i was much more mesmerized by his 3-volume series called lectures on physics.

below is an inspiring video of an interview with feynman that shares intuitive view on his life and how he came to be a physics nobel laureate. this is rather long video at 50 minutes, but it's completely absorbing from the very start. at least watch the first 2 minutes about the beauty of a flower! he then discusses lessons he learned from his father as a child, his involvement with creating the atomic bomb in the 1940's, winning the nobel prize and how much he doesnt care about honors, his understanding of quantum mechanics, why he's actively irresponsible, his (lack of) theory of teaching.... and i really enjoy the last couple minutes...

you can also listen to, and watch extended physics lectures about quantum mechanics, here.... they're quite good as well! he creates wonderful analogies that make very difficult mathematical results feel attainable!

a feynman quote i've always enjoyed.... "physics is like sex. sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."

he's worked his way into popular culture....

feynman also truly understood that regardless of what you work hard to accomplish in your life... you need to have fun... and have orange juice!

hiking in the swiss alps

this is a video i made last fall after my visit to switzerland. i stayed in the small town of gimmelwald, hiked to the alpen peak of schilthorn, and also some glacial ice caves along the valley. if you ever pass thru, i recommend the mountain hostel!

books of 2007

of the NY Times 100 notable books of 2007, i have read one: harry potter and the deathly hallows.

i admit that it hasnt been a great year for me to finish books. living in new locations causes me to explore as much as possible instead of snuggling up with a good book.

i'm reading a good novel right now, but i have nothing on deck and no ideas either.... can anyone suggest something for me to read? i'm not picky about genre or author or topic or anything. what are your favorite books and what should i absolutely, positively read without hesitation?!? thanks!

image: Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura Rio De Janeiro, Brasil
via: curious expeditions

Saturday, November 24, 2007

mars approaches

mars has doubled its brightness over the last month, and will continue to get brighter as earth and mars move close together in their orbits. mars will continue to get brighter until december 18th when earth and mars are at their closest distance... 55 million miles! to take advantage of this closeness, NASA launched the Phoenix Lander this past august, which will finally reach mars in may 2008.

you can spot the moon in the constellation, gemini, rising in the east in the early evening. monday night, nov 26, look for mars and our moon to be very close together in the sky! enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

beware the shopocalypse

the annual holiday shopocalypse is nigh upon us.

i refuse to go to malls because i have no patience for them and they put me in a bad mood. and i strongly dislike commercial consumerism, in general, but i do enjoy giving gifts to my family and friends to remind them that i love them. i think that gifts created by your very own hands are always the most cherished! but for the busiest among us.... i've compiled a quick list of good places to shop that benefit real life human artisans from all over the world:

ten thousand villages
a greater gift
home grown market
sweat free online consumer guide
co-op america
global exchange
stars and infinite darkness

there might be a trailer for the movie "what would jesus buy" posted below, but if not: view it here

still expanding comet holmes

wow!!! has anyone else seen comet holmes look the way Peter von Bagh saw it in this photo? i'm not sure how long he exposed this image for, but he didnt use a telescope....

APOD also has a nice picture today taken with the big 3.6-meter canada-france-hawaii telescope on mauna kea in hawaii. it's neat how you can see far away stars thru the envelop of dust and gas that has formed and expanded around the nucleus of the comet. this envelop is called a "coma."

speaking of expanding gas... astronomers in hawaii have shown that the volume puffy gas ball that is now comet holmes, is bigger than the sun!!! they report that since the initial explosion seen from comet holmes on october 24 (for reasons we still don't fully understand), the gas has continued to expand and push outwards at a steady pace of 0.5 km/sec (1100 mph)! that's some quick moving gas! now the gas extends in space with a diameter of 1.4 million kilometers (0.9 million miles) as of november 9, 2007, making it the single largest object in our solar system. holy crap!!! that was unexpected! you can see and image of saturn next to the sun for some scale, and also consider that you can fit 100 earths next to each other across the image of the sun!

thats a big comet!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

nice nearness

this friday night, there will be a nice nearness between the nearly full moon and the pleaides star cluster (see star map here). some people in the northern part of the world will see the moon pass right in from of the pleiades, occulting the tiny little dipper!

unnecessary *things*

most of the "things" that we buy with our hard-earned money, are absolutely not necessary. we buy them just to buy them. we consume beyond our needs. why is that?

when i returned to the US, i unpacked all the stuff i had in storage, that i hadnt used or even thought about in an entire year. these were the items i felt worthy to save for the year i was gone... things that i thought i would really need when i got back.

and then i found the mold. nearly everything that i saved was covered in a fine blue-green powdery mold that grew in my absence (i now recognize the benefit of climate-controlled storage facilities)! after a couple weeks of fighting back against the mold, i gave up and just started throwing things away.

i worked very hard to clean and save childhood mementos, photo albums, and all the journals i started keeping in 3rd grade. certain things i'm having to replace, like camping equipment and some clothes, but i have ultimately felt liberated by getting rid of so much stuff!

part of the problem is the endless advertising to which we are subjected. a person living in a modern city sees 5,000 ad messages a DAY! absolute sensory overload as our eyes meet potential products to buy instead of earth's natural beauty.

thats why i'm very excited to learn about the anti-advertising agency! this agency and Packard Jennings took a poll of residents around the oakland area to find out "what advertising tactics they found most bothersome in their neighborhoods." in response, they created clever anti-advertising artwork for bus stop benches! brilliant!!

fine print: i say all this as my blog flashes google ads along the side. i recognize this hypocrisy, and i'm thinking about it....

conversations with astrophysicists

phd comics hoy dia:

the first row mini-comic-within-a-comic is oh so true. i'll also add that if i really want to impress someone with the intention of continuing the conversation, i throw out that "i'm an astrophysicist." although i've learned that this can backfire if too many alcoholic beverages are consumed because there's the potential to say "i'm an astro-phythithistht."

interesting how this comic mentions the concept of a theory of everything, and the astrophysics grad student character, katie, remains more enthusiastic about the possibility than i do!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

writers not on strike

hillary clinton should give a bonus to which ever of her speech writers came up with this gem that made me laugh out loud today:

"It takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush."

maybe she came up with this line herself, i dont know... but i think its funny no matter where your opinions may lie along the political spectrum.

its beautiful all the way down

today's phd comic:

good summary of observing: "you spend night after night in isolation, not wasting one minute, checking on the equipment as photons from stars billions of miles away and millions of years old impinge upon your calibrated CCD sensors, hoping they carry data good enough for a thesis."

as it turns out, i've spent over 4 months worth of nights at telescopes during my grad school tenure and very few of the photons i collected will appear in my final dissertation! haha (more of an sad/evil laugh, really)! thats ok though, i loved nearly every minute and gained a lot of knowledge during those long, cold nights on mountain tops.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

another theory of everything

according to the surfer physicist, Garrett Lisi, 42 is not the answer to life, the universe, and everything. dud. but he has just submitted a theory for peer review with the deceivingly light title, "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything."

its exciting that someone with such a non-traditional physics career is getting so much attention for what seems to be a very interesting theory! but i have a small problem with calling something a "theory of everything" when only a small handful of highly educated human beings can understand it well enough to discuss it. i know life and the universe are both very complicated and should probably require a complicated theory to explain them... but it's a telling sign when a leading theoretical cosmologist, stated that he wont even bother reading and trying to fully understand this paper... just yet.

a worthy attempt to explain how this new theory fits into the current standard model of particle physics can be found at the backreaction blog. i admit that i dont understand the finer points, but i think the visualization of E8 - a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points - is beautifully fascinating! view e8rotation here.

i hope that gives you enough references to go read about this theory, if you want.

Friday, November 16, 2007

exploring lava tubes

today is my last day in hawaii :( i leave this afternoon to head back to austin, where i arrive tomorrow! long travel day/night. it's been a productive trip... and a lot of fun too!

monday was a holiday, so some of the astronomers here took me on an adventure hiking thru some remote lava tubes! we walked about 2 miles across lava fields, found a tiny hidden entrance to the caves, and then hiked in for about a mile... it's hard to judge distance underground, so who knows how far we went!

most of the lava inside the caves had a sparkly, silver tone, but sometimes there were flows of bright orange or red! cool stuff!

many parts of the cave were split into 2 levels. here you can see a huge fallen chunk of lava! that sort of sight kept me constantly looking for big cracks or potential lava flows from the end of the cave!!

cave poop....

there were a couple rooms in the cave with ceilings covered by these crazy lava stalactite things! they didnt hang straight down either, but rather at distinct, yet uniform angles!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

pleiades - the tiny little dipper

i've always thought of the blue cluster of stars called the pleaides ("plee-uh-deez") as the little tiny dipper, but it also goes by many many other names... Messier 45 (M45), the seven sisters, subaru (ever notice the japanese car, subaru's logo?), Tzab-ek (to the mayans who planted their crops by the rise of the cluster), Makali‘i (to hawaiians who used the star cluster to determine the new year), etc... you can read much more about the ancient folklore surrounding the pleiades here and/or here.

i heard a story from greek mythology when i was growing up, that the great hunter, orion, fancied all 7 of the pleiads sisters, but was forbidden to court any of them by zeus. to prevent the courtship, zeus transformed the sisters into birds and sent them off to the heavens. when orion died, zeus placed him behind the seven sisters in the sky to eternalize his chase. i have since seen a couple variations of this story and who knows if my memory is actually what i heard!

this image is from a maori theatre group

the pleiades star cluster contains over 1000 stars! All these stars formed from the same big cloud of gas, about 100 million years ago. now, they are all gravitationally bound together, orbiting around each other. the cluster is about 400 light years away from earth, and it's only 13 light years across.

now... onto the pretty pictures! i really like this picture that i found at the orbiting frog blog showing M45 in various wavelengths of light, from top left to bottom right... radio, microwave, near-infrared, visible, ultraviolet and x-ray.

the small green squares in the bottom right image from the orbiting ROSAT satellite show the locations of the brightest blue stars we see with our eyes and the hubble space telescope (HST). next is a more detailed image from HST showing optical light. the bright vertical and horizontal lines coming out of the brightest stars are called diffraction spikes and result from light bouncing off the internal structure of the telescope.

you can also think about this as youre gazing up at the pleiades star cluster... astronomers just announced the discovery of planet embryos colliding together within the cluster! this is a tough event to actually observe, so these are very exciting results!

below is a color composite image of the pleiades star cluster by Inseok Song of the Spitzer Science Center. the image was created by combining images from different types of optical wavelengths... blue, green and red images. the location of the star, HD 23514, with the orbiting planetesimals, is shown by the yellow arrow. the inset artwork is by Lynette Cook for Gemini Observatory.

read more at universe today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

breakfast of champions

i'm in heaven... coffee, papayas, and bananas for breakfast (i ate all the yellow bananas before i took the picture, but the yellow ones are definitely the best!).

paul vs. tony

cool and creative video by a couple friends.

Monday, November 12, 2007

lava rocks and colorful coral

i only wish i had an underwater case for my camera to show you the amazing coral!! here are some above-water shots from the south east corner of the big island of hawaii.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

night vision goggles

i spent some cloudy nights on the summit of mauna kea, and didnt even have my camera with me.... but i did enjoy the view thru the night vision goggles!! luckily, niko went up the mountain after me and took some nice pictures thru the goggles that i thought i'd share. recognize anything?

hilo is on the left... the glow of the lava flow is on the right!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

what's up for november?

first i'll tell you about objects that you will be able to see all month, and then give details about events that occur on specific dates in november!

you can still see comet 17p/holmes easily with the naked eye. if you have a pair of binoculars, try using those to see the fuzzy cloud around the central concentration of light, or even the weak tail that has developed over he last couple weeks!! finding the sideways "W" of cassiopeia high in the northeast and looking down to perseus is a good way to find it. it's bright and yellow. here's a finding chart i got from sky and telescope.

the andromeda galaxy is one of the coolest things to see in the sky (in my opinion) because it's the most distant object we can see with our naked eyes... at 3 million light years!! the light you see from it has been traveling for 3 million years to reach your eye! that's cool. it's low in the east at sunset, then rises high overhead as night passes on. it doesnt look like a sharp point of light, rather it's a fuzzy, extended smudge. try to look at it with binoculars or a telescope when you find it!

mars rises during the evening hours, so you should be able to see it after 11pm or so on the eastern horizon as it rises with orion. it will be well overhead by early morning hours when you can also see saturn and venus. you can't miss the amazingly bright planet venus in the morning and you should be able to spot a yellowish saturn above it. continuing upward, you'll see the star regulus (yes, they're still together in the sky, but not quite as close as they were a few weeks ago). still along the ecliptic, and almost overhead, mars shines orange, between gemini, with the bright stars, castor and pollux, and the familiar northern constellation, orion.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12: just after sunset look to the southwest to see a bright jupiter close to a waxing crescent moon, as they both sink down toward the horizon. if youre outside early enough and have a good view of the horizon, you'll see the bright star, antares, below jupiter.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17: the leonid meteor shower peaks after midnight. its not very strong, so you might see 10 "shooting stars" per hour if your skies are dark and clear!

the jet propulsion laboratory (JPL) has been posting a couple cool videos each month about various space exploration projects and about what's up each month in the sky! here's whay they point out for the month of november!

you can see fantastic pictures and read more about that blue blob of gas coming off of the star, mira, in a nice post by julianne at cosmic variance.


Friday, November 9, 2007

fear is the lock, and laughter the key

yet another fantastic, and timely comic from xkcd.

just last week i perused youtube for video footage of some of my rock and roll favorites of old. i found this fantastic version of "suite judy blue eyes" by crosby, stills, and nash.... the video shows the trio live from woodstock in 1969, playing together for the second time ever in public! so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes the first time i watched and listened. enjoy.

space carnival: 28

you can find many interesting astronomy articles at the 28th installment of the carnival of space at the planetary society weblog... including my recent description of night sky thru night vision goggles! enjoy!!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

back down the mountain

the bad news is that last night provided such bad weather that we couldnt even drive up to the summit :(

the good news is that i woke up early and drove to some exciting locations on the island before heading back to hilo.

here's the view on the way down from hale pohaku. notice the clouds below the peak of mauna loa!

the horizon looks a bit off... but it's just mauna loa stretching very far to either side!

i sat at this lava rock coast for a very long, calm time.

signs of life...

then i hiked to a different area...

and finally,

akaka falls...

pretty good day overall. now to get back on a day schedule......