Wednesday, April 30, 2008

black hole joke

if a black hole got married, would it still be considered a singularity?

i'm a sucker for a good bad nerd joke.

i saw this one somewhere on twitter this week, but i cant remember from whom... sorry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

saturn and iapetus

here are some fantastic images of saturn that i received from a friend and/or from the jpl cassini website. these images were taken by the cassini space craft using red, green and blue spectral filters then combined to create natural-looking photographs.

i absolutely love the details of the atmosphere that you can see above the shadow of the rings!

the image below shows the moon, rhea (1,528 kilometers, or 949 miles across) in the foreground. the little moon shadow at the upper left in from the moon mimas, and the skewed shadow at the bottom right is from the moon, iapetus [eye-AP-i-tus].

the above image shows some cool seasonal features of saturn. the northern (upper) part of saturn is currently experiencing winter and is therefore cooler on average as it is turned away from the sun more than the southern part. in the northern hemisphere, above the ring shadow, you can see the detailed structure of the gas deep down into the atmosphere, whereas you cannot see such structure at the equator or in the southern hemisphere. this is likely due to two effects: the higher temperatures at the equator and the south, and also the reflection of sunlight. we can see some structure in the southern atmosphere, but it is mostly flushed out by scattered sunlight. photons that reach saturn from the sun are bounced around off the particles high up the atmosphere and reflected back out in all directions. this makes it harder to see the deeper layers....

like when you turn your bright lights on while driving thru fog: you quickly realize you can actually see less than if you just have dim lights on!

here are some great images of the saturn's moon, iapetus. iapetus has a crazy, unexplainable bulging waistline that hasnt been seen on any other planet or moon in our solar system.

iapetus is saturn's third largest moon and has a lot of craters. the big crater near the bottom is about 500 km across! this moon is locked in synchronous rotation with saturn, meaning the same side is always facing the planet (just like our moon - we always see the same side of the moon!). it's not really understood why iapetus has such a strongly 2-toned surface!

cool stuff!

Monday, April 28, 2008

nick dewar illustration

the illustrations of nick dewar are seemingly simple, but still quite intriguing in their subtlety.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

be excited about 2009

2009 is the UN-declared international year of astronomy. this marks the 400th anniversary of the first time a telescope was used to look upward into the skies instead of outward across the lands. galileo used his refracting telescope to look at the details of the craters on the moon and discover that jupiter had moons of its own... demonstrating that it was possible for an object, other than the earth, to be the center of *something*!!

this also adds to the long list of reasons why i'm excited to move to the UK... i'll be close enough to venture to the places where astronomy as a science was first practiced... during their celebrations of the international year of astronomy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

carnival of space #51

for your space reading pleasure... journey over to astro engine for the 51st installment of the carnival of space!

that means next week is #52 - the one year anniversary of the blogiverse's carnival of space! hopefully, i'll have time this week to write something for the big event. not positive that will happen though as today marks exactly 3 weeks until certain doom....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

to do

in honor of earth and her day, here are some things to consider:

simplify your life: 72 ideas

learn about ideas worth spreading: TED

put money to good use: kiva

change your thinking: world changing

eat real food from nearby: local harvest

quit for q

look at the earth: earth cam

Friday, April 18, 2008

milky way reflection

i found more really great astronomy photographers: tony and daphne hallas at

the image below shows the galaxy, M63, as featured on APOD today. this galaxy is about the same size as our Milky Way at 100,000 light years across. It floats about 25 million light-years away from us and is known as the sunflower galaxy. you can easily see the blue spiral arm structure, but the most amazing parts of the image, i think, are the faint wisps of structure around the outskirts of the galaxy! it's difficult to se these very dim features in most images! they show what are probably streams of dust and gas left over when smaller galaxies came within close range of the sunflower. gravitational interactions can cause such distortions in galaxies when they pass by each other and eventually merge together into one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

it from bit

the creative and accomplished physicist, john archibald wheeler, passed away a couple days ago at the commanding age of 96. he popularized the term "black hole" in the late 1960's after thinking for a long time about the seemingly unfathomable "completely collapsed gravitational object". two of his more famous graduate students authored some of my favorite popular physics books: kip s. thorne and richard feynman. his resume goes on an on...

i've enjoyed reading the reflections of others encounters with wheeler that have been published recently. a former student of his, daniel holz, wrote a nice piece at cosmic variance titled simply, goodbye.

there was also a nice article in scientific american from 1991. the author describes a quote wheeler found in the men's room of the old pecan street cafe here in austin, texas, which states: "Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once." i like that.

wheeler spent a good bit of time thinking about quantum mechanics... the existence of the universe as small bits that exist because we are here to ask about them and observe them. more:
What is reality, then? Wheeler answers his own question with the koanlike phrase "it from bit." Wheeler explains the phrase as follows: "Every 'it'—every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits."

thank you for the inspiration and information, mr wheeler.

paolo conte

i've just discovered the charming italian pianist, singer, composer, poet, lawyer, painter, etc... paolo conte.

sparring partner

his song, azzurro, which was later popularized by Adriano Celentano, was unofficially adopted as the official theme song of the fans of the world cup 2006 winning italian team.

paolo's playful version:

the italian footballers version:

i pretty much wanted anyone BUT italy to win the last world cup... but i wasnt too sad about having to *watch* those boys play so many games ;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

when my mind thinks in Latex

you know youre working too hard when you start using LaTeX nomenclature while writing the old fashioned way: with paper and pen.

i was working on an outline today while sitting in a talk, and wrote $z=2$ (instead of simply, z=2) when describing galaxy populations at a redshift of two.

the worst part is that i didnt realize it until i was back in my office re-reading my notes!!!! ugh.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

color wars 2008

if you have some time on your hands and are looking to be entertained... check out color wars 2008 dot com, where i found the above brilliance. that thing just cracks me up! anyway, the color wars are the new toy of ze frank, who's produced successfully awesome online, interactive, inspiringly fun stuff in the past!

if i had time, i'd be playing. they even have a theme song:


full moon storage

as if this cabinet wasnt awesome enough, it's created from special (safe) paint that has glow-in-the-dark-ish properties!

potential puns that make you say... ugh...

this cabinet sure is out of this world!
my furniture just mooned me!
houston, we have storage!

these gems are not mine... all are from the description at yanko design.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

cities at night from the space station

this video is just so awesome in so many ways!! folks on the international space station (ISS) managed to rig up a little camera system to track the earth against their orbital motion, in order to get focused nighttime images with resolution of 60 meters! i find that taking digital photos at night is extremely difficult anyway, because i want to expose for a little longer in order to not use the flash that always ruins the mood.... imagine wanting to take an image to share with everyone of the amazing night lights of a city on the surface of the earth from your vantage point... 400 km (250 miles) above the surface, moving at 27,700 km/hour!! a tough task!

aside from the impressive technological innovation of the picture takers on the ISS... the commentary by Don Pettit is quite interesting! this presents a surprisingly cool study of the various types of geographic geometry that cities on different continents maintain. the perspective from above is not one easily gathered or perceived by foot on the earth. how fun would it be to be able to identify exactly where you were above the surface of the earth, from seeing the pattern of lights of the city below you. just wow!

aside from the worrying perspective this video provides regarding light pollution... i think its super cool! thanks skepchicks!

Friday, April 4, 2008

black hole in omega centauri!

a former fellow grad student, eva noyola, has discovered an intermediate-mass black hole at the center of the globular cluster, omega centauri! a globular cluster is a group of stars all born from the same cloud of gas and gravitationally bound to each other. they are less massive and smaller than what we call a galaxy, but they still have a very large amount of stars!!

to discover the black hole, they used images from the hubble space telescope to identify stars very close to the center of the globular cluster. then used the gemini-south telescope to get spectra of those stars to determine how fast they were wizzing around the center of the globular cluster. they found that the stars move way faster than expected for the gravity created by the stars they see! this implies that there is some other source of large mass in the center that doesnt produce any light, but causes the stars near it to move really really fast!

this is super exciting for many reasons! omega centauri has been known to harbour some odd characteristics that the presence of a black hole helps explain, but this is also a long-looked-for intermediate-mass black hole! we've discovered many super massive black holes (ten million times the mass of our sun) at the centers of galaxies, and we know of many stellar mass black holes that result from the deaths of a big stars (about 10 times the mass of our sun), but this is only the second black hole ever found with a mass somewhere in between! how exciting!

you can listen to eva speak of her discovery herself on this nice hubble cast video!

as i did when another former fellow grad student, robert quimby, discovered something super cool in our universe, i'll share a few memories of eva!

she's known for her rockin' parties, impeccable taste in both film and music, and always having great halloween costumes!

when she first moved to germany in the fall of 2006, i was there for 4 months as well, so we enjoyed exploring munich together.... including oktoberfest!

we drove to vienna that fall for a beautiful wedding of two other astronomers...

and i was lucky enough to be invited to and able to attend her wonderful wedding in mexico!

ok, i guess i'll stop with all the gushing now... oh but wait, one more thing. since i mentioned oktoberfest... watch closely ;)

congratulations eva!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

make it work!

"make it work!" has been my mantra recently and will continue to be until i finish this crazy phd defense business... at least! i caught it from watching season 4 of project runway and hearing the incredibly poised tim gunn repeat his catchphrase over and over while guiding the blossoming designers to greatness! i havent been too big of a tv show watcher for many years now, but i definitely have my favorites. project runway unexpectedly caught my attention while i was hanging out in the sleepy town of hilo, hawaii last fall, trying to occupy myself after the entire town shut down at 9pm! i've been a complete fan ever since!

anyway, i had a realization this week as i motivationally said to myself "just make it work!" over and over in my head....

tim gunn totally has a C-3PO stance!!!!

his mannerisms fit, it totally works, and i think it's completely adorable!! i like tim even more now!! thanks tim for helping me thru a crazy period in my life even though you have no idea of your influence!