Monday, April 29, 2013

magnetic magic

i have a phd in astrophysics and yet magnets mystify me and seem like wonderful, natural magic.   i love being able to *feel* their force and resistance on tangible scales without being able to see what's going on. 

my birthday isnt too far away.   if anyone wants to either send me a post card or some of this "super magnetic thinking putty," you would make me a very happy super scientist!!  ;)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

smeared skies

photographer matt molloy has been practicing the technique of timestacking to create these interesting landscape photos.   he lives near toronto and has been adding together many photographs taken of single sunsets.   here are the colorful results:  

smeared sky collection via colossal.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

dirty space news: all over mars

it seems several news outlets have finally started to appreciate the humorous value of dirty space news, although they aren't calling it by that name.

either the spirit or opportunity rover on mars created these telling tracks on the surface of the red planet during a routine maneuver.

Credit: NASA
i call it "routine" because there are other photos where a similar pattern is made in the dusty dirt.

just think about it - there are probably penises drawn in the dirt ALL OVER MARS.   well done, NASA ;) 

UPDATE:  how could i have forgotten to remind us all about the marssack?   thanks, phil plait, for pointing out this folly.  

UPDATE: in the comments, ed davies offers some excellent information about the above images.  according to doug ellison the first image was part of a large panorama taken by the spirit rover on sols 59 to 61 (march 3 to 5, 2004).  the other images were also taken by spirit in early 2004.  

and the sad news, those tire tracks are probably not on the surface of mars anymore, as strong winds would have blown them away.   sad, really :(

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

new zealand - the kepler track

last month i hiked one of south island of new zealand's great walks: the kepler trackthe kepler mountains in fiordland and this track are named after one of my favorite astronomers, johannes kepler.

the "tramp" took us four days and covered 60 km of beautiful wilderness that felt completely isolated and untouched by humans, other than the incredibly well-maintained track!

the hike started from the town of te anau, going through rain forest along a lovely, long lake.

it was windy above the protection of the trees.

the view of the foggy sunrise over te anau from the first hut was stunning.


after a rainy first day, the rest of the trip was graced with clear skies and incredibly good visibility.

the valleys in fiordland were carved out by glaciers thousands of year ago and filled with water when the glaciers melted.

luckily i dont suffer vertigo, but nearly toppled off this trail while looking back and forth at the view in every direction.

many vibrant colors of life growing on this rock.

the sunsets were beautiful, but the sand flies near the lakes made it extremely unpleasant to enjoy them for long!

watch out!

so crisp and clear.  the lakes were very low after a month-long drought across new zealand.

winding path through a bog.

purple bliss.

i will return.   so much more to explore...!

Monday, April 22, 2013

always right

get ready for a good groaning chuckle!

if the jokes seem obtuse, read up on types of triangles and angles here!  

from the argyle sweater comic series by scott hilburn via IFLS.

Friday, April 19, 2013

water in space

there are things we take for granted living on earth, where the planet's gravity causes objects to fall toward it, and the effects of surface tension are not often noticed.  these thoughts struck me as i watched an experiment performed on the international space station (ISS) by commander chris hadfield.  

the canadian space agency held a contest last year where they asked students to devise experiments that could be performed in space.    in this experiment, the students asked what would happen in space when one wrings out a water-soaked washcloth?  they guessed that the water would not drip off the washcloth in a microgravity environment, but it would remain on the washcloth instead. 

the result of the experiment on the ISS was really cool and actually not what my earth-based tuition expected!  those young scientists guessed better than i did ;)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

home on the range

an unexpected feature i noticed driving around new zealand's south island was the abundance of lenticular clouds hanging low in the sky.  one is shown in yesterday's spectacular astronomy picture of the day

in the wee hours of morning, photographer ben canales captured this lenticular cloud floating next to mt hood in oregon.

you can find more of ben's night photography at his site, the star trail

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

stories from siding spring observatory

some colleagues at the australian astronomical observatory and i have put together a photo exhibition which opens to the public this week at the sydney observatory

the inspiration came immediately after the bushfire swept through siding spring observatory in january.  we were feeling helpless and on the brink of hopeless while waiting for investigations to inform us of the extent of the damage to the observatory facilities.

this photo, found in a google search by one of the AAO engineers, prompted him to send a few of us an email:

Rainbows at sunrise from the AAT (photo credit: me!)
he suggested we collect our favorite photos from siding spring observatory that capture our experiences up there, in order to share inspiration with each other and bring together all members of the AAO during the difficult experience.

we quickly developed the idea for a full photo exhibition, to share with the public what we enjoy most about the observatory and working with such interesting new technologies and fascinating people.   we asked all AAO colleagues to contribute what they deemed their best images.  

we collected several hundreds of photos and finally, with much effort, reduced the collection to 26 amazing images.   we have printed and framed each image, and are currently hanging them to display at the sydney observatory.  

from this thursday, 18th april 2013, until mid-august, you can visit the "stories from siding spring observatory" photo exhibition for free during regular hours at sydney observatory

i'll share one more photo from the exhibition here, because i think it is spectacular!

AAT dome and Milky Way (Photo: Jamie Gilbert)

i havent seen this beautiful panorama printed out and framed yet.   i'm really excited to visit the observatory and see all the photos large, live and in person!  please go visit the observatory if you can - view the photos and let me know what you think!

our official blurb for the exhibition:

Siding Spring Observatory sits on a mountaintop in the Warrumbungle Range, 400 km northwest of Sydney and 25 km west of the town of Coonabarabran.  Run by the Australian National University, it is Australia's most important site for optical astronomy. 

On 13 January 2013 a bushfire swept through the observatory.  Despite damage to some buildings, the telescopes were unharmed and are now back at work.

The photos in this exhibition tell stories of life and work on the mountain.  They were taken by staff of the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), which operates two telescopes there: the 4-m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and the UK Schmidt telescope.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

if i were going...

the space foundation holds an international student art contest every year.  each year has a different inspiring theme like Space is Infinite - Explore (2012) or Human Space Travel in 2020 (2011).   the theme for 2013 was if i were going... which i think is great!

the winning pieces, from kids of all ages, are really incredible.   here are some of my favorites, but you can see winners from 2013 and 2012.

Artist: Taha Waqar
i love the curves, colors and textures.

Taha Waqar, 3rd-5th grade (8-10 years old), Multimedia 2012, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Artist: Anastasia Melnikova
bold, with nice expressive patterns.  i interpret this as the trippiness one would feel going to explore the unknown regions of space. 

Anastasia Melnikova, 9th-12th grade (14-18 years old), Drawing 2013, Saratov Region, Russia

Artist: Daniel Tsivkovski
great colors and and full canvas - fantastic for such a young artist!

Daniel Tsivkovski, PreK-2nd (3-7 years old), Painting and Mixed Media 2013, California, USA

Artist: Kathleen Xue
i love the expression on her face.   pure wonder.

Kathleen Xue, 9th-12th grade (14-18 years old), Drawing 2013, California, USA

Artist: Mankeert Narang
i like the bit of humor in this one.   very cute.

Mankeert Narang, 3rd-5th (8-10 years old), Painting and Mixed Media 2013, Punjab, India

Artist: Bhavya Mithra
wonderful incorporation of familiar landscape and culture. 

Bhavya Mithra, 3rd-5th (8-10 years old), Drawing 2013, Kerala, India

Artist: Daniel Carr

Daniel Carr, 9th-12th grade (14-18 years old), Multimedia 2012, Colorado, USA

Thursday, April 11, 2013

nerd nite sydney - the cape!

last week i spoke at nerd nite sydney - an evening event at a pub where scientists and comedians entertain a wonderfully excitable audience!   i really enjoyed the evening and received some great questions after my talk on the eventual fate of the milky way galaxy (spoiler alert: it collides with andromeda).

the fun news - i wore my cape ;) 

at least i wore it at the beginning and the end of the talk - the thing actually traps a lot of heat - too much to wear for a whole talk!



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

i like to say "quark"

it's true what calvin says....

... scientists can lack creativity when it comes to naming things.  

i know that there are billions and billions of galaxies out there and therefore it makes sense to give them names based on their coordinates and not their appearance, but still.   i'm sure you can come up with better examples of horribly named sciencey things than i can.

NGC 1398

by the way, i actually hate the work "quark."   it's way too awkward to pronounce!

Monday, April 8, 2013

siding spring observatory open to the public!

excellent news - siding spring observatory is now open to the public!   all hazardous building materials have been removed from the site and most potentially dangerous trees have been removed and are continuing to be monitored.  

Regrowth at Siding Spring Observatory #SSO (Credit: Matthew Colless)

A long recovery begins (Credit: Matthew Colless)

sources tell me that the skymapper telescope took its first observations this week, after the bushfires swept through in january this year.   the angle-australian telescope (AAT) has been observing since late february, mostly in remote observing mode with observers stationed in north ryde near sydney.

Green begins again (Credit: Kyler Kuehn)

some astronomers have been traveling up to site to work on equipment and see for themselves what has happened.  researcher kyler kuehn took this footage from the catwalk of the 4-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope.   it's amazing how quickly green is growing again. 


Sunday, April 7, 2013

andromeda and comet panstarrs

here are some absolutely beautiful photos of comet panstarrs, currently the largest object in our solar system, and the distant andromeda galaxy that just happens to be sitting behind the comet in our current line of sight.   the fuzzy tail of panstarrs is about 15 times the diameter of our sun right now - remember that you can fit 100 earth's across the diameter of the sun. 

that is a HUGE comet!   no one was sure how bright or big the comet would get as it passed by the sun, because it's impossible to tell how much water a comet holds that could get melted, spread out in the tail, and then illuminated by our bright star.    here's to a pleasant surprise!

Credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Credit: Pavel Smilyk

Saturday, April 6, 2013

what science could learn from football

this is a great message from science video journalist brady haran on why science should be regularly communicated to the public and what science could learn from football!

Friday, April 5, 2013

time-lapse earth

bruce berry gathered public footage of earth, collected by the astronauts aboard the international space station, and turned it into this incredible piece.   watch it on fullscreen and enjoy the auroras, lightning, cloud formations, city lights and swirling star trails.  it's interesting to note the different glowing colors of the aurora and that they exist at different altitudes of the atmosphere.  notice anything else?

just beautiful...

Time-Lapse | Earth from Bruce W. Berry Jr on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

an astronaut's advice

this is a very nice cartoon from zen pencils illustrating advice given by current international space station resident, canadian astronaut chris hadfield.   commander hadfield appears to be having a grand old time recently, not only enjoying the perks of weightlessness and the views from orbit, but also sharing his views with those of us gravity-bound on earth.