Saturday, March 19, 2011

messenger's orbit around mercury

in honor of the MESSENGER space craft successfully maneuvering into orbit around mercury this week, i thought i'd share a blast from the past from sixty symbols. if i remember right, this one one of first videos i recorded with brady :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

es ist wie es ist

it is what it is, it was what is was, and i'm working myself nearly into a stupor right now so i'm prepared as much as possible for what will be soon. life is good at throwing curve balls, and many at once!

(image link)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

nuclear reactors in japan

i wanted to share some information about the issues surrounding the nuclear reactors in japan since the massive earthquake and tsunami hit last week.

you can read an informative article by maggie koerth-baker: nuclear energy 101.

or watch below as the professor from the periodic table of videos sits down to have a chat about what's going on inside the nuclear reactors in japan:

here's another video that really shows in the strength of flowing water. its amazing how quickly the volume increases. (thanks to commenter kevin for the public link!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

fun night time exposures

at the australian astronomical observatory, i work with the people behind a project called GAMA: Galaxy And Mass Assembly. my recent trips to the observatory have been to help the team collect data for the project and determine redshifts for the galaxies observed each night.

one particularly cloudy night (at least in the direction where our targets were located), we decided to have some photographic fun with long exposure images! what you see is the dome of the AAT telescope we use, GAMA, a capital greek letter "gama" in green, and the milky way galaxy with the southern cross to the left of the dome (can you spot it?)...

how did we do it?

we sat a digital camera on a tripod on the ground and opened the shutter for about 4 minutes. usually when you take a photo, the shutter opens for roughly a second and then closes again.... viola, a photo! but, you can usually set the shutter to stay open for a little longer if you want, if the target is faint and you want to collect more light, or shorter, if the target is particularly bright and you dont want to saturate the image. the trick is that you need the camera to remain very stable during the longer exposure or else the lights will form wiggly trails.

we had a slightly fancier-than-average digital camera that allowed us to expose for 4 minutes (and by "we" i mean el lobo rayato ;). there was one person up on the dome's catwalk who slowly spelled out "GAMA" (backwards) with his flashlight/torch during the exposure. meanwhile, i was standing next to the camera with my green laser pointer and i made a very quick shape of the capital greek letter gama on the side of the dome below. the rest of the 4 minutes we kept all our lights off so that the stars would come through. near the end of the 4 minute exposure, a flashlight/torch was passed over the whole dome in strips to illuminate it a bit in the shot... or else it would have been completely dark. the result came out really nice, i think!

here's another example of a long exposure photograph. this one was 15 minutes and shows the trails of the stars as they rotate around the southern celestial pole.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

say something

this design was a finalist in the say something poster project.

i like the clever way the artist makes me think of an old cliche in a completely new way.

Friday, March 11, 2011

rainbow panorama

remember that bright rainbow that appeared last week at the observatory? i finally got the panorama together. actually, thats a lie. what i did was mention the idea of the panorama to a fellow astronomer that i was observing with and he offered to do the whole thing in photoshop ;) it took him about 30 minutes and the result is stunning (click to see a larger version)...

muchas gracias el lobo rayado!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

bye bye kangaroos!

back to the big city today... just as well as there are rain storms all around!

the best kangaroo moment this week happened three days ago. as i was walking along the path between the telescope and the hotel-style rooms, a couple kangaroos were sitting next to the path, mindlessly chomping away at grass. as usual, one of them looked up at me as if i was just a harmless creature passing by. but the little one startled at the sight of me and turned to bound away in haste. after one bounce, the poor thing landed on some loose brush, lost his footing and completely wiped out! i had to stop in my tracks to laugh because he looked so awkwardly funny! his head popped up instantly from his splattered position on the ground and he looked around as if disoriented. then he quickly jumped up and bounded off a few bounces in a different direction, but friend just remained still watching the whole scene, chomping away.

they're such cute little clueless creatures.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011



ceres is an object in our solar system that lives in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of mars and jupiter. ceres was discovered on 1 January 1801 and for the next 50 years, it was classified as an eighth planet in our solar system!

so what happened?

many bodies started to be discovered in the region between mars and jupiter, ceres just happened to be the first one we saw. william hershel first called them asteroids ("star-like") because "they resemble small stars so much as hardly to be distinguished from them, even by very good telescopes." planets, on the other hand, could be resolved at the time and features on some of their surfaces seen.

once it was realized that there existed an entire class of these objects, ceres was no longer considered a planet, but designated officially as "1 Ceres" since it was the first asteroid discovered.

a similar series of events recently caused the demise of pluto's status as a planet. astronomers started discovering many objects like pluto that even had the same strange orbital quirks as pluto. by the mid-2000s there were enough of these objects in the "kuiper belt" that mike brown argued, successfully, that pluto should no longer be classified as a planet.

in fact, he just wrote a book about his entire experience demoting pluto called "why i killed pluto, and why it had it coming." i'm reading this book right now and i can highly recommend it to anyone who might be interested in the story of pluto, or just generally in how astronomy/science is done.

anyway, i first started this blog around the time the IAU voted on pluto in 2006. you can read an entry about the process: here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

invaders have landed at siding springs observatory!

many observatories have an all-sky camera in place to help monitor the cloud levels throughout the night. they are incredibly useful and also beautiful when you can see the milky way galaxy stretched overhead.

sometimes they have even detected critters crawling across our known universe! ;)

this photo was spotted the other night by a fellow astronomer up here at the AAT this run.

moons of many colors

i like this series of false-color moon photos created by peter cuba. you can see the full set here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

the UK Schmidt Telescope

just across the mountain from the AAT lives the UK Schmidt telescope, a 1.2 meter scope built in the early 1970s. in the photo below, the UKST is the dome on the left as seen from the catwalk of the AAT.

solid 70s construction (the tape is not part of the support structure ;)

the rooms inside this telescope dome feel like museums of old equipment and techniques in astronomy. this is the original analog mini-dome model that is still in control of moving the opening of the dome relative to where the telescope points.

while we can make much more precise measurements with digital CCD technology, there's something romantic about investigating old developed images.

nowadays, the UKST is used to survey the sky and collect velocities of 1 million stars zooming around our milky way galaxy for a project called RAVE. this robot works hard to position all optical fiber on the heavy plates in order to collect spectra of each individual star.

here's an old note i found in the dome...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

rainbow bright

the first stretch of this long observing run is over. i've had a few hours of sleep, and i'm off to the town of mudgee for a couple days to relax and visit several local wineries! the last time i stopped in mudgee, i had lunch at a resturant called "fish in the bush" (tee hee ;)

clouds are generally bad for using telescopes, obviously, but they often produce interesting terrestrial phenomena. the same night we saw the moon next to venus, we also saw a brilliant morning double rainbow!

at one point, both bows stretched around to make 3/4 of a full circle. it was stunning, but i couldnt fit it all into one photo (wish i had a fish-eye lens!). i took a lot of photos that i'd like to try to mosaic together - any recommendations for software to use to do this?

in the meantime, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the integral of the moon and venus

just before the sun rises for the next couple days, you can see the crescent moon close to a bright venus. we had clouds for most of our observing tonight, but they cleared for just a few minutes this morning, long enough to see the spectacle in our solar system!

while out on the catwalk, i also noticed a sign in the clouds... what looked to me to be an integral sign! ;)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

shuttle launch from airplane

its a bird, its a plane, no... its the shuttle discovery launching into space as viewed by a passenger on an airplane!

this week the world saw the final launch of the shuttle discovery. its been a good run!

Friday, February 25, 2011


just arrived at siding springs observatory for another round of observing with the anglo-australian telescope.

there isnt a whole lot of excitement during the seven hour drive through the bush to get here, regardless of whether you take the hunter valley route or the mudgee route. but i must say, i am highly amused by the place names around new south wales!

i remember driving around the UK and being utterly confused as to how anyone was supposed to know the proper way to pronounce place names. for example, Leicester is "Les-tah," Belvoir is "beaver" (i'm not joking, and made the mistake of using this pronunciation in australia. the horror!), Loughborough is "luff-buh-ruh." actually, anything with an "ough" in it is pointless to even try. just wait to hear someone say it. especially edinburgh.

apparently a common mispronunciation of Loughborough, especially among australians, is "looga-burooga." having done some driving around this part of australia, it's clear that a lot of place names maintain their aboriginal origin and are pronounced mostly phonetically. so if the word has a lot of letters, like coonabarabran, you just take your time, pronounce all the letters, and it sounds exactly as it looks. or, in true australian fashion, you just shorten the word. so instead of saying the 5 syllables of coon-a-bear-a-bran every time, you just say coona.

coona is the closest town to the observatory and also happens to have one of the best names i've encountered yet! but on the drive today we also passed by dunedoo, wallerawang, cullen bullen, and marrangaroo :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

TropFest: Den Sista Galaxonaut

originating in sydney nearly 20 years ago, TropFest is the world's largest short film festival. last night was the screening of the finalists and the official voting for a winner of this year's competition. there were a lot of people in sydney's domain park, yet i was impressed by how quiet they were when the films were playing.

there were 16 finalists. the short films were not anywhere near the amateur quality i was expecting - they were impressively professional! here are my two favorites, neither of which won, unfortunately.

The Maestro
Directed by Adam Anthony

Den Sista Galaxonaut
Directed by Alexander George & Tyrone Lindqvist