Monday, January 16, 2012

austin texas

while i visited texas primarily for the american astronomical society meeting, i enjoyed some other aspects of one of my favorite cities in the world as well...

new year's eve.

i forgot how much they say y'all here, y'all!

an old tradition revived with a new years day swim in barton springs.

yee haw!

can't beat good BBQ (havent put the sauce on yet in this photo...)

drive-through banking.

live acoustic music soothes my soul. we saw sarah jarosz at gruene hall...

a true small town texas music venue ;)

food trucks and trailers have taken over the city. i think it's a creative and tasty way to support small business and keep austin weird.

did the world really need giant inflatable rasta hats with dreads?

the historic driskell hotel bar.

queso, margarita, and several kinds of salsa!!

happy happy yum yum.

if you need me...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

219th AAS astronomy meeting

this week i attended the 219th american astronomical society meeting held in austin, texas. almost 3000 astronomers participated in the event, sharing research results, learning new science, meeting distant collaborators, interviewing for jobs, (eating tex-mex and BBQ) and catching up with old friends.

i gave a talk on wednesday about my reserach on the star-forming properties of galaxies in the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey. it was a 5 minute talk, so not a whole lot of time, but a couple interesting discussions sparked from it afterwards.

a highlight of the meeting for me was a talk given by former NASA astronaut, steve hawley, about the history of human spaceflight. he flew on five shuttle missions, including STS-31, which deployed the hubble space telescope into orbit around the earth!

his talk was casual and joking and he shared many anecdotes from his experiences. during the first few human space flights, the astronauts would be in orbit for a very short time, and experience an uncomfortable stomach sickness that they called "space adaptation syndrome." they only learned later that after a couple days, astronauts gets over space sickness!

he also told us that the programming computers used on the space shuttles, called High-order Assembly Language or HAL, were about 0.005 percent as powerful as an Xbox 360!

i had goosebumps several times during his presentation - as i always do whenever it hits me just how many challenges there were to sending humans into space in such a short time frame! at the end of his talk, hawley received a standing ovation from our crowd of ~3000 astronomers. well deserved, indeed.

for more science highlights revealed at the meeting, see the complete coverage from and the top AAS stories from

unfortunately, the meeting ended on a sad note, as yesterday we heard the news of the untimely and sudden death of oxford professor steven rawlings. i will write more about this soon, as he was a great man, a collaborator, and a friend. but for now, i am dealing with the shock of the loss and my feelings of sadness, and send my thoughts out to his family and friends.

Monday, January 9, 2012

and counting

this video starts out with the common story of someone taking self portraits everyday for several years, but then it takes a surprising and inspiring twist.

Jeff Harris: 4,748 Self-Portraits and Counting from We Know Music on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012: no the world will not end

you may have heard some people claim that the world will end in 2012. just take a moment to contemplate that: they claim the world will end on precisely december 21st, two thousand twelve.

these claims are ridiculous, not to mention vague.

and i also think it's sad, because these people are causing unnecessary stress in lives of (admittedly gullible) people. i guess someone somewhere is making money off these regularly forecast apocalyptic fairy tales or else they wouldnt come about so unceasingly.

just to be sure, i DO NOT think any of the reasons being spouted for why the world will end in 2012 are at all valid, or reasonable, or bona fide in any way. here's a nicely done video summarizing the crazy business...

for more info:

NASA's site on the issue

the bad astronomer on planet X

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the size of saturn

here are a few gorgeous recent photos of the ringed planet saturn.

the first was featured as an astronomy picture of the day in december.

the rings of saturn are seen from the edge here, as the nearly horizontal blue line. there shadows can be seen on the surface of the planet.

also, at the top left of the image, you can see one of the most massive storms in the solar system. it has lasted for longer than an earth year so far and it's going strong!

to get an idea of just how big saturn and its current storm are, matt andrews created the image below to show the scale of the planet compared to the US.   pretty incredible!


Saturday, December 31, 2011

fireworks and goals

in honor of earth's celebration of a new calendar year, here is a galaxy image that i think looks like a big firework! NGC 1275:

and here was the massive fireworks display over sydney harbour. i love how the aerial views show the entire stretch of explosions. amazing!

hope everyone enjoys a happy and safe end to 2011!! i feel pleased as i reflect on the past year. a short summary of my twelve months of 2011:

22 talks given, 21 nights observing, 12 countries visited (depending on how you count what belongs to china), 11 papers published (2 as first author), 6 songs completed, 3 sizes lost, student loans paid off, and a flower on my frangipani tree!

what goals do you have for the next year?

i want to be able to do a pull up from a still hanging position. i want to publish 2 first-author scientific papers. i would like to finish writing a particular song that i've been working on for most of the last year. i want to write down a more coherent collection of travel stories. i want to get my heels down in the downward dog yoga pose. i want to hand-write more letters. i want to bake more bread.

here's to a successful new year, y'all! cheers!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

pure christmas morning joy

the excitement of a good book, christmas morning hair, swimming in a sea of wrapping, PJs, family :)

x-ray christmas tree

when i was a kid, i didn't often make too big of an effort to search for all my christmas presents before the big day. but one year my little sister and i searched with intensity all over every inch of my parents room. we looked in the closet, behind clothes, in drawers, and then, under the bed, we found it: a nintendo entertainment system! we were so excited that we cheered to each other and did our silly dances of joy because we were moving from the old joy stick atari system into the future!

the only problem was that i am horrible at keeping a straight, un-blushed face when trying to hide a truth. to this day, i am a horrible liar. i tried with all my might to look surprised on christmas morning when we opened an NES game and then the actual system, but i'm sure my faked look of surprise gave away the secret of our sneaky, successful searching. i actually felt bad that morning because my parents didnt get to see our original thrill and happiness.

i never searched early for my presents after that year.

on the other hand, nick veasey has figured out a clever way to use his x-ray imaging skills to discover some presents under the tree:

merry christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


i have successfully arrived in ohio for a bit of concentrated christmas a week before the big day. the US knows how to take this holiday season to the next level, even without the benefit of snow just yet!

i saw a dozen decorated trees at the airport, heard christmas songs on the radio and in stores (a blues tune called "santa claus want some lovin" was a highlight), drank a seasonal drink at one of the buhzillion starbucks on every possible corner (the eggnog latte is not as good as is might sound), played with tiny people until i couldnt take their cuteness any longer,

tried endless tins of shared homemade christmas cookies, and witnessed people wearing, without the fainest hint of remorse, gaudy christmas-themed clothing (i admit i used to make my own christmas sweatshirts and wear them with pride. despite years of hindsight-embarrassment, i now completely appreciate holiday themed clothes that go beyond the cliche santa.  i enjoy their total over-the-topness!).

but still...

calvin and hobbes
seriously, ohio.  rain?  

the temperature might cool enough later in the week for a bit of snowfall.   hope, hope...