Motivation Monday: Working Together

In two weeks, for the second year in a row, I’m running a 10 Km race.  This means running for an hour non-stop.  If you had asked me to train and run this distance two years ago I would have said it was impossible.  I would have said “I’m not a runner, I’m more into lifting weights,” or “I don’t have the body type of a distance runner.”  At the time I signed up for a 5 Km run with my girlfriend and a few friends. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I decided to train a bit to see how I could do.  At first I could only run a hundred metres or so.  Every couple of days I would run a bit further, and although it felt nice to make some progress, I was still nowhere close to the proper distance.

And then something happened.  I started talking to people about running.  Its this funny thing that happens when we start doing something regularly.  We think about it, and so we talk about it with those we trust.  Some of those people got on board with it, and encouraged me.  Others even wanted to run with me because they felt it would help get them out a bit more.  I went for a run with my friend Shane, who is in much better shape than I am.  When we ran, I noticed that not only did I cover more distance than I usually do, I was faster than I usually am, even after a HUGE uphill stretch.  I ran the 5 Km race non-stop, and faster than I could have expected.  My training had taken a leap forward. Why?  Runners often talk about always performing better in an actual race than they do in training, but why does this happen?

Its because when we work with others, we are doing it for the good of the group.  When we work with those that we consider to be more skilled than us, we rise to the challenge to try and impress them. When we work with those below us, we want to help them and so we lead them and encourage them.  Regardless of what side of the coin you’re on, you get a positive feeling due to the brain chemical oxytocin.  This is the chemical biologically responsible for human connection.  It drives us to help others and bond with others.  When we work together to accomplish a goal as a group, we gain a greater benefit than if we did it alone.

This applies to far more than just running, in fact running is a simple example to illustrate the concept.  If you want to improve in anything, find someone who shares your beliefs and work with them.  This is synergy, the ‘1 plus 1 equals 3′ mentality.  Having others to work with not only encourages you to work longer and harder, but it encourages them to do the same, and the rush of oxytocin gives the good feelings to all!  Go find those who share your beliefs.


Before my 10 Km run last year, I as worried.  I had made incredible strides, but I had only run 7-8 Km at most during the training runs.  How could I cover a distance that was further than I had ever gone? I never entertained the idea of stopping during a race, but it was scary knowing that so many fit people would be running and seeing me out there struggling to breathe.  But then I thought about how I would feel seeing them gasp for breath.  I would want to help them, encourage them, and I would be inspired that they kept going through all that agony.  Why wouldn’t they feel the same way about me?  I was nervous at the start, but had my girlfriend there with me to help motivate me.  Once I started running, I didn’t stop for 10 Km.  There were times when I wanted to give up, when I was gasping for air, but I told myself that I had to keep up with those people in front of me, and I had to stay ahead of those people behind me, and I couldn’t stop because then the people watching would see me give up.

Working with others is how you turn impossible into reality.

Cool Applet showing the surface of Vesta

Over the past few years, before heading to Ceres in a landmark rendezvous in March of 2015, the Dawn spacecraft mapped out the surface of the largest asteroid, Vesta.   This amazing little applet shows the entire surface of the asteroid with some craters highlighted.  Called Vestatrek, it shows all kinds of data from Dawn, including a 3D model of Vesta.  Definitely worth the time to geek out.

Credit: NASA

credit: NASA

A picture is worth 1000 words or a Billion Stars

Some pictures speak volumes, and some have interesting hidden details that we don’t always see from the outset.  A stunning photo of the Milky Way from Taiwan shows more than meets the eye.

At first glance, you might notice the fascinating shot of the Milky Way, and you may even pick up on the fact that the pollution from the distant cities blocks out all stars past a certain point.  The prominence of pollution and light pollution are very present in the image.  The real gem, however, is to notice the blue clusters of light around the rocks.  They are strange, but what is stranger is that they don’t seem out of place.  The light is the result of bioluminescence of small phytoplankton near the rocks.  The waves that hit the rocks stimulate them and their steady glow is easily observed in this series of long exposures.  Light is cool, whether its from a star thousands of light years away, or from some strange creature that has evolved for 3 Billion years and arrived at your doorstep.


Happy 25th Birthday Hubble!

Today is the day, 25 years ago, that the Hubble space telescope launched from the Kennedy Space Centre aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.  The world had high hopes for Hubble, but we had no idea what great treasures were waiting for us in the depths of the cosmos.  No piece of technology in human history has, arguably, had a bigger impact on our understanding of the Universe.

Hubble Exploded

For the 25th anniversary, International Astronomy day is coinciding to tomorrow’s anniversary of the deployment of Hubble, since it usually falls on a Saturday.  Events across the world will include arts and crafts, Astronomy demonstrations, and of course, observing.

Of course it wouldn’t be like Hubble to celebrate without a special anniversary image.  The Hubble team has produced an incredible image of the star cluster Westerlund 2, containing structures observed in both infrared and optical wavelengths.

Westerlund 2 – from Hubble – who else?

Hubble will continue observations through 2018 and up to 2020.  Ideally it will cease operations when the James Webb Space Telescope takes over, expected to launch in 2018.

Reflected Light from First True Exoplanet Observed

The first exoplanet ever discovered was 51 Pegasi b in 1995.  It kicked marked the slow beginning of what would soon become the ‘exoplanet gold rush.’  It meant that for the first time, we had the technological capacity to discover new worlds, and science fiction soon became science fact.  51 Pegasi b was also a very strange planet.  A massive Jupiter sized world orbiting very close to its home star.  On one hand it was this characteristic that made it much easier to detect.  On the other, it showed us that we did not understand planetary system formation as well as we thought.  Since this original discovery, we have dedicated telescopes to the search for new planets of all sizes, and are beginning to discover planets similar to our own home.  As our technology improves it seems as if we are finding unusual new configurations on a weekly basis, everything from planets with rings that make Saturn look tiny to fast orbiters that are being vaporized by the heat of their home star. Now our technology has taken us a step further, and for the first time we have seen the light reflected off of 51 Pegasi b.

This artist’s view shows the hot Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b. Image credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser / Nick Risinger,

In astronomy, light is everything. Photons bounce around the universe, and the study of their characteristics allows us to unlock the secrets of the universe. By directly detecting light from 51 Pegasi b, we can figure out the planet’s mass, orbital inclination, what it’s made of, what it’s atmosphere is made of, and how reflective it is.  This is a truly deep study of a non-solar planet.

Of course, the real difficulty in such a process in blocking out the light from the planet’s parent star.  This has been an issue for years during the detection of exoplanets in general.  But with the development of better telescopes and more precise instruments, the starlight can be blocked more easily, allowing us a much clearer view of the reflecting planet.

51 Pegasi b is only 50 light years from Earth, making it a much easier target for astronomers than some of the more distant exoplanets.  For this reason, it’s a good starting point for the direct study of exoplanets, and paves the way for future exploration.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: We are in a renaissance of exoplanet science.  Years from now this period will be talked about as a milestone of humanity’s quest for the stars.