The Essence of Science and the Fringes of Reality

Data is fascinating.  And what’s even more fascinating is that the laws of nature produce predictable patterns in data.  For example, if you toss a coin 100 times and measure how many times heads comes up, you’ll get a number between zero and 100.  If you repeat that experiment again and again and again, you’ll get different values each time, but usually the number will be around 50, and 50 will come up more than any other value if you repeat the experiment enough times.  If you plot this data, with the # of heads in 100 coin tosses on...

Journey to the Center

As I’ve said before, the most powerful, most energetic, most intense processes happen in the center.  The gravitational center of the Earth, the Sun, and the galaxy are all places where temperature, pressure, and interactions of matter and energy are pushed to their limits.  When you look up to the sky it’s easy to see the Milky Way (unless you live in an urban center).  Do you ever wonder where the middle of it is? Where that supermassive black hole lies? Astronomers know where it is, but you need infrared cameras to see it past the thick dust that blocks...

Very Long Exposure Photography

Since diving into astrophotography last year, I’ve discovered that I love the concept of time-lapse, and not just with respect to astronomy.  It’s amazing to see the changes that can occur over long periods of time, and time-lapse photography is a way to record the changes and see how they unfold.  In astronomy the best time-lapses give you a sense of the Earth’s motion through space, show satellites zipping overhead, and show aurora dance along with weather patterns. Large amounts of time with slow incremental changes produce incredible results when it comes to time lapses. Science communication is about how to...

The Flash of a Star’s Death

The most violent single event in the universe is the death of a massive star, a supernova.  We have seen several different types, though the common element is a massive explosion, taking a star hiding amongst the background into an eruption that outshines it’s entire host galaxy.  We have seen the brightness grow and fade over the duration of a supernova event, but we have never seen one just as it’s starting.  Until now. Would you ever have thought that the Kepler space telescope, a planet hunter that continuously observes stars, could see supernovae?  The key is in the words ‘continuously observed.’  By keeping...

Flight of the Ionic Phoenix

I’ve spent the last couple of days as a zombie due to the time change, but now that I feel like myself, I’ve got some catch-up posts to do.  The first one has to do with today’s APOD. Can you spot the phoenix shape? It doesn’t mean anything special, it’s just the way our brains see the patterns of light from this gorgeous aurora in Iceland.  Ionization of atmospheric gases from charged solar particles doesn’t sound as glamorous as ‘phoenix aurora,’ but I still appreciate the scientific beauty of it.  Human beings are excellent at pattern recognition, and so we...

Edge-On: Good for Planets, Bad for Galaxies

Every time we see amazing photos of galaxies or planetary disks, we can see most of the detail since we see them face on.  But since the orientation of spiral galaxies in the universe is random, there are a plethora of galaxies ignored by image processors since we just can’t see much of the detail.  We can still learn from edge-on spiral galaxies, just not as much as we can from those that are face on. We can see some fascinating dust lanes in the image above, and a ton of detail considering the view, but we don’t know what...

Lunar and Martian Farming

Can we grow crops on the Moon? How about Mars? If you saw the movie “The Martian,” it seems you could grow potatoes on Mars with a supply of water, oxygen, and some fertilizer, but without these necessities (soil nutrients, water, oxygen) they just wouldn’t last. If we eventually want to colonize places like the Moon and Mars, finding a way to live off the land is a must. The sunshine will help, but can we really grow crops on alien soil? As it turns out, Earth scientists have been working on this problem, by simulating the soils of the...

The Sun is Doing That Weird Thing Again

You know the thing I mean, when it suddenly goes dark in the middle of the day and looks all fiery.  Stars come out in the daytime and animals go crazy.  When silly people pray extra hard for some reason.  I swear the Moon is involved. It looks like this…. Ah yes the solar eclipse, the rare event that only occurs because the Sun is both 400 times wider and 400 times more distant than the Moon.  It’s a mathematically beautiful event that only occurs every 5 years on average.  And when it does happen, the total coverage of the...

Solar Burp

We know that the giant bright light in the sky that keeps us warm is so much more than we can see.  A star, like countless others in the sky, close enough to outshine all of them.  The Sun is a dynamic object, endlessly churning and burping plasma beyond it’s boundaries into the solar system and beyond.  NASA spacecraft and ground-based telescopes have been keeping eyes on the Sun for years to characterize its 11-year magnetic cycle.  And every so often they have a front-row seat to the massive blasts that just can’t be seen with human eyes. The first...