Sample Size Solves Problems

Science and technology benefit one another.  New scientific theories afford new opportunities to create technology that can harness the laws of nature.  Conversely, new technologies allow for better instrumentation and unprecedented efficiency in scientific progress.  It’s a continual feedback loop, and some of the greatest challenges in science are solved simply by throwing more resources at them, or in other words, gathering more data. A good example of this is a relatively old problem for astronomers – determining how the spin of a galaxy affects it’s shape.  We certainly don’t want for analogies on Earth, spinning pizza, driving on a...

A Direct Black Hole

How did supermassive black holes form in the early epochs of the universe? More importantly, how did they have enough time to grow as large as they did? The answer requires a very different universe.  And back then, conditions were much different than they are now.  There was a lot of gas, little dust, no stars, and a plethora of dark matter. Astronomers have spent decades observing early quasars, massive active galaxies powered by huge black holes feeding on surrounding gas.  But these galaxies are seen so early in the universe’s history, one starts to wonder how a black hole finds sufficient...

Black Holes ARE Dark Matter?

Dark matter could be almost anything.  With little data other than how much total dark matter mass exists, we can’t decode much about what individual chunks of dark matter might be made of.  I’ve talked before about Massive Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) and Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), but these are just two possibilities.  Other theorists have talked about Modified Newtonian Gravity (MNG), where gravity may work differently on the grand scale than it does on our small Earth scales.  Or perhaps it’s something I haven’t seen before.  Maybe what we call dark matter is just a large population of ancient black holes....

Motivation Monday (on Tuesday): Rest and Recovery

When I was younger, I could get away with pulling an all-nighter, eating like garbage, and never taking a break.  As I get older, I find it’s much easier to burn out.  I feel the effects of a poor diet or a late night, and I need the extra time to recover at the end of a long week. Over the past few months, I’ve been getting used to waking up at 5am, going to the gym, and then going to work for the day.  I watch what I eat, generally avoid alcohol, and enjoy a few cups of delicious coffee...

A Lonely Universe?

Life in the universe is a fascinating topic.  The simplest question: Are we alone? It breeds so many deeper and more profound scientific questions, like “How many habitable planets are there?” “How likely is life to develop on any given planet?” and “How long can a civilization survive?” We can’t answer them definitively, but we can narrow it down. The Drake equation, shown above, was first developed by Frank Drake, the head of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), in 1961.  He took the question of are we alone and made it quantifiable, in a probabilistic way.  It lets us...

Motivation Monday: Forms of Distraction

What distracts you from doing the things you need to do? What keeps you from moving forward? We all know the common distractions – TV, games, alcohol, social media, etc.  But when you’re working on a particular goal, things that can seem positive can actually prevent you from achieving it.  You may not realize it, but there are plenty of counterintuitive forms of distraction. Let’s say that, like myself, you are working out at the gym, and you’re built up a pretty solid routine.  You go in the morning, go to work, and have your evenings free for other pursuits.  Now...

Motivation Monday: Seasonal Downside

I am still here.  It’s been more than a week since I’ve written a word on the digital page, meaning there is a lot to catch up on for a guy who is trying to write a blog post every day.  But it happens, sometimes there are vacations, busy weeks at work, and crises to manage.  Life happens, yet still I continue.   Today’s motivation post will talk about part of the reason for my shift, and how I may be the only person who sees a changing season as a frustration, even if it is the long-awaited Spring. If you...

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...

Saturn Double Shot 1/2: Less-Than-Ancient Moons

It’s always funny explaining astronomical time to a non-scientist.  I often get the craziest looks when I mention a million years as being a ‘blip on the radar.’  Perhaps there is some immortal alien race out there who would understand how nothing much happens on the scale of the universe in a million years.  To humanity and our ever-accelerating advancement, a million years is thrice the age of our entire species.  But I guess Einstein was right when he said that ‘it’s all relative.’ This brings us to Saturn, a planet as ancient as the solar system.  Moderately old in...

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...