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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, pioneering astrophysicist

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a towering figure in 20th-century astronomy. Born in 1900 in England, she won tuition to Newnham College where she studied botany, chemistry, and physics. After attending an astronomy lecture in 1919, she changed the focus of her future studies. She moved to the United States, where she went on to earn the first Ph.D awarded in astronomy from Radcliffe College. She later became the first female to be promoted to full-professor from within the faculty at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and was the first woman to head a department at Harvard when she was appointed to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy. Amongst her numerous studies and advances, she challenge the belief that the sun was made of the same composition of the earth, furthered the study of metallicity of stars and the structure of the Milky Way. [more inside]
posted by filthy light thief on Apr 8, 2013 - 11 comments

Nothing is the most important part of the Universe.

The concept of nothing is as old as zero itself. How do we grapple with the concept of nothing? From the best laboratory vacuums on Earth to the vacuum of space to what lies beyond, the idea of nothing continues to intrigue professionals and the public alike. Join moderator and Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson as he leads a spirited discussion with a group of physicists, philosophers and journalists about the existence of nothing. The event, which was streamed live to the web, took place at the American Museum of Natural History on March 20, 2013. [more inside]
posted by lazaruslong on Mar 25, 2013 - 32 comments

Okay, my mind is officially blown...

'Nearby' supermassive black hole rotates at close to the speed of light For some further details than the Guardian link (though the title says it all) a NASA link.
posted by aleph on Feb 28, 2013 - 55 comments

Somewhere, over the rainbow, far far away

The light from a primary rainbow is partially polarised. Now, in a paper accepted by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, the authors show how to use the weak signal from rainbows in starlight reflected by exoplanets to detect the presence of liquid water clouds. [arXiv preprint link]
In particular, liquid water clouds covering as little as 10%-20% of the planetary surface, with more than half of these covered by ice clouds, still create a polarized rainbow feature in the planetary signal. Indeed, calculations of flux and polarization signals of an exoplanet with a realistic Earth-like cloud coverage, show a strong polarized rainbow feature.

posted by Talkie Toaster on Nov 7, 2012 - 21 comments

no stairway?

Q: How many miles is it to the crab nebula? How does one even figure this out? A: The cosmic distance ladder! Here's a talk by Fields medalist Terrence Tao on methods for indirect calculation of distances to astronomical objects. Here's Tao's blog post on the subject, including the slides for the talk. And here's a Wikipedia page. [more inside]
posted by kaibutsu on Oct 22, 2012 - 17 comments

Escape The Red Giant

Escape The Red Giant is a Flash game that is both incredibly relaxing and incredibly addictive. [more inside]
posted by motty on Jul 14, 2012 - 18 comments

Black Hole Gobbles Up A Star

Two Billion years ago a black hole swallowed a star.
posted by holdkris99 on May 2, 2012 - 34 comments

"We Stopped Dreaming"

King of the Cosmos (A Profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson) by Carl Zimmer. (Via) [more inside]
posted by zarq on Jan 3, 2012 - 20 comments

"Suppose there was a place where there wasn't even space... what is that?"

"...I'm here to present to you - not lectures that are part of some curriculum; but in fact, I've combed the universe for my favorite subjects, and I'm going to spend twelve lectures bringing those favorite subjects to you." Renowned astrophysicist and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the various aspects of our universe in twelve separate half-hour long lectures (MLYT). [more inside]
posted by Evernix on Nov 26, 2011 - 40 comments

Turns out we ARE hosting an intergalactic kegger down here

The twin Voyager probes launched by NASA in 1977 have discovered something new in the heliosheath at the edge of the solar system: it's frothy out there. Video. Press Release. Via. Voyager: Previously.
posted by zarq on Jun 13, 2011 - 33 comments

My God, it's full of galaxies

"The 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) has catalogued more than 43,000 galaxies within 380 million light-years from Earth. In this projection, the plane of the Milky Way runs horizontally across the center of the image. 2MRS is notable for extending closer to the Galactic plane than previous surveys - a region that's generally obscured by dust." Hires image.
posted by bwg on May 28, 2011 - 10 comments

Imagine as basket filled with billions and billions and billions of eggs

We are nearing the end of a golden age of astronomy as more than a dozen space observatories reach their end of life in a few years. The only replacement on the horizon is the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2014. Due to its enormous complexity and ever-rising costs, the JWST has starved other projects of funding. The fate of an entire generation of cosmologists and astrophysicists rests on its success.
posted by Rhomboid on Oct 28, 2010 - 33 comments

The Grand Design

An excerpt from Stephen Hawking's and Leonard Mlodinow's new book The Grand Design.
posted by lauratheexplorer on Sep 10, 2010 - 86 comments

The Size of Things

Welcome to the Universe - III: The Size of Things . . .we take a breif trip through the Solar System and beyond to see the size of the Universe. A youtube video by AndromedasWake about the scale of the Universe.
posted by nola on Jul 8, 2009 - 20 comments

What Would It Look Like To Fall Into A Black Hole?

New Scientist looks at what it would be like to actually fall into a black hole.
posted by panboi on Apr 3, 2009 - 31 comments

Figuring out harmonies mathematically is like reading the mind of God.

The occasionally updated The Celestial Monochord claims to be the "Journal of the Institute for Astrophysics and the Hillbilly Blues" [more inside]
posted by 1f2frfbf on Jan 23, 2009 - 5 comments

Black Holes, Killer Asteroids and Spaghetti-fication, oh my!

You're Going to Die II: The always entertaining astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson discusses a few of the ways the cosmos could kill you, for City Arts & Lectures. [previously]
posted by jamaro on Jan 8, 2009 - 15 comments

Portals Between Earth and Sun Open Every Eight Minutes

Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth. "Like giant, cosmic chutes between the Earth and sun, magnetic portals open up every eight minutes or so to connect our planet with its host star. Once the portals open, loads of high-energy particles can travel the 93 million miles (150 million km) through the conduit during its brief opening, space scientists say." [Via]
posted by homunculus on Nov 5, 2008 - 34 comments

Dark Flow

Mysterious New 'Dark Flow' Discovered in Space. "As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren't vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered. Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon 'dark flow.' The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude." [more inside]
posted by homunculus on Sep 25, 2008 - 73 comments

A "Harmonious" Path

Accidental Astrophysicists: "They started with algebra and ended up learning about gravitational lensing (PDF)." [Via linkfilter]
posted by homunculus on Jun 17, 2008 - 22 comments

Is life on Mars a good sign for us?

The "Great Filter" is a hypothetical barrier to explain why civilisations are so unlikely to progress to the point of inter-stellar colonisation that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking. Maybe humanity has already negotiated the filter - as some massive evolutionary improbability - or perhaps it lies in our future as an almost-certain threat to our existence? We should hold our breath as we look for evidence of life on Mars.
posted by rongorongo on May 12, 2008 - 85 comments

Gamma Ray Bursts - they're neat

How far can the naked eye see? About 7.5 billion light-years. On March 19th, a Gamma Ray Burst was noticed by NASA's Swift satellite and given the name GRB 080319B. It left an optical afterglow estimated at +5 apparent magnitude for 30 seconds, about that of an average star. (Sadly, no one was looking at the area with an optical telescope at that exact time.) Read the original Burst Alert, including the email address of the Burst Advocate, here. [more inside]
posted by ikkyu2 on Mar 23, 2008 - 37 comments

Earth gone rogue.

Would you like to read classic science fiction short story A Pail of Air? Or would you prefer to listen? [more inside]
posted by Eideteker on Nov 15, 2007 - 19 comments

Scholarpedia

Worried about inaccuracies in Wikipedia? Try Scholarpedia, a peer-reviewed encyclopedia, with articles written by experts in their field. [more inside]
posted by Upton O'Good on Sep 27, 2007 - 26 comments

The dark energy backlash

Prominent cosmologist Simon D.M. White has written a provocative paper posted to the astrophysics arxiv complaining that too much time is being devoted to the quest to understand the nature of the elusive dark energy: "Dark Energy is undeniably an interesting problem to attack through astronomical observation, but it is one of many and not necessarily the one where significant progress is most likely to follow a major investment of resources." He worries generally that observational cosmology/astrophysics/astronomy may turn away from the construction of instruments of general utility (such as the Hubble Space Telescope), to concentrate on a small number of massive experiments narrowly focused on solving particular problems (such as WMAP and the Large Hadron Collider), to the detriment of the "quirky small-science" type of astronomy.
posted by snoktruix on Apr 21, 2007 - 8 comments

3D Starmaps.

Planning a jump to Barnard's Star? Making the Kessel Run in 11 parsecs? You'll need maps. Also available in a solid state format from Bathsheba Sculpture. (Previously)
posted by loquacious on Sep 16, 2006 - 11 comments

Pioneer Anomaly

The Pioneer Anomaly. Something's up in deep space: the Pioneer spacecraft, now out of contact, have shown an unexplained Doppler drift, indicating sunward acceleration, effectively decelerating the probes cumulatively. The effect may be be nongravitational, and could be explained by any number of factors: an undiscovered twist in Newtonian physics, localized cosmological contraction issues, or just venting gas. Other deep space probes may have experienced the anomaly as well, and a new mission could explore the puzzle; but for now, all we have is past Pioneer data, and that's stored on old 9 track tape which can only be read by antique readers. What's to be done? (Also see Pioneer Odyssey for a nostalgic romp through those early days of deep space exploration. And NASA, bring back the original Pioneer home page plz, kthx.)
posted by brownpau on Jun 13, 2005 - 21 comments

Spitzer Space Telescope

The first images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility and renamed after astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer, Jr., were released on Thursday. Launched on August 25, it obtains images by detecting the infrared energy radiated by objects in space, and it will drift behind the Earth as the planet orbits the sun.
posted by homunculus on Dec 20, 2003 - 3 comments

Talk about Johnny One-Note

In space, you can hear a black hole sing (WaPo link). Using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, astrophysicists have detected a supermassive black hole in the Perseus Cluster which has been "playing" a B-flat for 3 billion years.

Fascinating as this seemingly counterintuitive discovery (sound carrying through space) is, the real significance lies in that these "sound waves" may explain why the superhot gases in such regions aren't cooling down and forming more stars.
posted by GreyWingnut on Sep 10, 2003 - 19 comments

From Big Bang to Humankind

Cosmic Evolution -- Particulate, Galactic, Stellar, Planetary, Chemical, Biological, Cultural (Via the Exploratorium)
posted by WolfDaddy on May 13, 2003 - 1 comment

Massive explosion rocks NASA

Massive explosion rocks NASA And Pasadena, and a few other places, too. It's not every day you get to watch a black hole form. Includes cool animation (.mov file). Seems the gamma ray burst detector picks up two or three significant events every month or so.
posted by kewms on Mar 20, 2003 - 13 comments

Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics

"I was willing to bet that there was going to be a universe, and I hit the nail on the head." The other day we had Avram Davidson, which got me thinking of Calvino's Invisible Cities, but all the recent talk about black holes made me remember that Italo Calvino is at his most charming when he's playing with physics, math, and cosmology in Cosmicomics.
posted by vraxoin on Nov 20, 2002 - 15 comments

Wot, no black holes?

Wot, no black holes? Those wacky boffins in science land have already had a pop at the Higg's boson, but now they're moving on to everybody's favourite theoretical singularity, with a new theory about what happens when a star kicks the astral bucket.
posted by stuporJIX on Jan 26, 2002 - 6 comments

So you think the expansion of the universe is accelerating? Think again! (Contains links to full paper in .pdf etc.)
posted by stuporJIX on Dec 21, 2001 - 2 comments

When NASA scientists watch Michael Bay films, comedy ensues.

When NASA scientists watch Michael Bay films, comedy ensues. 'The technology is not at all far-fetched,' said Dr Greg Laughlin, of the Nasa Ames Research Center in California. 'It involves the same techniques that people now suggest could be used to deflect asteroids or comets heading towards Earth. We don't need raw power to move Earth, we just require delicacy of planning and manoeuvring.' Oh yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan. I'm not being a Luddite here...I realize the scientists involved aren't going to be doing this any time soon, if ever. It still spooks me, though.
posted by Ezrael on Jun 11, 2001 - 14 comments

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