We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
In a Multiverse, What Are the Odds? "Testing the multiverse hypothesis requires measuring whether our universe is statistically typical among the infinite variety of universes. But infinity does a number on statistics." (previously) [more inside]
The resolution of a telescope (how much fine detail it can see) is proportional to the wavelength of light divided by the size of the telescope. Since radio wavelengths are many times larger than optical wavelengths, radio telescopes like the GBT and Arecibo are large compared to optical telescopes. Even so, the resolution of radio telescopes is worse, and you rarely see radio images as beautiful as those produced by the Hubble Space Telscope. That has now changed. [more inside]
How do we determine distances between the earth, sun, and moon, and from the sun to other planets, stars, and distant galaxies? We can't measure these directly, but indirect methods, combined with some basic high school math, can provide convincing and accurate results. A public lecture by Fields medalist Terry Tao (SLYT)
This afternoon/evening, North Americans will be treated to a partial solar eclipse, making for some great photography opportunities from Chicago to LA and points northward (coverages as high as ~60% in the Northwestern US and Canada) -- even if there are some clouds! Not sure how to photograph an eclipse safely? Here are some detailed guides. [more inside]
This is Science Magazine; this is one of their featured front-page stories (date stamped 17 September 2014 8:00 am): "The top 50 science stars of Twitter", by Jia You. The list has 46 men and 4 women. [more inside]
Binary stars are common in our galaxy. In fact, singleton star systems like ours make up only 15% of the systems in the Milky Way. In the 1970s, astronomers Kip Thorne and Anna Żytkow, imagined what might happen if a neutron star in a binary system merged with its partner, a red supergiant. Recently, a real example of this strange star-within-a-star, known as a Thorne–Żytkow object (TZO), appears to have been spotted. (Preprint.)
Worried about when Betelgeuse will go supernova? Worry no more.
Astronomers discover that our galaxy is a suburb of a supercluster of 100,000 large galaxies they have called Laniakea
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became possible to believe in the existence of life on other planets on scientific grounds. Once the Earth was no longer the center of the universe according to Copernicus, once Galileo had aimed his telescope at the Moon and found it a rough globe with mountains and seas, the assumption of life on other planets became much less far-fetched. In general there were no actual differences between Earth and Venus, since both planets orbited the Sun, were of similar size, and possessed mountains and an atmosphere. If there is life on Earth, one may ponder why it could not also exist on Venus. In the extraterrestrial life debate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Moon, our closest celestial body, was the prime candidate for life on other worlds, although a number of scientists and scholars also speculated about life on Venus and on other planets, both within our solar system and beyond its frontiers. Venusians: the Planet Venus in the 18th-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate (PDF), from The Journal of Astronomical Data (JAD) Volume 19, somewhat via NPR and their mention of amateur astronomer Thomas Dick's estimations of the populations of the other planets in our solar system (Archive.org online view of Celestial scenery, or, The Wonders of the planetary system displayed, 1845).
Storm Chasing on Saturn with Cassini [viz. cf.] - "The sun is slowly rising over Saturn's north pole, exposing an immense six-sided hurricane. The storm, big enough to swallow four Earths, was first spotted by the Voyager missions in the early 1980s. [Cassini] will be passing directly over the north pole with its cameras pointing down later this month." (previously 1,2)
Captain's Log: June 30, 2014 "There are times when human language is inadequate, when emotions choke the mind, when the magnitude of events cannot properly be conveyed by the same syllables we use to navigate everyday life. Last night, the evening of June 30, 2004 was such a time." [more inside]
Art forgeries have long been the stuff of thrillers, with fake da Vincis or Vermeers fooling connoisseurs, roiling the art world, and moving millions of dollars. We don’t think of ancient books driving such grand forgery, intrigue, and schadenfreude. This is changing thanks in part to a clever forgery of Galileo’s landmark book Sidereus Nuncius, published in Venice in 1610. Arguably one of the most extraordinary scientific publications of all times, Sidereus Nuncius turned Galileo into the brightest new star of Western science. Four centuries later, a faked copy of this book has disarmed a generation of Galileo experts, and raised a host of intriguing questions about the social nature of scholarly authentication, the precariousness of truth, and the revelatory power of fakes.
Trio for Three Angles (1968) is one of many beautiful acclaimed visually-oriented short films with music by mathematical filmmakers Bruce and Katharine Cornwell, some animated by hand and some using early digital technology. It inspired three sequels: Similar Triangles (1975), Congruent Triangles (1976), and Journey to the Center of a Triangle (1978) (previously). [more inside]
Vera Rubin and Dark Matter Vera Rubin has been quoted as saying "Does Sex Matter? Of course it does. But does it matter enough to Matter? That's a different question." She is an astronomer and mother of four who successfully combined a serious career with raising a family. She is one of the discoverers of dark matter. [more inside]
Ten years ago, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft became the first to orbit the planet Saturn. After dropping off Huygens on the moon Titan, Cassini proceeded to spend its time exploring the Saturn system, watching the birth of a new moon, photographing water vents on Enceladus, discovering methane lakes on Titan, spotting hurricanes on Saturn, confirming aspects of general relativity and all sorts of other stuff. Enjoy these stunning photographs, explore the timeline of its exploration and marvel at the complex orbital mechanics that keep Cassini flying in Saturn's system with a tiny fuel supply.
Between 2002 and 2006, the Hubble telescope took photos of an explosion coming from a red variable star in the constellation Monoceros, about 20,000 light years from the Sun. This is a time-lapse video of those photos.
Saturday's close shave by asteroid 2014 HL129 came just days after its discovery on Wednesday, April 28
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel is a tediously accurate model of the Solar System that Josh Worth made to explain to his daughter just how difficult it is to go on holiday to Mars.
GLaDOS teaches fusion and fission for NASA. Ellen McLain lends her autotuned voice to IRrelevant Astronomy, a video series produced as part of the education & public outreach mandate of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. [via]
The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment has issued a fatwa banning Muslims from participating in a Mars colonization effort, citing pervasive risk for no "righteous reason." The Mars One project (previously) has penned a remarkably erudite reply.
When can I spot the Space Station? The International Space Station can easily be spotted with the naked eye. Because of its size (110m x 100m x 30m) it reflects very much sunlight. This simple tool will tell you all of the opportunities you can view the ISS over the next ten days, along with a brightness index and a map tracing its transit across your local sky. The red line shows where the ISS is sunlit and visible. On the blue line the ISS is in the Earth's shadow and invisible or it is less than 10° above the horizon. [more inside]
Dating an Impressionist's Sunset. "Famed French Impressionist Claude Monet created a striking scene of the Normandy coast in his 1883 painting, Étretat: Sunset. Now a team of Texas State University researchers, led by astronomer and physics professor Donald Olson, has applied its distinctive brand of forensic astronomy to Monet’s masterpiece, uncovering previously unknown details about the painting’s origins." [Via]
There's a new light in the night sky. Around 12 million years ago, a star exploded in the galaxy M82. The light reached earth today. [more inside]
Redditor bubbleweed took a five and half hour time-lapse of Jupiter, and made this gif to show Jupiter from Io's frame of reference [WARNING: 4.6mb GIF | alternate: 60kb HTML5 video]. But why simply photograph Jupiter, when you can take the time to really know the planet and draw it, repeatedly, as Frédéric Burgeot has done. His work included a flat texture map* which Pascal Chauvet turned into an animated version of Jupiter (Vimeo). [more inside]
Space Engine is a free (but not open source) program that allows you to fly through vast reaches of the universe. Along the way, you'll see some pretty amazing vistas and probably want to take screenshots of them. It incorporates a good amount of real-world data about the solar system, exoplanets and the universe in general with procedural generation of everything we don't know. [more inside]
I am a staunch believer in leading with the bad news, so let me get straight to the point. Earth, our anchor and our solitary haven in a hostile universe, is in a precarious situation. The solar system around us is rife with instability.[more inside]
During the 1950's, Wernher von Braun served as technical adviser for three space-related television films produced by Disney: Man in Space, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond. [more inside]
The Sculpture on the Moon. "Scandals and conflicts obscured one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Space Age."
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
Dan Burns explains his space-time warping demo at a PTSOS workshop at Los Gatos High School, on March 10, 2012. [more inside]
This could be your last best chance to see Comet ISON as it hurtles towards the sun following a nearly 16-fold increase in brightness last week. Many astronomers are doubtful it will survive its Solar close encounter, but if it does it could end up visible during the day when it returns in December, rivaling the Great Comet of 1680. [more inside]
13 Facts About Space That Will Make Your Head Explode. [SLCrackedVideo | Disclaimer: will not make your head explode. But is still interesting!]
O’Bryan walked me slowly down the steep side of the mesa, to the desert floor, so I could see Star Axis in its entirety. The work’s centrepiece is a 10-storey staircase that lets you walk up through the rock of the mesa, your eyes fixed on a small circular opening that cuts through the top of the pyramid. The first section of the staircase is roofless and open to the sky, but the end of it has a stone overhang that makes it look and feel like a tunnel. This ‘star tunnel’, as Ross calls it, is precisely aligned with Earth’s axis. If you bored a tunnel straight through the Earth’s core, from the South Pole to North Pole, and climbed up it, you’d see the same circle of sky that you do when you walk through Ross’ tunnel. Gazing up through it in the afternoon glare, I saw a patch of blue, the size and shape of a dime held at arm’s length. But if the sun had blinked for a moment, fading the heavens to black, I’d have seen Polaris, glittering at the end of the tunnel, like a solitary diamond in the void."Embracing the Void," Ross Andersen, Aeon.
Here's three minutes of giant telescopes shooting lasers into space. (Also on Youtube). [more inside]
Radio Free Earth "Radio Free Earth finds the #1 song according to the Billboard Charts on a random (or determined) date, measures how long ago that date was, finds a named star that distance away, and then outputs which star that #1 song is just reaching at this moment." [more inside]
Chandra Sky Map - Joe DePasquale runs through the process of creating the map and some helpful tips for using the interactive tool.
"Voyager's main transmitter shines at a feeble 22 watts, which is comparable to a car-mounted police radio or -- in visible light -- a refrigerator light bulb. Though incredibly weak by the standards of modern wireless communications, Voyager's signal is astoundingly bright when compared to most natural objects studied by radio telescopes." -- Even as Voyager 1 has left the Solar System (again), it can still be easily detected by telescopes on Earth, showing once again there ain't no stealth in space.
New Scientist magazine has posted a nifty interactive infographic that illustrates how many Earth-like planets might exist, based on observations from the Kepler Space Telescope. The orbital observatory has catalogued 151 exoplanets based on examination of 0.28% of the sky. [more inside]
SETI chief astronomer Seth Shostak on how soon we might find evidence for extraterrestrial life (SLYT)
Ken Condal built an orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system - wikipedia), milling the parts himself using CNC machining. Among the videos are those of the orrery in operation and a time lapse of the construction process.
Suncalc is a nifty online app that lets you input a geolocation and a date, and then uses google maps to graphically display the azimuth for the sunrise, sunset, and current time, for that particular date. Example: the sunset for the May 28 Manhattanhenge.
Twelve Months in Two Minutes; Curiosity's First Year on Mars. Happy First Anniversary, Curiosity! [Previously]
Remember the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia earlier this year, injuring hundreds and giving us dozens of spectacular dashcam videos? It may have friends.
Enjoy 200,000 images of Saturn, its rings and moons taken by NASA's Cassini over 8 years compressed into 4 minutes of video.