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.
The first official trailer of In Saturn's Rings (formerly Outside In) has been released to universal acclaim. The movie (to be completed in 2014) is made exclusively from real photos taken by spacecraft, mostly Cassini-Huygens.
What would the night sky look like if the other planets were as close as the moon?
Cosmography of the Local Universe. From the comments: "Best video display of our Universe and our exact position in it to date.... [more inside]
"It was one of those things that was a gift to humanity... We’re all going to lose for sure." Kepler's career is over, but not before answering one of mankind's most profound questions.
Skylab, NASA's budget space station, launched 40 years ago today. Designed as an orbiting optical laboratory, she served as a cold war weapon, underwent an historic salvage job, and was the site of America's first space mutiny before landing hard in Australia while waiting for the Space Shuttle to be invented.
The entire history of the exploration of the Solar System in one handy picture, as created by Olaf Frohn. (Requires HTML5.)
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]
An intriguing essay on how young women in Georgian England were able to do science by hiding in the pursuits of the domestic arts.
"Women didn’t find it easy to participate in late eighteenth century science. Experimentation and discovery were not easily compatible with the ideals of domestic femininity – but there were women who rejected these social expectations and became active and renowned."
Using data provided by the Lowell Observatory and Minor Planet Center, this fascinating video provides a view of our knowledge of nearby asteroids and how closely their paths intersect with Earth's. The voiceover explains the count of objects, and what the colorations mean. [slyt]
Will Mars be rocked by a massive comet in 2014? Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. A comet will definitely pass close to the Red Planet on October 19, 2014. [more inside]
"Forget the old heliocentric model – our solar system is a vortex!" Part 1, Part 2. [via] [more inside]
Wired: The Most Badass Moons of our Solar System Mimas | Europa | Io | Enceladus | Hyperion | Iapetus | Charon | Triton | The Moon | Asteroid Moons | Titan | Phoebe
Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsävainio has created some stunning 3D animations (more at his blog) of far-flung nebula. Phil Plait first pointed to them back in October. Today, there's a post on the Smithsonian Magazine's website about them.
Three days prior to its planned impact on a lunar mountain, mission controllers activated the camera aboard one of NASA's GRAIL twins to take some final photos from lunar orbit. The result is some of the best footage of the moon's surface captured so far. [more inside]
With the help of Stargazing Live, 10,506 citizen scientists are exploring the surface of Mars like never before.
Fomalhaut is a magnitude 1.16 star in the "Piscis Austrinis" or "Southen Fish," and one of the first stars discovered with an extrasolar planet (previously). It has been dubbed "The Eye of Sauron" after a stunning picture taken in 2008 of its debris ring. There was some controversy about the exoplanet, dubbed "Fomalhaut b" though as it turns out, its orbit is stranger than expected.
January 13, 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society. The Magazine is celebrating by taking a yearlong look at the past and future of exploration. [more inside]
At Cambridge University, the Project for Existential Risk is considering threats to humankind caused by developing technologies. It will be developing a prospectus for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, to be launched by the Astronomer Royal, a co-founder of Skype and the Bertrand Russell professor of philosophy. More detail from the university, while the news excites some journalists. [more inside]
In the telling it has the contours of a creation myth: At a time of great evil and great terror, a small group of scientists, among the world’s greatest minds, secluded themselves in the desert. In secrecy and silence they toiled at their Promethean task. They sought the ultimate weapon, one of such great power as to end not just their war, but all war. They hoped their work would salvage the future. They feared it could end everything. - Prometheus in the desert: from atom bombs to radio astronomy, New Mexico's scientific legacy
100,000 Stars [SLInteractive3DVisualization] (Seems to run best on Chrome or Safari and a decent graphics card)
Well now, this is an interesting discovery... Reexamination of data collect through HARPS has resulted in finding three additional planets bringing the total to six. One of which is safely within the goldilocks zone of its star.
The cosmos is also within us, we're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos, to know itself.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series of one hour shows written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, that was aired at the tail end of 1980 and was - at the time - the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. It is best introduced by an audio excerpt of one of his books, The Pale Blue Dot. Inside is a complete annotated collection of the series. [more inside]
You may already be familiar with PhDComics (Previously) and the PhDMovie (Previously), but PhDComics.tv has now become a pretty fantastic resource for both researchers and laymen. [more inside]
The vanishing groves: A chronicle of climates past and a portent of climates to come – the telling rings of the bristlecone pine.
What do you mean you've never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heavens sake mankind, it's only four light years away, you know.
A planet with about the same mass as Earth has been discovered in orbit around Alpha Centauri B, a star in the Alpha Centauri triple star system - the solar system's closest neighbor, a mere 4.3 light years away. Alpha Centauri B is very similar to the Sun, and this marks the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a Sun-like star. However, the planet is orbiting at a distance of about six million kilometers, much closer than Mercury is to the Sun in the Solar System, so temperatures above 400 degrees Celsius may make vacationing there unpalatable even for the most dedicated beach-goer. However, lead paper author Xavier Dumusque called it "a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun."
For the first time ever, a meteor has grazed in and out of Earth's atmosphere, slowing enough to become a temporary satellite that lasted a full orbit. In other astronomical news, a comet was discovered by a couple of Russian astronomers that appears to have all of the ingredients to be one of the greatest comets in our lifetimes, and maybe one of the greatest in human civilization's history. New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon This will be the second great comet of 2013.
A comet has been discovered and we may get to see it. If it doesn't boil away first, we'll be able to see it November 29th, 2013, give or take a day. Lots of back-slapping on the comet email list. (Via.)