Saturday, February 26, 2011

Internet Currency

Nothing really exciting to post today, so here I give you a picture of our cat, Reyn. Cat pictures have long been considered the currency of the internet, so I hope this makes me rich, haha. Yay, Caturday!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Something

So I think before I said I was going to try to post some sort of gadget or gizmo every Friday that looked of interest to me. I decided to cut out the gadget and gizmo part since there are enough blogs about that stuff out there and just go with whatever interests me. Whether its a game, gadget, book, movie, or whatever.

So today it is windy here, real windy. Like the power every once in awhile cuts off and you can hear ambulances screaming off in the distance occasionally (I live near the hospital). The power being unreliable makes doing stuff on computers and TVs rather difficult. So it has put me in a bit of a reading mood, and I wanted to recommend an amazing book. For whenever you have a windy, rainy day where reading seems like the best activity.

The book is How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. It is a great story, and really puts a human side to astronomers and the work they do. Mike Brown is an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology and his primary work is looking for objects in the outer solar system. These objects (including Makemake, Quaoar, Haumea, and Eris) that he and his team found challenged the notion of Pluto's qualification as a planet. Ultimately it becomes a tale of discovery, birth, and the death of a beloved planet, Pluto. A great read, and highly recommended if you want to know more about what went into Pluto's fate.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last mission of Discovery (STS-133)

The Space Shuttle Discovery just made its 39th and final flight into space at 4:53 PM EST. After much delay (first scheduled to launch in November), it is good to see it get off the ground, but a somber moment in the age of space exploration.

Discovery will be in space for 11 days, manned by 6 astronauts, and providing components for the International Space Station. This includes Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space. I hope the mission goes smoothly and they all make it back to the Earth.

The last scheduled launch is Space Shuttle Endeavour, set for April 19th. Atlantis is tentatively scheduled for launch during the summer, depending on its need and funding.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Kepler and Fermi

Last time I left off talking about the cosmic lottery. We are pretty lucky to be around, and just how widespread that luck is. Estimates say there are roughly 500 million planets in our galaxy residing in habitable zones, 500 million chances for life to arise at any given time. And not all these might seem obvious at first; a few might turn out to moons orbiting giant planets.

The number of planets that will actually have life will turn out to vary from this a bit. There is a great diversity in planets and the right conditions need to be there. In our own solar system, it is accepted that Venus is at one end of our habitable zone and Mars is at the other. If conditions were different on these planets, life might have taken hold, and it might have even been there in the past. In our search of these 500 million candidates, we will find lots of planets like Venus and Mars. Either too small to retain an atmosphere against the solar wind, or to thick of an atmosphere with a runaway greenhouse effect. A lack of a protective magnetic field or plate tectonics. Objects like the Moon and Jupiter that protect against asteroids and comets. And a stable, long living star.

Continues after the page break. >

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Kepler and Drake

I have made a few mentions to the Kepler Mission in my previous posts. It really is one of the most amazing and fantastic missions that NASA has going on right now. And recently, they released the data on 155,000 stars. This wasn't even the entire sample taken by Kepler, the rest of the stars were released to the public through stuff like And Kepler is still running! Which means there will be more observations, and more planets observed. The first set of data was taken over 4 months. So every planet that transits a star in that 4 month period is observed. If we are looking for Earth-sized planets, that is only 1/3 of Earths entire year. So the longer Kepler looks, the more planets will become observable as they transit.

Now, from the 155,000 stars released there included 1,235 candidate planets. Those numbers split as 68 Earth-size, 288 super-Earth-size (about twice the size of Earth), 293 are Neptune-size (about four times the size of Earth), and 165 candidates are the size of Jupiter (11 times the size of Earth). Those numbers themselves, from a relatively tiny patch in the sky, triple the known number of planets.

More after the page break.

Questions and Answers

First, I would like to thank all of my followers, the blog broke 100 followers last night. I really enjoy all the comments everyone contributes, I like answering your questions, and I like being involved with the community.

So, I am going to start doing Question and Answer articles. I will select two or three questions, depending on how many I feel like doing, from the comments section. This will start with this article, and I will make a 'Call for Questions' in future posts. I will provide my answers the next week, so next Tuesday, check back and see if I selected your question. If I don't try again, I will try to make this my Tuesday 'thing'. If it doesn't seem to work out, I'll just skip it.

Please keep the questions clean and civil, and try to stick to astronomy and science, but I will give any thing a shot!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Kepler Works, How Glass Works

I was going to talk about some recent estimates from the Kepler data, but find myself short on time. So I am dumping a few awesome videos. First we have a 2-part series on the method used by the Kepler Telescope to discover new exoplanets. They are fantastic in quality and made by Paul A. Wilson, A Widely Unknown Exoplanet Astronomer, and has a wonderful blog I recently discovered.
The last video is something else that is entirely different, but totally interesting none the less. But not so different, because it's principals are why things like the Kepler mission are possible. This video is on why glass is transparent. Honestly, it isn't something that I have thought to question any time recently and I was bit intrigued by it. I knew there was something that had to do with their electron arrangement, but this video makes it a whole lot clearer. Very educational.
Enjoy the videos, next time I hope to have that post on Kepler done. It will involve the Drake Equation, and what it means for the search for life. You may have also noticed, I added an Astronomy Picture of the Day gadget to the upper right, I hope you all enjoy those pictures as much as I do!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Case for Secure Browsing

Most of the time when going to a website, people will just type the address like so, '', without any concern for the http://www. portion of the address, unless you happen to be really old or unfamiliar with computers. Occasionally people might recognize the www. portion, but the http:\\ goes entirely ignored by most internet users. To many it may just seem like an old appendage that is fairly useless, and in most cases this may be entirely true. But it has a purpose.

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is the networking protocol that forms the foundation of data communications for the Interwebs. Its used to load up whatever webpage you want to view, whether you are aware of it or not. All very good stuff to know, makes you a little bit more web savvy.

Now that you know that, there is another way to call up a webpage called HTTPS. It stands for the same thing except with Secure at the end. HTTPS is a combo of of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol with the SSL/TLS protocol to provide encrypted communication and secure identification of a network web server. Protecting you and your private information from people who could steal with tools such as Firesheep.

Most banks have HTTPS support by default, and sites like Facebook and Google have been enabling support for browsing their sites with encryption. Facebook has been most recent and you can enable it by visiting your Account Settings page, selecting Account Security (it's the third option from the bottom), and you'll find a checkbox to enable HTTPS under the Secure Browsing header. That's it, pretty easy, and you can be sure your data is encrypted as if flows through the intertubes.

If you are browsing elsewhere on the web however, it can often be a bit annoying accessing HTTPS. Usually you have to manually type it into the address bar to send an encrypted request. And then will return to the default HTTP on another page. But, lo, there are great people out there who thinks doing that sucks. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the TOR project have collaborated on the the HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension. It provides default HTTPS encryption for a number of sites and is customizable, and if a site you frequent isn't already in the HTTPS Everywhere rules, they provide a tutorial on adding it to the rules.

So go forth my friends and browse the web safely and securely!