Saturday, March 26, 2011


Wait. What?

Yeah, I haven't done a Caturday post in the past two weeks. Not that it matters, my cats have been boring, lazy, cute fluffballs. Nothing to add there.

I'd actually rather show you this funny video. See, I was watching the Science Channel the other night and saw a special on New Zealand and how its 'birdland.' or at least was, before explorers brought rodents. These parrots, Kakapo (meaning Night Parrot in Maori), were featured prominently. This isn't the video I saw, but its sufficiently cute/awesome.

Anyways, these cute, flightless, fat parrots reminded my of my fat cat, Reyn. They are pretty cute, but they are endangered. Humans have considered them a delicacy or easy roadside food, and rodent enjoy their eggs. There are, as of February 2010, 120 known living individuals, making them the rarest parrot in the world. I don't know how they are doing over a year later, but there is definitely a plan for recovery. Wikipedia is, of course, where I send my reference.

They also have cousins, the Kea, the only true alpine parrot in the world. They are confined to the Southern Alps, the mountain range that runs along New Zealand.

As a minor astrobiologist, I have a love for all life forms. It is sad to see a unique ecology threatened.  Every extinction is a loss to the over all study of life. There is a small advantage in knowing what dominates on Earth, but it divides us from alien possibilities. There is a special knowledge now that says birds are directly related to dinosaurs. And understanding flightless birds in New Zealand gives us an amazing chance to look back in time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Like This Video

So, in keeping with my Friday tradition of posting things that I personally like, related to astronomy or not, here is this weeks thing (that just so happens to be related to astronomy.) :

In The Land Of The Northern Lights from Ole Christian Salomonsen on Vimeo.

A friend of mine in the astronomy club sent me this video. I also noticed it slowly spreading across the internet on a few sites. But if you haven't seen it yet, it is wonderful. On the video page, the guy that made this video provides a great write up on how he made this video. It includes over 50,000 still images over 6 months.

The movement is similar to what you would see if you were there watching it in person. This is thanks to the time lapse and speed of the video. It is amazing to see these auroral snakes move across the sky, and I hope one day to see them myself, Norway seems like a beautiful country.

Farewell to Stardust

This is semi-related to last couple of posts, specifically A Dusty Blog Post and Mercurial Monday. And a bit of a eulogy to a fantastic and amazing spacecraft that provided groundbreaking science for 12 years.

One of the mission's I learned a little bit more about the science behind was Stardust-NExT. A spacecraft that undertook a fascinating mission in comet exploration. The probe is now burning the last of its residual fuel and is being decommissioned about 312 million miles away from Earth.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent these last commands today at about 7 PM EST (March 24). [I found it a sobering moment amongst my birthday celebration.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Dusty Blog Post

Dust, it's everywhere! From the Earth-based perspective, dust is that layer of film made up of dirt, mostly biological, that settles on things in the corners of your room, or floating in the air reflecting light. On a cosmological scale, dust is made up of a huge variety of materials, literally just about everything in the Universe. And once cosmic dust settles, it forms stars and galaxies.

Cosmic dust also has a pretty large range in size, from just a few molecules up to a couple microns (µm). There really is no upper limit, but after a certain point, things obviously start to become asteroids and comets and meteoroids and such. There is a proposed definition for a meteoroid of being between 100 µm and 10 m across. That would then classify dust any smaller then 100 µm, and starting on a molecular level. Human hair is usually around 100 µm thick.

Cosmic dust can further be distinguished by it's location.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Delayed Cosmic Posting

No time to write the cosmic dust article right now. Since both of my parents are working on my birthday, they are deciding to do everything tonight. I should have it up either late tonight or tomorrow, the new poll will be up in a couple of minutes.

I have also spent most of the day messing around with Firefox 4, which just dropped. I am enjoying it so far, just a little bit to get used to. I do suggest the Omnibar add-on if you get it though. That is probably the only Chrome feature I have really enjoys and am happy to see it implemented in Firefox.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mercurial Monday

I promised to give an overview of my trip to the Applied Physics Lab (APL) at Johns Hopkins University on Saturday, so here we go.

The reason I went to the APL was for the Thrill of Discovery Workshop. Five hours of professional development in space science and engineering supported by NASA's Discovery Program. Though, it ended up being 6 hours as we got there half an hour early and it ran over by half an hour. There was approximately 3 hours in a classroom with hands on learning experiences and other educational tools. Then there was approximately 2 hours of lecture in an auditorium, with Q&A after each speaker. The rest of the time was filled with delays and stuff, I didn't really mind.

So this workshop was happening at 4 different locations across the United States, the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, the Jackson Middle School Observatory in Minnesota, and of course APL.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Vernal Equinox Today!

At 23:21 UT (19:21 PM Eastern Standard Time), spring will officially be here for the northern hemisphere! It's been nice spring weather here for the past couple of days, but it's nice to have it be official. Although, I guess some people argue that it's really the middle of spring. I suppose both could be right, it's a matter of perspective and seasons are loosely based anyways. Wintery days can occur in Fall or Spring, and Fall can have Summer or Wintery days, and so forth. It tends to be more of an 'I know it when I see it' concept.

That said, what makes the Vernal Equinox special is that it is a midpoint in the Sun's journey across the sky. The Sun appears to travel against the sky throughout the year due to the Earth's tilt as it orbits the sun. On the equinox's (there is also the autumnal equinox in September), the sun sits over the equator, day and night are roughly the same length (12 hours) all over the Earth.

The term equinox means equal day and night. Ver is latin for spring, and autumnus is autumn, so these terms have a general bias for the northern hemisphere. Down below the equator, I'm sure you guys are getting ready for your colder months, since this is in reverse for you.

Also, I suppose I should dispel some incorrect notions about seasons. I have heard people tell me before that the reason for the seasons was because the Earth got closer and further away from the Sun due to Earth's non-circular orbit, or because the tilt of the Earth made one hemisphere closer then the other. It should be noted that distance from the Sun has nothing to do with the seasons, the temperature difference really is not that huge over Earth's orbit. In fact, during winter in the northern hemisphere, we are closer to the Sun!

The Earth's tilt is the reason for the seasons. And not because one hemisphere is closer to the Sun then the other, but because of it's angle in the sky. When you are in summer, your hemisphere of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun, meaning it is high in the sky with plenty of direct sunlight. When it is winter, you're tilted away from the Sun, it is low in the sky and there isn't a lot of direct sunlight, more of it reflected by the atmosphere.

Here's an infograph from NASA:
How Seasons Work

Another interesting fact about the Earth's tilt is that it's cause is thought to be the same collision that created our moon!

That's all I have for winter, I'll have a fresh spring post tomorrow. I have a wealth of information that I learned from my visit to the Applied Physics Lab at John's Hopkins. I'll probably do an over view post tomorrow and might have a couple posts over the next week to share the information.