asterroc: (Astro - H-alpha)
1) They've cried wolf enough times at this point that I'm always skeptical about every new announcement.

2) This is yet more indirect evidence - they've found visual evidence of changing patterns that could look like streams, and in the same areas spectra give the chemical "fingerprints" of assorted salts (not table salt, NaCl, but chemically similar) which as far as we know can only form in water.

To me, if the evidence is indirect, we will need a lot more of it than if we actually saw liquid H2O flowing and used spectra to confirm it was water. Right now we have circumstantial evidence of things that look like stream beds (but could be caused by other liquid solvents, or a remote chance they're caused by wind), and we a number of chemicals which as far as we know can only form in water (not only these salts, but also the hematite blueberries from a few years back). However the hypothesis "this can only form in water" is one of those things we can never actually prove true, just eliminate more and more untrue possibilities.

So to me as a watcher of all this, it's just a waiting game. If there really is liquid water, then little pieces of evidence like this (and the hematite blueberries) will continue to build up until at some point the molehill has become a mountain and it'll be generally accepted by all planetary astronomers (and then all astronomers, and then the world) that yes, there's liquid water on Mars.

3) Water is a key building block for life, so the next question is "is there life on Mars?" Assuming this liquid water exists, it is transient - it's seasonal, appearing only in local summer. If it's transient liquid water, I will need to see some pretty solid evidence to believe that there is current single-cellular life. If it's persistent liquid water I will switch over entirely and I will assume that there's single-cellular life until proven otherwise. Even if it didn't evolve on Mars, we've sent missions there and it's impossible to sterilize everything completely, plus bits of Earth have been knocked off from impacts and landed on Mars so it might've been seeded with Earth life millennia ago. If it's possible to sustain some form of life on Mars, I guarantee you that it's there.

Originally posted on Dreamwidth. comment count unavailable comments there. Comment here or there.
Just watched the last Space Shuttle launch, Atlantis, on TV.

In my entire life I have now watched a grand total of three Space Shuttle launches (all on TV):
* Challenger, 1986
* Discovery, 2005
* Atlantis, 2011

According to my recollection, I was in third grade when my teacher decided that we would all crowd around the little 10" classroom TV to watch the first teacher go into space. We all know how that ended. I remember the entire classroom being silent for a long time before my teacher said anything.

For nearly two decades after that I was mostly against human spaceflight. It cost too much money, there was too little return on investment, and it was too risky, said the emotional side of me. The intellectual side said that others found it inspiring so we should continue human spaceflight to drive funding of real astronomy, and I also thought it was important to someday colonize other places than Earth so we must start that somewhere.

2005 was Discovery's "Return to Flight" mission, after the 2003 Columbia disaster. That summer I happened to be teaching astronomy at a nerd camp, so my TA on his own initiative arranged to have the class crowd around a TV screen. He and I stood in the back of the classroom chanting to each other, "I hope we don't traumatize them, I hope we don't traumatize them." Thankfully, we did not.

In 2008 the first teacher to actually go into space, Barbara Morgan, originally a backup for Christa McAuliffe and actually flew on Endeavour in 2007, addressed the National Education Association in Washington DC. I remember little of her speech, other than that it was inspiring.

Today I watched Atlantis launch on TV, the last ever Space Shuttle mission. My heart was in my throat and tears in my eyes, hoping that this would not be another disaster. Atlantis did launch successfully at 11:29am (EST). More than an hour later now, I'm not sure if it's already in orbit, or if it's still climbing.
asterroc: (Astro - H-alpha)
I have an invite for a Google Voice number, which would allow me to link my personal (cell) and work numbers together, and I can select which phone rings when specific people call me, or have neither ring at all. I would give this number out to people who know me personally, professionally, or even through teh intartubes only. I've got a few ideas and I'm wondering what others think of them, or if you have other suggestions for me that aren't already taken.

[Poll #1444709]


Feb. 20th, 2008 10:09 pm
my toes hurt. i have lots of photos. we're in totality now, and i may or may not go back out again later. probably not since as my extremities regain feeling they're hurting a little... waiting for hot chocolate to warm up now. saturn's to the left of the moon if you're looking at it yourself, like two fingers to the left, a bit yellowish.
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)
In case you don't read my other blog, there's a total lunar eclipse tonight visible from central and Eastern US, as well as Western Europe and some other places down South of us all. It starts around 8:40pm (Eastern) and ends around midnight. More info on my other blog here, or via Fred Espenak, NASA's Mr. Eclipse.

And this morning I woke up thinking about all the factors that would have to go into a program that could generate this sort of information...
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)
Tonight I saw Comet Holmes through a telescope. The last time I've seen any comet through a telescope was Haley's Comet way back in the 80's, in my childhood. I missed both Hale-Bopp and Hyukatuke (sp?) in the mid 90's somehow.

Check out the Wikipedia page on Comet Holmes. Scroll down a couple screens to "Location in 2007" and you'll see a nice finding chart - it's in Perseus, currently North of the left "arm" of the π shape that I see in it. It's clearly visible to the naked eye - I was in a brightly lit city, on campus near some lights, and I still was able to point it out to people who are NOT experienced observers. First find the stars of Perseus, and then you'll realize that one of the North-most stars is actually a bit fuzzy, and that's it.

Through a telescope it resolves into a HUGE fuzzy blob - bigger than planets, bigger than the Ring Nebula, bigger than Andromeda, maybe as big as the space between H and Χ Perseus. (Use the biggest diameter telescope you can, lowest power.) With some careful studying and averted vision you'll be able to see that the brightest center section is elongated (left/right in my tele's field of view, I think East/West actually), it's surrounded by a glowing cloud, and one edge of the cloud is crisp/sharp and slightly brighter (right in my field of view, I think the East edge) while the opposite edge fades away, presumably into the tail. There are no bright stars in the same field of view; focus while looking at a dim star, and keep your eyes on it to view the comet most easily.

It's just amazing. Go look at it, naked eye, binoculars, tele, whatever. The thing is exploding, this's probably its last pass around the Sun. (If it somehow survives, it'll be back in a scant 7 years.)
Goddamnit, didn't this happen just a couple years ago? They really oughtta remove the forest around it and not let it grow back.
If you haven't been following the news about the wildfires around LA and south-western California, the satellite photo below tells the picture pretty well.

click for higher res versions

Note that the fires are producing the white smoke that looks nearly like rain clouds. I believe the tan streaks off of Mexico are sand and dirt being blown by the winds. Red spots are where the fire is currently burning. If you click on the image, you'll get a higher res version from NASA, and if you pick "250m pixel size" you'll get the highest available.

If you live in SoCal, expect asthma and allergy problems. Apparently most of the soot particles are small enough that they'll go right through normal dust masks. If you have birds, get them out of the region, North or East, if you can.


Aug. 28th, 2007 01:14 pm
Hm, I think I got my dates wrong. I think the lunar eclipse was early this morning, not early tomorrow morning. Oops. Stupid UT.
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)
Dangit, they just finisher renovating that thing, and now a wildfire is raging through the park in which the observatory is located.

The park is in the Hollywood Hills, about 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. It includes golf courses, tennis courts, the city's zoo and botanical gardens and the copper-domed Griffith Park Observatory.

The bright orange glow of the fire provided a striking backdrop for the white facade of the observatory into the evening hours.

*crosses fingers*
It's our Earth.

Whole Earth, Afirca side

Please take care of it.

Earth and Moon

It's the only one we've got.

Moon over atmosphere

We live on a thin skin of livable air and water. When we destroy that, it's gone.

Sun and Earth and spaceship boom

And take care of each other. We're what makes this lifeless rock livable.
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)
In local coordinates, besides 0º altitude being the (ideal) horizon, we have two other key points - the zenith at an altitute of +90º, and the nadir at -90º. These are both originally English words, though they're used less often lately. Zenith means "peak, height, best", for example "The pop star was at the zenith of her career." And nadir means "lowest, worst," as in "Brittaney Spears is at the nadir of her career."

Early January is the AAS (American Astronomical Meeting, "double-A-S") meeting, and as always there's a slew of astro articles / press releases that trickle out from it through the media. The first one I've seen is how Mars missions killed life. Keep in mind that these are press releases and/or submitted presentations. There has been no peer review of the material, even though it's been worked on very hard by the astronomer presenting it and his/her team. It could still be proven wrong. The actual peer review papers associated with these things are usually quite tame by comparison.

And while we're at it, the word of the year is "pluto" - but as a verb! I might've preferred "climate canary" myself - even though Pluto's demotion is exciting, it holds much less meaning for the human race than global warming and those species that it is pushing past the edge of extinction.


Dec. 11th, 2006 10:02 pm
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)
Talking with Foxtrot on IM just now, I ended up with the mental image of trying to survive a bazooka by choosing between defending yourself with a feather or waiting for a mail-order baseball. If you know Foxtrot, then it should be obvious by now that we were discussing the options of defense against an Earth-impacting asteroid or comet. The feather is military nukes aboard ICBMs, while the baseball that doesn't yet exist is some other NASA plan that actually has a chance of working.
I saw a shooting star last night while in the car. The intarwebs tells me it was a Leonid.
asterroc: (Astro - 2MASS)

Astronomical snakes on the Galactic plane...

I didn't come up with it! Spizter folks did, blame them! *cowers*
Tonight [ profile] kelsin (hi! your 18-year-old photo's so adorable!) went to see Thomas Dolby (of "She Blinded Me With Science" fame) at the Iron Horse. OMG, orgasmatastic! It was so amazing to see how he built the layers of sound: multiple layers of rhythm, keyboard sometimes saved sometimes real-time, voice on top either clean or with chorus or echo effects, occasional sound clips. I was blown away by the fact that he had just some simple sounds saved, and then was creating 90% of it right there as we watched. He was a one-man-band. Well, he had a guy behind the curtain doing the video mixing: prerecorded segements alternating with two cameras atop his keyboard and one head-mounted - developed for the US's War in Iraq, after which explanation he had a protest song with Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend sampling. At another point, he went on for fifteen minutes about SOHO, and while he mistakenly said it was located closer to the Sun than Earth, a minor detail really, I was clapping my hands with glee as he described the effects of solar flares on mankind, and how he tried to map images and flare data to his instruments but it sounded like crap. :-P He then had EIT images in the background during the next song - not real time, though. I don't doubt he could've done it, but the overhead wouldn't've been worth it for the dull pictures we'd get currently - we're just coming out of solar minimum. I was geeking out on two levels, it was awesome. Add the rockin', his slick aviator goggles, and awesome moves (man, for a 40-something he's got good hip thrusts!), and I was NOT creaming my pants, no sirree T$. :* I wish he had CDs for sale, I need to buy them ALL.
I've been talking lately with [ profile] jethereal about a cosmology conundrum. The universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old. Due to the speed of light, this means that we cannot see objects further away than 13.7 billion light years. The universe is actually larger than that 13.7 Glyr due to inflation, but we just can't see those parts because there hasn't been enough time for the light to get to us yet. Let's assume there's a quasar located, oh, 15 Glyr away from us. It's moving away from us true, but at a slower speed than that of light. We'll assume that it's actually 15 Glyr away when the Universe hits 15 Gyr old, and our horizon hits the quasar.

The question is as follows: What do we see when the horizon gets to the quasar? Jethereal proposed that it springs into our view fully formed. I countered that the quasar had to form at some point in time, so where did the light from its formation go? I proposed that the light from formation gets to us when the horizon hits the quasar.

Neither of us are actually cosmologists, so we're not sure of the answer. Anyone else want to weigh in?



Nov. 19th, 2005 10:22 pm
When I saw the email from [ profile] rosefox I fell over laughing. Sincerest thanks, you ROXXOR!

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