Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’


Holy Gassy Giants, Batman

December 9, 2008

Woah…  uh, wow, ahhh, BUH.

This is outstandingly amazing.  And clever.  Philly P breaks it down (as he does best) for the non-technical:

They got a spectrum of the star and the planet at the same time, and then waited until the planet was behind the star and got a spectrum of just the star by its lonesome. By subtracting the star’s spectrum from the star+planet spectrum, they got the spectrum of just the planet itself.

Because I am Not an Astronomer (TM), I often tell people in my theater that astronomy is something that I really have to do my homework on, because there is literally new astronomy news every single day.  This is a perfect example of that.

I can only imagine that this technique will become more and more easy and prolific, and we’ll be learning lots of extra things about extrasolar planets in the very near future.



November 14, 2008

Doc Philly P’s got the skinny on a couple of supremely cool images re: extrasolar planets, including the very first actual optical image of one (shot by the almighty HST, natch).  The always enthusiastic BA is downright ecstatic about these files, and rightly so–this is huge.  That Eye of Sauron-esque Hubble shot shows an actual planet around another star.  And we took a picture of it. That’s astoundingly fantastic.

Last year at the Blank Blank Planetarium, we ran a program called Light Years from Andromeda, a fantastic canned show about intergalactic distances and light speed benchmarking, made by producing powerhouse team Mark and Carolyn Petersen of Loch Ness Productions–see it if you can, it’s narrated by Lieutenant Michael Worf.

I mean, Michael Dorn.

Son of Mogh.

Anyhoo, I ran a short demo with the show about astronomical mysteries and the science that solved them (in a lame attempt to cash in on the CSI craze), and one of the points I referred to was solar wobble, which indicates the presence of a large, nearby planet.

This prompted a handful of questions about extrasolar planets, and I thought to myself, “Self, you better study up on XSPs so you can answer these questions better in the future.”  So I did.  And waaaay back then in early 2007, the number of confirmed extrasolar planets was in the 60s.

Today, it’s 326.

Imagine what it will be in a year, in five years, in 20 years…  As our telescopes get better, our computers get faster, and scientists get cleverer, that number is going to grow, astronomically.  (Yeah, I went there.)

Pretty soon the public will start demanding that we name these new planets.

I suggest Star Wars characters.  Or Harry Potter.  Either is good, really.


Dark Flow

November 10, 2008

xkcd had a funny sappy strip this morning:


Click to read the whole thing.

I wasn’t 100% sure exactly what they were referring to, but a quick click on the Goog brought up this couple-month old article from New Scientist, which is pretty dang cool.

The alt-text on the xkcd strip referred to the Pioneer Anomaly, which I have to admit I also didn’t know anything about.  Wikipedia has the score.

It’s counter intuitive and mysterious: basically, the now-interstellar Pioneer spacecrafts (10 and 11) are not traveling quite as fast as they should be (to the tune of some 5000km per year), and nobody knows exactly why.  There’s a handful of precursory explanations, with a smattering of evidence for a few, and it’s possible that it could be something mundane but unforeseen like a cracked tank or something, but it’s equally possible that we’re seeing some as yet-unobserved physical phenomenon that is only apparent to us because of the vast distances the Pioneers have traveled.  Figuring this out could be incredibly important.

The Planetary Society agrees, and put out a call for increased research on the Pioneer data.  (That page also has a nifty summary, if you don’t want to believe Wikipedia.)

TPS posted a report on one of the study’s progress over the summer, written by space hottie Emily Lakdawalla.  Pretty nifty stuff, and plus it’s got cool pictures, so win-win.


Totally Live Sun on Earth Action!

November 7, 2008

Aurora LiveThis is totally cool: a webcam taking images of the northern sky and the aurora b., from the T. Neil Davis Science Operations Center in the Poker Flat Research Range (they launch rockets there!) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  (Whew)

It’s a spherical view (which would be good for projecting on a dome… hmm…), and it’s considerably farther north than most American N. Americans are used to seeing the night sky, but my god, check out that fantastic constrast…  If you look closely, you can pick out some familiar constellations. Pretty freaking cool.

By the way, look over the list of publications for this astronomer T. Neil Davis.  A true scientific powerhouse.  He’s into medicine, geophysics, optics, seismology, and pioneered a measurement of solar/terrestrial interaction called the “auroral electrojet” (which would be a sweet name for a band), and plus there’s a whole science operations center named after him, so he’s got that going for him too.

(Via Phil at Bad Astronomy.  Bookmark it.  Know it.  Love it.)