My good friend Prof. Jason Wright just wrote an excellent post about the AAS President's column. Did you read the column? You should (PDF here). Basically, Jason (correctly) points out how inappropriate it is for the president of a non-partisan science organization to echo partisan political talking points in that organization's newsletter. You should click the link above and read Jason's full post (and subscribe to his RSS feed), but here's a snippet: But partisan politics that does not touch on these elements should be left alone, because it would unnecessarily divide our community over non-astronomy topics and tarnish our reputations as objective seekers of truth. The standards of truth in partisan politics are so appallingly low (what will the press print without qualification, what won't get someone convicted of perjury or defamation) that scientists, with ostensibly high standards for truth and persuasion, cannot help but be sullied by the exercise. Individu…
If you've been keeping current with news from NASA's amazingly successful Kepler Mission, then you're aware of the huge diversity of transiting (eclipsing) planets that we now know of in the Galaxy. Typically, the planets are depicted as they appear in space: as systems of one to six planets orbiting a variety of stars, like this:
Or maybe like this:
But what would it look like if all of the Kepler planets orbited a single star? Well, it'd look pretty amazing, like this:
He gives a insightful review of the debate from his unique perspective. Says Jason: It's been fascinating to be backstage on both sides of a scientific dispute, and to move from "umpire" to "participant".
No scientist enjoys having their results challenged. It is a natural, human response to chafe at criticism. It's because of this human tenancy that makes science such a useful tool. Constructive criticism is built into the the scientific process, and the best theories are the ones that stand up for the longest time against the largest barrage of tests and challenges. There are many ways for a scientific theory to be proved absolutely wrong and a theory can be adopted as truth after it has stood up to the rigor if harsh inquiry.
Last year Prof. James Lloyd (Cornell) published a paper that cast doubt on the key results of my Ph.D. thesis. And while it was a perfect example of science in action, let me tell you, the process didn't exactly feel super-great.
My thesis focused on studying planets around stars more massive than the Sun. By the time I started my project in 2004 there were about 200 known planets. So finding planets wasn't all that novel. However, finding planets …
Ever see one of those news stories about how someone saw an angel or virgin mary in a piece of toast or some such? It turns out there's a name for this sort of phenomenon: pareidolia. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. I just learned about it from one of my former Ay20 students who has continued to write on her blog well after the class wrapped up:
Recognizing facial expression patterns is also very important. If you want to get along with the people in your group, you have to know if they’re upset with you or happy or worried. So our brains love to see faces. They are looking for any piece of information that will tell them what is going on, if there is any danger, if anybody looks like they are angry. That’s why when faced with pure random noise, our brains try so hard to find a clue about what is going on, and they start to see things that aren’t really there. Bam! Pareidolia.
In case you've been living on a rock or lost at sea for the past few days: HFS! NASA just landed a car-sized rover on the surface of Mars with an almost comical Rube-Goldberg-like sequence of events that includes an MF sky crane.
As impressed as I am by this tremendous feat of engineering (go humans!), I can't help but think of improvements for the next time around. Here's my list of requests for the next time we make the trip to Mars: Only one sky crane? Psht. This time we have TWO sky cranes! The first crane erects a launch platform, which launches the second sky crane, which then delicately lowers the lander to the surface before crashing into the first crane, pushing it safely out of the way and self-destructing a safe distance away from the rover. The launch platform then erects the US flag and blares rock-n-roll music retuned to sound awesome in the thin Martian atmosphere.Land a smaller mission first, which sets up cameras at the landing site to record the landing i…
I always wondered about the concept of "breaking the seal" during a night of drinking. Apparently it's not a real effect. Beer makes you need to pee. Period. It's just that the effects don't set in immediately. The initial delay makes it appear that there's a seal that's broken after the first trip to the toilet. But it's just the onset of ADH surpression. But how come you can hold your pee just fine until that first bathroom break, and then it seems you have to go constantly? First, it takes a little bit of time for alcohol to suppress ADH and for the kidneys to ramp up the water works. When you crack open your first beer, you may have some urine in your bladder already, but also some ADH in your system to keep things from getting out of hand. As you continue to drink, though, your ADH levels drop and your urine production increases. By the time your bladder has filled and you’re ready to go to the john, you’ve probably had a few more drinks. Your ADH…
Back in my day, singers would use just one version of their voice at a time. And when they played instruments, they had moving parts and looked nothing like a gigantic iPad. And you know what? Forget the old days! Time passes. Technology marches forward. And amazing musicians find new ways to express themselves. Check out Kimbra being all amazing and stuff.
What's up with that guy in the background? Is he deaf and blind or something? Is he dead? How the hell isn't he at least moving a shoulder to the beat. Something! Poor guy.
I heart Breaking Bad, a show on...um...some TV channel that I've been watching on Netflix Instant. It's a show about a former chemistry genius turned high-school chem teacher, turned crystal meth king pin. The acting is out of this world, the best since The Wire. The characters are amazingly well written. They're nuanced and real. There are a few type-cast bad guys, to be sure. But the main characters have good streaks, bad streaks and, well, they're multi-layered human messes, just like you and me.
The scenes and situations---with their sympathetic focus on how mundane, every-day occurrences have profound impacts on our lives---remind me a lot of what I love most about Alexander Payne's movies (see The Election, About Schmidt, or Sideways). There's not an episode that goes by without at least one scene that makes me cringe, wince or recoil at the awfulness of everyday decision making and consequences---awful both in the pejorative sense and and because some of…
As usual, I'm about the 4 millionth person to see a funny video. But I've seen it, and now I need to share it here in case there are other mid-thirties individuals who feel oh-so-badly hurt by George Lucas. Whatever did happen to the Star Wars we used to know?
Before watching the video, here's a fun Star Wars activity (by fun I mean sad): Name five characteristics that describe Han Solo. Pretend you are summarizing his character for someone who has never seen the original trilogy, i.e. one of your undergrads.Now name five characteristics that describe Qui-Gon Jinn
See? It's not just a nostalgia for days gone past. The new Star Wars movies are fundamentally bad films on many levels! (Credit Red Letter Media for the new vs. old character test) The characters are weak, the acting is horrible, the story is...entirely absent! Don't believe me?
Give the one-minute elevator pitch for Episode IV. What is the basic story arc?Do the same for Episode II
Okay, on to "The St…
This is an overhead view of Curiosity during its decent to the surface: NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.
The long version: Seven Minutes of Terror! I simultaneously get goose bumps on one hand, and yell, com'mon, this has to be a parody! on the other hand. But this is real. If you saw this in a SciFi movie, you'd be complaining that the landing was way too complicated to be taken seriously! But NASA's gonna try it tonight. Wish them luck!
The boys were outside playing with the neighbor-kids when I could hear the onset of hunger melt-down in their voices. However, getting them to stop playing and sit down at the table for a mid-morning snack was going to be difficult given their level of engagement in hoola hooping and jump roping.
So I'm pretty sure I just poured a bunch of snack items in a giant bowl (pretzels, crackers, dried fruit) and set it out on the steps and yelled "snackie poo!" I'm also pretty sure the four kids ran over and gathered around the bowl like a quartet of puppies, stuffed some food in their mouths, and ran out to continue playing, leaving Marcus sitting cross-legged at the bowl shoveling the remaining snack items in his mouth.
If confirmed, I'm not sure if this would qualify as a high point in parenting, or a clear low point. Discuss...
At 8AM yesterday he raced into the room where I was still sleeping (lucky me!) shouting "I'M FOUR, I'M FOUR! WAKE UP SO I CAN OPEN MY PRESENT!"
It's been such fun watching Marcus grow in to the seriously silly snuggle machine he is today. He LOVES machines of all kinds and figuring out how each one works. On a given day, he'll be building forts with Owen, jumping on the trampoline, or working on a project involving bicycle pumps, padlocks and cardboard boxes. He takes great joy in helping in the kitchen, recently helped install a new doorbell & loves all things salty. Anchovies, anyone?