Orionids Tonight, GIANT Science Festival Tomorrow

Sooo…haven’t posted in a while…I can see you’re upset. Here, let me help you:

(1) Peak of the Orionids Meteor Show tonight (LIES — it was last night at 11pm, but it should still be great tonight).  So grab your chums and a few blankets, then just drive till the city is a tiny smudge of light pollution in your rear view mirror. When you hit an empty, deserted corn field, you’ve made it. Lie your tired head down and enjoy some science (it works, bitches). Here’s a great article where you can learn more.


(2) Wiggawhaaaa? This weekend is the first ever National Science and Engineering Festival on the mall (in DC — it’;ll be off the 1300 block)!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “This is way to good to be true.”

FALSE!  Go to this site and Obama will explain why it’s not only true, but awesome.

US Science & Engineering Festival: Saturday 10/23/10 and Sunday 10/24/19, from 10am to 530am (both days), just off the 1300 block on the Mall.


NASA Image

Nough said.


Ain’t that one fiiiiiiiine-stucture constant.

Hey all, sorry for the long hiatus. There were a couple surprise visits by certain special people, and now I’m beginning to plan some mooooves, so there wasn’t much time to blog for a little bit there. That said, I have been reading.

For example, I just read this great article in the Economist about the fine-structure constant.

Despite its convoluted origin, though, alpha [the fine-structure constant] has a real meaning. It characterises the strength of the force between electrically charged particles. As such, it governs—among other things—the energy levels of an atom formed from negatively charged electrons and a positive nucleus…When many different energy levels are involved, as they are in the spectrum of a chemically mixed star, the result is a fine, comb-like structure—hence the constant’s name. If it were to take on a different value, the wavelengths of these lines would change. And that is what Dr Webb and Mr King think they have found.

…That may sound trivial. But any detectable deviation from zero would mean that the laws of physics were different there (and then) from those that pertain in the neighbourhood of the Earth.

Using the light from quasars, some physicists think they’ve found evidence for deviations from what we have measures this fine-structure constant to be on Earth. If confirmed, this would be ground-breaking news, for several reasons. Primarily, as mentioned in the above quote, this would mean that the laws of physics vary with time and space. No small thing. The invariability over time and space of physical laws is the cornerstone of many physical theories. Such an incredibly discovery would be… uuuh, is “revolutionary” a strong enough word? an EXPLOSION!! pow!

Stay tuned, folks.

The Economist is one great rag, for many reasons, but I’d never read any of their science articles before. I particularly loved this one because, not only is it talking about something I find very interesting (and you should too), it hits the perfect pitch between too much and too little information.* They tell you the make-up and importance of the fine-structure constant, without bogging you down with higher-level physics and mathematical symbols and such. Well done.

Now if you want to get bogged down by the physics and mathematical symbols, you can go to the ever-awesome Wikipedia article on the subject. Additionally, there is another reporting of this possible discover in the Technology Review.

*I try to do this. How am I doin?


space launch — a video to bring tears to your eyes

First, watch the video (you can skip the first minute and thirty seconds), keeping in mind that this is actual footage of a space launch. The Nova blog called this “NASA’s accidental video art.”

The film below is a space shuttle launch from the perspective of a solid rocket booster, one of the giant white rockets attached to the belly of the shuttle during its ascent. Thanks to a tiny camera and contact microphone attached its frame, you can ride along with it as it sends the shuttle into orbit, then free falls back to earth.

At first I had no words. This is incredible. I just watched this video, with sound — I think the sound is important. It emphasizes the utter contrast from one event to the next…

Rarely does my mind get truly blown anymore. But, my goodness. The thought kept coming back to me — this is real footage! Not some fictional movie of alien contact or human heroism. But an actual camera attached to a rocket that went into the yawning nothingness of space, then came back to land softly in the ocean.

Thank you ever so much to Tommy G for bringing this to my attention.


LHC Update

From the physics blags, here’s a great post from John at Cosmic Variance, bringing you up to speed. Things get a little difficult at points, but I think it would still be a fun post to read, if you’re interested.

This past weekend the LHC crossed a major threshold: 1 inverse picobarn delivered to the experiments – a factor of a thousand more collisions. By late next year we are all hoping to have recorded another factor of a thousand, for a total of 1 inverse femtobarn.

In an earlier post I explained these funny units, inverse whatever-barns. The point here, though, is that as we record exponentially greater numbers of collision events, with the proton beam energy 3.5 times greater than that at the Tevatron at Fermilab we will begin to really probe an unexplored mass scale in the search for new particles. What lies there is completely unknown.

Also. I love the Onion, as you should too. Here’s an awesome article — “Scientists Ask Congress to Fund $50 Billion Science Thing” — from 2007 that I thiiiink is referring to the Superconducting Super Collider (sadest story every told).


This Saturday: Rock Out Ladies.

Girl, were you born to rock?

Yeah. Me too.

So let’s head to the 9:30 club this Saturday (!!daytime!!) to hear these chicks rock it. Noon:30 will be there, so you know you want to be too.


NASA Image. Stunningly beautiful and damn cool.

'Island Universe' in the Coma Cluster

A long-exposure Hubble Space Telescope image shows a majestic face-on spiral galaxy located deep within the Coma Cluster of galaxies, which lies 320 million light- years away in the northern constellation Coma Berenices. The galaxy, known as NGC 4911, contains rich lanes of dust and gas near its center. These are silhouetted against glowing newborn star clusters and iridescent pink clouds of hydrogen, the existence of which indicates ongoing star formation. Hubble has also captured the outer spiral arms of NGC 4911, along with thousands of other galaxies of varying sizes. The high resolution of Hubble’s cameras, paired with considerably long exposures, made it possible to observe these faint details.

This natural-color Hubble image, which combines data obtained in 2006, 2007, and 2009 from the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys, required 28 hours of exposure time.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)


Shit My Dad Sends

My Dad emailed this picture to me the other day. What the hell does it mean? Someone please tell me.

P.S. This got me through yesterday.


From my windowless office: Perseid Metor Shower this week!

"Reflection nebula NGC 1333, located in constellation Perseus -- the radiant for the annual Perseid meteor shower." (Credit: NASA/Spitzer)

My fellow windowless-office sharer, Sam Z., just informed me that this very week is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower! Not like I’ll see it in DC, but where there’s a vehicle, there’s a way.

So, I dare you, grab some sort of transporting device and get your butt outside the city in the middle of the night (or very early morning) on Wednesday or Thursday.

More on the Perseid meteor shower here.

The best time to watch for meteors will be from the late-night hours of Wednesday, Aug, 11 on through the predawn hours of Aug. 13 – two full nights and early mornings. Patient skywatchers with good conditions could see up to 60 shooting stars an hour or more.

Also, check out this site for other 2010 meteor showers and viewing tips (also has a pretty good and brief answer to the question “what is a meteor shower?”).

For a cool little “NASA chat” about the Perseid meteor shower this year, click on the NASA image to the right.

Side note to show you how cool I am: late last year, my friends Erin and Jeff, and I went way outside the city at 2am on a Monday night to lay in the middle of a cornfield and watch the Leonids meteor shower. Remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. (Did you know that if a meteor is big enough you can actually hear it? It’s amazing!)


Quantum Mechanics?

No such thing.


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