Space

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was closed Monday as wildfires came within two miles of the facility.  The decision to give most of the 5,000 employees the day off was made Sunday evening.  At that point the fire was no longer a threat to the lab (you think they'd let a government lab burn down?), but the air quality was very poor.  Only mission-critical personnel reported to work.

Lab reopened Tuesday, but I continued to work from Caltech until today, Thursday.  The air at JPL was still smoky, though by now not much worse than at Caltech or at my home in Glendale.
This morning, the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, posted on images of Mars that are being released by HiRISE and included the following image that supposedly shows defrosting patterns at the Martian south pole.
Defrosting on Mars' south pole, or so they would have you believe
But, if you invert this image you can see why I say supposedly
200 Grams

200 Grams

Sep 02 2009 | 0 comment(s)

A TubeSat picosatellite lifts 200 grams of payload. That's about 7 ounces. Looked at one way, that's less than half a can of soda. But it's enough to lift an entire Nintendo DS game handheld into orbit. 200 grams can be a lot of electronics.

When I committed to this project, I didn't yet have the specific electronics in mind. I've built mini guitar amps and guitar sound processors that come in well under 7 ounces. I assumed I could kit-bash stuff and create my own schematics for the final assembly. What I didn't expect was that there would be a company that already builds everything I need.
A new image of nearby galaxy NGC 4945 shows that it looks a lot like our own Milky Way.

NGC 4945 seems to be a spiral galaxy with swirling, luminous arms and a bar-shaped central region, though NGC 4945 has a brighter center that likely harbors a supermassive black hole which is devouring reams of matter and blasting energy out into space.
A giant galaxy, so distant that it is seen as it was 12.8 billion years ago, is as large as the Milky Way and contains a supermassive black hole with at least a billion times as much matter as our Sun.

The discovery, in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society by University of Hawaii astronomer Dr. Tomotsugu Goto and colleagues, lays claim to the most distant supermassive black hole ever found.
This here, "The Sky By Day", is my science writing column.  I write about current news and cultural issues in space and computer science.  Very simple, very journalistic:

    See Alex write.  Write, Alex, write!

I have started a new project, to launch a satellite into space.  It's called Project Calliope, and myself and my team will write about it here at SB here in the new column, Satellite Diaries:

  See Alex do science.  Sciencify, Alex, sciencify!
Dear Diary,

It was a secret for a while, but I'm going to launch my own satellite! It's going to make music from space. Curious?




It is dangerous to write about neat things. That makes you want to do them yourself. After writing about satellites, I became inspired to build one myself. And it'll be a first-- a musical satellite. A satellite whose sole purpose is to make music until it dies-- music from science.
I recently watched a show about alien planets orbiting distant stars. It emphasized the differences between these planets and Earth – too hot, too cold, iron rain, noxious gas – places where humans couldn’t live, but maybe some organisms might.

What I, and everyone else, would like to find is a planet that is like Earth. Some planet orbiting an Earth-like star in the Goldilocks zone – not too hot, not too cold, but just right. A planet with water, and with a breathable atmosphere.
People sometimes think the space between stars is 'empty' but that's not the case.   That area is filled with patches of low-density gas and when a relatively dense clump of gas gets near a star, the resulting flow produces a drag force on any orbiting dust particles. The force only affects the smallest particles -- those about one micrometer across, or about the size of particles in smoke. 

This explains the otherwise difficult to understand shapes of those dust-filled disks, according to a team led by John Debes at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
This video, apparently slated to be the first in a series, provides an accessible and visually compelling entry level discussion of the big bang.  Hard to imagine that this was done for approximately one infinitieth of the budget of Avatar.