Fake Banner
Swimming In The (astro) Pacific

As a newly minted, 1 year old professor, this is the deep end of the astronomy edu cation pool...

The Phantom Of The Laboratory

We are fortune here at Science20 to have come across an early work by Gaston Leroux.  This...

Engineering Roleplaying

Hey, you got simulation in my roleplay! Hey, you got roleplay in my simulation! Wait, it's two...

Stars That Ring Like Bells

Time to ring in a new year with pressure waves.  We can see, but not, hear true sonic waves...

User picture.
picture for Hank Campbellpicture for Bente Lilja Byepicture for Heidi Hendersonpicture for Patrick Lockerbypicture for Mel. Whitepicture for Patrick Adair
Alex "Sandy" AntunesRSS Feed of this column.

Read more about the strange modern world of a day laborer in astronomy, plus extra space science-y goodness.... Read More »

Back on a frozen pre-Inaugeration Day, I picked up a hitchhiker on US295N. We exchanged the usual banter ("Got any guns? No? Great!").  He wasn't a local, just in town to help assemble bandstands in DC and visiting a friend in Baltimore.  He had three reasons for hitching that cold wintry day: his car had died, he had no money, and it made him feel like he was 17 again.

The strangest part was that he started talking about recent lack of sunspots, as seen by a NASA satellite mission and reported on spaceweather.com.

Now, what are the odds that an itinerant hitchhiker whose hobby is space weather would happen to get picked up by a solar physicist who worked with the very satellite he'd just read about?
"Kepler is like Field of Dreams meets Cosmos" says Padi Boyd, a scientist with the Kepler planet-hunting mission. This set the stage for an enjoyable short interview. Earlier I wrote why Kepler is awesomeness squared, and now we look at how the motivation of the people involved leads to better science success.

Kepler was conceived, proposed, and lead by Bill Borucki. It is NASA Discovery mission #10, designed to be low cost and focused towards one task. For Kepler, that's planet-hunting.

Kepler has First Light. It is On! Team is a Go! Photons are Arriving!

This provocativly-titled NASA release states "NASA's Kepler Captures First Views of Planet-Hunting Territory", and has a good explanation of Kepler's capabilities. What I wish to tackle is why Kepler matters.

Kepler is a new space telescope with an awesomely wide field of view, seeing a huge 100 square degrees in a single frame, then zooming in closer with two other 'scopes. It is primarily a planet-hunting mission, but there will be much good science coming from Kepler-- some of which we can't even imagine yet.

Given my title, I believe this is my first official rant. NASA ran a press conference on STEREO today. As the First 3D Reconstruction of a CME, it... okay, let me pause here. There have been 3D reconstructions of CMEs since the SOHO era. And there are at least 7 papers in the literature using some variant of the words 'First STEREO reconstruction of a CME'.

The NASA STEREO mission (my mission!) is visiting L4 and L5. These are the Lagrange points are where the Earth and Sun gravitationally balance each other out.  SOHO hangs out at L1, between Earth and Sun (but very near Earth).  L4 and L5 are about 60 degrees ahead and behind the Earth's position in its orbit.L4 L5 illustration
Galileo Galilei Linceo was, among other talents, a solar physicist. While not the first to observe sunspots, he sketched (in 1612) some of the earliest surviving tracings of sunspots. Observing their daily motion, he deduced that a) they were on or near the surface of the sun and b) that the sun was rotating.