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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...

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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 »

Our website got hacked. Astronomy sites are a popular target. It's safer to hack NASA than, say, the NSA. All the bragging but little of the risks. Hacking NASA to get at 'inside stuff' is generally pointless. The whole purpose of NASA is to publically deliver what we do. All the good data and the best software gets openly released. Trying to hack NASA is like stealing twenty copies of the free local newspaper off the delivery truck. It's not only illegal, it's stupid, doesn't gain you anything, and takes more work then getting it the legit way.
The Wii game 'Super Mario Galaxy' is a triumph of inventive game play and a favorite in our family. But oh, the muddled science message is like a bad version of the old "Who's on First" routine. In the game, you collect star bits and bigger stars to open up planets that are called Galaxies. You can also feed stars, which turn into galaxies when they get fat. Each Galaxy is eminently walkable and about the size of a football field... or smaller. As a game player, it's great fun. As an astronomer, it's painful.
Is Pluto a planet? On Tuesday I talked about how 'Algol' isn't technically an Algol-type star system. This raised the interesting case of "is Pluto a planet". To a large degree, that's a non-argument. Pluto hasn't changed. Here's an example I often run for students. All you readers out there, if you have dark hair-- black or brown hair-- raise your hands. Don't worry about your officemate starting, just raise those hands. Got them up? Okay, I want everyone who has dark hair-- just black hair-- to raise your hands, but anyone else with their hand up, lower it. Yes, dark hair is now defined as 'black'. Brown hair is no longer what I'm calling dark.
An Algol type star system is an eclipsing spectroscopic binary consisting of two close, interacting stars. Their X-ray emission is due to slow mass transfer due to Roche lobe overflow. Algol-type systems named after the first discovery of this type, the Algol system, researched by various astronomers from 1667 until Pickering and Vogel nailed what it was in 1889 However, later observations could have disqualified Algol from being an Algol-type system, since it's actually a triple star system (a trenary). However, saying that Algol is not an Algol-type system is just too silly. What's next, claiming Pluto isn't a planet?
Astronomy as a profession is hyper-specialized.  What do you study-- planets, stars, galaxies, clusters, cosmology? Oh, if only it were that simple.  Say you study stars.  It doesn't stop there!

If stars, what wavelength?  There's radio, IR, optical, UV, X-ray, gamma-ray, multi-wavelength work.  Oh, you study X-ray emission from stars?

What kind of X-ray stars-- single, binaries, compact objects, remnants?  You're into binaries?

What kind of binary star X-ray emission-- coronal, accretion disk, Roche lobe overflow?
Sadly, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) had a launch failure, and is now spread out on Antarctica somewhere. Ironically, I'd written earlier today about the economics of the New Horizons mission.

For New Horizons, well, that launched successfully. OCO did not. This is a fundamental part of rocket science-- it either works or it doesn't. It either blows up or remains intact. When you're only launching one, the stakes are high. And rockets are risky.