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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

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Stars That Ring Like Bells

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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 »


Sending stuff into space requires it be lightweight and functional. And people seem to really like their lightweight, functional iPhones. But if we just sent an iPhone to Pluto, it wouldn't be able to do stuff. It hasn't the range or survivability. On the other hand, using the DSN to transmit data to a New Horizons-sized PDA isn't feasible either. But why am I making these silly comparisons?

Dr. Henry Throop of SWRI started it. He made an interesting comparison of the iPhone versus the New Horizons mission to Pluto, as part of his PPT on "The New Horizons Geometry Visualizer: Planning the Encounter with Pluto" at the IDL User Group (Oct 16 08). To this I added some cost figures. Here we go.

My Satellite will either save or destroy the Earth. I work as a Daytime Astronomer on the STEREO mission, a pair of identical satellites sent into an Earth-sized solar orbit to stare at the Sun.

Apparently, we also kill satellites. Our PI-- Principal Investigator-- took the role of private investigator and forwarded a Russian newspaper article on the recent satellite collision. Unjustly, they took an artist's conception of our satellite and added in some debris and wreckage to implicate us in the collision!

I often get the query "what is a good website for astronomy?". My instant answer is "Astronomy Picture of the Day". If you're only going to check one site, choose this. One picture plus a paragraph of text each day, that's it-- simple, elegant, informative, beautiful.

If APOD piques your interest, there are good sites to go deeper. "Imagine the Universe" is a useful resource site. Don't let that Imagine lists as 'for age 14 or older' dissuade you. It's a great "facts" site, especially the "Ask an Astrophysicist" section-- full of common questions and answers delivered at a 'high layman level'. Matter of fact, years ago I contributed some of the answers.

Just a little weekend tidbit, art from the science world. Sometimes, during talks, I'll see art where others see just a data or figure. Here are two cases from a recent conference that I love.

This one could be called "Relationship between a CME-driven shock and a coronal metric type II burst", excerpted, from Y. Liu. But I prefer to call it 'sunset on the sea':

data as art

If you click on the image, you can see the full data plot, taken (without forewarning to the scientists) from their online powerpoint slides.

One of my readers (via Facebook) said he loved my blog but still had no idea what I did.  Good point.  While most career scientists hyperspecialize, I've moved among multiple fields of astronomy, often confusing myself in the process.

Currently, I create computer simulations of the sun to understand and enable prediction of the brief but potent solar eruptions that can kill cellphones, GPS and airline pilots.  For those in the field, I say I study coronal mass ejections (CMEs) using data from the NASA STEREO satellites.
The recent video "Barriers to Innovation" has some great thoughts about the culture of NASA and its barriers to innovation. Arriving from a Johnson Space Center study, the 10 minute video is worth a look. Ultimately, yes, I wish NASA had more of a mad scientist component. I think they're risk averse because that's part of their mandate. Google's founders gave Google "do no evil". Congress gave NASA "don't screw up".