Monday, April 26, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday! SDO, Gallipoli, boobquake and Korean War 1.5....

SDO kicks ass and takes names

The Solar Dynamics Observatory released its first images last week, aptly dubbing the event "First Light". Simply amazing. The discoveries that will be made by SDO will not only help us prevent damage by extreme solar events, but will allow us to learn more about the sun's potential impact on plans to have an indefinite human presence in space. We need to learn a lot about this before we can send humans beyond LEO for extended periods. SDO will help us do just that.....exciting times ahead!

More on SDO:

SDO image on APOD:


Anzac day
I saw a few tweets go by yesterday saying it was ANZAC day, which always brings the Gallipoli campaign to mind, for me at least. While World War I was one of the stupidest wars ever fought (some achievement, history being chock full of stupid wars) it was also the bloodiest up to that point in time. Armies with 20th century technology fought each other using 19th century tactics: massed infantry, bayonets fixed, marching headlong into machine guns was more or less the norm, resulting in carnage on an unprecedented scale. While we think of the Somme, Ypres, Verdun and Passchendale as the principal battles of WWI, the Gallipoli campaign was a continuation of the same incompetent leadership in another theatre, mainly involving the ANZACS (Australia\New Zealand Army Corps). There's a movie called Gallipoli directed by Peter Weir starring a young, pre-nutcase Mel Gibson that's not bad. One of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar is Eric Bogle's "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", the story of a young aussie who goes off to war and finds himself in Gallipoli....a beautiful song, even if some cynical types believe it to be the Danny Boy of Australia. If you don't know anything about the Gallipoli campaign, make it your "learn something new today" thing for today. You could do worse than start here:


Crazy Islamic cleric declares that immodestly dressed women cause the boobquake was born to test this theory.

The world is still here as of 6pm CET.

For more info:

Korean war II

Looks like it may have been a torpedo after all......tensions are rising again between the Koreas:

More MM next week!

Posted via web from John's posterous

Monday, April 19, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday - volcanos, space exploration and more

That volcano, of course:

Nature's little reminder that we're not really in charge.....we just happen to be around during a pretty quiet period, geologically and cosmologically speaking. And yes, I mean little: look up the Yellowstone volcano if you want to see big (warning - not for the fainthearted). Far from being stewards of the planet, we're just tenants, and short term ones at that: the dinosaurs were around for 160 million years - we, in our current form, have been here less than a paltry fifty thousandish. But -sometimes- we're smart. When we put our minds to it, we can overcome almost anything (except the really big things - there's not much we can do about Yellowstone and its ilk except try to get out of the way when they come along). The big problems are overcoming political and other ideologies to work together for the betterment of everyone, not just "our" people.

Incredibly, it seems that there may be a link between some volcanic activity and global warming:

More spectacular images from Iceland:

Here's what volcanic ash does to jet engines:


On the subject of "our" people and clannishness, here's an interesting interview with Stephen Pinker discussing the evolution of morality, sociobiology and the future of humanity:


And the big story last week for every space geek:

President Obama's speech on the future of space exploration

In a nutshell:

With the end of the space shuttle era, LEO will be handed off to private enterprise while Nasa pushes out further; no manned flights to the Moon; an asteroid landing and manned Martian orbit by 2035; a new heavy lift capability will be developed, but for the next few years the US will be dependant on Russia to get astronauts to space; Orion will be revived as an ISS lifeboat is.

Gemini on steroids is a good description of this. We have to develop the technology, skills and procedures incrementally that we'll need to get to Mars. The Moon has been done, and while we still have incredible amounts to learn there, it's not an efficient staging post and not useful to pushing out further.

And as for all those asking why we're spending so much money going into space while we have all these problems here on Earth (yes, you John Cusack!) - check out how much Nasa really costs:

Yes, you read that correctly. This year it's about 0.5 % of the federal budget. That includes EVERYTHING Nasa does. Compare that to the Defense Department and Social Security. It's peanuts. The DoD spends the equivalent of Nasa's annual budget in 6 weeks in Iraq alone. If every US government department could get as much bang for their buck as Nasa, it would be a very fine state of affairs indeed.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson says it best:


STS-131 Discovery landing: Two opportunities waved off due to bad weather today, next one tomorrow morning, 7:34am ET


The Big Picture: Journeys to the ISS, some mindblowing pictures:


Simon Singh off the hook, but the battle for British Libel Reform continues

The British Chiropracter Association has withdrawn its libel suit against Simon Singh. Great news for him, and an important milestone in the battle for reforming Britain's draconian libel laws.Full coverage:


And finally David Attenborough narrates an incredible sequence: a persistence hunt in the Kalahari desert:


More MM next week!

Posted via web from John's posterous

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phoenix Lander is silent

Phoenix Lander is silent. Very slight shades of morosity, along the lines of Spirit being stuck, but at least no-one's referring to Phoenix as "she"!

I recently posted on our tendency to anthropomorphise machines:

More on Phoenix lander:

Posted via web from John's posterous

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Ok, so it's Tuesday, I know.....but this is an astronomical miscellania, so doesn't really count as Miscellaneous Monday!

Herschel images of Rosetta nebula stellar nursery:

Spectacular image from the Herschel observatory. I find this absolutely stunning.

Stars are being born.

That alone is worth a pause. Think about it. Stars. Being. Born. Excuse the anthropomorphism, but these events are where EVERYTHING comes from. I wrote a post about this a while back:

Huge clouds of matter have collapsed gravitationally and the pressure induced is such that nuclear fusion has initiated in the core. We know how this happens, and can describe it mathematically. To see actually in progress is evidence that SCIENCE ACTUALLY WORKS! More info here:

Supermassive Black Hole in Centaurus A :

This is an amazing composite image, in various wavelengths (x-ray, visible and submillimetre), of the Centaurus A galaxy, which has a supermassive black hole at its centre. This shows the extent of this black hole's influence. A jet of X-ray radiation (represented as blue) extends -get this- 13000 light years from its source; the material contained in it seems to be travelling at about half the speed of light! It's  absolutely mindblowing. That something this powerful can even exist really should put us in our place, but of course it's far away (about 11 million light years) and not a threat so, ho-hum, few are impressed. But I am.

For more more on this:>

And speaking of's a piece about a fantastically destructive antimatter explosion -  Supernova SN2007bi wreaking unimaginable havoc on its neighbourhood.

If you're interested in destruction in and from space, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of Phil Plait's "Death from the Skies". It came in the annual book-orgy that is my Christmas list and it's really excellent, highly recommended.


More miscellania soon!


Posted via web from John's posterous

Monday, April 12, 2010

Specialization is for insects - Heinlein

Love this Heinlein quote.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-- Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

Posted via web from John's posterous

Monday, April 5, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

Unless you were on a desert island today, of course you know STS-131 Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Centre this morning! A beautiful sight as always, and trending highly on twitter...wicked! 

Confrontations between victims of church abuse and clergy at Easter services in Dublin. Incredibly, some members of the congregation accused the victims of being out of line!

LHC kicked off the science last week, beginning the first 7TeV collisions in history. The intertubes were all a-twitter and science became cool, at least for a short while.  Between this & the shuttle launch, there's hope for science yet! 

Can you spare a brain cycle? Non-scientists CAN help science advance, check it out:

More MM next week! 

Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from John's posterous