Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Transcript “The Saturn V in perspective”

December 14, 2014

Many thanks to Linda for supplying this transcript!

[0:00] “As You Remember It: The Lift-Off of APOLLO 11”: “T-minus 60 seconds and counting”

[0:02] Thunderf00t: You know, risk comes to us in many forms, and sometimes death doesn’t even bother to wear a mask. And sometimes, if you wanna achieve great things, you’ve just gotta accept that dance with death.

[0:19] This is the mighty Saturn V rocket. It weighed about 3,000 tons—almost all of which was fuel. And that fuel had about the same energy density as high explosives.

[0:32] clip: “20 seconds and counting”

[0:34] Thunderf00t: That is, this beast was a barely controlled, 3,000 ton BOMB. Let me just throw that into perspective for you.

[0:45] This, on the same scale, is the B-17 Flying Fortress. It was the mainstay heavy bomber of the United States in early WWII. And it could carry about three tons of bombs to a distant target. And about a 1,000 of these guys could lay waste to a city. A thousand bombers at say, three tons a piece—that’s 3,000 TONS of explosives. That’s about the same energetic content as the Saturn V rocket.

[1:15] clip: “T-minus 15 seconds. Guidance is internal”

[1:18] Thunderf00t: And man, [dramatic music] as frail as you or I, ascended ALL the way to the top of this rocket, which was essentially a 3,000 ton BOMB

[1:30] clip: “12, 11, 10,”

[1:32] Thunderf00t: -enough energy to lay waste to a city

[1:36] clip: “9, ignition sequence start”

[1:39] Thunderf00t: -and fully aware, at exactly what they were sitting on

[1:43] clip: “6, 5,”

[1:45] Thunderf00t: -they said, ‘Let’s light this candle’

clip: “4, 3, 2, 1, 0. All engine running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff! 32 minutes past the hour, liftoff on Apollo 11 . . . Tower clear! Tower clear!”

[2:03] Thunderf00t: And even with all those insane risks, I would’ve still changed places with them in a heartbeat, for the wonders that they saw.

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Why are there so few high quality science communicators?

May 22, 2014

 

If civilization was a person, the scientific method, and the knowledge gained from it would not only constitute the brain and heart, but also all the major organs necessary to support life.  Or to put it another way, without the scientific method and the knowledge gained by it, civilization as we know it would cease to be, and we would be back to living in a very VERY bleak world.

Sadly societies in general seem to be happily, maybe even wilfully ignorant of just how much our civilization and quality of life depends on this method, and the knowledge gain by it. So why is this? Who, if anyone is to blame?

Well scientists have to take their share of the blame for this, in that if anyone can promote science, it’s them.  However speaking as a research scientist I KNOW why communicating science/ debunking pseudoscience (in science circles) is generally seen as a gamma rate objective, typically only pursued by betas.

The metrics by which scientists typically measure their success is by how much research money they bring in, and how much stuff they publish.  Nowhere in this equation is communicating science valued or rewarded.

-Communicating science takes time, which practically means the more time you spend communicating science, the less time there is to ‘succeed’ in the metrics used to determine success.

 

In many ways science has been corrupted by the access to data.  20 years ago, there were no easily accessible ‘metrics of success’ like the h-index and citations.  People didn’t/ couldn’t waste as much time worrying about it.  Now things like the h-index can be easily obtained with a few mouse clicks and are widely accepted and used for determining the success of an academic.  The game has slowly changed from ‘who can do the best research’ to ‘who can get the better h-factor’.  Now this is not to say the h-index has no value, in that it is correlated to the achievements of an academic but the correlations is not great and more importantly the index is relatively easy to game for personal advantage.

 

That’s really it in a nutshell.  Once you have defined a metric for success, it is expected that people will try to optimize how they score on that metric….. they will start to game the system.  This is the research equivalent of that often heard student question ‘will this be on the test’.  That’s the tipping point between where the student has gone from being there to actually learn, to being there to simply get the highest mark they can on the test.

 

Simply put, if ‘success as defined by h-index’ is what you are after, gaming the system is now the name of the game. Or put another way, if you are honestly doing the best science you can, you will not be able to compete in ‘success metrics’ with an equally talented scientist who’s playing the game of ‘winning in success metrics’.

 

If the system is set up such that scientists have no incentives for communicating science, then it is small wonder that there are so few high quality science communicators out there?

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon, Cosmic Ballet in February and March 2012.

February 21, 2012

For those who have been paying attention to the sky over the past few months, you will have seen Venus crawl out of the evening twilight, and Jupiter sink towards it.  These two VERY naked eye planets (both outshine even the brightest stars) are now only about 15 degrees apart (about the spread of your fingers held out at arms length), with that value set to shrink to about 3 degrees over the next 3 weeks.  Get the popcorn is ‘cos its gonna be a fantastic show!

The ballet is highlighted in the sequence below.

Venus Jupiter conjunction of 2012 (click to enlarge)

A) t= 0.  Jupiter and Venus hang in the evening sky.  Venus, by far the brighter of the two lies below Jupiter, and the pair are separated by about 15 degrees.  For reference, the Moon and Sun are about half a degree in diameter, and your outstretched fingers at arms length are about 15 degrees in angular size.

B) t= 5days.  The moons orbit takes it out of the solar glare and by the 26th it resides between Venus and Jupiter.  This will be a spectacular sight for those who get to see it, with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th brightest objects so close together in the sky.  The angular distance between the two planets has now closed to about 10 degrees.  Most of this apparent motion of Jupiter is due to the Earth moving around the Sun, while with Venus, about half of the apparent motion comes from this planet orbiting the Sun.

C) t~21 days. The Venus, Jupiter conjunction of 2012.  The two most spectacularly bright planets appear at their closest  (~3 degrees).

D) t~33days.  The Moon has now made a complete orbit since it last visited these planets.  When it last did, Jupiter was the higher, and Venus the lower.  The second time the moon visits these planets the order is reversed!  Venus the beguiling bright is now the higher of the two objects!  The objects are again separated by about 10 degrees.

For those who want to see what this looks like in animation form, take a look!  Download the  free solar system visualization software Celestia (http://www.shatters.net/celestia/)

A bright Supernova for NOT the Oregon Star Party!

September 4, 2011

Well the supernova sure has brightened a lot over the last week!

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

From the night of the 3rd sept. 1.5hr exposure comprised of 20s unguided exposures (chosen frames) of a cpc1100 with a canon 60d at prime focus (f6.3 reducer).

It now easily outshines the galaxy core and is the brightest thing in the field.

So it turns out one of the reasons I had the Pine Mountain Observatory to myself to do ‘supernova LIVE’  (Sept 1st) was because some of the folks had drifted off to the Oregon Star Party.  I too was advised to go, in part for the great skies of the ochico, and part for the company.

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare in that I set the wrong GPS coordinates (a combination of relatively little sleep the night before, and just drifting along with the scenery).  Either way, by the time I worked it out I was 50 miles down the road, and the GPS kept on trying to send me down dirt roads to nowhere to get back.  The tricky thing about dirt roads, is if they are good, you can get up to 45 mph-ish.  If they are not good, not only will you be doing well to make walking speed, but 10 feet can make the whole thing utterly impassable to a polite little underpowered low clearance suburban car like mine! (or the even more devastating, can get the car stuck!) Thus it was after an hour or so detour down a road that started like a ‘freeway’, then it  narrowed and narrowed and eventually turned into a road where I might as well have been trying to drive down a rough rutted river bed.  I think I did well to survive the turn around! Especially seeing as I was miles in the middle of nowhere by this point, with no apparent traffic on the road!  Eventually I decided to retrace my steps down the black top and do it right!

Thus is was that it was about 5pm by the time I arrived at the Oregon Star Party.  I had a brief exchange with the staff, who insisted on a 75 dollar registration fee.  I told them I was there just to take a look around- ’75 dollars’, that I probably wouldn’t even be there a full day ’75 dollars’, and so it went on.  Just for the record, that would make visiting the Oregon Star Party significantly more expensive than Disneyland, which is some 85 dollars for a day pass.  Apart from the OSP is just a bunch of guys sitting out under the stars ontop of a hill.  Now I was actually interested in talking to some of the vendors they had there, particularly Celestron and Orion (the latter about their crappy capture device on their deep sky video camera), but I was knackered.  So I put up my feet in the car and dozed a bit, trying to recover some strength and in part to work out what to do.  Eventually the organizer came out and said they were ‘locking the gate’ at 7pm.  This was bullshit, there was no gate.  Shit what were they going to do imprison everyone ontop of the hill for the night?.  I got his message thoguh, so at that I rolled back a mile or so down the road and found a place with a good northern horizon and set up the scope.  The ochico is notorious for having a fine dust that gets onto and into everything, including optics, and so I was quite happy to not have folk around disturbing the dust.  Set the scope up on M101 and cooked myself some ‘ramen noodle’ soup type stuff.  Hunger and a bad day are by far the best cooks, and it was the best meal I’ve thus far had on the road, snarfed down with butter and bread! Ahhhh!  Then I basically went to sleep for a few hours till M101 effectively set before packing up the scope.  Skies were, I have to say good!

Next day, I meandered over to the John Day fossil beds.  They were on the map and I had no real idea what the hell it was all about.  Turns out there are some fairly reasonable badlands here, full of fossils.  Regrettably however the fossil museum was an hour down the road in the wrong direction, and a tired thunderf00t wasn’t really up for it.  The sedimentary stuff here coincidentally is from the primitive cascades, and goes back 20 million years!  Yeah, exactly to when the supernova overhead capped off…..ooooooh!

Some of the 'Badlands' near the John Day Fossil Beds Oregon.

Picked up wifi and power at Prineville and processed the acquisitions of the night before, as well as a video of supernova so far.  By that time I had really only enough light in the day to make it back to Pine Mountain, where fortuitously, the deep sky forecast was near perfect!  Plus this really the last chance before the moon becomes a serious issue for a couple of weeks to get a good piccie of the supernova.

On Saturday night on Pine Mountain they do outreach, so I agreed to give them a hand: that night many a person was put into perspective with the Cosmos! 🙂  The odd thing was, all of this was apologetically put into perspective with distance and years in the millions, and of the hundred or so people I talked to, there wasn’t so much of a sign or a peep from anyone expressing the young earth creationist view!

Supernova in M101, Aug 25th, full processing

August 26, 2011

It’s about a total 3 hr exposure with a 11in CPC1100, using a canon 60d (iso 2500).  30s exposures,  throwing away bad exposures (about 60 %) to yield this using deepskystacker (using about 50 dark frames).  The arrow indicates the supernova.

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

Clearly an improvement of the first attempt which only included about 12 minutes of ‘sky time.’

Right, now back off to the pass to do the same thing again tonight! Me= CRAZY! :-p

 

-All images available under creative commons license, attribution Thunderf00t 🙂

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

August 26, 2011

First look at Supernova in M101 (Aug 2011)

So after much driving around looking for a good observing sight I eventually found one north of Klamath Falls Oregon (good clear view north).

(‘Klamath Falls’ astronomy site, 25th August 2011)

I then brave the moquitoes, and yeah, there were a LOT of them, to get the scope set up.

The scope acquired data for several hours, this is thus far only processed from 6 minutes worth.  I’ve also not got round to sorting the colors out which is why the new exposure appear blue compared to the old one.

A Night looking at Uranus!

August 24, 2011

Uranus is frequently overlooked and for many reasons.  Firstly, lets just say its name hasn’t phonetically aged well.  Secondly it’s small and faint, barely visible to the naked eye, and even the most powerful telescopes show little more than a tiny featureless grey-green disk.

Most powerful telescopes will show the five main moons of Uranus, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.  The innermost of these Miranda, has, if memory serves the highest cliffs in the solar system (due to being previously (presumably) smashed by an impact) and has an orbital period of about 1.5 days.  That means you should be able to easily see its movement over the period of a night.

Now I had tried this previously, and had been surprised that the planets movement was comparable to the movement of its moons, but that night had been scuppered by a flat battery.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

So it was that I set out with my scope on the evening of 22nd Aug 2011 to see what could be captured.  I decided to head up to an observatory site that had previously seemed good up near the top of the somewhat active volcano, Lassen Peak.  The site is high, almost 2 miles up, but the seeing was less than perfect (a very constant ~ 5mile an hour wind, which was probably a blessing in that it bought warmer air from somewhere, but was also a curse due to the wind chill- I was surrounded by snow fields!).

Nonetheless, at prime focus of the 11in CPC1100 with ~1000 iso and 4 second exposure on a canon 60D seemed to bring out easily at least 4 of the moons of Uranus.

After that, I just had to maintain the kit for 8 or so hour.  A pain in the ass, as there were several pieces of kit that all need to work or the night would be ‘lost’.  So you basically have to periodically check all the batteries on the various time lapse and tracking kit are working functionally.  The bottom line is you can actually get quite a lot of sleep, but its horribly disjointed. The practical upshot of which was the next day I was wiped out to the point where I had actually planned to head up into Oregon to do something, but for the first time ever on a road trip I did something I’d never countenanced before.  I stayed a night in a motel!!  First time in 5 years!  A motel 6 I should add!  All I wanted was somewhere where I could get a shower, a bed for the night, and damn, just sit back for a moment, put my feet up, and have a glass of wine……ahhhhhh.

I was REALLY happy when I processed this, not really for what I had hoped to achieve, which was to get the motion of the moons, as while it was visible, it wasn’t that great.  But what was great was the motion of the whole Uranus system against the background stars.  I knew this MIGHT be visible, but I really didn’t expect it to looks as cool as it did!  Now it should be said that most of the motion you see here is probably not due to the motion of Uranus, but due to the motion of the Earth.  Nonetheless, its still really cool!

The finished results!

Watching Sunset on the Moon, and things that go bump in the night!

August 20, 2011

Well it’s a start.  Sunset on the Moon!

This is the time lapse of sunset on the moon, taken at prime focus with a cpc11 with a focal reducer and a canon 60D.  The conditions were less than perfect.  This was about 9 hrs all in, and really quite an infuriating 9 hrs.

Firstly, since my ‘run in’ with the mountain lion, I’ve become VERY twitchy about things that go bump in the night, and would periodically scan the torch around, looking for ‘eyes’.  There was also an amusing part when a piece of paper blew out of the car.  The ‘sudden noise’ in the dark elicited an immediate reaction from me, which to the impartial observer must have appeared quite funny and disproportionate! (twirling around ready to attack the piece of paper…… hmmmm….  time to switch to decaf!)

Not all bad though, amazing what the heightened senses can find!


For some reason the telescope is lousy at tracking the moon.  I think this is to do with the fact that the Earth axis, and the normal of the orbit of the moon are out by about 6 degrees.  Practically what this means is the moon not only moves at a different rate to the stars (that is it goes around the sky in about 25 hours, not 24 like pretty much everything else).  But even with lunar rate, the tracking is poor.  I think the moon is also moving up/ down due to the difference in the normal of the Earth rotation and the moons orbit, and the mount is not smart enough to work this out.  The practical upshot of which is the moon will drift out of the field of view over a period of about an hour, so I had to set the alarm to go off every 20 minutes throughout the night in order to recenter the moon.

Further recentering the frames, taken every 2 minutes in editing is also a pain in the ass.  Thankfully Sony Vegas now has a ‘motion stabilizer’ feature that takes a lot of the donkey work out of this.

This is the finished product!  Well actually, only part of it.  At prime focus the telescope can get the best part of the moon in the frame.  I just selected one crater, as it shows the shadows nicely.

Tracking on everything else is perfect, in that at the end of the evening I dialed up Jupiter, and it went straight to it.  Cute! Never seen Jupiter by the full light of day before!

The Solar System in Perspective!

August 10, 2011

The Moon, the Jovian (jupiter) system, and the Uranus system, all on the same scale (all photographed prime focus through an 11in f6.3 SCT) aug 10th 2011.

The moon, Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, all to scale.

The moon, Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, all to scale. Click to enlarge.

It’s all part of a larger project I’ve been working on of trying to get time-lapse of various extra-terrestrial bodies.

The real problem is the Earth is just spinning too bloody fast!  Damn, there’s a reason why all those new telescopes are going out there in the Legrange points!

Initially I was having all sorts of trouble tracking the moon!  Hmm that just shouldn’t be, it tracks everything else in the sky just fine.  Then of course, the obvious dawns on me:- it’s tracking the stars and not the moon!  The moon goes around the sky an extra time every 28 days! Thats about 12 degrees a day, or half a degree an hour!  Given that the moons only about half a degree in diameter, no wonder it kept drifting out of the field!  Okay, so I got intermediate time-lapse of the moon, that shows the project is possible.  A failure, sure, but a very instructive failure.

After the moon I took some caps of Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, great for putting them all into perspective.  Then it dawns on me, that it might be possible to do a timelapse of Uranus’s moons too, that’d be really cool.  So I set up the scope to take pictures every 5 minutes.  The results weren’t that impressive (well it only ran for a few hours before dawn), but more interestingly is that you can actually see uranus move against the background stars over this period.  It really threw me, because I was trying to line up the background stars, and it just wasn’t possible, then the obvious came to mind.  Duhh, Uranus is moving!  So yeah, inadvertently I’ve now found that you can watch the planets move in real time!  Probably works best on the faint ones, like Uranus, as you can see more background stars!.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

Sunday 31st (Sodium Boom n beyond)

August 4, 2011

Spent the morning very happily going over the potassium footage.  The whole thing is a symphony of physics and chemistry that eventually I decided it would take too long to explain, so I just put up the explosion footage.

It had been raining in Ridgecrest and this clearly was  a freak event.  The standard greeting in Rigercrest between the notably fat folks seems to be ‘hot enough for you’, and not without reason, I think it’s been over 100C every day I’ve been here.  However for the afternoon I decided I would give blowing up the sodium a go.  Now I have lots of sodium, and the scale and geometry is different.  Eventually I decided the way to do it was to get a stick over a reasonable sized vat, which meant that I could lift up the sodium from a distance, have it swing over the vat, then be lowered in.  Sodium is significantly less dense than water, and so would need to be weighted.  The sticks were typically about 10g, so eventually I wrapped up about 4 sticks in aluminium foil, attached weights to them and lowered them in to the vat from a distance.

Initially the reaction seemed really quite slow, to the point where I was wondering how this was going to pan out.  Indeed it took over 10 seconds before the first ‘explosion’ (compared to about 1second for the potassium experiment).  I, for my part am mostly certain this is related to the metal boiling.  However, when it really blew up (and did so quite convincingly) it really made a mess of the container.  Again, the hydrogen burning wasn’t really even a relevant factor, it’s just the adiabatic expansion of the gas released by the reaction.  In this case 40g gives about 40L of gas.  Thats a lot of gas to release in a 5L container!  On inspecting the aftermath it became clear that large chunks of sodium had been thrown clear of the reaction, not just unreacted, but unmelted!  This for me was a stunning observation!  It shows that whatever the reaction that takes place, the rate that heat is generated at the surface is MUCH higher than the rate the heat can be conducted away from the surface.  Sodium is an absolute bitch for making a mess!  Small amounts of sodium had been sprayed all over the tripod, and stripped the paint.  They had then picked up water to make conc. NaOH, draincleaner which will first turn you skin into soap, before chemically burning you.  The stuff was everywhere!  Cleaned up as best I could (again I was on the inaccessible dirt road to nowhere in my little ravine).  Headed back to LA.  Stopped off to see Lisa n Howard n pick up a shower, which I more than needed.  Initially i wanted to get up onto mnt Wilson early, for sunset, but got chatting to Lisa and that never happened.  It was full dark before I set out on the nightmare trek across LA by dark.  It didnt help that I managed to set the GPS wrong, and ended up on the long drive through the horrific twistiy winding roads of the Wilson range (rt 2).  There had been rain here too, and while the road was all but deserted, top speed was about 40 mph and ‘tire killing rocks’ materialized out of the gloom on a regular basis.  Driving that 20 miles was an incredibly intense experience, ultimately driven by ‘do u want it or not’.  I did, I wanted to get up on mnt wilson and do something on light pollution and LA.  I got there about midnight, and got my piccies!