Total Lunar Eclipse!

There is a total eclipse of the moon tonight! It is also at not too inconvenient a time (relatively speaking) if you’re on the West Coast. The eclipse begins at 10:58pm (Pacific) and gets to totality by 12:46am. This is good timing for me since I’d been meaning to set up the telescope and look at the moon recently anyway, and a full moon can be rather bright. Now there’ll be a natural filter in the way, indirectly – the earth!

There’s a special event up at the Griffith Observatory if you are interested in making a party out of it. It starts at 7:00pm and you can see more about the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Talking with Dinosaurs

20140401-095516.jpgThursday’s event at the Natural History Museum went very well. There was a great turnout, and the audience was very enthusiastic. As you can see from the photos*, there were two fierce-looking large dinosaurs in attendance in the audience, but it did not have any effect on the overall time-keeping, and the lectures ran over the allotted time quite a bit.

But people had fun, and the museum staff were very kind and flexible, so that’s ok. I actually learned a lot from Ed Krupp’s talk about the astronomy and astronomical objects along the Silk Road from the Far East to the Middle East especially. Laura Danly gave a talk that was mostly a detailed history the Internet including at least three internet cat videos as illustration (an emphasis that I found unexpected, I’ll admit, since I was expecting more about contemporary astronomy). It was certainly a modern perspective on the Silk Road, as we promised the audience, and it seemed to go down well. The observation opportunity that Laura arranged outside (with the telescopes that were set up in the new gardens) was also well received. Jupiter and its [...] Click to continue reading this post

Under Silk Road Skies

I’m doing a disturbing amount of speechifyin’ this month. One of the occasions is tomorrow, and is open to the general public. Have you been to the Natural History Museum’s “Traveling the Silk Road” exhibition yet? I went to have a look a couple of days ago and it is rather nice. I recommend it. There are even live silk worms!

griffith observatory city view at nightI’ve been coorganizing an event as part of their series of lectures that accompanies the event and I am delighted to announce that I have connected two of the most awesome spaces and institutions in the city for this one. The Griffith Observatory will team up with the Natural History Museum for this one, with a lecture and Q+A session, and then (weather permitting) a bit of stargazing in the new gardens! Please spread the word and come along: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Discovery Clarification

I’m actually in hiding and silence for a week. It is Spring Break and I have locked myself away in a seaside town to do some writing, as I did last year. But I must break my silence for a little while. Why? Well there’s been a really great announcement in physics today and while being very happy that it is getting a lot of press attention – and it should since the result is very important and exciting – I’ve been stunned by how confusingly it has been reported in several news reports. So I thought I’d say a few things that might help.

But first, let me acknowledge that there’s a ton of coverage out there and so I don’t need to point to any press articles. I will just point to the press release of the BICEP2 collaboration (yes, that’s what they’re called) here, and urge you once you’ve read that to follow the link within to the wealth of data (images, text, graphs, diagrams) that they provide. It’s fantastically comprehensive, so knock yourself out. The paper is here.

I keep hearing reports saying things like “Scientists have proved the Big Bang”. No. The Big Bang, while an exciting and important result for modern cosmology, is very old news. (You can tell since there’s even a TV comedy named after it.) This is not really about the Big Bang. This is about Inflation, the mechanism that made the universe expand rapidly from super-tiny scales to more macroscopic scales in fractions of a second. (I’ll say more about the super-tiny below).

I also hear (slightly more nuanced) reports about this being the first confirmation of Inflation. That’s a point we can argue about, but I’d say that’s not true either. We’ve had other strong clues that Inflation is correct. One of the key things that pops out of inflation is that it flattens out the curvature of universe a lot, and the various observations that have been made about the Cosmic Microwave Background over the years (the CMB is that radiation left over from when the universe was very young (about 380,000 years old – remember the universe is just under 14 million years old!)) have shown us that the universes is remarkably flat. Another previous exciting result in modern cosmology. Today’s result isn’t the first evidence.

So what is today’s exciting news about then? The clue to the correct [...] Click to continue reading this post

Hawking an Old Idea

On the one hand it is good to get members of the general public excited about scientific research, and so having some new excitement about something Stephen Hawking said, driven by gushingly written articles in the press and online, can be good. On the other hand, it is annoying that the thrust of the articles are largely that he’s stunned the world again with a brilliant and unlooked-for idea. People just lap this stuff up, unquestioningly. It is actually an old idea (and in fact one that is being mis-reported – see below). One’s instinct is to just say “Welcome, Stephen, we’ve been waiting for you to join us”, or “Come on in, the water’s lovely”, and just move on, but it seems so unfair. The thing that’s most puzzling in all of this is Hawking’s own paper (which is all of two pages of words – a transcript of a talk he gave in August), which makes no reference at all to (for example) Samir Mathur’s work, which has been explicitly saying essentially the same thing for well over a decade, with a very definite proposal for how it might work. That work has hardly been buried in obscurity. Samir and many other people who have liked his idea have been working out the consequences of the proposal in numerous papers for over a decade and reporting on their results at all the main conferences, and even talking to him about it (I note that Samir was in the audience during the August talk and even politely asked the speaker to compare and contrast the similar-sounding proposals). So it is puzzling that you get no hint from the paper’s citations that this is a well-considered and ongoing idea, even if (perhaps) in detail it may pan out differently from other suggestions.

light cones in  spacetime with a compact mass - a black holeWhat’s the idea?, you ask. Well, it is not, as you might get from most of the articles (somewhat confusingly), that black holes do not exist. It is that the black hole’s event horizon, thought of as a sharp “point of no return” boundary, may not exist. Instead, it is approximation or shorthand for the complicated physics (of both matter and spacetime) that happens in the vicinity of the black hole. Simply put, the horizon arises in classical solutions to classical (i.e. non-quantum) equations (such as in General Relativity) of gravity. (See an earlier post I did about them here, from which came the illustration [...] Click to continue reading this post

Celestial Card Games

celestial_cardsI did not get to read the instructions about the games, but pictured are some cards (apparently from about 1830) for a game set. They have images of stars and planets on them, including one planet called Herschel. This is of course the planet to later be called Uranus. It took a while for the planet’s name to be agreed upon.

These are some of the objects from the Doheny Libary’s collection that will be [...] Click to continue reading this post

Collecting the Cosmos

i_2014_01_24_CollectCosmos_150x200Don’t forget that on the USC campus on Friday at 4:00pm, we’ll be kicking off the Collecting the Cosmos event! It will be in the Doheny library, and there’ll be a presentation and discussion first, and then a special opening reception for the exhibition. Be sure to get yourself on the waiting list since there’s some chance that you’ll get in even if you have not RSVPed yet. (The image is from the Visions and Voices event site, and includes parts of the artworks – by artists Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada – to be included in the exhibition, so come along and see.) The event description says, in part: [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Universe Lives!

universe_shoot_16_01_2014Many people have been asking me whether the show The Universe on the History Channel and its sister channel H2, (now the longest-running science show on commercial TV in the US) has come to an end, and I’ve not actually known the answer (but have been assuming so). Well, the good news is that there are some new episodes being made! I know this since I was involved in some filming for a few segments on two episodes on Thursday. I spent the lunchtime session talking about novae and supernovae, and the [...] Click to continue reading this post

Big History is Coming!

big_history_promo_still

You’ll recall that I was in New York a short while ago to film some promotional material for a new TV series. It is called Big History, and it will be on History Channel’s H2 channel (and eventually on various international channels, but I’ve no idea which – similar ones to where you find the other show I’ve mentioned a bit, The Universe, I expect).

Rather than be primarily about astronomical and cosmological things, the show will focus each week on one of a list specific items that have affected our history, and take the long view about that item. How long a view? The longest known possible! So take something like Salt, and examine its role in civilization and culture, bringing in historians, anthropologists, etc… and physical scientists to trace that object back to its roots in the early universe… (the big bang, the cores of stars, etc.) Update: For you Breaking Bad fans, note that it’ll be narrated by Bryan Cranston, by the way.

Here’s one of the promo videos:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Weinberg on Physics Now

I just spotted (a bit late) that Steven Weinberg (one of the giants of my field) has written a piece in the New York Review ofBooks entitled “Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know”. I recommend it. He talks about astronomy, cosmology, particle physics, and by casting his eye over the arc of their recent (intertwined) histories of ideas, experiments and discoveries, tries to put the Standard Models of particle physics and of cosmology into perspective.

The article is […] Click to continue reading this post

100th Birthday Fun!

[caption id="attachment_14281" align="aligncenter" width="499"]The crowd watching Devo on stage at the Natural History Museum's 100th  Birthday celebration (click for larger view) The crowd watching Devo on stage at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday celebration (click for larger view)[/caption]The 100th Birthday party at the Natural History Museum was fantastic! Adam Steltzner’s talk was excellent and it was a pleasure to be the MC and introduce him and run the Q&A. (It was a tall order for me to fill Michael Quick’s shoes, but I gave it a shot.) The audience was really great, and there were several great questions. The wide shot (click for larger view) at the top is a panorama shot of the outdoor concert stage, with Devo just starting their set (GZA of Wu-Tang Clan was on just before). I took it* while standing under the fin whale skeleton that is the centerpiece of the new Otis Booth entryway pavilion that was unveiled just minutes earlier. (See more about that space and other new exhibits here.) Here are a couple of shots (click for larger view) from Adam’s session, where he gave an inspiring talk about the engineering of the landing of the Curiosity Mars rover, with reflections on space exploration in general**:

[caption id="attachment_14261" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Adam Steltzner talking about the Curiosity Mission at the Natural History Museum's 100th Birthday bash Adam Steltzner talking about the Curiosity Mission at the Natural History Museum’s 100th Birthday bash[/caption] [...] Click to continue reading this post

100th Birthday Bash!

If you’re in town on Sunday 9th June, I strongly recommend coming along to this! The Natural History Museum is having its 100th Birthday celebration with an all day series of events. There’ll be new spaces and exhibits opening, including the new gardens they’ve been building for some time, and so there’s plenty to explore that will be new, and partly outdoors on a (hopefully) lovely day. (See here for an LA Times article on some of the changes.) As the day draws into the evening, there’ll be a real party brewing, with bands, DJs, bars, and so forth (see below). Kicking off the evening part of the proceedings at 6:30pm will be a talk and Q+A with JPL’s Adam Steltzner (of the Mars Curiosity Mission), in a spot hosted by me.

Adam’s a great guy, with lots of interesting things to say and a great sense of [...] Click to continue reading this post

Bad Luck for Kepler

Steinn has a nice post about the sudden ending of the Kepler mission, due to a crucial component failure. As he notes:

“Kepler has discovered almost 3,000 planetary candidates, of which about 100 have been confirmed through a variety of techniques, and, statistically, most of the rest are likely to be real planets.

Kepler has not quite found earth like planets in the habitable zone, yet.
It is heartbreakingly close to doing so.”

Sad to see, especially at a time when science is being hurt so badly by continued [...] Click to continue reading this post

TED Youth Talk – Hidden Structures of the Universe

cvj_TED_YouthYou might recall that last year I gave a talk at TED Youth, in their second year of short TED talks aimed at younger audiences. You’ll recall (see e.g. here and here) I made a special set of slides for it, composed from hundreds of my drawings to make it all in graphic novel style, and somehow trying to do (in 7 minutes!!) what the TED people wanted.

They wanted an explanation of string theory, but when I learned that telescopesI was the only person in the event talking about physics, I kind of insisted that (in a year when we’d discovered the Higgs boson especially!) I talk more broadly about the broader quest to understand what the world is made of, leaving a brief mention of string magnifytheory at the end as one of the possible next steps being worked on. Well, they’ve now edited it all together and made it into one of the lessons on the TED Ed site, and so you can look at it. Show it to friends, young and old, and remember that it is ok if you don’t get everything that is said… it is meant to invite you to find out more on your own. Also, as you see fit, use the pause button, scroll back, etc… to get the most out of the narrative.

I’m reasonably pleased with the outcome, except for one thing. WHY am I rocking [...] Click to continue reading this post

Known Unknowns Decreased a Bit

Well, the day is here. The Planck collaboration has announced a huge amount of results for the consumption of the scientific community and the media today. The Planck satellite looks with unprecedented precision at the very earliest radiation (“cosmic microwave background radiation”, CMB) from the universe when it was very young (a wee, cute 380,000 years old) and helps us deduce many things about what the universe was like then, and what it is like now. Here’s one of the representations of the universe using the new sky mapping Planck did (image courtesy ESA/Planck):

There’s a ton of data, and a raft of papers with analysis and conclusions. And there’s a very nice press release. I recommend looking at it. It is here, and the papers are here. The title of the press release is “Planck reveals an almost perfect Universe”, and some of the excitement is in the “almost” part. A number of anomalies that were hinted at by the previous explorer of the CMB, WMAP, seem to have been confirmed by Planck, and so there are some important things to be understood in order to figure out the origin of the anomalies (if they ultimately turn out to be real physics and not data artefacts). [Update: Andrew Jaffe has two nice posts I recommend. One on the science, and the other on the PR. Jester also has a nice post on the science from a particle physicist's perspective.]

What is the title of my post referring to? Well, the refined measurements have allowed us to update some of the vital statistics of the universe. First, it is a bit older than previous measurements have indicated. The age is now measured as 13.82 billion years. (I’m already updating pages in the draft of my book…) Second, the proportion of ingredients [...] Click to continue reading this post

Tales from the Industry XXXIX – Magnetic Weather?

Today (Tuesday) saw me up at 6:30am to prepare for an 8:00am call time for a shoot on a special episode of – wait for it – Deadliest Space Weather. It is original programming for the Weather channel, and before you dismiss it because of the title, it turns out that it is not a bad idea for exploring various scientific concepts. The first season ended a few weeks ago. I’d not realized it was airing until recently, and actually those recent demos I told you about were used in examinations of planetary conditions on Venus and on Mars. (Two separate episodes.) The idea seems to be to consider what it would be like on earth if the conditions were like those on Venus, or consider what what happen if you went outdoors on Mars.

So you might think it is silly, but if done well, it is actually an opportunity to
explain some science to an audience who might not have been the usual science audience…in which case I’m happy to be on board! In addition to spectacularly showing what happens when sugar and sulphuric acid meet, I got to show how to boil [...] Click to continue reading this post

Subway Guy

It has been quite the busy period the last few days, so much so that one is tempted (but not overwhelmingly) to neglect to take note of wonderful things like the discovery of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, or the awesomeness of my group of students in my graduate electromagnetism class who all did quite well in the midterm I set them. But I took [...] Click to continue reading this post

Nostalgia for the Light

Have you heard about the film “Nostalgia for the Light“, by Patricio Guzmán? As you know, one of my main cares in the business of communicating science broadly is having it be mixed up nicely with the rest of the culture (not making it a lecture all the time). This helps reach broader audiences, for a start. In a sense, this looks like a film that is doing that. It seems it was released in 2010, but is appearing on some big screens for the first time this year, in some places. I’ve not seen it, but it is soemthing I intend to see, based on the synopsis alone. I thought I’d mention it to you.

The summary from the Guardian film site says “Drama in which a group of Chilean astronomers’ search for the origins of life is contrasted with local womens’ efforts to find the bodies of loved ones killed by the Pinochet regime.”

There’s a trailer here:[...] Click to continue reading this post

Curious about Curiosity?

So, if like many people, you are excited about the (late) weekend landing of Curiosity (the roving Mars Science Laboratory) on Mars, and/or if you want to know more, Kenneth Chang has an article in the New York Times all about it here. (Image right is an artist’s impression done for NASA/JPL.) The sequence of operations that have to go right for Curiosity to, er, stick the landing* is quite amazing, and so let’s all wish them good luck. Have a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Don’t Forget the Transit of Venus!

Hot on the heels of the annular eclipse of a few weeks ago, we’ve another giant body passing in front of the sun tomorrow. Venus! This time the giant body (roughly the same size as the earth…just a bit smaller) is much further away from us, and so is dwarfed by the sun. It’ll be a tiny dot on the disc of the sun that takes several hours to pass across. This’ll give you plenty of time to look. (In the US, for example, it’ll start at about 6:06pm EST and about 3:06pm PST…) You won’t get another chance (at least, not from earth…) until 2117, so have a go!

In fact, you’ll be doing something that is vital for modern astronomy right now – observing the effects of a planet on the light of its parent star as seen from afar. This is the principal method for detecting planets moving around distant stars, the “extra-solar” planets you hear so much about in the news from time to time. Here, we’re seeing it happening for a familiar planet around a familiar star. Although both objects are quite familiar, this transit is still worthwhile to study, since it helps planet hunters learn more about how such processes can help deduce things about the planet doing the transit. So study it many will, I’m sure.

You can just look at it for fun, but remember to be careful. Do not look directly at [...] Click to continue reading this post

Solar Eclipse!

Don’t forget the annular solar eclipse on Sunday! You get get all the detail about it at the NASA eclipse site here. According to the site:

“An annular eclipse will be visible from a 240 to 300 kilometre-wide track that traverses eastern Asia, the northern Pacific Ocean and the western United States. A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the Moon’s penumbral shadow, that includes much of Asia, the Pacific and the western 2/3 of North America”…

I’ve put a snap of the graphic they provided on the right for decoration, so you can go to the site for more detail and explanation. This includes precise times for your city, and so on and so forth. Be sure to exercise the usual precautions in viewing (do not look directly at the sun with your eyes, and certainly don’t look at it through any optical instruments… project the eclipse onto something else… there are many sources that can tell you more about that…)

Enjoy!

-cvj
Click to continue reading this post

Happy Birthday Hubble!

It is the 22nd Anniversary of the launch of the Hubble space telescope today! As you know, this instrument has produced a wealth of scientific information over the years, as well as lots of wonderful pictures for everyone that broadened and deepened our sense of wonder about this remarkable universe we find ourselves in. The Hubble site is here.

Phil Plait has re-posted his 2010 post “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble”, [...] Click to continue reading this post

Lunar Eclipse!

For those out here in the West of the continent, there’ll be a lovely lunar eclipse tomorrow morning (I should have mentioned it before but it somehow missed my attention). It will be at its peak about dawn (about 6:00am), and so if you are an early riser, it should be a nice sight to greet you – especially since it is expected to be somewhat red in hue. Of course, look for the moon in the West, near to setting. Since it will be close to the horizon, it will look quite large as well.

The eclipse will actually be visible right across the Pacific too, and into Asia and Eastern Europe, but check local details for the specifics.

There are more details here*. I plan to get up and have a look… maybe we’ll all be watching it together!

Enjoy!

-cvj

*Thanks Shelley! Click to continue reading this post

Google Glimpses

Well, don’t forget the total lunar eclipse tonight! It is already starting… Apparently it will be the longest one for over ten years. It won’t be visible in North America, however, but google has provided a way to make sure you get your, er, lunatic desires to see the moon in earth shadow. For a start, there’s another excellent google doodle on their front page today (snapshot right) that allows you to slide the shadow over the moon to your heart’s desire. Furthermore, there’s a live feed of the eclipse on their YouTube channel, here.

Enjoy!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Go Visit JPL!

This weekend is the JPL Open House! You might recall from my visits there in the past (or, at least, my reports on them – see e.g. here) that it is a fun and informative time. I recommend it. It runs from 9:00am to 5:00pm today and tomorrow, and you can go along to see what’s up with various JPL/NASA missions, hear about future missions, learn the science and technology behind various equipment and the various science goals, and much more.

See the website here for more information.

Here’s a video I made two years ago (including a Mars Rover roving over children!!!):



I hope I can go today, but I’ve got rather a lot on, including trying to find some time [...] Click to continue reading this post

Major Moon-Milk Opportunity!

Tomorrow’s full moon is going to be the closest to us in 18 years, apparently. It’s called a supermoon by some, and no doubt some will try to link it to many major events here on earth, both natural and man-made (if you’ll forgive the distinction). I won’t do a long post about this issue, but instead refer you to Phil, who is excellent on the science of this and related subjects.

What I will say instead is that all commentators seem to have missed that this is the best opportunity in years to gather moon-milk! Get out your ladders and buckets and go for it!

What am I talking about? At my last birthday I was given* a lovely collection of stories by Italo Calvino, and the first one is entitled “The Distance of the Moon”. It begins with a description of the fact that a long time ago the moon orbited much closer to the earth, as you may know, and then weaves a delightful story from there. The story involves reminiscences, by the narrator Qfwfq, about those good old days when the moon came so close that once a month (yes, I know) the earth’s inhabitants would take boats out onto the sea to the where the moon came close and climb up a ladder to its surface to gather the much-desired substance known as moon-milk. A lovely extract follows: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Heroic

character_a_inkedStruggling for a post title, I went for a slight critique of the work I did on the character you’ve seen earlier*. She’s been grabbed from a panel showing her looking for a seat in a cafe where a conversation (about a physics issue) is to continue.

It is a large panel showing the layout of the cafe with all the people sitting and reading and talking and so forth, and she’s one of several small figures in it, so it is probably not that big a deal that she has somewhat heroic proportions here as compared to her more ordinary proportions in other panels.

Heroic here refers to the various choices of proportions you can give to figures, usually based on how many heads tall they are. You might have heard of people talking about how many heads tall a figure should be.

Well, there really is no “should be”, and different practitioners use different [...] Click to continue reading this post

To Explore Strange New Worlds…

So you’ve probably heard the news, but just in case I thought I’d mention it here. The Kepler observatory, up there in orbit keeping an eye on things for us, has found a bumper crop of planets orbiting a sun-like star a mere 2000 or so light years away. It is amazing what you can see if you look closely. Every now and again the star’s brightness dips ever so slightly, and that tells you something has passed in front of it – another planet. Or in this case, once you’ve analyzed the pattern of dips, as the team of astronomers did, six planets!

These are not earths, although the headlines all over the news sure try to grab you in [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 1

It is midnight and I really should get to sleep in order to wake up and work some more on editing the final exam for my class so that it can go to the printer by noon. But I’ve got several pokes from people clamouring to find out what The Project actually is, and I promised yesterday I’d start to spill the beans. Thanks for the interest! I think I’d better get at least some of it out there or I’ll have an angry mob by morning! So here goes. I will drag out the draft I sketched yesterday and beat it into shape:

So, as you may have guessed, The Project, which I’ve been mentioning here since a post way back in February, is a writing project, but it is somewhat different from what you might expect. The bottom line is that I hope that at some point into future you will be able to purchase a copy of your own, and that you will find it instructive, exciting, and enjoyable. At least.

Yes, it is a book about science. However… Well, here’s the thing. Over many years, people (friends, colleagues, potential agents and publishers, blog readers, etc) have been asking me when I am going to write my book. You know, the popular-level book that every academic who is interested in the public understanding of their field (as you know I am from reading this blog) is expected will write at some point. To be honest, I have given it some thought over the years, and it has been something I figured I might do at some point. In fact, several different ideas have occurred to me over the years, and I may well implement some of them at some point.

But a major thought began to enter my mind well over ten years ago. In my field, there is a rather narrow range of models for the shape of such books, usually involving about 80% of it being a series of chapters covering all the standard introductory material (some relativity, some quantum mechanics, and so forth) for the lay reader, before culminating in a chapter or two of what the researcher really wants to tell them about: some aspect of their research. This is a fine model, and it is great that people continue to write such books, and I will no doubt use that model one day, but to be honest, I don’t think there is any urgency for me to add to the canon yet another one of those books. Moreover, if you line examples of that type of book up against each other, you see that the [...] Click to continue reading this post

I, For One, Welcome Our New Arsenic-Replacing-Phosphorus-In-DNA Overlords

mono_lakeYeah! This is just the sort of thing I’d hoped that we (human beings) would find soon, in order to strengthen the idea that in looking for forms of life elsewhere, we be not just open to the idea that the basic chemistry for that life may be very different from what we are used to on earth (easier said than done), but that it is maybe even probable that this is what we could find first. Now, given the news today (announced by Felisa Wolfe-Simon and her team in a NASA press conference today and reported on in a paper to appear in Science) we know that it is not just a theoretical construction, but already a reality right here on earth. The researchers have identified a life form with a striking difference. The bacterium (which lives in Mono Lake – see NASA image above right) has DNA (and some other important complex molecules) with a major difference from all other forms we know. phosphorus has been replaced by arsenic!

periodic_tableThis works, by the way, because arsenic is in the same chemical family as phosphorus, being directly below it in the periodic table. Note that this is exactly the sort of thing that has been speculated about a lot in the classic days of science/speculative fiction concerned with alien life, remember? :- Silicon based life forms instead of the Carbon based ones that we know and love on earth. Silicon is again in the same column as [...] Click to continue reading this post

Passing Star People

John Williams in RehearsalYou might not know the name Maurice Murphy, but I am certain that you are likely to know – and maybe even be very familiar with – his work. His is the principal trumpet playing the lead themes in very many films with music by John Williams. I have for a long time been very impressed with how so many of those themes trip so easily off the tongue (physical or mental) and seem to fit together so well (just hum the Star Wars theme, and then follow it by the Superman theme, then the Indiana Jones theme, and so on). A lot of this is due to the fact that Williams (like most good composers) is a master at recycling and modifying, creating a cluster of much loved (deservedly) themes that accompany some of our favourite movie-going memories, but I now think that the other reason is that you’re hearing them all played by the same voice! That voice is the playing of Maurice Murphy, the truly wonderful trumpeter who Williams would specifically request to play the lead on recordings of his film music. Murphy died recently, and you can dig a bit more about him and explore what I’ve been telling you further by going to the London Symphony Orchestra’s site devoted to him [...] Click to continue reading this post

Perseids Galore!

perseidmap_stripThe Perseid meteors are reported to be really good viewing this year.

As I said a few years ago in anticipation of a similar nice Perseid meteor shower:

Concerned that you don’t know enough astronomy? No idea in any amount of detail where these constellations are? Don’t worry! Basically, all you really have to do is find a place where the sky is reasonably dark, look [North] East, and wait. As your eyes acclimatise to the dark, and with a bit of luck, you’ll see some, and zero in on where to look.

There’s more at the NASA news site, from which I borrowed the image above. The peak is around these few nights (12th August or so) and there’s no moon, so if you’ve got some dark (ish) skies and a bit of patience, you should see some. Yes, this includes viewers in cities. Don’t be pessimistic. You might be able to find patches of dark enough sky, especially if you can go near to an edge of the city, or a park, and look away from the bulk of the lights. It does not have to be perfect viewing [...] Click to continue reading this post

National Academy

As part of a report on a study (or several studies) I was writing last week (because evidently I can’t find enough things to keep me from making progress on the Project), I was including some data on the geographic distribution of members of the National Academy of Sciences within the US. The focus was on Physics, Astronomy, and Applied Physical Sciences. It was rather interesting, binned by state, especially if you grab the columns and tell Numbers to throw up a graph of it all. The concentrations are striking. I wondered whether the concentrations were simply following population, at least roughly, and so I went elsewhere and grabbed the population numbers for each state and ran that into a chart as well. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions as to the results. I find them interesting. Look at California, Texas, and Florida, for example. [...] Click to continue reading this post