Meteorite Men!

meteorite_men Did you watch Meteorite Men last week? If not, you can probably catch a repeat. It is a new series, airing 9pm ET/PT Wednesday nights, on the Science Channel about two guys who search for meteorites. Check your local listings for times. (Photo cheekily snapped from their site. Copyright aerolite meteorites.)

I learned about it from Bob Melisso, my producer/filmmaker friend (and occasional collaborator: see here, here and here) who made the pilot and is the supervising producer for the series. From […] Click to continue reading this post

Imminent Launch

wise_on_deltaMy friend, The Universe co-contributor, and colleague Amy Mainzer (JPL) is rubbing gloved hands together in the chilly night air up at Vandenberg. Well, ok, if not this very moment, she probably will be at various points this evening and into the wee hours of the morning. The launch pad for WISE (the mission on which Amy is deputy project scientist) is set, and everything is ready to go! See my earlier post about what […] Click to continue reading this post

Get Wise to WISE

explore_missionsOnce again I’m excited about a new piece of machinery. This time it is a space mission again. There have been several remarkable missions launched (many in very recent years), doing all sorts of excellent science, helping us discover all sorts of things about our universe, near and far, young and old. I’ve spoken about (and sometimes followed live) the launches of some of them here on the blog, or spoken about the science results they’ve helped produce. See the graphic on the right for some of them.

wiseWell, very soon (possibly as early as December 9th), there will be the launch of WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer! I learned from my friend, colleague and fellow presenter on History Channel’s The Universe, JPL’s Amy Mainzer, who is a senior scientist and the deputy project scientist on the WISE mission, that they made a series of exciting videos about WISE for you to learn about the science that WISE will do and how it will go about […] Click to continue reading this post

The Leonids are almost here!

nasa sky mapAnother meteor shower is almost upon us. Next week it is the turn of the Leonids. Now, as the name implies, these have their apparent origin in the constellation Leo. So how visible it will be for you, if you live in an urban area, might depend upon Leo’s position in the sky relative to your local bright city lights at the time of viewing. But it is worth trying. Look for a public park, rooftop, or other open area of sky. Parks can be better for pulling you away from some of the immediate lights, and then sit still and look at one patch of sky steadily for a while (generally in the right direction!) To get guidance, have […] Click to continue reading this post

Wet Moon

Aha! So you were thinking the mission last month was a bit of a failure, right? Because there was no big splash (literally) of a plume for the press to gush about? I’m talking about the October LCROSS mission on October 9th that smashed an impactor onto the moon’s surface (at the Cabeus crater) to create a cloud of dust for analysis. I remember people thinking, encouraged by various reports, that the event was rather a damp squib, since it did not produce a Hollywood-style flash and plume. See an NPR report on the mission here from back then.

lcross_dataWell, science is known for being able to carry on steadily even if there are no overt special effects and a catchy soundtrack. Today, NASA announced that their analysis of the data produced from measuring the dust cloud’s properties has shown very definite signs of water (confirming and strengthening the results accumulated by other missions (India’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA’s Deep […] Click to continue reading this post

Ten Things That Go Boom!

the_universeWell, ok… Boom is not quite accurate, but the idea is that there will be ten kinds of blasts/explosions/major_energetic_events discussed tonight on the History Channel’s The Universe:

The Universe is full of explosions that both create and destroy. The Chicxulub impact on the Yucatan peninsula, which may have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, was two million times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated on Earth. But guess what? That’s only good enough for the very bottom of the Biggest Blasts top ten list. This episode works its way up through supernova explosions and gamma ray bursts all the way to the blast that started it all–the Big Bang.

Sounds good doesn’t it? There’s a lot of good people contributing again, so I know it’ll have some good material and explanations.

In addition, I’m reasonably confident I play a role in this one…This one was a blast (sorry) to film. You saw some posts earlier reporting on some of the filming. Assuming they used the material I did with them, you’ll get to see why I was at the […] Click to continue reading this post


Forgot to report on this email exchange from last semester:

From one of the staff in the physics office:

Subject: 499 Syllabus
Date: Thu, 09 Jul 2009 14:01:38 -0700
From: Beverly
To: Clifford V. Johnson

I was reading the syllabus you sent over for the 499 class. I am not sure if this is a type-o but in the Extra Books section it reads “/Black *_hoes_* and Time Warps: Einstein’s outrageous Legacy/” should it read
“/Black *_holes_* and Time Warps: Einstein’s outrageous Legacy/”.


My response: […] Click to continue reading this post

Walking on the Moon

As a follow up to my earlier moon post of the day, here’s a link to the (excellent) Police singing the excellent “Walking on the Moon”. Seems to fit somewhat with the occasion. No embedding, sadly, so you’ll have to come back here to finish your reading. Click on the picture. Enjoy!


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

40 Years Ago…

moon_landing_630pxWell, it can’t have escaped your attention. I imagine that whatever news sources you use are full of stories about today being the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. (Well, the first by human beings, anyway. 🙂 )

I won’t be writing a long thoughtful piece reflecting on the matter. Right now, I can’t really think of much to say that has not been said. Perhaps it is just because it is too hot here. I’m not sure.

However, I will encourage you to find a quiet moment sometime today, stop, look […] Click to continue reading this post

Science and Space on Mayo

On the BBC’s Daily Mayo the other day there was a science focus! Scientists Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw joined Simon to talk about their new book Why Does [tex]E=mc^2[/tex]? that looks at Einstein’s famous equation which explores the principles of physics through everyday life. Commander Lee Archambault, currently on … Click to continue reading this post

Go! Now! Get a Galileoscope!

I just learned from Phil’s blog that the Galileoscopes I mentioned to you some months back (remember? International Year of Astronomy? Not just Darwin year?) are ready for shipping. There were issues with production at first, but now they are ready. The key issue right now seems to be that they are in danger of having to stop production of these lovely things if they don’t get lots of orders by May 31st. Ack!

So please please consider sending in a order for one or a few. Imagine what a delightfully unusual gift it would make for someone. Either someone you know, or someone you don’t know like a neighbour, your local school, church (yes!) or community center, or… even that special someone who you’d like to get to know – what an icebreaker, eh? Here’s a picture from the site of what a happy owner’ll have after assembling it:


It is easy to put together, gives a new window onto the world above your head, and […] Click to continue reading this post

The Big Day!

Herschel & Planck Ariane 5 ECA V188 Launch CampaignTomorrow is the Big Day. For what? The launch of Planck and Herschel – Major new windows on our universe. Keep your fingers crossed for luck!

They’re on the launch pad right now. See here.

So, what are the missions and objectives of these fine spacecraft, I hear you ask.

Well, from the Planck site: […] Click to continue reading this post

The Right Tools for the Job

pistol_grip_shuttle_toolThe space shuttle mission launching today (around 2:00pm ET) has a very special task. It is going to take some astronauts up to do some crucial repairs (see story here) on the Hubble Space Telescope. It is the last such mission (Hubble will be retired into the Pacific eventually) and has been long awaited. Please keep your fingers crossed for a successful mission to keep such an important scientific instrument working for another five (or so) years to teach us more about the universe. (Go to the Hubble site here.)

NPR had a rather good piece about the special tools that were designed to allow these repairs to be carried out. The point is that the astronauts are not just swapping out parts or modules that were designed to be swapped out (like you do a light bulb, a shower head, or a shaving foil), but they have to go in and take out things deeper […] Click to continue reading this post

Yesterday at JPL

jpl_open_house_2009_1I had a lot of fun at this year’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) open house. I’m happy to report that there were, once again, lots of people wandering around looking at the displays and demonstrations, asking questions, hanging out, and so forth, and an impressive turnout of JPL staff answering questions and being very enthusiastic about the science (something which is easy to do because it’s such an excellent topic!). I’ve made a video for you that is coming up at the end of this post. (Click on stills for larger views.)

jpl_open_house_2009_5 jpl_open_house_2009_6

There was the usual huge emphasis on planetary exploration with rovers and robots and so forth – this seems to capture the imagination of everyone, so why not? – but I was more than a little surprised to find virtually no showing for the Planck mission. There was one poster somewhere, but no booth, no model, no description of the truly amazing science that it will do in unlocking more about the origins of the entire […] Click to continue reading this post