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Posts Tagged "astronomy"

@ScientificAmerican

The Evolution of a Scientific American Information Graphic: Stellar Life Cycle

The evolution of a Scientific American information graphic: stellar life cycle

As the art director of information graphics at Scientific American, I’m charged with developing explanatory art for some pretty mind-blowing topics. Our team—text editor, expert author, artist, and me—often works toward illustrating a process or concept that has never been rendered before, or may have only been visualized for other specialists in the field in [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Getting Ready for Scientific American Tweet-Up at the American Museum of Natural History

We’re counting down the days here until the Scientific American tweet-up at the American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, January 18, starting at 6 p.m. Full details are on my earlier blog post. We’ll enjoy talks, a tour of the “Beyond Planet Earth” exhibition–and some conversations over cocktails. Attendance is free for followers of [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Scientific American Tweet-Up at the American Museum of Natural History

You say you’d love a fun science evening? Great, here’s your chance. Scientific American will be co-hosting a tweet-up and reception in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History the evening of Wednesday, January 18. While we expand our minds, we’ll enjoy some cocktails and open access to the Beyond Planet Earth exhibit. Attendance [...]

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Budding Scientist

Here a Henge, There a Henge: Astronomy Fun on a Street Near You

Manhattanhenge, by EffingBoring via Flickr

Invited Guest Post by Evelyn Lamb (@evelynjlamb) Later today the setting sun will align with Manhattan’s street grid to produce a striking phenomenon dubbed “Manhattanhenge.” Taking its name from the more famous Stonehenge in England, where the sun rises over the prominent Heel Stone on the summer solstice, Manhattanhenge happens twice a year, once about [...]

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Budding Scientist

The Transit of Venus: Viewing Tips from an Astronomer

My family is gearing up for a big weekend of science in New York City. First, there’s the annual World Science Festival, which this year is bringing free activities like bug hunting, weather forecasting and marine ecology research to Brooklyn Bridge Park among many other locations. (Check the full slate of activities here.) Then, on Tuesday comes [...]

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But Seriously...

Cosmos: The Second Coming

Cosmos Trailer Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Fresh from its debut at San Diego Comic-Con, the first official trailer for the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: In August of 2008, I attended the third annual SciFoo conference at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.  That’s a whole other subject, which I’ve touched on here [...]

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Critical Opalescence

What Would It Be Like to Fall into a Naked Singularity? [Guest Post]

Last year, novelist Sergio De La Pava compared the American criminal justice system to the strange physics concept of naked singularities. That inspired me to ask the author of Sci Am’s article on the concept, theoretical physicist Pankaj Joshi of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai (right in photo), for an update. Watch [...]

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Critical Opalescence

As If 1 Giant Black Hole Weren’t Enough, What’s a Galaxy Doing with 3?

Last Thursday, my colleague John Matson described a truly amazing galaxy known, somewhat unromantically, as BX442. It has a majestic spiral pattern while hundreds of its galactic contemporaries were gawky and misshapen—a peculiar and special anomaly which suggests to many astronomers that cosmic pinwheels are ephemeral art forms, like Tibetan sand mandalas. John’s piece spurs [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Charismatic Megaparticles Might Hint at Dark Matter, and Much Besides

At a lecture I went to some years ago, astrophysicist Trevor Weekes compared garden-variety elementary particles to mosquitoes. They are plentiful and easy to find—indeed, they find you. But ultra-high-energy gamma rays, he said, are like elephants. They are fairly rare, but among the greatest of creatures. They often roam in spectacular habitats. Their sheer [...]

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Cross-Check

Are Scientists on the “Cusp of Knowing” How Weird We Are?

In his new book Caleb Scharf writes: "So are we unusual or not?... Neither side is yet a winner. But we are much, much closer to an answer than we have ever been in the history of the human species; we are on the cusp of knowing."

I’m writing this post for two reasons. One is to recommend a new book by Columbia astrobiologist Caleb Scharf (who also writes a terrific Scientific American blog, “Life, Unbounded“), and the other is to defend an old book of mine. Scharf’s book is The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and [...]

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Dark Star Diaries

Giving ALMA a Heart Transplant

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Credit: ESO/C. Malin

Before they can see Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, the astronomers of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) must complete an epic to-do list. The most important item on that list: Bring the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) into the group. It’s easy to see why. After all, ALMA [...]

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Dark Star Diaries

How to See a Black Hole: Introducing Dark Star Diaries

Sagittarius A*

The image you see here is a computer-generated model of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which we call Sagittarius A*. More precisely, it is a model of the “shadow” that Sagittarius A*, with its mass of four million suns, should cast. The glowing blob in the lower right corner is [...]

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Doing Good Science

Ada Lovelace Day book review: Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Last year, I shared my reflections on Ada herself. This year, I’d like to celebrate the day by pointing you to a book about another pioneering woman of science, Maria Mitchell. Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among the American Romantics by Renée Bergland Boston: Beacon Press [...]

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Doing Good Science

Who profits from killing Pluto?

composite-square-02

You may recall (as I and my offspring do) the controversy about six years ago around the demotion of Pluto. There seemed to me to be reasonable arguments on both sides, and indeed, my household included pro-Pluto partisans and partisans for a new, clear definition of “planet” that might end up leaving Pluto on the [...]

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Guest Blog

Habitable and not-so-habitable exoplanets: How the latter can tell us more about our origins than the former

On 29th September this year, astronomers announced the discovery of an exoplanet called Gliese 581 g. This planet, they said, was exactly the right distance from its star for water to exist on its surface, with a good chance that it could hold an atmosphere. These two properties are very important when judging whether a [...]

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Image of the Week

Painting Across Astronomical Units

triplestarsystem_mini

What we find in space continues to challenge our imaginations, and we haven’t even discovered extraterrestrial life yet. Last week,  in Caleb Scharf’s post Astrobiology Roundup: Planets, Moons, and Stinky Comets, he featured the bizarre visualization above. Burning space gases often seem blended and painterly to my eye, like an oil painting on a vacuum [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Cusp of Knowing and the Evolution of Science

(Credit NASA/JPL)

In a nice piece on his Scientific American blog ‘Cross-Check‘, John Horgan recently gave me some much appreciated praise, whilst provoking discussion on a contentious subject – whether or not big science as we’ve known it ‘may be coming to an end’ (John’s words). Wrapped into this assertion is the idea that fundamental physics and [...]

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Life, Unbounded

C-SPAN’s ‘After Words’ Discusses Our Cosmic Status

(A. Fitzsimmons/ESO)

Ever feel that broadcast TV fails to tackle the big issues? I don’t mean the state of the economy, healthcare, the future of clean energy, or what B-list celebrities had for breakfast – I mean the Really Big Issues. Like whether or not we’re alone in the universe, whether life is somehow special, and whether [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Biggest Cosmological Problem Is…

The whole sky (again in Galactic coordinates) seen by Planck (ESA)

…living in a place that makes doing cosmology hard. Let’s backtrack a little. Unless you’ve been living under a particularly thick and insulating rock you’ll know that in recent months the world of experimental cosmology (what would have previously been called observational cosmology, or just plain old astronomy) has been on tenterhooks waiting to see [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Interstellar Space Can Be Pebbly

Are there interstellar pebbles here? The red strands of dense interstellar grains seen with the Green Bank raio telescope (Credit: S. Schnee, et al.; B. Saxton, B. Kent (NRAO/AUI/NSF); We acknowledge the use of NASA's SkyView Facility located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.)

We’re used to thinking of the space between the stars as void, bereft of all but the most sparsely distributed atoms and molecules, or the occasional microscopic grain of silicon or carbon dust. Even the densest cores of nebula – molecular clouds – only attain average densities of a few million atoms or molecules per [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Exoplanet Size: It’s Elementary

(Credit NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Since quite early in the history of the discovery of planets around other stars it’s been apparent that the likelihood of certain types of planets around a star is related to the abundance of heavy elements in that system. Specifically, astronomers can study the spectrum of light from a star and deduce the mix of [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Exomoons Can Spoof Exoplanet Biosignatures

earth-titan.001

Astronomers hope that one day soon we’ll obtain a spectrum of light that might tell us whether or not an Earth-sized exoplanet harbors life. This spectrum could be of starlight filtered through the planetary atmosphere, or of reflected and emitted radiation. In either case it would probe the chemical composition of an alien world. The [...]

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Life, Unbounded

So You Want To Be An Exozookeeper?

Kepler's tally of exoplanets (Credit: NASA Ames/SETI/J Rowe)

                  This week has seen the release of the latest set of ‘confirmed’ exoplanets from NASA’s Kepler mission. In total, 715 worlds have been added to the list of what are thought to be genuine Kepler planet detections (previously standing at 246). If you’re confused because you’ve [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Monk Of A Million Telescopes

John Dobson in 2002 (AlanJWylie at en.wikipedia)

“IF THERE WERE A MILLION PEOPLE WITH TELESCOPES WILLING TO LET A FEW THOUSAND OTHER PEOPLE LOOK THROUGH THEM, IT IS POSSIBLE THAT EVERYONE WHO WALKS THIS EARTH, WITH EYES TO SEE, MIGHT SEE THE UNIVERSE” John Dobson, (September 14th, 1915 – January 15th, 2014) John Dobson’s life reads like a movie script. He was [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Cosmic Solitude, Exoplanets, and Books

Credit: NASA

Earlier this week I had the very great pleasure of catching up with Lee Billings, the author of Five Billion Years of Solitude, a beautifully written and provocative new book about the quest to find other Earths, other life in the universe. If you haven’t read it, you should. The Strand Bookstore in New York [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Voyager Has Entered The Interstellar Medium

pia17462-640

                After many claims and statements over the past few years that Voyager 1, our most distant operating spacecraft, has ‘left the solar system’ (it hasn’t, as I explain here), it does now seem that as of August 2012 this extraordinary vehicle has entered the interstellar medium. This [...]

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Observations

What Interstellar Gets Wrong about Interstellar Travel

A starship travels through a cosmic wormhole

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar, is a near-future tale of astronauts departing a dying Earth to travel to Saturn, then through a wormhole to another galaxy, all in search of somewhere else humanity could call home. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious work, with outstanding performances from a star-studded cast augmented by high-fidelity visual effects and a [...]

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Observations

3-D Print a Rib, or Better Yet, Have Someone Else Do It

Courtesy of HP's new Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printer.

Even as 3-D printing’s impact on science, healthcare and consumer electronics grows, these devices aren’t likely to find their way into your home anytime soon. In fact, the closest most people will get to a 3-D printer in the near future will be ordering custom-made products from retailers that build objects the way Kinko’s and [...]

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Observations

Zoom through a Stunning Panorama of the Milky Way

The Spitzer Space Telescope'ss GLIMPSE project has created a huge zoomable panorama of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GLIMPSE Team

Do yourself a favor. Don’t read this article just yet—first, take a moment to zoom around this incredible panorama of our galaxy and soak in the splendor: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/glimpse360/aladin. Okay, are you back? Now we can talk science. The photograph you just saw—actually, a mosaic of two million photographs—represents the infrared view of the disk of [...]

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Observations

Why the Moon Looks Different in Winter [Video]

As we steel ourselves against the cold and curse the polar vortex for bringing these bitter winds upon us, it’s helpful to remember that winter can also be a magical time of fluttering snowflakes and beautiful evening skies. This Minute Physics video explains how the earth’s tilted axis makes winter the best season for viewing [...]

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Observations

My God, Man! XPRIZE Unveils Medical Tricorder Teams

"Jim, I'm a doctor, not an entrepreneur." Image of iPhone and Tricorder courtesy of JD Hancock, via Flickr

In the Star Trek universe, handheld medical tricorders became standard issue for Starfleet vessels as early as the mid-22nd century. Here in a little place we like to call “reality,” a competition seeks to help deliver such all-in-one health analyzers at least 100 years ahead of schedule. After more than 300 prospective entrants for the [...]

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Observations

The Continuing Mystery of the Moon Illusion [Video]

The harvest moon is almost upon us—specifically, September 19. It’s the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, and it has deep significance in our cultural histories. Namely, it enabled our ancestral farmers to toil longer in the fields. (Today, electricity enables us to toil longer in the office—thanks, Tom Edison.) One enduring belief is [...]

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Observations

Not Just Pretty, Perseid Meteors Hold Key to Clear View of the Heavens

Propagation inside the dome

The Perseids meteor shower, which peaks August 11-12, isn’t just a dazzling celestial show. The annual event also supplies our atmosphere with an essential ingredient for groundbreaking astronomical research. Our atmosphere is turbulent. The turbulence is what makes stars twinkle. Although twinkling stars are lovely to look at, they are a bit of a nuisance [...]

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Observations

Neptune’s New Moon May Be Named after One of Sea God’s Monstrous Children

Neptune's new moon

This past Monday, the planet Neptune officially got a new moon, a relatively tiny chunk of rock and ice about as wide as Manhattan is long. The object is currently dubbed S/2004 N 1, and it’s the fourteenth now known to circle that distant icy world. Mark Showalter, a researcher at the SETI Institute in [...]

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Observations

Next Mars Rover Will Seek Out Signs of Past Life

Artists concept of rover

NASA officials have revealed their vision for what comes after the wildly successful Curiosity rover on Mars. Think of it as Curiosity Plus. Using Curiosity’s design as a starting point, Mars 2020 (as it’s currently known) will be another rover digging around the surface of the red planet. But, this time, rather than just looking [...]

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Observations

Today the Earth Falls Toward the Sun

Sun and Earth from space

Notice anything different today? Is the sun looking a little smaller? Or the Earth moving a little slowly? Well, today is Aphelion Day. Around 11 A.M. Eastern, Earth passes through the point in its orbit that is farthest from the sun, a point called the aphelion. After today, we pick up speed as we fall [...]

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PsiVid

The City Dark

CityDark

I was recently in Alaska as an invitee of GoPro cameras in support of a pretty cool science experiment by Project Aether. Briefly, I was there to assist as they launched weather balloons with GoPro cameras attached in order to collect intra-auroral images. After the weather balloons dropped, the GPS tagged cameras were then retrieved, [...]

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PsiVid

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Stephen Colbert is a smart science fan and often features great science book authors and scientists on his show, The Colbert Report. I also appreciate his funny takes on scientific topics such as tissue engineered meat, the LHC and more! Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has appeared on The Colbert Report six times. What a boon [...]

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Roots of Unity

10 Secret Trig Functions Your Math Teachers Never Taught You

A diagram with a unit circle and more trig functions than you can shake a stick at. The familiar sine, cosine, and tangent are in blue, red, and tan, respectively.

On Monday, the Onion reported that the “Nation’s math teachers introduce 27 new trig functions.” It’s a funny read. The gamsin, negtan, and cosvnx from the Onion article are fictional, but the piece has a kernel of truth: there are 10 secret trig functions you’ve never heard of, and they have delightful names like “haversine” [...]

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SA Visual

Visualizing 4-Dimensional Asteroids

JV_icon-150x150

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Jake VanderPlas, a data scientist who worked on the Graphic Science illustration in the October issue of Scientific American magazine. One of the largest treasure troves of astronomical data comes from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), an ongoing scan of the firmament that began 15 [...]

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SA Visual

The Evolution of a Scientific American Information Graphic: Stellar Life Cycle

The evolution of a Scientific American information graphic: stellar life cycle

As the art director of information graphics at Scientific American, I’m charged with developing explanatory art for some pretty mind-blowing topics. Our team—text editor, expert author, artist, and me—often works toward illustrating a process or concept that has never been rendered before, or may have only been visualized for other specialists in the field in [...]

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Symbiartic

The Windings To and Fro

lucyjain_june2014-mini

“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet.” -Ptolemy, Ptolemy’s Almagest While I am a also a fan of work more  scientifically accurate in nature, the imaginative leap [...]

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Symbiartic

Stellar Photography By A Citizen Astronomer

13-038FEATURE

By now you might be used to spectacular images of celestial bodies thanks to organizations like NASA and the ESA. But it’s still possible to be wowed by these images, especially when they’re taken by people like you and me. Citizen astronomer Alan Friedman takes breathtaking photographs of the sun’s roiling surface from his backyard [...]

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Symbiartic

The Coolest Photo My iPhone Never Took

moon photo

Alex Wild over at Compound Eye is quick to point out with his Thrifty Thursday posts that great photos can be taken with relatively inexpensive equipment… IF you know what you’re doing. Here’s a great case in point: A few nights ago, I was strolling along a pedestrian mall in Boulder, CO with some friends. [...]

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Symbiartic

Unveiling The Universe Within

13-001FEATURE

Almost five years ago to the day, Neil Shubin’s first book (and my first foray into illustrating popular non-fiction), Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body debuted. It was by all accounts hugely successful, far exceeding the publisher’s sales expectations in the first few months and going into multiple [...]

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Symbiartic

Curiosity’s Storybook Wishes For Mars

Curiosity's storybook wishes for Mars

The Martian rovers Opportunity and Spirit have represented optimism, hope, and even cuteness to millions of people dreaming about discoveries on the red planet. How appropriate then, that the newest rover, Curiosity, should carry a sundial with sentiments and illustrations worthy of classic children’s literature. Curiosity blasted off aboard an Atlas 5 rocket on November [...]

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Symbiartic

Alone in the blogiverse: where are all the space-art bloggers?

Eskimo Nebula © Katy Ann Chalmers

Where are all the space-art bloggers?  When Symbiartic was in the planning stages, this was a post I knew I had to write. There are so few I found it at first surprising.  Do the images from the Hubble trump inspiration in painters?  Is interest in space waning compared to say, paleontology? Science inspired art [...]

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Symbiartic

5 Reasons Your Camera Won’t Steal My Job

Illustration of a neuron © Cosmocyte

By far the most common question I get when I tell people that I am a scientific illustrator is one variation (some more tactful than others) of, “They still use illustrators? Why don’t they just photograph everything?” In fact, it’s a great question. Although photography is fantastically impressive and can offer glimpses into worlds both [...]

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The Urban Scientist

You Should Know: Shareef Jackson

Welcome to my second installment of You Should Know, where I give my own #ScholarSunday salute to Science Bloggers and Blogs you may have been sleeping on. Introducing…. Shareef Jackson and ShareefJackson.com Shareef Jackson shares interesting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) news related stories at his website/blog of the same name. He discusses science [...]

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The Urban Scientist

Go Big Red!! I’m at Cornell and I want to meet you at Yuri’s Night

Cornell_University

I mostly dropped some hints on Twitter and Facebook, but now I am officially announcing it: Trumpet blares: I have transferred to Cornell University. I’m doing the same work, continuing my post doc, but I have a new glammy shingle to hang on my door, embossed insignia on my business card: Last fall I was [...]

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The Urban Scientist

Wordless Wednesday: Transit of Venus

Tiny dot at 1 o'clock on the white circle is Venus!!

I couldn’t sit back and NOT see something that only comes through every 105 years. So I got off of my duff, drove down to Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma Science Museum to see the Transit of Venus It was nice crowd.  At first there were only 40 people or so, but by 5pm (my [...]

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The Urban Scientist

Getting ready for the Annular Eclipse May 20, 2012

credit: NASA

When Halley’s Comet last come around (the Earth) was so excited about it.  I was checking out books, making special folders and writing up my own reports of the celestial event.  I made plans to camp out on the front lawn – which was a shared common plaza because I lived in an apartment complex [...]

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