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Amateur astronomer Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa made this stunning solar system quilt in 1876. The quilt is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. From the Smithsoian's History Explorer:
Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education."Ellen Harding Baker's "Solar System" Quilt"
12 shots stacked into one frame. I shot 750 images and ended up with 35 photos with meteors in them but only used 12 since the rest were very faint.
Because sometimes nature just likes to mess with you, here's CFBDSIR2149. It's an object in space — a relatively nearby object in space, as evidenced by the fact that this is an actual picture of it — and scientists are pretty sure that it's a planet. If they're right, then CFBDSIR2149 is also a "rogue planet", so called because it doesn't actually orbit a star. Seriously. It's just hanging out in space, doing its own thing.
Also, it's not the first time a rogue planet has been identified.
In fact, these things are probably not even particularly rare. A 2011 study published in the journal Nature estimated that rogue planets might even outnumber normal stars by 2-to-1 in the Milky Way Galaxy.
It's worth noting that rogue planets do not seem to be Earth-like. For instance, CFBDSIR2149 is roughly the size of Jupiter and, with an estimated surface temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not exactly a pleasant place for people. As for rogue planets come from: That's a mystery. One of the things that makes CFBDSIR2149 special, according to Phil Plait, is that it's actually close enough to us that we can collect some good data on the thing.
Read Phil Plait's description of CFBDSIR2149 at the Bad Astronomy Blog
Read about rogue planets in a Science News story from last year
Image: CFHT/P. Delorme
Earlier this week, we learned that there is (most likely) at least one planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B. If you want to get really in-depth on this discovery, how it was made, and what it means, you should be reading Paul Gilster's Centauri Dreams blog.
I wanted to highlight this image, specifically, in order to quote some particularly evocative writing that Gilster posted yesterday. Cue the stirring music:
When planet-hunter Greg Laughlin (UC-Santa Cruz) took his turn at the recent press conference announcing the Alpha Centauri B findings, he used the occasion to make a unique visual comparison. One image showed the planet Saturn over the limb of the Moon. Think of this as the Galilean baseline, for when Galileo went to work on the heavens with his first telescope, the Moon was visually close at hand and Saturn a mysterious, blurry object with apparent side-lobes.
Laughlin contrasted that with [this image], showing the Alpha Centauri stars as viewed from Saturn, a spectacular vista including the planet and the tantalizing stellar neighbors beyond. Four hundred years after Galileo, we thus define what we can do — a probe of Saturn — and we have the image of a much more distant destination we’d like to know a lot more about. The findings of the Geneva team take us a giant step in that direction, revealing a small world of roughly Earth mass in a tight three-day orbit around a star a little smaller and a little more orange than the Sun. What comes next is truly interesting, both for what is implied and for what we are capable of doing.
Read the rest of this post, which explains what happens next with the research and why astronomers will be focusing their planet-hunting efforts on Alpha Centauri B.
OK, I know that I promised to never post anything ever again about a certain hypothetical disaster that rhymes with Schmapocalypse MiffyMelve, but hear me out. This really isn't about that. Instead, I want to highlight an excellent profile of a scientist whose work and interactions with the public have been affected by that unnamed bit of urban mythology.
David Morrison is a 72-year-old senior scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. He runs NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist" column, and considers it his way of following in the footsteps of Carl Sagan. In this story, written by Dan Duray at The Awl, we learn about Morrison's deep commitment to communicating science to the public ... a commitment that has led him to spend the last eight years answering a increasingly heavy flood of letters about the end of the world. It's an interesting look at the effects pop culture has on real people.
The questions that Dr. Morrison receives circle around a surprisingly cohesive set of theories, each grounded in some kind of real science that then veers off in a wild direction ... It's possible that many of the people who write to Dr. Morrison are trolls, or have Kindle books to sell, or want to garner enough YouTube views to merit an ad before their videos (some of the "Nibiru exposed" videos now feature a pre-roll for the conspiracy movie Branded). But his younger questioners certainly aren't faking it. He read me some of the more serious emails over the phone:
"I know that everyone has been asking you the same question but how do I know the world is not going to end by a planet or a flood or something? I'm scared because I'm in 10th grade and I have a full life ahead of me so PLEASE I WOULD REALLY LIKE AN ANSWER TO MY QUESTION."
"I am really scared about the end of the world on 21 December. I'm headed into 7th grade and I am very scared. I hear you work for the government and I don't know what to do. Can someone help me? I can't sleep, I am crying every day, I can't eat, I stay in my room, I go to a councilor, it helps, but not with this problem. Can someone help me?"
It's not all serious business, though. In one of the funnier moments, a 72-year-old man tries to figure out how to deal with YouTube commenters accusing him of being a secret Lizard Person.
Image: Apocalypse, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from torek's photostream
Filmmaker Matt Checkowski sends word of two cool new documentary shorts he produced for the University of California video series "Onward California." These episodes focus on the work of a UC Santa Cruz astrophysicist who has discovered two potentially human-inhabitable planets.
Most of the universe is incredibly hostile, it's a vacuum, it's freezing-cold space or you're burning hot near a star. The first habitable planet found outside our solar system is in a habitable-zone orbit; it's a place of refuge from the unbelievable harshness of the universe. This episode of Onward California follows Steve Vogt, a UC Santa Cruz professor of astronomy and astrophysics, into the Lick Observatory, where he has devoted years of research to find earth-like planets.
EDIT: This post originally went up with the wrong images. Sorry about that.
This is not a photograph.
But it's still amazing.
An important thing to remember about science is that some of the stuff we talk about in the general public as "fact" — like, say, black holes — haven't actually been seen by anybody. Instead, black holes exist on paper, as part of theoretical astrophysics. They also exist in indirect evidence — we can look for things in the universe that should exist in a certain way, in a certain place, if our theoretical astrophysics is correct. So far, that lines up, too.
And then there's this thing. Like I say, it's not a photo. It's more like a model. Telescopes — the kind we point at deep space — don't collect images, they collect information. This is a digital rendering made based on information collected when researchers pointed four different telescopes at a galaxy called (poetically) galaxy M87. What you're looking at is a series of simulations, over time, showing massive ribbons of gas undulating and spinning around the something at the galaxy's center. If the theoretical astrophysics is right, this is the closest we've ever gotten to seeing a black hole.
Read the rest
For no other reason than that they are gorgeous, the Cassini imaging team is releasing today a set of fabulous images of Saturn and Titan...in living color...for your day-dreaming enjoyment. Note that our presence at Saturn for the last 8 years has made possible the sighting of subtle changes with time, and one such change is obvious here. As the seasons have advanced, and spring has come to the north and autumn to the south throughout the Saturn system, the azure blue in the northern winter Saturnian hemisphere that greeted Cassini upon its arrival in 2004 is now fading; and it is now the southern hemisphere, in its approach to winter, that is taking on a bluish hue.
[B]ack here on Earth, the Cassini mission was recently given rave reviews by a panel of planetary scientists and NASA program managers for its contributions to our understanding of the solar system, a circumstance that bodes well for a well-funded continuing mission over the next 5 years. Despite the fact that we can't know exactly what the next five years will bring us, we can be certain that whatever it is will be wondrous.
Photo above: "A giant of a moon appears before a giant of a planet undergoing seasonal changes in this natural color view of Titan and Saturn from NASA's Cassini spacecraft."
Hellooooo, new desktop.
The brightest planets of the solar system are lining up right in the middle of this year's Perseid meteor shower display. The action peaks on the night of August 12. Meteor rates of up to 100 per hour are expected. More details on how to watch them here.
* Note: NBC plans to delay them by 4 hours.
[Video Link] Yesterday was the anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon in 1969, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Today, we discover this long-lost footage and audio from that historic moment. (thanks, inkfumes!)