Wanda Diaz Merced is an astronomer at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office for Astronomy Outreach in Mitaka, Japan. Diaz Merced is blind and uses a technique to transform data from astronomical surveys into sounds for analysis. Over at Nature, Elizabeth Gibney interviewed Merced about how "converting astronomical data into sound could bring discoveries that conventional techniques miss." From Nature:
How did you begin your work with sonification?
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Sonification has been around for a long time. In 1933, for example, US physicist Karl Jansky reported detecting the first radio waves from space, as an audible hiss in his antenna. But at some point, visualization came to dominate the way we interpret astrophysical data. When I was an intern at NASA in 2005, my mentor, Robert Candey, wanted me to create a prototype data analysis tool that would familiarize blind people with space-physics data. So we developed software that could map astronomical data into sound — its pitch, rhythm and volume. Then, in my 2013 PhD dissertation at the University of Glasgow, UK, I proved that it is useful....
Can you describe a real-world example?
There are many. Sonification can help us to study the habitability of an exoplanet, by understanding how much high-energy cosmic and solar rays interact with its magnetic field or atmosphere. Such interactions cause fluctuations of electromagnetic emission from that star system that vary in a way that relates to frequency . BBut because astronomers usually separate out different frequency components into many graphs, this is easy to miss.
This year's episode of the grand meteor shower the Leonids will peak on Monday morning before dawn. The meteors are bits of debris dropping off the comet Tempel-Tuttle that intersects Earth's orbit every November. Unfortunately, it may be tough to see many shooting stars because activity this year will be low and the waning gibbous moon will shine brightly. Still, it's always fun and meditative to watch the skies. From EarthSky:
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In 2019, no matter where you are on Earth – and no matter when you watch, on the morning of the peak itself, or on the morning leading up to the peak – the best hours of the night for meteor-watching will be hindered by the bright moon. Those hours are between midnight and dawn, when Earth’s forward motion through space has carried your part of Earth head-on into the meteor stream.
Also in 2019, there’s really no way to avoid the moon. You’ll have to find a way to work around it. Try observing in a shadow of a large structure (like a barn), or in a mountain shadow. Just try to keep the moon out of view. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for a period, say, 15 minutes to half an hour. Just wait and watch, don’t expect too much, and see what you see.
We hear lots of reports from people who see meteors from yards, decks, streets and especially highways in and around cities. But the best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country.
David Schneider built his own radio telescope out of roof flashing, an empty paint thinner can, a free software-defined radio app, USB receiver, and a length of coaxial cable. The whole project cost him less than $150 and he's already used it to detect galactic hydrogen and monitor the motion of our Milky Way galaxy's spiral arms. (With a radio telescope, you look for and measure radio-frequency radiation emitted by astronomical objects.) From IEEE Spectrum:
Point at Cygnus and you’ll receive a strong signal from the local arm of the Milky Way very near the expected 1420.4-MHz frequency. Point it toward Cassiopeia, at a higher galactic longitude, and you’ll see the hydrogen-line signal shift to 1420.5 MHz—a subtle Doppler shift indicating that the material giving off these radio waves is speeding toward us in a relative sense. With some hunting, you may be able to discern two or more distinct signals at different frequencies coming from different spiral arms of the Milky Way.
Don’t expect to hear E.T., but being able to map the Milky Way in this fashion feels strangely empowering. It’ll be $150 well spent.
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Harun Mehmedinovic of the SKYGLOW project shares with Boing Boing this latest video from their project celebrating the beauty and importance of keeping the night skies dark. Read the rest
One of the smartest, most interesting people I ever knew once told me about a time when he got really interested in the problem of calculating the orbits of the planets based on the idea tha the Earth was stationary and everything was moving relative to it (this being one of the corollaries of the idea of a relativistic universe); I immediately thought of that project when I saw Aryeh Nirenberg's timelapse of the Milky Way where the sky is held stationary and the Earth is rotated -- such a simple and powerful way to illustrate relative motion! (via Kottke)
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The Perseid meteor shower peaked last night (8/13) but you'll still be able to spot them streaking across the sky through August 24. The meteors are particles left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. From NASA's Perseids page:
How to Observe Perseids Read the rest
If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes. (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.
While observing this month, not all of the meteors you’ll see belong to the Perseid meteor shower. Some are sporadic background meteors. And some are from other weaker showers also active right now, including the Alpha Capricornids, the Southern Delta Aquariids, and the Kappa Cygnids. How can you tell if you’ve seen a Perseid? If you see a meteor try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Perseus, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Perseid. If finding constellations isn’t your forte, then note that Perseids are some of the fastest meteors you’ll see!
Pro tip: Remember to let your eyes become adjusted to the dark (it takes about 30 minutes) – you’ll see more meteors that way. Try to stay off of your phone too, as looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and hence reduce the number of meteors you see!
Amateur astrophotographer Ethan Chappel was using his telescope to look for Perseid meteors on Wednesday night when he happened to capture an image of something very large slamming into Jupiter. It was most likely a massive meteor. From Sky and Telescope:
After running the camera data through a program designed to alert the user to just such transient events, Chappel spotted a flash of light in the planet's South Equatorial Belt (SEB). It expanded from a pinpoint to a small dot before fading away — telltale signs of a possible impact based on previous events observed at Jupiter....
If confirmed this would be the 7th recorded impact at the solar system's biggest planet since July 1994, when 21 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet in succession to create a rosary of dark impact boils visible in amateur telescopes.
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Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a vast storm system visible on the gas giant since at least the 1830s and perhaps the 1660s, is reportedly "unraveling."
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“I haven’t seen this before in my 17-or-so years of imaging Jupiter,” reports veteran observer Anthony Wesley of Australia, who photographed a streamer of gas detaching itself from the GRS on May 19th: The plume of gas is enormous, stretching more than 10,000 km from the central storm to a nearby jet stream that appears to be carrying it away. Wesley says that such a streamer is peeling off every week or so.
During Monday's super wolf blood moon lunar eclipse, some observers noticed a tiny flash on the surface. Turns out that was a football-sized meteorite smashing into the western surface of the moon. This was the first time a meteorite impact was spotted during a total lunar eclipse. Now, scientists will study images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to hopefully find the new crater, perhaps as large as 33 feet across. From National Geographic:
An eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit spotted the potential impact during the eclipse and reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light...
“The Earth and the moon are in such close proximity that observing the impacts on the moon can help us learn a lot more about the frequency of impacts on Earth,” explains (University of Toronto planetary scientist Sara) Mazrouei, who recently authored a study detailing an ancient spike in large meteor bombardment on the moon, and thus on our planet.
...Seeing the aftermath of smaller impacts on airless worlds like the moon can help scientists learn about the effects of larger strikes on all kinds of worlds—including our own, Madiedo says.
“By knowing what happens with smaller impacts, you could know what could happen with larger impacts without really studying a large impact on Earth.”
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Starting Sunday evening, Jan. 20, 2019, North and South America will have a chance at seeing 2019's only total lunar eclipse, from start to finish.
Our Earth, Moon and Sun line up on Sunday night for the only total lunar eclipse of of the year. Catch it if you can. Read the rest
One distant galaxy, one "very unusual repeating signal." But it's never aliens.
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...a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away. Such an event has only been reported once before, by a different telescope. ... The CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, consists of four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas, which scan the entire northern sky each day.
As his title indicates, Harvard astronomy department chairman Avi Loeb is an extremely credentialed astronomer. So when he asserted that an object currently passing through our solar system might just be the product of an alien intelligence - eyebrows went up. He made this argument in a scientific paper published on the 12th of this month, in the Astrophysical Journal, which is one of the top research publications in all of astronomy.
I got wind of this paper before its official release date, and reached out to Avi. And we ended up having the longest and most in-depth interview he’s given on this fascinating topic thus far. You can hear our full conversation by clicking below:
Avi’s generous availability delighted me, Because like anything connected to aliens, this story has Inevitably led to an avalanche of sound bites and clickbait.
It’s also triggered a fair amount of controversy amongst professional astronomers. The negative reactions have ranged from skepticism, to something verging on … moral outrage. But adversarial debate is one of the key mechanisms by which science advances.
There have been periods stretching for decades when the field of astronomy was divided over some of the most basic aspects of the cosmos. Is the universe expanding? Was there, or was there not a Big Bang? Are black holes a thing – or just a theoretical toy? Great minds lined up on opposite sides of these questions for large proportions of their careers.
Luckily we won't have to spend quite so long on the edge of our seats, because the debate Avi has triggered has a sell-by date. Read the rest
Art Donovan (previously) writes, "Delivered. A very special design commission for the Project Director of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. A 'white glove' delivery, in fact. The first lamp in 28 years that I simply could not trust to survive the
ravages of FedEx."
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In 1977, just a few months after Voyager 1 and 2 began their grand tour of the solar system, Carl Sagan gave the esteemed Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. You can watch them below via YouTube or at the Read the rest
spacecraft took this glamour shot of Jupiter on October 29, 2018, from about 4,400 miles (7,000) kilometers above the planet's clouds. From NASA
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A multitude of magnificent, swirling clouds in Jupiter's dynamic North North Temperate Belt is captured in this image... Appearing in the scene are several bright-white “pop-up” clouds as well as an anticyclonic storm, known as a white oval.
Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this image using data from the spacecraft's JunoCam imager.
JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and to process into image products at: http://missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam.
First discovered a year ago, Oumuamua is the strange cigar-shaped object of interstellar origin that flew through our solar system at 196,000 mph. Since it was first spotted, scientists haven't decisively determined whether it's a mildly active comet or something else. Now, astronomers Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have released a scientific paper asking if Oumuamua could be a "lightsail of artificial origin," part of a space probe developed by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Of course this is not a statement of fact but rather a question, albeit a very very interesting one. From CNN:
"'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," they wrote in the paper, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The theory is based on the object's "excess acceleration," or its unexpected boost in speed as it traveled through and ultimately out of our solar system in January 2018.
"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment," wrote the paper's authors, suggesting that the object could be propelled by solar radiation.
"COULD SOLAR RADIATION PRESSURE EXPLAIN ‘OUMUAMUA’S PECULIAR ACCELERATION?" (PDF)
(image: artist's impression of Oumuamua, ESO/M. Kornmesser) Read the rest