on Gaia

Our knowledge of where things are in space is going to be changed forever. Over the summer, the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is going to release its first data, and with it, distances to two million stars. Eventually, once the full mission is complete, there will be distances to somewhere between one and three BILLION stars. This is…

on Gravitational Waves

Light waves are a fundamental way we interact with and understand the universe. It’s what our eyes see, and it was the first thing we saw through a telescope. In fact, when it comes to astronomy, light waves (whether gamma rays, X-rays, UV, optical, infrared or radio) are basically the ONLY way we can detect…

on eta Carina

eta Carina is one of the most impressive and noteworthy stars in the galaxy. Despite being thousands of light years away in the gigantic Carina star forming region, it’s bright enough to see from Earth (hence why it has a constellation-based Bayer name). But most importantly and interestingly, in 1843, it suddenly became the second-brightest…

on Vertical Landing

One of the most iconic sci-fi images is the gleaming rocket landing vertically, at which point our intrepid heroes step out onto that brave new world and… well, probably get shot at by the natives. It’s in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, it’s in The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon; it’s in The…

on the Closest “Habitable” Exoplanet

This week, an planet orbiting Wolf 1061 (aka GJ 628, aka LHS 419, aka HIP 80824, aka a bazillion other names because astronomers are like that) was announced. The planet Wolf 1061c is notable for three important reasons. It’s potentially only 4.25 Earth masses, and is therefore likely to be a rocky world. It’s found…

concerning the Impossible Space Drive

Sources like IFLscience (the real one, not the parody) and Slashdot are reporting that NASA has successfully tested their impossible space drive again. That’s incredibly misleading: Yes, the test was successful, but the engine itself isn’t. They already know it doesn’t work. They’re trying to figure out HOW it doesn’t work.

on the HDST

Some of the latest news about telescopes is the High Definition Space Telescope (HDST), proposed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) – the folks who run America’s national observatories. The HDST is, as currently drafted, an optical telescope (like the Hubble Space Telescope) with a 12-meter mirror made of folded segments…

in which Pluto is revealed

This is Pluto: The “Heart” region of Pluto, from the 8 AM press conference (but, due to light travel time delay, taken more than 4 and a half hours earlier) All the textbooks and all the future T-shirts and websites and posters will use these pictures of Pluto. We will never again not know what…

in which I watch a supernova explode

The Crab Nebula was a supernova that exploded in 1054. It is, in a manner of speaking, still exploding today. Don’t believe me? Voila! The animated .gif above shows two composite images – one from the Palomar Optical Sky Survey I, the other from the imaginatively named Palomar Optical Sky Survey II, which have both…

on the death of Dr. Charles Townes

By most accounts, Dr. Charles Townes was a remarkable man. Co-recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work developing the maser, and then the laser, and THEN he went on to have a 40 year long career in astronomy. That career was distinguished by more pioneering work on interferometry, which (as far…

on Alternative Writing Implements

Ever considered owning a fountain pen? In my mind (and my wife’s) fountain pens were those fancy super-expensive hard-to-use pens that rich snobs and characters from Victorian period dramas use to write elegant notes in perfect penmanship. They’re not for anyone who makes less than six figures, owns only one car, or isn’t devoting their…

on WriteLaTeX

(this post originally appeared in a slightly different form on bdnyc.org) We all love Google Docs. It’s a functional and convenient way to share and collaboratively edit documents across platforms, time zones, and even continents. We in the BDNYC group use it extensively. But what if you want to write a scientific paper? Google Docs,…