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Posts Tagged ‘astronomy

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination”*…

 

The 1603 Sphaera stellifera globe by Willem Janszoon Blaeu showcases cutting-edge seventeenth-century astronomy in three dimensions. Designed by printmaker Jan Saenredam, it is also stunningly beautiful. It features highly accurate observations of the Northern Hemisphere, and pictures the newly discovered constellations of the Southern sky, offering them as heavenly proof of the success of the Dutch colonial enterprise…

Read more– and find a version that you can zoom and turn online– at “Spin a 3-D Representation of a Beautiful 17th-Century Celestial Globe.”

* Henry David Thoreau

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As we locate ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1790 that the  Aztec Calendar Stone (or Sun Stone or Stone of the Five Eras), which had been buried by Spanish conquistadors at El Zocalo in Mexico City, was rediscovered during repairs to the Cathedral there.  Perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture, it depicts the five eras (the Five Suns) of Aztec civilization; and, while it is called “calendar stone,” it appears to have been used as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar.

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Written by LW

December 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing”*…

 

J. Presper Eckert, foreground left, and John W. Mauchly, leaning against pole, are pictured with the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Mauchly and Eckert were the masterminds behind ENIAC, arguably the first modern computer. When it was fully operational, ENIAC filled up a room 30 x 50 feet and weighed 50 tons. Every second it was on, it used enough electricity to power a typical Philadelphia home for a week and a half.

 

The ENIAC– or least a good bit of it– has been saved…

Eccentric billionaires are tough to impress, so their minions must always think big when handed vague assignments. Ross Perot’s staffers did just that in 2006, when their boss declared that he wanted to decorate his Plano, Texas, headquarters with relics from computing history. Aware that a few measly Apple I’s and Altair 880’s wouldn’t be enough to satisfy a former presidential candidate, Perot’s people decided to acquire a more singular prize: a big chunk of ENIAC, the “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.” The ENIAC was a 27-ton, 1,800-square-foot bundle of vacuum tubes and diodes that was arguably the world’s first true computer. The hardware that Perot’s team diligently unearthed and lovingly refurbished is now accessible to the general public for the first time, back at the same Army base where it almost rotted into oblivion…

Read the whole story– and see more photos of computing, v1.0– at “How the World’s First Computer Was Rescued From the Scrap Heap.”

* Emo Philips

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As we praise the preservationists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish observed the first pulsar– “pulsating radio star.”  A highly-magnetized, rotating neutron star, a pulsar emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation that can only be detected on Earth when it is being beamed in our direction (so seems, from Earth’s vantage, to be pulsing).  Pulsars have short, regular rotational periods, so produce the pulses that we detect at very precise intervals.

Schematic view of a pulsar. The sphere in the middle represents the neutron star, the curves indicate the magnetic field lines, the protruding cones represent the emission beams and the green line represents the axis on which the star rotates.

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Written by LW

November 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There is music in the spacing of the spheres”*…

 

… just one of the collections to be found at NASA’s Soundcloud stream.

Here’s a collection of NASA sounds from historic spaceflights and current missions. You can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” every time you get a phone call if you make our sounds your ringtone. Or, you can hear the memorable words “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” every time you make an error on your computer…

Or just listen with wonder…

* Pythagoras

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As we tune our ears, we might send celestial birthday greetings to Fred Lawrence Whipple; he was born on this date in 1906.  An active astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory for over 70 years, Whipple discovered a variety of asteroids and comets, came up with the “dirty snowball” cometary hypothesis, and designed the Whipple shield (which protects spacecraft from impact by small particles by vaporizing them).

You can hear a comet like the ones that Whipple studied here.

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Written by LW

November 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself”*…

 

Did you ever wonder where you came from? That is the stuff that’s inside your body like your bones, organs, muscles…etc.  All of these things are made of various molecules and atoms. But where did these little ingredients come from? And how were they made?…

Find the answer at “How much of the human body is made up of stardust?

* Carl Sagan

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As we hum along with Hoagy Carmichael, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that the first American edition of Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita was released.  Finished in 1953, Nabakov was turned down by publishers ranging from Simon & Schuster to New Directions, all concerned about its subject matter.  Nabakov turned to Maurice Girodias and his Olympia Press, and published in France in 1955.  Though it received almost no critical attention on release, Graham Greene called in “one of the three best novels of 1955″ in a year-end wrap-up published in the Sunday Times– provoking a response in the Sunday Express that the novel was one “one of the filthiest” ever.  Surprisingly to many, the novel’s American launch elicited no official response.  But it registered hugely with the reading public: it went into a third printing within days and became the first novel since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks.  Lolita is included on Time‘s “List of the 100 Best Novels in the English language from 1923 to 2005,” and it is fourth on the Modern Library’s 1998 “List of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century.”

Cover and half-title page of a presentation copy of the first American edition, inscribed by Nabokov to his wife, Vera ( “Verina verae Nab Aug. 1958 Ithaca”) and embellished with a delicately-rendered butterfly.

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Written by LW

August 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Sure, black holes can kill us, and in a variety of interesting and gruesome ways. But, all in all, we may owe our very existence to them”*…

 

If you want to see a black hole tonight, just look in the direction of Sagittarius, the constellation. That’s the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and there’s a raging black hole at the very center of that constellation that holds the galaxy together.

- Michio Kaku

So, which came first:  the galaxies spread through the universe, of the black holes that hold them together? Ethan Siegel answers and explains.

* Philip Plait, Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End…

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As we raise our eyes, we might send star-struck birthday greetings to Johann Rudolf Wolf; he was born on this date in 1816.  A distinguished astronomer and mathematician, Wolf wrote on prime number theory, geometry, probability, and statistics; but he is best remembered for his work on sunspots.  Working from Heinrich Schwabe’s suggestion that sunspot activity was cyclical, Wolf calculated the period of the cycle at 11.1 years; he was among the first to establish the connection of sunspot activity to geomagnetic activity on Earth; and he developed a way of quantifying sunspot activity– the Wolf number, as it is known– that remains in use.

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Written by LW

July 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things”*…

 

A few years back, 12 million of us clicked over to watch the “Pachelbel Rant” on YouTube. You might remember it. Strumming repetitive chords on his guitar, comedian Rob Paravonian confessed that when he was a cellist, he couldn’t stand the Pachelbel Canon in D. “It’s eight quarter notes that we repeated over and over again. They are as follows: D-A-B-F♯-G-D-G-A.” Pachelbel made the poor cellos play this sequence 54 times, but that wasn’t the real problem. Before the end of his rant, Paravonian showed how this same basic sequence has been used everywhere from pop (Vitamin C: “Graduation”) to punk (Green Day: “Basket Case”) to rock (The Beatles: “Let It Be”).

This rant emphasized what music geeks already knew—that musical structures are constantly reused, often to produce startlingly different effects. The same is true of mathematical structures in physical theories, which are used and reused to tell wildly dissimilar stories about the physical world. Scientists construct theories for one phenomena, then bend pitches and stretch beats to reveal a music whose progressions are synced, underneath it all, in the heart of the mathematical deep.

Eugene Wigner suggested a half-century ago that this “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics in the natural sciences was “something bordering on the mysterious,” but I’d like to suggest that reality may be more mundane. Physicists use whatever math tools they’re able to find to work on whatever problems they’re able to solve. When a new song comes on, there’s bound to be some overlap in the transcription. These overlaps help to bridge mutations of theory as we work our way toward a lead sheet for that universal hum…

Read the harmonious whole at “How Physics is Like Three-Chord Rock.”

* Henri Poincare

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As we hum the tune eternal, we might send astronomical birthday greetings to Allan Rex Sandage; he was born on this date in 1926.  An astronomer, he spent his career first at the Palomar Observatory, then at the Carnegie Observatory in Pasadena, where at the outset, he was a research assistant to Edwin Hubble, whose work Sandage continued after Hubble’s death.  Sandage was hugely influential on his field; he is probably best remembered for determining the first reasonably accurate value for the Hubble constant (there ate those chords again) and the age of the universe– and for discovering the first quasar (again, those chords).

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Written by LW

June 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”*…

 

From the good folks at Chrome Experiments, a wonderfully-informative interactive map of the stars in our corner of the universe.  Readers can zoom around our galaxy at “100,000 Stars.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we pause to celebrate the birth of the archetypical “Renaissance man,” quite possibly the greatest genius of the last millennium, Leornardo da Vinci (born on this date in 1452), we might also send starry-eyed birthday greetings to Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve; he was born on this date in 1793.  A renowned astronomer, Struve is known both as the founder of the modern study of binary (double) stars, and as the second in a five-generation-long dynasty of great astronomers: he was the son of the son of Jacob Struve, the father of Otto Wilhelm von Struve, the grandfather of Hermann Struve, the great-grandfather of Otto Struve.

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Written by LW

April 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

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