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Posts Tagged ‘astronomy

“Listen now for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new!”*…

 

Telstar

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Newton Minow, famed Chairman of the FCC during the Kennedy Administration, recalled visiting NASA with the President, who asked him about a satellite they were shown:

I told him that it would be more important than sending a man into space. “Why?” he asked. “Because,” I said, “this satellite will send ideas into space, and ideas last longer than men.”

Greg Roberts, a retired astronomer and ham radio operator (ZS1BI in Cape Town) has been observing and recording the sounds broadcast by satellites since 1957.  He’s collected his recordings so that one can hear “ideas traveling through space,” for example, Telstar.

Hear them all at “Sounds from Space.”

* NBC News, introducing the “beep-beep” chirp transmitted by the Sputnik satellites

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As we look to the skies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781 that English astronomer William Herschel detected every schoolboy’s favorite planet, Uranus, in the night sky (though he initially thought it was a comet:; it was the first planet to be discovered with the aid of a telescope.  In fact, Uranus had been detected much earlier– but mistaken for a star:  the earliest likely observation was by Hipparchos, who in 128BC seems to have recorded the planet as a star for his star catalogue, later incorporated into Ptolemy’s Almagest.  The earliest definite sighting was in 1690 when John Flamsteed observed it at least six times, cataloguing it as the star 34 Tauri.

Herschel named the planet in honor of his King: Georgium Sidus (George’s Star), an unpopular choice, especially outside England; argument over alternatives ensued.  Berlin astronomer Johann Elert Bode came up with the moniker “Uranus,” which was adopted throughout the world’s astronomical community by 1850.

Uranus, photographed by Voyager 2 in 1986.

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Written by LW

March 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”*…

 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death” c. 1562

 

Researchers at Oxford University have compiled a “scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion”

The scientists from the Global Challenges Foundation and the Future of Humanity Institute used their research to draw up a list of the 12 most likely ways human civilization could end on planet earth.

“[This research] is about how a better understanding of the magnitude of the challenges can help the world to address the risks it faces, and can help to create a path towards more sustainable development,” the study’s authors said.

“It is a scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion, certainly, but even more it is a call for action based on the assumption that humanity is able to rise to challenges and turn them into opportunities.”

* Joesph Heller, Catch-22

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As we count the ways, we might send heavenly birthday greetings to Nicolaus Copernicus. the Renaissance polyglot and polymath– he was a canon lawyer, a mathematician, a physician,  a classics scholar, a translator, a governor, a diplomat, and an economist– best remembered as an astronomer ; he was born on this date in 1473.  Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres; published just before his death in 1543), with its heliocentric account of the solar system, is often regarded as the beginning both of modern astronomy and of the scientific revolution.

Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind – for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic – religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.

- Goethe

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“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

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