Can You Tell a Star From a Galaxy?

Okay. I’m on an astronomical binge as of late. I’ll admit it. Hello, my name is Joseph. I’m an astronomer.

Hello, Joseph.

It turns out that humans are far better than any machines at pattern recognition tasks and one of the greatest has to do with figuring out if something in the night sky is a star, a galaxy, a nebula, your mother-in-law, …

Astronomers at Portsmouth, Oxford and Johns Hopkins would like your help. There’s plenty to do and despite being at it for quite a while there’s still over a million objects to classify (don’t suppose they’re saving the good stuff for themselves, do you?)

galaxy M100

Readers with spare time and eyeballs can go to Galaxy Zoo. Better hurry, though. This site has become quite a hit. “Galaxy Zoo 2 will go live in the near future featuring a much more
detailed classification system, while further off we plan GalaxyZoo 3
with lots of exciting new data. We’ll notify all of you via the
newsletter when we’re able to start these two new endeavors.”

Better get your nebular clusters while the gettin’s good.

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The Stellar Career of Brian May

In keeping with our stellar theme documented in Did the earth move for you?, Have you met Eris? You might have known her as Xena and Lunar Eclipse Tonight, we now say a belated congratulations to Queen guitarest Brian May.

Queen guitarest Brian May

Brian May, Queen guitarest, is now Brian May, PhD in astrophysics.

Queen…are there any readers who’ve never heard nor heard of Queen? Bohemian Rhapsody? Another One Bites the Dust? We Are the Champions?

Their music has appeared just about everywhere. My favorites were an opening to the Cheers tv show and in Ella Enchanted. We play CDs in the office most of the day and all fall quiet when Queen is on.

Brian May started his studies at London’s Imperial College, became a star that others studied rather than studying the stars for roughly forty years, and is now back studying the stars. No doubt he’ll still be studied.

I can appreciate his work. On stage and off.

Congratulations, Dr. May.

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Lunar Eclipse Tonight

[[Note this post was originally written on 20 Feb 08]] Tonight, around 10pmET, there will be a lunar eclipse. I seem to be looking to the skies a lot lately (Have you met Eris? You might have known her as Xena). I was going to offer a pointer from NECN, went to the site, did a search for eclipse and got “Meanwhile, Democrat Barack Obama has raised $32 million this month for his presidential campaign, an amount expected to eclipse fundraising for Hillary…”

Yes, so much for that. Let’s try CNN…

Okay. A little better. This time, third entry down in a list provided by Google, is NASA – Eclipse Home Page and that has a link to Click for special web page on the Total Lunar Eclipse of 2008 Feb 21.

Time lapse movie of the 3 March 2007 lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipses are fascinating things. It is thought that the ancient Greeks saw the earth’s curved shadow during a lunar eclipse and realized the earth was round long before Columbus set sail.

As for us, we’ll be viewing the eclipse from a nearby ball field (Nashua, NH). Nice open area, good view of the sky. I’ve often brought one of my telescopes up there and spent a evening of joyful (re)discovery. There is a chance of clouds and perhaps snow showers, though.

If that’s the case, perhaps I’ll fly my LearJet up to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the moon. With apologies to Carly.


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Have you met Eris? You might have known her as Xena

A) I’m not talking about the Warrior Princess getting a makeover and B) just something I found interesting, another swipe at the mythologies I grew up with.

Quick like a bunny, How many planets are there? Eight? Nine? Ten? Bigger than a breadbox?

I think and am not sure that there are eight planets. Pluto, an old and cold (but not cold-hearted) friend I grew up with has officially been dwarf-planeted. No longer a planet but neither an also-ran, Pluto is too small to be an official “planet”. Once again, humanic egotism decides the rules of the cosmos.

Eris (also known as Xena) and her moon, Dysnomia (also known as Dysnomia)

And not only is Pluto no longer a planet, Pluto is not even the largest dwarf-planet. That honor goes to Eris, a dwarf-planet known as “Xena” to her friends, shown here with her moon, Dysnomia, also known as Dysnomia to her friends. Eris-Xena is 27% more massive than Pluto. Not sure where to go with that one. Does he need to beef up or does she need to go on a diet?

And how does this tie into the myths of childhood?

Jupiter, comin' at cha

Does anybody remember when Jupiter’s Great Red Spot of Jupiter was whacked by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9? I remember an NPR talk show (I think it was years after the fact) dealing with it and possible Armageddon (of course. I wonder if the Jovians were concerned?). I remember my earliest science readings (probably in Reader’s Digest) about the Great Red Spot; it was bigger than earth, you know.

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 whacks Jupiter

Forget the ripples this created in the Jovian atmosphere. Forget that we (Earth) could be next and here was an example of just how devastating such impacts could be.

Such things are abstract in the extreme to most people walking the planet. The human mind really can’t understand these things except at a superficial level. We’re still pretty much stuck with a “Find food. Stay warm. Reproduce” wiring.

But in that wiring are things we decide have permanence. One of the ways this concept of permanence makes itself known is in the catchphrases “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery”. We as a culture have decided these are difficult tasks and have elevated them to “permanent-difficult” status. These elevations can be extremely personal and private and can be thought of as personal myths.

For me, one of the things I elevated to permanent-trust status was that the planets were, well, the planets. One reason lots of people had a challenge with Pluto being demoted to dwarf-planet status is because that permanent-trust elevation was being violated.

So when The Great Red Spot got whacked? Ohh, c’est terrible! Thank goodness that when I wikipeded The Great Red Spot I learned it was still there. I think. This was Wikipedia, after all.

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Did the earth move for you?

Proving that not all reading I do is deep, dark and brooding, I bring you this from Earthmove. Go to the site and…umm…enter the closest city to where you live and the amount of time it takes you to have sex. Achieve orgasm. Both of you. If there are both of you (and no, this isn’t a slight to yesterday’s comment about self-love).

It turns out that the earth moves about 143 million km (88,856,080.49 miles) for the average person(s) during sex.

CupidHmm…So now on Valentine’s Day, should all those emails that my spam blocker is blocking not suggest increasing inches but increasing lightyears? I mean, doesn’t this add a whole new metric to “going the distance”?

Cupid and Psyche Romping in the FieldsHappy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Here’s to hoping the earth moves just far enough to make you and whomever you’re with very, very happy.

PS) I was almost going to list this post under “Experience” and thought, Naw….

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