Posted by Phil Plait

Just about 70 million light years away — a stone’s throw, in a cosmic sense — lies the galaxy NGC 2442. It’s a lovely example of a spiral galaxy, with two wide flung arms and lots of stars merrily being born in them.

But it’s also weird. I’ll get to that, because it’s not readily apparent in the first image I want to show you, but it will be as you read on.

The image below was created by astrophotographers Robert Gendler and Robert Colombari. They merged images taken by the space-based Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s ground-based MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla, Chile. What they made is magnificent:

The inner regions of the Meathook Galaxy, NGC 2442, using observations from Hubble and a 2.2 meter telescope in Chile.\

The inner regions of the Meathook Galaxy, NGC 2442, using observations from Hubble and a 2.2 meter telescope in Chile. Credit: HST/NASA/ESA/ESO and Robert Gendler and Robert Colombari


Oh, wow. Look at the detail! You can see the myriad reddish gas clouds forming stars strewn along the length of that one arm, and dark dust lanes obscuring the stars behind them. That bright blue patch is also a site of star birth; the massive, luminous stars born there are blue, and completely outshine the lower mass redder stars, giving that region its hue.

The central region of the galaxy is interesting. It’s not quite spherical, but neither is it elongated into a true bar, a rectangular-shaped volume of stars seen in many galaxies (including our own). I looked it up and, sure enough, NGC 2442 is classified as an SAB galaxy: a spiral that is intermediate between having a bar and not having one.

One thing that is hard to tell from this shot is why NGC 2442 was given its nickname: the Meathook Galaxy. Perhaps this wider-angle view will make that clear:

Wide-field view of the galaxy using the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope.

Wide-field view of the galaxy using the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope. Credit: ESO


Aha! That one spiral arm is oddly shaped, curved wickedly. This image doesn’t have the resolution of the Hubble one, so you can’t see the details as well, but that actually helps a bit in seeing large-scale features, like the reddish-pink gas clouds all along that long arm.

Why are they shaped this way? Most likely, NGC 2442 suffered a collision with another galaxy in the past —perhaps 200 million or so years ago — and the gravitational interaction between them drew out the arms like taffy. This is very common in galactic collisions, actually.

Interestingly, you can usually see the culprit intruder galaxy somewhere nearby, and that might be the case here. The fuzzy galaxy to the lower right is called AM 0738-692. Spectra taken of both galaxies show they lie at about the same distance from us, making it very likely the smoking gun. Not only that, but AM 0738 is also distorted-looking, with arms that look very much as if they’ve been pulled out by a recent encounter. Studies of both galaxies indicate that they may fall back together and merge in the next three billion years or so. Mark your calendars.

It’s funny. In galactic collisions, huge gas clouds will slam into each other, collapse, and form stars (that is likely why NGC 2442 has such fecundity, in fact). But stars are very small compared to the distances between them, so the odds of a stellar head-on train wreck are actually pretty small.

The inner regions of the Meathook Galaxy, NGC 2442, using observations from Hubble and a 2.2 meter telescope in Chile.

Detail of the inner region of the Meathook Galaxy showing a background galaxy. Credit: HST/NASA/ESA/ESO and Robert Gendler and Robert Colombari


That’s a weird thought, but take another look at that Hubble image of NGC 2442. Just below and to the left of the nucleus is another galaxy, a nearly edge-on reddish spiral. You might think that galaxy lies in the foreground, or else we wouldn’t see it. But that’s not the case: It’s clearly in the background, behind NGC 2442, probably much farther away! The big clue is that dark streak going across it to the lower right. You can see that this is a dust streamer in NGC 2442, itself, because it continues on well past the smaller galaxy’s edges. Also, the small galaxy may look red, because we’re seeing it through the dust of NGC 2442; these small grains of metals, carbon, and rocky material tend to scatter away blue light, making objects behind them appear red. It’s similar to why hazy sunsets look red.

But that tells you just how ethereal galaxies are! As mighty — and as solid — as they appear, they are actually mostly empty space, and even close to their cores, they’re translucent. It’s quite common to see background galaxies right through closer ones. That’s also consistent with the stars being so far apart inside them.

I love seeing images of galaxies like this. There’s so much to see! Even an initial inspection can reveal so much, but then when you dig deeper, you find out that there’s a lot more going on than you might initially think. It’s one of the reasons this sort of science is fun.


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The inner regions of the Meathook Galaxy, NGC 2442, using observations from Hubble and a 2.2 meter telescope in Chile. Credit: HST/NASA/ESA/ESO and Robert Gendler and Robert Colombari

gay novel from the early 80s?

Aug. 20th, 2017 10:38 pm[personal profile] dine posting in [community profile] findthatbook
dine: (bookbeach - jchalo)
I recently remembered a book I last read in the early 80s, but can't recall the exact title (or author) - I *think* it was called something like The Stairs on Avenue C but googling that and some keywords like 'book' 'novel' or 'gay' got me nowhere. it was a paperback about a gay guy in New York City (who lived on Avenue C?); and I vaguely remember the cover illustration was a doubling-back staircase - I think the cover was greenish. It was definitely no masterpiece and I think relatively negatively slanted; I can't remember if the protagonist turned out to be a serial killer or died, but that's the sort of impression I have. it was early in my discovery of gay lit, and I was gulping down anything I could lay my hands upon. and now I'm vaguely curious about it but unable to gratify that curiosity.

anyone have any pointers for where I might look?

"Wait And See"

Aug. 20th, 2017 11:47 am[personal profile] iain posting in [community profile] findthatbook

I recently had a very vivid and sudden recollection of a kid's picture book I read when I was pretty young... 7 or 8 maybe? Which would have put it back in the mid-1980s. I've been looking a while now, and I can't find any record that it ever existed.

The story revolves around a guy being frustrated with everyone in his town always putting him down (I think about his inventions?) and so he builds a giant robot that looks like himself to get revenge. At one point before the giant robot, there was a pet show, and he brought his robot bulldog. I can see the robot bulldog very clearly in my mind.

I thought "Wait And See" might have been the title, but that hasn't turned up any results. It was a recurring theme of the book though, someone would laugh about the guy's latest failed invention, and he'd say "Wait and see."

Most of what I remember about it though was the illustrations. It was very stylized, and appeared to take place in like, early 20th century America or the UK... lots of bowler hats or derbies, big curly moustaches, and I think pants with stripes. Gothic or victorian houses. Elaborate brass machinery. I think the illustrations were also kind of monochromatic. Might have been just line art with an ink or watercolor wash, if that even, but they were very detailed and quite interesting. For some reason, I associate it with Tommy dePaola and Maurice Sendak, although I don't think they're actually involved in any way, or that the art styles are even that similar. Maybe just that lack-of-perspective kind of illustration where everything is in flat planes, like layered scenery on a stage. Or maybe I was just reading a lot of those guys around the same time. Who knows?

Update: FOUND (kinda).

I found a bookstore that has one copy.

The book is called Wait and See. It was published in 1978. It's just out of print apparently, and never been digitized. The author/illustrator's name is Friso Henstra.

solarbird: (widow)

[I can't believe I'm saying "Canon in the 'It is not easy to explain, she said'" Overwatch AU, but, well, this is the fourth story in this set, so, I guess it's an actual second AU now. AO3 link.]

[It is helpful to know that Widowmaker (in canon, and here) has a tattoo on her arm which incorporates the French word for "nightmare."]

It is not easy to imagine, thought the Widowmaker, propped up a little on pillows but between her two lovers, Lena, Tracer, sprawled along her right side, hands and arms jumbled about everywhere, like always, and Emily, Kestrel, on her left, arranged so neatly, even in sleep, even halfway through the night, even after turning over a few times, always tucked back in like the little hawk, her namesake in battle. Not even when it is real and in front of me.

She took one of her long, slow, deep breaths, and felt her heart beating, even more slowly than usual, so calm, so quiet, so at rest.

Were Gérard and Amélie like this? she wondered. It seemed impossible. Not just because that was only two, and this was three, and therefore obviously so much better, and not just because they were human, baseline human, with childhoods, and growing up, and stumbling about blindly until they figured how to make a life - though that last part, she finally understood, at least, a little - but because this, this perfection, it, too, seemed so impossible, so to conceive of it happening twice? Ludicrous. Foolish girl, she smiled to herself, it could not have been so... this.

It had taken some time to come up with a bed that the three of them could share. Widowmaker's low body temperature meant she needed similarly lower temperatures for real comfort, particularly in sleep, and both her lovers were so very warm. It'd been Angela's idea, a mattress made of medical thermal control columns, temperature regulated, sensing who lay where, and adjusting, automatically.

The doctor had got a paper out of it - modified to discuss burn victims and others with particularly sensitive skin - and had done fairly well from the patent rights. But Widowmaker didn't care about that. Widowmaker cared that she could sleep with her lovers whenever she wanted to, and whenever they wanted her to, and it would just work.

She breathed in the scent of her brown-haired love, the teleporter, nuzzling down a little into that silly, tossed hair. Unimaginably wonderful. She shifted just a little, carefully, and did the same of her red-haired love, the flying officer, and the scent was so very different and yet so much the same. So wonderful.

And softly, so softly, her breath caught, and water pooled in her eyes, and she sniffed, not wanting to, but she still did, and she tried to stop herself, to stop the tears, but that just made her laugh, just a little, and trying to stop that, too, made more of all it it happen.

Emily awoke, blinking, but lay still except to look up towards the sniffling. "Sweet? What... are you crying?"

"No," whispered Widowmaker. "Yes."

"Oh, love, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Go back to sleep." She laughed a little more, shaking again, and from Lena came a little "mmf?" and she blinked those big brown eyes that Widowmaker could see so clearly even in the low light.

"You too. Go back to sleep."

"Wuzzit?" said Lena, awake enough now to attempt words, but still, at least half asleep.

"But what's wrong?"

"Nothing," sniffed Widowmaker. "Nothing. Nothing." She leaned over and kissed the half-asleep Lena on top of her head. "Everything is wonderful," and then did the same for Emily.

"Why're you crying?" asked Lena.

"I am... so happy," said the blue assassin, half-sobbing, smiling, confused, but not caring. "I..."

She stopped, and her eyes opened wide.

"I found it," she whispered.

"What?" asked Emily, reaching up to run her fingers through Widowmaker's hair.

"Yeah, love - what?" asked Lena, reaching up to do the same from the other side. Her hand met Emily's, and she smiled, as their fingers intertwined.

"Perfection." She brought her two lovers tightly against her, laughing, crying, all at the same time, the emotions, they are too much she thought, gasping, but that is also perfect. "This perfection."

Lena blinked. "You mean... like before? At the beginning, when you were made? But... here, now? ... with us?"

Widowmaker nodded, not being able to put it into better words. "Everything is so beautiful."

"Oh my god."

Emily chuckled. "You're beautiful too, you know that, right?"

"Love, no, she means it. Losing this is why she left Talon."

"Yes," whispered the spider.

Oh. Emily hadn't been there when the assassin had told the story, but she remembered it, and how it affected Lena. "And now you've got it back?" she asked.

"Yes," nodded the Widowmaker. "It is... different. But better." She sniffled. "Everything is so beautiful."

"Is any part of this bad?" asked Emily, a little worried, a little unsure, a little amazed. The assassin's body always carried tension, tension she could feel in her muscles, feel almost in her skin. And she did not feel it. It was... gone.

"No," breathed the Widowmaker. "Oh no, oh, oh no. It is wonderful. I am so happy."

"You sure?" asked Lena.


"Completely sure?" asked Emily.


"Good," said Lena, as the three snuggled back in together, and the three of them slowly drifted back to sleep.

What would my makers think of me now? wondered the spider, as she slid back towards her dreams, laughing, to herself, just a little. And then when she did sleep, she slept smiling, finding her dreams new, and happy, and not unlike her life now, found, new, and happy.

She would need to change her tattoo. No more nightmares. None. At least, not, for now.

Click here to go see the bonus panel!

I mean, the rainbow thing is just a phenomenon due to refraction. How self-centered do you have to be to think it's just about you?

New comic!
Today's News:

Geeks! Just about 10 days to get in your submissions for BAHFest Seattle and BAHFest San Francisco. We're going to have some really awesome geeks on stage, so please submit soon for your chance to be part of things!


Aug. 19th, 2017 05:04 pm[personal profile] soundofsunlight posting in [community profile] findthatbook
soundofsunlight: A stack of books with a cup of tea. (books)
We now have tags for genres. (Copied over from the LJ group.) I will endeavor add more categories in the next week or two. Right now I gotta run, got a lot to do today!

Please let me know if anything is missing, or if something isn't working correctly, etc.

I hope everyone's having a good weekend! :)

Non-Cornish pasties

Aug. 19th, 2017 01:00 pm[personal profile] azurelunatic
azurelunatic: Chocolate dessert, captioned No Artificial Shortages  (no artificial shortages)
Belovedest has mentioned a few times that it's hard to get your hands on a nice meat pasty around these parts. I contemplated the matter and asked a few questions.

At length, it seemed like it was a good day to try.

My reliable source for understanding the principles behind what I'm cooking is Serious Eats. So I read through the pie crust stuff again. (Incidentally, the site is a clickbait hole for DELICIOUSNESS.)



2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces; 350 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces; 280 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 85 milliliters) cold water

I looked at the amounts involved.

There was no way that I was going to be able to fit all that flour and butter into my food processor, which is an attachment to my stick blender. I looked closely at the amounts.

It so happens that the ratio of cups of flour to sticks of butter is 1:1. So I decided that I could make a test batch, one cup and one stick. The salt and sugar is less important, and in fact the sugar is kind of not what I wanted for a pasty dough.

I put 2/3 of the flour together with the butter and a bit of salt, then added a little water and more of the flour. (Probably not how I should have done it.) Then I mixed it in a larger bowl with a little more water. My hands are rather hot, so I tried to cool them down with ice.

I wrapped it up in cling wrap and let it cool off in the refrigerator. I pulled it out a few hours later, and quartered the dough. I saw that it had distinct stacked layers, like a good steel blade. I was thrilled.

I rolled it out in the best tradition of my mother, between two sheets of parchment paper. (There is no rolling pin in this kitchen. I used a glass.) I stuck it back in the refrigerator, still between the sheets, to wait while I prepared the filling. (Parchment paper and waxed paper are easier to handle than cling wrap, for this.)

This was not a Cornish pasty. [personal profile] wohali said something about a chicken curry pasty, and I went "Oooo!" and she advised that you can use pretty much any chicken curry recipe, just dryer than usual.

I went for it.

My basic chicken curry is chicken plus a brick of golden curry sauce plus assorted vegetables, and oil as needed. This time I decided to cook the chicken thigh meat so it would be easy to separate from the bones in my multifunction fancy rice cooker, along with some spiced oil left over from a previous recipe, and some dry onions. I cooked the vegetables and the curry brick separately, only combining them all (and some potato flakes to sop up water and oil) at the end. My partner is much better at handling chicken meat in all its phases than I am, and stripped the meat from the bones before I mixed them together.

I did roll it too thin, and I let it get too hot when filling it.

Despite the holes, I stuck the crust together with egg wash, and egg washed the outside. (I used the leftover egg wash to make a little bit of curry scrambled egg, which my partner ate on top of their salad.)

I'd wisely said that if the food was not going to be ready by 10pm, we should eat something else. The pies came out of the oven just as we were finishing chicken nuggets, but we still had enough room to test half a pie each.


I will be making these again. And the dough process is relatively simple with the tools at hand, so my partner (who can follow a recipe, but isn't yet the cocky ass in the kitchen that I am) may wind up learning the process too.

I put together a bit of sweet pie dough just now, and it's chilling in a ball in the refrigerator. I'm thinking that some fruit pies might be in order...

Posted by Phil Plait

As I make my final preparations for my eclipse travels (rural western Wyoming, if you’re curious) I’m hearing stories that are making me very unhappy: Some school districts across the country are telling children to stay inside during the eclipse, out of fear they’ll damage their eyes.

Let me be clear: Schools, administrators, teachers, parents: Don’t do this. YOU CAN LET THE KIDS SEE THE ECLIPSE. You just have to be safe about it.

I understand the reasoning behind this fear. Looking at the Sun without protecting your eyes can in fact damage them (more on that in a sec), and there are some companies selling fake eclipse glasses, ones that say they are rated for safety but aren’t*.

Given that, worrying over the safety of the vision of schoolchildren is natural. However, forbidding them from seeing the eclipse is overkill, and completely unnecessary.

First, a great number of eclipse glasses are fine. The American Astronomical Society has a list of vendors known to be safe. If the ones you have are on that list you should be okay. If not, you can perform some easy tests to see if they work or not, and again the AAS has you covered (Update: I had originally written that you can ONLY see the Sun through real glasses, but it turns out very bright LEDs can be seen (somewhat faintly) through them. Don't throw out good glasses because of this! Still, check the list to make sure they're OK. Thank to Christopher Becke for the note.).

My friend Stephen Ramsden, who runs the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project (he travels all over the American southeast showing people the Sun through his incredible suite of telescopic equipment), has a page up on Facebook with descriptions and pictures of some glasses that aren’t up to snuff. I suggest following him there for updates. He has also personally given away thousands of glasses from Rainbow Symphony; I have some of these and I like them. If you got your glasses from Stephen, you’re good to go.

Second, and this is very important too, you only need to protect your eyes during the partial phase of the eclipse. That’s from when the Moon first starts to edge into the Sun’s face until it completely blocks the solar surface. Totality, when the Sun is completely blocked, is perfectly safe to look at, even with binoculars or other equipment. That lasts about two minutes; check your local listings.

When totality ends — the Moon slips off the face of the Sun — you need to have protection on again (it’s even more important at this point, because when the eclipse is total your pupils will open up to let in more light, so when totality ends that flash of light can do even more damage). To be safe, give yourself plenty of padding in time near the end of totality. Give it a good 20 seconds or so before the end to stop looking.

pinhole projection of an eclipse

My friend Anne Wheaton literally punched a pen nib through a paperboard ticket to project an eclipse from 2012 onto a friend's jacket. Credit: Anne Wheaton

Third, you don’t even have to look at the eclipse directly to enjoy it! You can very easily make a pinhole projector, which will magnify the image of the Sun and project it onto a piece of paper. This costs almost literally nothing (two sheets of paper and a thumbtack), protects your eyes, lets you enjoy the eclipse when it’s partial, and is also educational! It’s also fun: The kids can punch a bunch of holes to make patterns, spell their name, create a cartoon character, whatever. My friend Emily Lakdawalla has a fantastic worksheet online on how to do this (it’s even been translated into multiple languages).

So I implore you, please, please, please don’t prevent your kids from seeing this eclipse! It’s a wonder of nature, a chance to learn science, a chance for them to have fun, and a chance for them to stretch their imaginations. These are all things we must encourage in them, and the Universe is giving us a gorgeous chance to do all of that at the same time.

* Let me be clear about that: Any person who knowingly sells fake eclipse glasses is a piece of human filth. They could be hurting tens or hundreds of thousands of people, including kids. There is no circle of Hell painful enough for these monsters.


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Bad Astronomy, solar eclipse, Great American Total Solar Eclipse 2017, Eclipse, science, eclipse glasses, how to watch eclipse, kids and eclipse
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A woman uses safe eclipse glasses to view the partial solar eclipse over Greece in 2015. Credit: Shutterstock / Ververidis Vasilis

Farm update

Aug. 18th, 2017 07:08 pm[personal profile] sasha_feather
sasha_feather: horses grazing on a hill with thunderheads (horses and lightning)
I love the farm. I just love how quiet and peaceful and gorgeous it is.

The adolescent guineas and pheasants in the shed get meal worms as a treat. Meal worms are the BEST, according to them. The internet says that pheasants are wild and won't tame down, but apparently these sites don't know about meal worms. Anyways, today I picked up the bucket where they are stored, and one of the guineas was so excited that she Flew At Me, hit my chest, bounced off and ran away.

Abbie had a couple of good sprints down to the barn and back.

Today I saw:
A hummingbird feeding off the cannas
A Monarch butterfly
A female cardinal
A woodpecker (I just heard this)

"What next?"

Aug. 18th, 2017 02:11 pm[personal profile] graydon2
graydon2: (Default)
Warning: this has turned out to be a .. long post.

Recently, on the twitters, Stephanie Hurlburt suggested that it'd be healthy for people who have been around the computering industry for a while (*cough cough*) to take some "audience questions" from strangers. I obliged, and someone asked me an interesting one:

"After memory safety, what do you think is the next big step for compiled languages to take?"

Setting aside the fact that "compiled" languages have had various more-or-less credible forms of "memory safety" for quite a long time, I agree (obviously!) that cementing memory safety as table stakes in all niches of language design -- especially systems languages -- continues to be an important goal; but also that there's also lots more to do! So I figured I'd take a moment to elaborate on some areas that we're still well short of ideal in; maybe some future language engineers can find inspiration in some of these notes.

Before proceeding, I should emphasize: these are personal and subjective beliefs, about which I'm not especially interested in arguing (so will not entertain debate in comments unless you have something actually-constructive to add); people in the internet are Very Passionate about these topics and I am frankly a bit tired of the level of Passion that often accompanies the matter. Furthermore these opinions do not in any way represent the opinions of my employer. This is a personal blog I write in my off-hours. Apple has a nice, solid language that I'm very happy to be working on, and this musing doesn't relate to that. I believe Swift represents significant progress in the mainstream state of the art, as I said back when it was released.

That all said, what might the future hold in other languages?

so many things )

"Warding gestures*

Aug. 18th, 2017 02:48 pm[personal profile] rosefox
rosefox: A person in a gas mask. (safety)
My body: A tiny bit of post-nasal drip leading to slight throat soreness, probably just allerg—


My body: —look, forget i said anything, okay?

I refuse to get sick. REFUSE. R E F U S E. J has had a horrid cough for a week and is on antibiotics and prednisone (when they prescribe prednisone to the guy with insomnia, you know it's bad), X is wrapping up a course of antibiotics for a throat infection, and J had to do that for his own throat infection last month. So far I've been fighting off all the respiratory bugs Kit brings home from daycare, but I don't take my ability to do that for granted. And I can't take most antibiotics without serious mood effects because apparently I depend on my gut flora for emotional management, so I have to be extremely diligent about my preventive care.

I'm going to go have spicy curry for lunch and drink some ginger honey tea. Fuck off, germs.
yatima: (Default)
If I'm honest with you, I'm probably much too close to this book to have a fair opinion of it. On the other hand, it's a gorgeous, loving, clear-eyed and critical portrait of the world in which I live. In a week that felt hopeless, this book gave me a beautiful and hopeful place to be, and I adored it without reservation.
Powell’s Books beckoned to us in red, black, and white, like a flag for a new America. One that’s educated, homegrown, and all about sustaining local book culture.

Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe-havens where the polluted noise of the outside world, with all the bullies and bro-dudes and anti-feminist rhetoric, is shut out. Libraries have zero tolerance for bullshit. Their walls protect us and keep us safe from all the bastards that have never read a book for fun.

Juliet is a fat 19yo Puerto Rican lesbian writer from the Bronx, spending her summer in Portland, Oregon, interning with Harlowe Brisbane, the white feminist author of Raging Flower: Empowering your Pussy by Empowering your Mind. Shenanigans ensue, and they are gloriously, heartbreakingly real: a science fiction writing workshop honoring Octavia Butler; a reading at Powell's that goes horribly wrong; a queer POC party in Miami.

Rivera is brilliant on the rollercoaster that is growing up one or more kinds of "other" and trying to be true to your authentic self before you have quite figured out what that is.
You are your own person, Juliet. If it’s a phase, so what? If it’s your whole life, who cares? You’re destined to evolve and understand yourself in ways you never imagined before.

She is also extremely acute on the specific failures of white feminism. At a moment in history when our alliances may or may not save the world, it's on white women to understand how our thoughtlessness can inflict deep injuries on our best allies. And it's on white women to stop that shit.

This is a first novel and unpolished, but it's a huge shiny diamond full of light and color and my favorite thing I've read in the challenge so far.

Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Look, it's like 400 BC. All of math is a couple theorems for plane geometry and maybe some number theory.

New comic!
Today's News:

Just twooooo short weeks left to get your proposal in for BAHFest Seattle or BAHFest San Francisco! We are always looking for more submissions from women, so please nudge your nerdy ladyfriends!

Posted by Phil Plait

Oh my, this has been quite a week. A lot of poisonous things are happening politically in my beloved country. I am quite politically active — if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or read any of my political posts, you know this — and the past few days have been no exception.

And while I will not stop nor even rest for long, there are times when a short break is needed to detox the brain, what has become popularly known as “self-care.” So, as I sat in front of my computer, I thought to myself: “How about a beautiful time-lapse video, something with gorgeous imagery, uplifting music, interesting science, and a message that can be used to make the world better?”

So I searched my emails to see if anyone had sent me a note about such a video, and lo, I found just such a message. It was from photographer Sriram Murali, who, like me, is concerned that we’re losing the night sky. Light pollution — light from buildings, fixtures, and so on sent needlessly up instead of down, where we need it — is stealing the stars from us. To document this, he went to various locations with different levels of dark skies, and shot the same part of the sky from each to compare the view.

And to do so, he chose a celestial icon, something that almost anyone will recognize: Orion. The result is not only lovely, but (if you pardon the pun) eye-opening. So watch “Lost in Light II, and you know the drill: Make it full screen, high-res, and enjoy the music, too:


Ooph. As the video progresses, and the sky gets darker, so many treasures become visible. Now, of course the camera captures more than the eye does; digital detectors are more sensitive, and time exposures get deeper and show fainter objects. Still, the lesson is told. Orion has bright enough stars to see even in pretty light-polluted skies, but the real power of it ramps up as the sky background light ramps down (incidentally, Murali made a video he called "Lost in Light," the precursor to this one, which showed the Milky Way in various conditions, but found it wasn't resonating since it's not as familiar a sight, so he redid it with Orion).

There’s a lot to look at in the video. Did you see Barnard’s Loop, a sweeping reddish glowing arc of hydrogen gas curling around the lower left of Orion? Not before the sky got to level 4 at worst. How about the Orion Nebula, the middle “star” in Orion’s dagger? In the first parts of the video it does look like a star, but as the sky grows darker, its true nature as a premier star-forming gas cloud becomes more obvious.

I enjoyed seeing geosynchronous satellites, too: satellites orbiting so high off the equator that they orbit in the same period it takes the Earth to spin. As the stars move, the satellites appear to remain stationary, and they’re obvious if you let the stars flow past your eye in the latter parts of the video. Orion’s belt is on the celestial equator, so the satellites are easiest to see there.

And while some people are familiar with the bulge of the central part of the Milky Way in videos like this, it’s easy to forget that the galaxy stretches all the way around the sky, and the bright stars of Orion punctuate it off to the side. That is apparent again only in the latter parts of the video, when light pollution drops.

And those red waves that look like clouds you can see sweeping across the sky? That’s airglow, gas molecules high in the atmosphere gently releasing the energy from sunlight they accumulated all day. That takes fairly dark skies to see at all, and is something you’ll never see at all from even a moderately light-polluted location.

Now, remember: All of these beauties are there in the sky all the time. You just can’t see them due to wasted light.

So, what can you do to make sure your skies are pristine? It’s not easy, but it’s not all that hard either. The International Dark Sky Association has a list of resources that can help. It mostly boils down to using light fixtures that don’t point up. Seems simple, right? The hard part is getting governments to invest in them. These features tend to save money in the long run, but do cost money initially. Still, a lot of towns and cities are moving in this direction, and there are even dark sky sanctuaries being established.

I find that hopeful. There are lots of practical reasons to do this, but in the end, what motivates me to talk about it is the beauty. The art. The way the stars touch us, move us, inspire us. They show us that there are concerns outside of our petty lives, there are vast things, ancient things, things that dwarf our human existence and yet remind us that we are a part of them and owe our existence to them.

Certainly, we need to remember that this past week. But there is never a time, never a moment, in my life where that much larger reality isn’t affecting my own much smaller one. I think it makes my life better. I hope it does yours, too.


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Title shot from "Lost in Light II", a time-lapse video about light pollution. Credit: Sriram Murali

"Have I told you lately"

Aug. 17th, 2017 08:38 pm[personal profile] rosefox
rosefox: Me looking at Kit and both of us grinning. (me and kit)
It's my late night at the office. I videocalled home to say goodnight to the baby. They were tired, so after a while they waved bye-bye. I said "Okay, Kit, bye-bye! I love you!" and signed love you.

And they signed love back.

Me: [tears]
X: [tears]
Kit: [earnestly signing love at the camera]

My baby told me they love me. I'll just be here in a little melted puddle forever.



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