Solar Science

Improved measurements of sun to advance understanding of climate change

Ok, the article speaks for itself, but I had to discuss one minor element. People always relate “solar cycle” and “solar radiance.” They are not particularly related. The sun’s output does change over time, but the solar cycle is a measurement of the suns magnetic field interacting with some sub-surface solar jet stream. The amount and speed of the particles hitting the Earth is related to the Solar Cycle, but not the irradiance. The Irradiance hasn’t been well measured or correlated to anything. Is the sun weaker than yester year? Why? No idea.

Now, particles from solar storms do impact the Earth and may relate to heating and cooling trends. This may explain the relative weakness of the heating cycle of the last decade.  But you have to separate irradiance and particle flow, because as far as I know, they aren’t related. Right now, in this extended solar minimun, we have a very low particle flow. We also appear to have a low irradiance. They MIGHT be related. However, the trend is long term, not 12 year cycles.  In any case, this new satellite may tell us a lot.

My Horoscope last week from the Onion

Pluto rising in your sign indicates trouble in your work life, which is problematic because, well, for astronomical reasons, Pluto will be rising in your sign for the next 87 years.

Umm… They are sick and twisted.  Is that enough reason?

Terrible Secret: I like Astrology

No, I didn’t confuse Astrology and Astronomy. Technically speaking, I have been a professional astronomer. (I have been paid to do professional work in Videography of Meteor showers and am part of a publication on Lunar Impacts.) Yeah, real astronomy.

Apparantly a real astronomer looked at the variation of the rise of constellations with date, and noticed that the shift had been…well… like a month. Now, people have been using the “traditional dates” since long before I was born. These dates were accurate back in Babylon, but currently are sufficiently in error, than the Astronomer decided to re-state the dates.

According to astronomers at the Minnesota Planetarium Society , here’s how your date of birth aligns with the constellations:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11
Pisces: March 11-April 18
Aries: April 18-May 13
Taurus: May 13-June 21
Gemini: June 21-July 20
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20

Yeah, this just KILLS me.  I mean, I am a consumate Virgo! Everyone says so…now I am a LEO? My SISTER is a Leo. (and it never matched her well, I hope she enjoys being a Cancer, I always thought she was.) I am not a Leo, at least in my own mind…not that it ever made any difference to the horoscopes. Never had a horoscope (outside of the Onion) that I liked.  But the personalty profiles I thought were fun. Oh well, it was fun being a Virgo. My son is now a Scorpio, he loves Scorpions. He’ll like that. My wife … well … No great change. I had hopes, high hopes, of her ending up in Ophiuchus… In the words of the Immortal Sage “Missed it by THAT much.”

Just to talk about SCALE for a second.

Ophiuchus is famous for containing Bernard’s star, which is only 5.9 Light years away, our closest neighbor. However, it is a red dwarf and not very interesting otherwise.

Here is one of our closest neighbor Galaxies. It is actually easier to find than Bernard’s Star, which can give you an idea of how bright it must be. It is 35 Million light years away. Just to give you an idea of the scale of the universe. It currently takes about 6 months to get to Mars. If I could fly to Mars in an hour, traveling about 10 percent of the speed of light, the solar system is my oyster. I can travel all the way from Pluto to the sun in a few days. In a month I could explore the reaches of the Oort cloud. But, it would still take me 60 years to get to Bernard’s Star. Wow.

Now imagine I have a Starship with which can travel to our closest neighbor, Bernard’s Star, in about a day at 2000 times the speed of light. I can get to the center of the galaxy 50,000 light years away, in only 25 days. The Galaxy is now my oyster.  How close is our neighbor galaxies? They are still a 50 year flight away.

A picture of that galaxy, for your amusement.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
Explanation: Gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years distant, toward the constellation Leo. Spanning some 50,000 light-years, its central region is shown in this dramatic image, constructed from data drawn from the Hubble Legacy Archive. The close-up view highlights this galaxy’s characteristic multiple, patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust and clusters of young, blue stars. In constrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms. A relatively bright galaxy in planet Earth’s sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes, but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M66 and M65.


Sorry that this week has gotten me off to a late start. Huntsville Alabama, home of the warm winter and the hot summer…has had a very cold winter. Since Christmas Eve, when we watched “The year without a Santa Claus” it was clear that the deal between Cold Miser and Heat Miser had gone through. We now had to believe in Santa Claus.  Yes, Southtown got its Christmas Snow storm for the first time… I think ever. There have been some “trace” snowfalls on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day on about 6 occasions since 1929. The day after that one it was 51 degrees, and all the snow melted. This year we got 6 inches and it stayed all week. Total now is around 11 inches for the month. Amazing.

SO, some links on snow.

 Electron Microscopy Unit Snow Page and
Alaskan Lake Ice and snow Page

I found them fascinating. Here was a fun experiment to play with. Ice Spikes in your freezer .
Get some ice cube trays, big ole square blocks, and fill them with DE-IONIZED water. yeah, it apparently matters how much mineral salt is in the water.  Then freeze it nice and slow, and you get …

Have Fun !

Green Flash, and some pseudoscience.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

From Astronomy Picture of the Day – Explanation: Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn’t known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It’s a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash, as well as an even more rare blue flash, was caught in the above photograph recently observed during a sunset visible from Teide Observatory at Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. The Sun itself does not turn partly green or blue — the effect is caused by layers of the Earth’s atmosphere acting like a prism.

I include this partly because I went to Tenerife, the Teide Observatory, just to watch the Leonids Meteor shower back in November 2002. Beautiful place.  As I like to say, there is nothing like being 10 miles from a tropical jungle and nude beaches to remind you that you are sitting on a barren hunk of rock in the middle of a snow field. Beautiful sky, just beautiful sky.

Ok, just some junk I saw today and thought was funny.

Duh! The Most Obvious Scientific Findings of 2010

Meth can harm an unborn child.
 – wow

Bullies pick on unpopular kids.

 – uh… wow

Smoking a lot of weed is bad for you.

 – wow, that is just deep…

Friendless kids are sad.
– but don’t deal with bff drama?

Guys prefer casual sex to dating.
– um, wow again, really deep result. How can I get into this study again?

Sitting in front of the TV all day can make a teen fat.
– Why wasn’t my skinny kid included in these results?

Novel way to lose weight: Eat less and exercise more.
– I’ll stick with the twinkie diet.

Caffeine affects kids’ sleep.
– yeah, after a cup of coffee it is hard to sleep at my desk!

Kids who study abroad drink more alcohol.
– There is probably a formula x = distance from parents and y is alcohol consuption. y = f(1/x)

Kids raised by gay couples do just fine in school.
Weird that they stick the controversial findings at the end of a set of absolutely non-controversial findings. I hate to equate worthless studies – caffeine affects kids sleep? – with a valuable study about sexuality and children. While this statement is fine, the article attached is a bit misleading. Specifically Lesbian couples raise kids to do well in school.  Though people want to use this study to prove just about anything involving gays. (Which says something about how few good studies out there show positive results for gays.)

Male partners with young boys in homosexual relationships and young girls in heterosexual relationships are unsafe. The more committed the relationship, the safer the male partner around the children. Kids are great in committed relationships, and lesbians appear to dominate the category. Not exactly what the author here states.

Happy New Year!

I just want to thank everyone for making this a great year. I hope I can put some Christmas pictures on here in the upcoming days. My wife has the camera, but we had a great time. As for the year as a whole, there have been high notes and low notes, but the director has said, “cut” and that year is in the can. Lets see what we can do with the new year.

If anyone has some suggestions, I would love to hear them.  I am working on a couple of novels and a couple of games, as well as some science related topics. I have a lot of (real) work on radiation effects waiting for me at the office, but nothing interesting for discussion online.

Oddly enough, my boss has actually re-opened the “Nuclear Rockets” can of worms.  I know several of your are Nuclear Rocket fans, so I will try to figure out what tools I can use to develop the concepts further. I am a big fan of nuclear electricity powering plasma engines, but the boss wants to go direct to Nuclear Thermal. For those of you who don’t know the difference (probably about everyone) I’ll have a full discussion later. I am a nuclear engineer, as well as a plasma physicist, so I hope I can explain it without making a hash out of everything.  (But not today, Mondays are not good for coherence.)

Have a Happy New Year! I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and I hope we all can look for many returns. Comment in regularly, I could use the feedback.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Someone pointed me to some lovely pictures of a snowflakes , much enlarged.  I’m having a bit of dificulty with the scale, as it has both 2.0 kV and x30 and 1 mm on the screen.  2.0 kV electron microscopes are good for measureing 1 Micron sized objects, so… I expect that 1mm doesn’t mean 1 milimeter, but 1 micron.  Still, odd to have a x30 on the screen.

This is a picture of a X30 view of a snowflake .

In any case, these look very different.

An image from an electron microscope could be 2 million times larger, but these appear to be on the order of a hundred times larger. 

Here is a good page  where you can see a few pictures at x450 magnificaiton with an electron microscope, and then compare that to the similar light magnification.

Have fun clicking about. Snowflakes can have that nice “standard shape” but they have many variations on the theme, needles, columns, grid hex.  Odd.  Worth looking at for a snow in day.

Let me check my notes