Pete's Stuff

From Eternity to Here

What could this possibly be?


However Far Away

I'm a couple days late on this one, but that's OK. Those of you with some interest in astronomy have no doubt heard about the recent launch of the Kepler spacecraft, which was designed to systemically detect and catalog the variety of extrasolar planetary systems. The launch went well; "first light" was a success, and as a bit of a warmup exercise, Kepler then gathered its first real science data by measuring the light curve of an already-known exoplanetary system called HAT-P-7. And what a measurement is was! On August 6th, the Kepler team called a press conference to announce the results:

Source: Kepler Mission

It's amazing how much detail this shows, considering that HAT-P-7 is around 1,000 light years away.


Who's Special?

Recently I've been thinking about ideas that push the boundaries of what we - modern, 21st century Western-culture latte-drinking cell-phone-carrying TV-gossiping fashion-obsessed bipedal hairless apes - are willing to think of as "normal". I think there are some gaps between the world we think we live in, and the world we could actually be living in, even assuming it's still subject to constraints about what we believe to be historically, and physically, possible.

Here's an example - one day I started to ponder the following question: Could a species with intelligence comparable (or better) than humans have evolved at another point in earth's long history? That doesn't fit into the world view I'm talking about, but it certainly isn't a scentifically untenable hypothesis.


Neat Stuff on the Intertubes: Ka-Boom!

So what the heck is this, caught on video one night in August 2007? Hint: it's not a evening fireworks display.

Click on the still frame to play.

Click through and play the video to find out. (NB: I have lost the original source for the video and would love to give credit to the author, if I could! Unfortunately there is no name mentioned in the video.)


Baby, You're a Star! Part II

To continue my previous post, these are a few more interesting celestial "characters".


Baby, You're a Star! Part I

The next time you go outside at night, and it's clear with no moon out, look up. Did you know that each of those little stars you see has a personality? And I'm not talking about that joke calling themselves the "International Star Registry". Most of them look the same at first, but as you look harder you can tell some differences. First off, and most obviously, some are brighter than others. Looking more closely, there's subtle differences in color - some look white, others are bluish, some are yellowish, and some are reddish.

Astronomers go to a much higher level of detail by taking detailed spectra of stars - and even amateurs can do this with a small telescope and inexpensive equipment - and from those spectra they can deduce a number of things about individual stars. Tongue in cheek, here's a few of the more interesting "characters" in the sky above you.


Are You Doing Your Part for Science?

Usually the mail isn't very exciting - it brings you lots of junky "savings" inserts, crappy credit card offers, tax forms (or an audit if you're lucky), and maybe a notice of jury duty. So I was pleasantly surprised to find something undeniably positive in the mailbox today. But to explain it, I'll have to digress.


Neat Stuff on the Intertubes: Ocean Edition

Some interesting things I found on our favorite series of tubes.

Recording the sounds of the deep ocean

The Vents Program at NOAA uses buoyed, autonomous hydrophones to monitor low frequency sounds in the open ocean.