Time Delay: Stephen Colbert interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson

colbert-degrasse-tyson

“There is no shame in not knowing. The problem arises when irrational thought and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

One of the most enjoyable videos that I’ve seen is watching is Stephen Colbert interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a delightful romp through the mind of one of our most engaging scientists.

At one point, Colbert asks Dr. deGrasse Tyson about discoveries that have changed our point of view about the universe without us being aware of it. While he doesn’t actually answer Stephen’s question, Neil relates the incredible impact of what many today would classify as useless theoretical discovery that is little more than scientific masturbation: quantum mechanics. While the science was almost totally useless in the 1920s, it’s the foundation of our computer/smartphone/technological age.

His lesson: don’t believe that research is useless … because it isn’t.

Click here for that conversation but really watch the whole thing!

Habitable Exoplanets

holiday-planets

NASA’s Kepler Mission is a spacecraft observatory that scans a single large area of the sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. It simultaneously measure variations in the brightness of over 100,000 stars every half hour, searching for the half hour to half a day “winks” in light output that happen when a planet transits, aka passes in front of its star. Transits are only seen when the star’s planetary system is nearly perfectly aligned with our line of sight. For a planet in an Earth-size orbit, the chance of it being aligned to produce a transit is less than 1%, and the change in light akin to the dimming of a flea crawling across a car’s headlight and viewed from several miles away. Check the videos for more of an idea of how this observatory works.

It was named in honor of Johannes Kepler, who described the motions of planets about the Sun in a precisely predictable manner. Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has confirmed over 2000 planets. If you’d like to try your hand at sifting through the Kepler data, check out planethunters.org. Also check out the Kepler Mission on Facebook, where I learned that William Borucki, science principal investigator for the Kepler mission, received the National Academy of Sciences 2013 Henry Draper Medal for founding concept and visionary leadership of the project.

Image via the Planetary Habitability Library, who have a really cool collection of projects related to extra-solar life. Image Credit: The ‘X-mas Planets’ is a collage of computer generated images of habitable worlds by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) over an image of a section of the De Mairan’s Nebula (Messier 43) taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Earth is at the top right. This image was done to celebrate the first year of the PHL’s Habitable Exoplanets CatalogCredit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo (phl.upr.edu), ESA/Hubble, NASA.

 

Driven by the wind

Driving into the future by Kevin Dooley

Wind Map says:

An invisible, ancient source of energy surrounds us—energy that powered the first explorations of the world, and that may be a key to the future.

This map shows you the delicate tracery of wind flowing over the US.

It’s a windy day all across the nation today. The U.S. has really increased wind power generation over the last decade. Wikipedia sez wind is over 3% of our total power mix now. While we lag Denmark  at 26%, Portugal (17%), Spain (15%) or Ireland at 14%, with almost 50,000 megawatts of capacity, we are second in the world to China’s 62,733 MW.

This photo (Wind farm and greenhouse gas farm, together) is by Kevin Dooley, a leader in Creative Commons photography. See it bigger in his 100 most interesting slideshow. Kevin writes:

Hey look! Here on Interstate 10 near Palm Springs, California, we can see a wind farm that is saving the planet and a greenhouse gas farm that is destroying it.

What are we going to farm in our future? Millennia dead, dead end fossils or the invisible and ancient wind?

Looking up with NASA

Mt Shasta by NASA

I told someone about the amazement of the stars over Mt. Shasta and found this photo. I figured I probably better look up something about the Milky Way to justify it. What I found was NASA’s current missions page.

It includes a surprising number of diverse “missions” – satellites, probes and expeditions – that I found to be very reassuring and in several cases, very timely and each delivering some very cool data!

I hope that we can please continue to find funding as a nation explore our universe … I’m sure that we can look at our priorities or maybe even some of us can afford a little more in taxes to pay for this.

Let me also say: “Well done NASA, you definitely know how to name a mission.”

The photo is Mt Shasta by NASA. It was posted by Viktor Reinhart, and he has a bunch more shots in his Mt. Shasta slideshow.

Sun Monster

This video is from the Flickr stream of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. They write:

So how BIG was that 'Monster Prominence'?

When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless.

The photo to the right shows the relative size of the flare using the Earth, and you can click to see a hi-res still from the event.

Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own

thank you,

 

Listening to this, I wonder why the title wasn’t the line that defined Kennedy’s first inaugural. My favorite line:

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Yeah, let’s seek that, ok?

Computers don’t understand real world space

John Underkoffler says that “Computers don’t understand real world space” … until now. At 5:20, things start to get pretty crazy. These systems are already deployed, and he thinks we’re just 5 years away from mass consumer access to this.

via TED via Real-world Minority Report computer interface from kottke.org:

John Underkoffler was one of the science advisors for Minority Report. After doing that, he helped build a computer with an interface very much like the ones in the movie … you know, where Tom Cruise flings stuff around on a screen with his hands. In this TED talk, Underkoffler demonstrates the system.

Yay Steam!

The photo is titled Diana visits a steam engine in Hesston, Indiana. I found it near the top of the Creative Commons “steam” photos. Kevin Dooley is a person whose photos I run across a lot because I do Absolute Michigan and he does very popular Michigan photos that he makes available via Creative Commons*.

This photo can be seen in context in Kevin’s Diana slideshow. Anyway, the subject was steam. Specifically, the steam engine. Specifically, Thomas Newcomen, creator of the first practical atmospheric steam engine who was born on or around and most probably before February 24, 1664 in Devon, England.

A devout Baptist, Newcomen worked as an ironmonger, fabricating and selling metal parts. Devon had plenty of tin mines around.

But flooding was a major problem in the mines, and water often had to be often pumped out of the mines — by human or animal power. It was for this task that Newcomen created the first practical steam engine. It was the prototype of the machinery that made the Industrial Revolution possible.

The initial design of Newcomen’s engine used a vertical brass cylinder with a piston connected to a rocking beam. A copper boiler sat below the cylinder to heat the water to boiling. When the piston was at the top of its range of motion, water was sprayed into the cylinder. That cooled the insides, condensing the steam within. This formed a vacuum, pulling the piston down. The boiler, still on, then reheated the steam, driving the piston up again.

Repeating this process caused the rocker beam to rock up and down: a working steam engine. Newcomen’s 1712 design attached the working end of the beam (opposite the piston) to chains that descended to pumps located deep in the mine.

*All photos on this blog are Creative Commons licensed … it was a decision I made years ago and I’ve been amazed at the cool people I’ve met through this simple policy.