Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Milky Way is a Hungry, Four-Tailed Beast

Galactic cannibalism is seen throughout the universe as large galaxies eat up and merge with smaller ones. This process plays an important role in galaxy evolution and is quite common in galaxy clusters.

Our own Milky Way Galaxy participates in the process as well. Recently released findings from the third phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) have revealed two new streams of stars the Milky Way is ripping from the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, a small companion galaxy of the Milky Way.

Galaxies are not solid objects, but composed of many individual stars and clouds of gas and dust. As the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy orbits the much larger Milky Way, some of its stars are closer to us and some are farther away. The ones close to us feel a greater tug of gravity than the ones father away. The difference in gravitational forces starts distorting the galaxy and leads to long trails of stars both in front of the smaller galaxy and behind it in its orbit. The Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy has probably already lost about half its stars and gas to the Milky Way! Currently, the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy is all the way on the opposite side of the galactic center from us so it is very difficult to see.

We knew there were two tidal trails from the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy from previously released data. Those tails were near the north galactic cap. Now SDSS-III has released data from the southern galactic cap and Sergey Koposov and Vasily Belokurov of the University of Cambridge analyzed this data to find two new tidal streams. Interestingly, one stream is brighter than the other and appears to be composed of younger stars. Exactly how we got these two different streams with different properties is still a bit of a mystery, but we are getting a lot better at galactic interactions so you can bet people are already working on this one. One idea is that there were originally two dwarf galaxies out there interacting with each other as the Milky Way destroyed them. A collision with a clump of dark matter has also been proposed. Another idea looks at how streams can evolve over time, similar to meteor streams in our solar system.

As this galaxy continues to orbit the Milky Way, it will get ripped apart until there is nothing left but these streams of stars.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Four for Fridays

Hello everybody! Welcome back to another exciting episode of Four for Fridays! It's been an easy week, but I'm still thankful that it's Friday.... Here are some random questions..

1) Do you know how to work on cars?

2) What is your favorite cartoon character?

3) What is your favorite Christmas movie?

4) What is your favorite infomercial?

Enjoy your weekend!

Racine Makes Reuters' Online 'Oddly Enough' News

Not very good press for the Belle City of the Lakes: "Thanksgiving spat over chair ends in knife attack,"
Irregulars, omg, note the reporter at the bottom of the above story.

The coverage of the incident:

Open Blog - Friday & Weekend


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Toilet Town

Lying John Dickert and his cronies want to spend a third of a million dollars "updating" City Hall's bathrooms:

These are the bathrooms in need of "repair:"  Beautiful marble walls and ceramic tiles, stainless steel everything.  I could live in one of those bathrooms.  This is where our money goes - down the drain.

Remember, BUS schedules, garbage pickup, street lighting, and snowplowing are all being cut back because of Racine's budget crisis.  The seniors even got kicked out of their center because lying John jacked the rent up to $20K so his crony from the zoo could get the building.

But we DO have a third of a million dollars to replace the perfectly functional porcelain thrones in City Hall.

What kind of oinkers think like that?

Thanks to enicar333 for the the photos and the never-ending battle against the lies from City Hall.

Party on, lying John!

NASA MSL Tweetup: Launch Day

Okay, now to Saturday, November 26th: Launch Day! Launch was scheduled for 10:02 am. We had to get to the Cape by 6:45 for the morning festivities. Plenty of activity and excitement in the air.

My group went to the media center where we got a demonstration of NASA's Eyes on the Solar System website. This site has really interesting visualization tools you can use to look at data from NASA missions. One of my favorite is recreating the flybys of various planets and moons by different missions. Definitely something I am going to spend a lot more time playing with.

We went back to the the twent where our special guests started showing up including astronaut Doug Wheelock (first astronaut to check in on foursquare from space and frequent space tweeter), Bill Nye and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. I joked it was getting hard to keep track of all the celebrities in the room.

And one more to of the Black Eyed Peas who is an advocate for science education. It looks like he may be tweeting!

Okay, only a few minutes from launch...

We all had out our cell phones listening to the final launch poll during the last hold at t-4 minutes. Heard nothing but "go, go, go, go, go!" during the poll. Promptly at 10:02am, liftoff!

The sound of the launch takes a while to reach us. It is not as loud as I would expect, but it is very deep and you can feel those low frequencies! It is very bright at that distance., that is just as surprising as the sound. It should be noted that we were several hundred yards closer than the VIPS who were watching from the media center!

I drove aross the state to visit my father. Stopped to see some manatees (in the wild) on the way there and finished the trip with a sunset and dinner on the beach with Venus and the crescent Moon hanging low in the western sky.

Can't really say enough about the trip. NASA does a super job with these tweetups and I can't thank them enough for the experience. They are planning more so I encourage you to apply if you can. Follow their twitter account or keep an eye on the tweetup web page.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

NASA MSL Tweetup: Day 3

Okay, now I am up to Friday, November 25th, the day before the launch of Curiosity. Even though this is my third blog entry, it is the first day of the official tweetup. I picked up my badge on Wednesday morning, so I could drive straight to the media center. You kind of feel special driving up to the gate at KSC and flashing your badge and them letting you drive right on site.

Even before I went to the twent (tweetup tent) I had to stop and get a picture by the famous countdown clock. The clock wasn't on yet...would take another pic the next day when the clock was actively counting down. Our twent was just across the field from the clock.

The first activity was introductions. I was really looking forward to meeting the rapper funky49. Funky49 did the Fermilab rap video I blogged about a while ago and incorporates lots of science into his music. Even if you are not a rap fan, check it out if you are a science fan. I was also thrilled to meet Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World fame. Glad to say I got to chat with both.

After introductions, there was a break to enjoy and get ready for the main tweetup event at 11am. This part was televised and featured lots of speakers from NASA and JPL who worked on Curiosity. They talked about the science they hoped to accomplish, rover design and the launch vehicle. This part was televised and you can watch it online. At a tweetup it is not considered rude to be on your laptop/cell phone/iPad as long as you are tweeting about the speaker!

One of the really cool things during this section was a rover comparison. They brought out three wheels: one from the Sojourner Rover (1997), one from the current rovers (2003) and the third one from Curiosity (2011) to illustrate how much bigger this rover is than the previous generations.

After the formal program, we had a quick lunch and then it was off to our tours of the Cape. The first stop was the Saturn V center (different buses hit the stops in different orders..there were four buses taking us on tours). I saw it on Thursday, but it is always worth a second stop.

The one I was really looking forward to was the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is where they stacked the Saturn V and Shuttles. It's one of the largest buildings in the world (in terms of volume) and over 500 feet tall. Fortunately, I have a very wide angle fisheye lens for my camera, but it still cannot do the building justice!

But that's not all...there was a real treat waiting around the corner!

That's not a model! That is the real, flown in space, Shuttle Endeavor. It is currently being readied to be transported to the California Science Center where it will be displayed.

Next stop was Launch Complex 41 where the Atlas V stood read with Curiosity waiting for the Saturday launch.

This particular Atlas V has four strap on boosters and a five meter faring at the top enclosing curiosity. We couldn't go past the gate, but still got a great view of the rocket!

The last stop on the tour was a little more somber: Launch Complex 34. Complex 34 is the site of the Apollo I fire that claimed the lives of astronauts Grissom, Chaffee, and White. I found the understated plaque commemorating the fire especially moving.

After the tour, it was off to dinner in Cocoa Beach. Coming back from Cocoa Beach, I stopped on the side of 528 because the pad was nicely lit up. I had to take a couple of picks at different zooms. I had no tripod, so I had to settle for steadying my camera on the hood of my car.

Yep, another full day. Had to be at the Cape by 6:45am for the launch and I was having trouble getting to sleep!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"New Haiku Signs Will Make NYC Streets Safer Through Power Of Poetry"

Here's the story:

And here's a definition of Haiku poetry from Wikipedia:

"Haiku (俳句 haikai verse?) About this sound listen , plural haiku, is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:
  • The essence of haiku is "cutting" (kiru).[1] This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas[2] and a kireji ("cutting word") between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.[3]
  • Traditional haiku consist of 17 on (also known as morae), in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on respectively.[4] Any one of the three phrases may end with the kireji.[5] Although haiku are often stated to have 17 syllables,[6] this is incorrect as syllables and on are not the same.
  • A kigo (seasonal reference), usually drawn from a saijiki, an extensive but defined list of such words. The majority of kigo, but not all, are drawn from the natural world. This, combined with the origins of haiku in pre-industrial Japan, has led to the inaccurate impression that haiku are necessarily nature poems.
"Modern Japanese gendai (現代) haiku are increasingly unlikely to follow the tradition of 17 on or to take nature as their subject, but the use of juxtaposition continues to be honoured in both traditional haiku and gendai.[1] There is a common, although relatively recent, perception that the images juxtaposed must be directly observed everyday objects or occurrences.[7]
In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while haiku in English often appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku.[8]"

I think lying John and other city "leaders" should consider this for Racine. I could make a living writing street signs and accident rates would drop dramatically because everyone will be too confused by the signage to drive or walk anywhere.

NASA MSL Tweetup: Day 2

On to day 2: Thanksgiving. I have run a Thanksgiving Day race every year since 1993 and wasn't about to let a little thing like traveling break that streak. Fortunately, the Cocoa Beach 5k Turkey Trot (complete with live Turkey) fit the bill.

After a quick shower and breakfast, off to use my complimentary pass to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. Many of the tweeps did the lunch with an astronaut. I choose to pass on that (I have had lunch, dinner and drinks with enough astronauts I decided to spend my time exploring more). I hadn't been there since 2003 so a lot had changed.

The Space Explorers hall had a nice display of all the Mars rovers. You can see full size models of the Sojourner rover (1997), the Mars Exploration Rovers (2003) and Curiosity (2011).

The big new thing is the Shuttle Launch Experience which simulates a shuttle launch. Amazingly, there was no line for it. Thanksgiving Day wasn't very busy there. You get a couple of video briefings about what happens during a shuttle launch before the ride. They tilt you so you are laying on your back just like the astronauts at liftoff. It shakes pretty good for the first couple of minutes until the solid rockets drop off. Then it gets a lot smoother (which matches what I have heard about flying the shuttle). It's a pretty good experience. It's not a centrifuge so you don't truly get the full g-force, however (unlike Mission Space at Epcot where you get quite a bit of g-force!)

Quick lunch then on to the bus tour. First stop, launch pad 39 viewing area. A nice tower gives you great view of pad 39A and 39B and panoramic views of the entire complex.

Next to the Saturn V Center (I was here in 2010 for STS 132, the launch of Atlantis. I was in the VIP seats outside the Saturn V Center and went in so I have been here more recently than the rest of the center). They have all the consoles from the Apollo days set up and show you what happens in the three minutes prior to launch. Specifically, they simulate the Apollo VIII launch, the one that circled the Moon in December 1968. While the audio is playing, they light up the seat of person speaking so you know where they were sitting. After the simulated launch, onto the big Saturn V.

The sheer scale of a Saturn V is really not possible to capture in a pic. You just have to see that for yourself!

Finally headed back to the main visitor's center. Just in time to catch the afternoon talk by an astronaut (the same one that did lunch with an astronaut and people said he told the same stories and jokes). They also had a silly show based on Star Trek which involved some Romulan time travel and a Vulcan showing up to save the day. They incorporated some science demos and NASA references of course.

I really wanted to get pics of the rocket garden at night, but they didn't turn on all the lights, only lit up the Saturn 1b! Oh, well. Here is what I got.

And they decorate for the holidays.

Thanksgiving dinner was a group of about 30 tweeps Occupying Cracker Barrel (you had to be there). Day 3 coming soon!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

NASA MSL Tweetup: Day 1

I recently has the pleasure of joining 150 other twitter users at the tweetup for the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity. A lot happened so I am going to do several blogs breaking it down day by day.

NASA has hosted quite a few tweetups (I believe this was the 31st). Tweetups are gatherings of NASA's twitter followers at a NASA center. Tweetups sometimes correspond to launches but have been held at other times as well. You always see a whole flurry to tweets from these events. The tweetup for the launch of Curiosity was held at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch. The launch was originally scheduled for November 25th which meant the tweetup would be on the 23rd, take the 24th off for Thanksgiving, and launch on the 25ht. A faulty battery pushed the launch to the 26th and the tweetup to the 25th. Therefore, when I arrived in Florida on the evening of the 22nd, I found myself with an extra free day. (Oh, there was a great dinner where all the tweeps met at Dixie Crossings on Tuesday night!)

The first thing I did was go to pick up my badge and swag. I knew they were giving us a free pass to the KSC Visitors Center that I planned to use Thursday, so I had to pick it up this morning. Met another tweep from Tucson at the hotel breakfast and drove over with her.

I spent the rest of the day exploring a couple of areas adjacent to the KSC. The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is immediately north of the KSC. This 140,000 acre refuge houses a wide variety of wildlife in marshlands and hammocks. Lots of great trails for hiking and observing wildlife. Note: bring bug repellant.

A path on Palm Hammock

Railraod tracks passing through the wildlife preserve used to bring rockets to the Cape.

A great drive is Bio Lab Road. Bio Lab Road actually goes through Canaveral National Seashore and comes out in the Wildlife Preserve. This road is a great place for birding.

I also went to the National Sea Shore. I only went to the southern part near KSC (it is huge). The beaches are wonderful, but you occasionally come across things like telescopes used to watch launches.

Fr0m the very southern end of the sea shore is the best place to get a view of launch pad 39B.39B was used for shuttle launches but is the first pad to be converted for the next generation of NASA rockets. The Ares 1-X test flight lifted off from 39B.

Tweetups are fun things. I went by myself but through twitter, managed to meet up with others throughout the day. I went to dinner that night with a bunch of tweeps at a local BBQ joint.

So you can see that even though there were not any formal tweetup activities that day, there was plenty to do! Stay tuned for day 2.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Dear Madame Zoltar

Hello, my iconic Irregulars! How are you? Happy last day of November. And still no s-word on the ground. Shh. Maybe Old Man Winter will sleep through the next three months. Well, I don’t really think there is much chance of that. Yesterday the wind was so brisk that I wore my winter coat for the first time since last winter. I put it on and reached into the pocket, and guess what I found? No, not a fifty dollar bill. It was a used Kleenex from last year. Oh dear.

Our renowned Green Bay Packers took a bite out of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, extending the Packers’ record to 12-0. Their next victims are the New York Giants, this Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3:15 PM in MetLife Stadium. How can you take a team seriously when their home field is named for an insurance company? Ha-ha! Or a brewery, for that matter. Oh my.

As usual of late, there is nothing in the news but gloom, despair and agony. I won’t sully my lips by commenting on any of it, but I will offer you my latest political theory, which I have humbly entitled the ‘Zoltar™ Effect.’ It goes like this: the integrity of any given politician is in inverse proportion to that politician’s willingness to campaign for office. All of the serious, honest, responsible people that I know would dread being the center of national attention. None of them would want to go on the road, making endless promises and shaking endless hands and kissing endless babies. None of them would want to deal with the hoopla and trauma of campaigning every single day, all day, in the national spotlight, for months at a time. The only people who want to do that are performers, of one sort or another. People who like to put on a show enjoy that sort of thing.

There’s nothing wrong with being a performer or actor. But I don’t think they are best suited to be the leaders of our country. I’d like to have thoughtful and loving brainiacs huddle together to plot our future rather than a gaggle of showmen and double talkers. I believe that the ‘Zoltar® Effect’ also explains why we are more likely to find honest people in politics on the local level than on the national level. The local level is a much smaller stage than the national level. That may appeal less to thespians.

So much for the heavy political thesis. Thank you for reading my blog this week, my dears. I appreciate your visits very much. Each and every reader connects with me when they read my blog. Thank you for sharing.

What do you really want for Christmas? Madame Zoltar© knows:

Oh my, tomorrow is already December. Time flies when you are having a good time, and I always have one with the Irregulars. Make sure your vehicles are ready for winter, my dears. Quidhampton!

Open Blog - Wednesday & Thursday

Read all about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"What is that?"

Mom's starting to get a little confused these days. How apropos that I received this video in an email.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I went to the Kennedy Space Center last week. There is a Space Explorers exhibit at the Visitors Center. They have a series of video to illustrate the danger presented by space travel. I was particularly taken aback by the one on the effects of microgravity. Watch closely. They seem to indicate that if you spend too much time in microgravity, you will go all Mola Ram on yourself.

I am surprised you could still do that after losing all the muscle and bone.

Open Blog - Monday & Tuesday

Whose legs are those?