It’s for the best

27 08 2008

So from what I understand, I’m not supposed to use my blog space to discuss life’s bumps — only the victories.  Well, that being so I’m going to write about the last couple of weeks anyway.

I hinted I had something in the works a few posts ago, and I was really hoping to get to spread the good news today.  But alas, it isn’t to be.  I got the call from NASA yesterday.  I didn’t get the job.

The lady on the phone was very nice.  Made sure to explain just how close I got to getting to call myself a NASA consultant.  Explained that I live just a little too far from Houston, TX to be the best candidate.  That there was nothing wrong with my interview, or experience, or enthusiasm.  There was just this guy who happens to live close by…

It was probably for the best.  I’ve got so many irons in the fire right now that an additional job (even temporary) might cause the rest of my work to suffer.  Still, I wanted to have that title for a while.  I just wanted the chance to teach astronomy again.

There’s a reason that Arkansas has been experiencing a ‘brain drain’ for so many years now.  I’ve looked into the faces of my students for the past decade and seen such great potential.  Such great desire to succeed.  They attend public school in the state until they’re old enough for college life and then they cope with the reality that their destinies will most likely take them from this gorgeous landscape I thrill over and love.  It doesn’t matter what they want for a career — musician, lawyer, actor, …physicist — the only way to reach the top of any of these professions is to go elsewhere.  (Yes, yes, many businessmen have done just fine here, but I’m talking about using talents and skills of a broader sense.)

If all the talented people leave the state, then why would any reputable company set up shop here?  And if there are no inspired (and inspiring) companies here, why would the talented people stay?  The vicious cycle will not be broken in your lifetimes.  I’ve worked with state legislators on this problem for years.  I know what it would take to stop the bleeding, but your leaders want instant results.  People don’t vote for realists, they want a politician who has a get-rich-quick scheme up his/her sleeve.  In science we learn that if an interaction doesn’t occur, conditions will not change on their own.  Real change requires a change in what we do.  You must willfully cause an action for a reaction to happen.  If you want skill and talent to remain here, then you must make here better than the alternative.

That means building civic buildings to house theaters, science centers, art galleries — you know, cultural stuff.  Any businessman knows you design your company to attract the type of customer you want.  When you look at how a particular city spends its tax money, you see what kind of population they want to grow.  What do you see when you drive around Arkansas?  More importantly, what would you like to see?  What changes would have to happen for you to fulfill your dreams here?   When you don’t want to go to where the action is, how do you bring the action to you?  It’s not an easy thing, and sacrifices have to be made for the short term.  But the payout means so much.  The state even has a surplus right now that could get us off to a good start.  Of course, a state lottery could help too…  [Sorry, too much political posturing for my nature.  Let’s get on to the moral.]

As much as I like for my students to stay near enough for us to visit, I would rather them be successful.  They deserve it.  They work so hard and overcome such huge challenges.  I see in them all the possibilities of a future I’d like to happen.  I know that through them, I might even change the world.  For that chance, I’d gladly miss a cool consulting job or two.  And that’s why I encourage them to go off and not fear following a path that might lead them to never return.

It’s for the best.

New cool thing I’m too chicken to try

19 08 2008

Promise me that even though this looks like it would be totally cool and might actually get you noticed by that hot girl at the party and will certainly strike fear in the hearts of your enemies and could possibly make you legend within your class/department/social group that you will never, ever try this!

Well, if you can’t promise that could you at least promise to call me when you do try?

Where do impactors come from?

19 08 2008

In a recent study by researchers at MIT, one of the biggest questions in planetary science may have been answered. For years we’ve known that the composition of a majority of meteorites didn’t match the composition of most of the near-Earth asteroids (NEA) we’d seen. This means that even though we worry about having an asteroid slam into us out of the blue, those that cross our paths haven’t really hit us that often in the past. So then where do they come from?

As reported in the August 14 issue of Nature, the smaller rocks that most often fall to Earth come straight in from the main asteroid belt out between Mars and Jupiter, rather than from the NEA population. How do we know? Studying the spectral analysis of an object can tell you it’s chemical makeup. Each chemical gives off a ‘spectral signature’ in the light it emits. Turns out that about two-thirds of the NEAs fall under a category of asteroid known as LL chondrites. However, only eight percent of the meteorites found on Earth are of this type. The rest resemble the mix of asteroids that are sparsely scattered in the area between Mars and Jupiter, commonly called the asteroid belt.

“Why do we see a difference between the objects hitting the ground and the big objects whizzing by?” asks MIT professor Richard Binzel. “It’s been a headscratcher.” As the effect became gradually more and more noticeable as more asteroids were analyzed, “we finally had a big enough data set that the statistics demanded an answer. It could no longer be just a coincidence.”

So why would we see more objects hit us from a distant starting point than from the stuff right in our neighborhood? There’s a phenomenon discovered long ago but only recently recognized as significant, the Yarkovsky effect. That’s when solar heating causes perturbations in a rotating body’s path. The side facing the sun absorbs radiation. As it rotates, it radiates the energy in different directions, and over time this causes the orbit to change. All objects orbiting the sun experience this, but what’s really important is that it affects smaller objects more than larger ones. So a small, distant asteroid has a greater chance of getting shoved into a collision course with Earth than the large ones near us. Add to that the gravitational nudges caused by Jupiter and the Earth itself, and the odds increase greatly.

Now comes the task of assessing the risk of collision based upon the properties of the asteroids. If eight percent are of a certain type, then maybe we should only devote eight percent of the strategic planning resources into preparing for that likelihood. “Odds are, an object we might have to deal with would be like an LL chondrite, and thanks to our samples in the laboratory, we can measure its properties in detail,” he says. “It’s the first step toward ‘know thy enemy’.”

Are you a 007 fan?

16 08 2008

So here’s an awesome poster for the upcoming 007 flick.

Sorry it’s so small.  Click to embiggen.  Heh.

Warp Drives, Cloaking Devices, and Blasters

11 08 2008

So maybe we don’t have blasters — yet! — but the other two things are a little closer to reality today. There’s a lot of buzz on the intertubes about this, but I’m going to summarize a bit for you here.

First, the cloaking device. UCBerkeley has been working on one of these for years. I remember when there was talk out of Berkeley of a cloaked suit that someone might wear. They hadn’t created one, but they had discovered how to cloak a thin surface. Bending that surface through 3-space seemed to present a bit of a challenge. Because of the method by which we do it, light in the microwave range can be refracted much easier than optical light. Well, according to this has been accomplished on a small scale just recently. In papers due to be released in both the journals Nature and Science this week, the team describes the metamaterials they created to bend visible light beyond 180 degrees. Not only can these materials be used for cloaking devices, but also for ultra-high resolution imaging and nanocircuits. As if any of us really care about that stuff when we can have Harry Potter’s cloak in our closet. (BTW, that physorg article is an awesome read. I learned a lot!)

Secondly, the warp drive. Though this technology is nowhere near achievable right now, recent advancements in the theory of faster-than-light travel have given physicists some promise in its development. How does it work? Here’s a little banter to illuminate you.

Cubert: Nothing is impossible. I understand how the engines work now. It came to me in a dream. The engines don’t move the ship at all. The ship stays where it is and the engines move the universe around it.

Bender: That’s a complete load.

Cubert: Nothing’s a complete load. Not if you can imagine it. That’s what being a scientist is all about. Right, Professor? Let’s ride!

That’s right. Check out the graphic at the beginning of this UniverseToday article.  Researchers are proposing generating a field that can warp the spacetime in front of and behind a spaceship, in effect moving the universe around a (relatively) stationary ship.  With what we find in the LHC, the physics of gravitons and dark matter might be utilized to realize this feat.  “If we can understand why spacetime is already expanding, we may be able to use this knowledge to artificially generate an expansion (and contraction) of spacetime,” said researchers Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy from Baylor University in Texas.  “This is a hypothetical propulsion device that could theoretically circumvent the traditional limitations of special relativity which restricts spacecraft to sub-light velocities. Any breakthrough in this field would revolutionize space exploration and open the doorway to interstellar travel.”  Interesting stuff.

In the meantime, I’m still working on a laser turret on my garage.  It’s not quite ready for me to start blasting my enemies, but a man can dream.  A man can dream.

Phoenix Team Briefs President…

2 08 2008

This just in: Universe Today is reporting that the Phoenix Team, who earlier this week confirmed (conclusively) that there is water on Mars, has briefed President Bush on a potentially shocking discovery. The team is keeping whatever they told Bush’s Science Staff a secret for now, but they have made it public that their news in no way indicates the existence of life — past or present. Right now they are simply confirming that really important news is forthcoming, maybe by mid-August, and that they are trying to confirm everything before the media blows up. And you know how that media is! They’ll scream Life On Mars! at every breath.

Still, one has to wonder what all the fuss is over. Ian O’Neill at Universe Today thinks it’s probably some valuable ingredient for a potential future Mars colony. Right now I couldn’t even wager a guess, but he’s probably not far off. Check out the full story here.

I love secrets! Heheheee!


2 08 2008

Okay, some quick links of funny things I’ve found recently:

(Thanks to Fark)

(Thanks to IWBloggee Nick)

(Something I found while surfing

(Like your soul? Do NOT click this one!)

And finally, this video is from 1999 and is almost 9 minutes long, but if you haven’t seen George Lucas In Love then you’re missing out on one of the most awesome fan vids evah!