RiffTrax Event on August 20

29 07 2009

Next month an event of epic proportions will burn its way across America.  Okay, so maybe it’s not that epic, but it is really cool.


Plan 9 From Outer Space is arguably (not by me, mind you — I KNOW!) the worst major movie ever made.  Directed by Ed Wood, it has been fodder for folks emulating MST3K for since before MST3K existed.  Well, on Thursday, August 20, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be in Nashville riffing on this movie LIVE!!!!  Why do you care?  Because this will be broadcast through magical unicorns into theaters around the country.

I’m planning to attend the showing at Breckenridge Village.  It starts at 7pm and the tickets are $12.50.  Try to reserve yours if you can!

Biggest Telescope Chooses a Home

26 07 2009

So just in case you needed one more excuse to visit Hawaii, the summit of Mauna Kea is about to get another resident — the Thirty Meter Telescope.


Click for more images

Right now, the dual Keck telescopes are the largest on this key observing spot.  But in the next year engineers will break ground for this gargantuan contraption of ridiculous proportion.

With a collecting area 10 times that of the Kecks, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) stands to produce some amazing science.  Complimenting it’s enormous size will be an array of instruments that will give it a sensitivity close to 100 times better than any ground-based observatory and best the resolution of Hubble by a factor of 10!

When completed in 2018, the TMT will enable astronomers to detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies, analyze the formation of planets around nearby stars, and test many of the fundamental laws of physics.

To ensure that the site chosen for TMT would enable the telescope to achieve its full potential, a global satellite survey was conducted, from which five outstanding candidate sites were chosen for further ground-based studies of atmospheric stability, wind patterns, temperature variation, and other meteorological characteristics that would affect the performance of the telescope.

Now that would be a dream job.

Jupiter Impact Confirmed

21 07 2009

Since news of the dark spot, photographed and first reported by Anthony Wesley on July 19, a ton of telescopes have been trained on the giant planet around the world.   The one telescope that could give the earliest confirmation that it was indeed an imapact has now weighed in.  JPL’s Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea in Hawaii has returned this great image:

IR Jupiter impact

What you’re seeing is heat being given off in the area of the black spot.  This indicates that there’s an upwelling of warm gaseous material from lower in the atmosphere, much like dropping a rock in a pool of water brings a fountain of water shooting back up.  If the James Webb Space telescope were in place right now, it could be returning some amazingly crisp IR images of this area.  Guess we’ll just have to wait another five years.  <sigh>

In the meantime, multiple-frame movies are starting to eke out onto the web.  Here’s a pretty nice one by Dennis Simmons of Brisbane Australia:

jupiter impact thumb

Click for movie

Notice how the white spot seems to overtake the dark spot.  That’s because the different latitudes rotate at different velocities.  Because of this dynamic and other properties of atmospheres, the spot should start to spread out over the next few days.  Exciting stuff!

Perseids to rain down this year

21 07 2009

[This post is from 2009.  I have a detailed post for 2010 here.]

Mikhail Maslov has updated his website with predictions for the Perseids for 2009 and 2010, and they look very promising!  Unfortunately, you won’t see them.

This year he has predicted three spikes in the activity on the night of August 11-12:  11:30pm, 2:30am, and 3:00am (all CDT).  The meteor stream is closer to the Earth this year than normal, and the rates are expected to hold near 200/hr. with the strongest surge occurring during the last spike at 3am.  Typically, the Perseids only produce at most between 60 to 100 visible meteors per hour!

However, the last quarter moon being only 2 days away means it’ll rise around 10:40pm — just 1.5 hours after the sun sets.  The Perseids are very bright and many leave gorgeous trails, but that bright moon means you won’t see but a fraction of them.


spaceballBut some more good news:  next year’s Perseid shower is also expected to have a strong showing with elevated rates around 120/hr.  And best of all it’ll be just a couple of days after New Moon.  I’ll make sure to give you a full update [and a reminder] of that event when the time comes.

For information on how to observe the Perseids and about meteor showers in general, I recommend checking out the American Meteor Society, the International Meteor Organization, or Gary Kronk’s website.

photo Creative Commons

Longest Eclipse of the Century

21 07 2009

Solar eclipses aren’t rare, but they are rare if you’re waiting for one to happen over you.  This Wednesday, July 22, marks a very special event for a lot of people half-a-world away.  The sun’s shadow will pass directly over millions of residents in India, China, and Japan.  With totallity occuring directly over such cities as Surat, Bhopal, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Shanghai, folks are predicting that this will be the most witnessed eclipse in human history.

And what’s more is that this total eclipse will last longer than any other until 2132!  This eclipse will last an astounding 6min 39 sec. — almost the theoretical maximum length of 7.5 min.  Since it’s occuring near the time when the Earth is farthest from the sun, the sun is smaller in the sky now than it will be in, say, December.  This time of the month also happens to be when the moon is nearest to us in it’s orbit, too; making it appear large.  That combination gives us more time to spend in the shadow.

It’s been many years since we’ve had a total eclipse here in the southern U.S., and the next one is still several years away.  But there are two very nice ones coming.  On Aug. 21, 2017, the moon’s shadow will move across the entire U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina.   The best view will be near the KY/TN border.  On April 8, 2024, the shadow will cross from Mexico through Texas all the way up through Maine.  Should be awesome!  There will be several partial eclipses visible from here as well during these years, inlcuding a very nice one in October, 2023, leading up to the spectacular total eclipse of 2024.

You can find tons more useful information at Fred Espenak’s (MrEclipse) page here.  And also here.

Video Games: Good For Kids!

20 07 2009

This just in… video games are not only a hot commodity for the reclusive/nerdy type, but they have a lot of merits for moms who still worry that little Johnny is destroying his brain.  With documented research behind him, Andrew Bub has written a killer article for iParenting.com called 10 Ways That Video Games Are Good For Kids.

Hand/Eye Coordination

This is the most obvious benefit of gaming. Quick thinking, a fast “trigger finger” and good reaction speed are critical in most games. But games also help with fine motor control and spatial relationships. They can build confidence in the clumsiest child and give kids a rare chance to prove that their parents are all thumbs. A growing number of brain surgeons and laparoscopic surgeons report using games before surgery to steady their hands, according to Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson in their book, Grand Theft Childhood.

There’s also a great paragraph on understanding the difference between killing and survival in a ‘violent’ game, which I wish he had expounded upon more.  But, if you keep up with his blog (or a thousand others out there) you know the arguments pretty well by now.

Possible Jupiter Impact

19 07 2009

Well, I was hoping to beat the major astronomical news outlets with this one; but alas, SpaceWeather.com beat me to it.  About six hours ago I got an email from Thomas Ashcroft referring to this picture:

jupiter impact

It was captured by Anthony Wesly in Australia last night.  That spot on the northern southern (the telescope flips the image over) edge wasn’t there the night before, and it looks very much like an impact point for a moderately-sized interloper.  I’m sure many scopes will be trained on the planet over the next couple of days to monitor how the spot changes.

I’ll post an update here as soon as someone puts up a movie or a better resolution image.  Or better yet… an IR image!