deborahjross: (Tajji in meadow)
What if science was presented with the same dramatic flair as a thriller movie trailer? I'll be following this one closely!

deborahjross: (halidragon)
In other news, appreciate Martian moons while we can:

Phobos, the larger and inner of the two natural satellites of Mars, is slowly being pulled apart by tidal forces and is expected to break up within the next 50 million years, says a team of planetary researchers led by Dr Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Phobos is Slowly Being Torn Apart by Mars | Space Exploration | Sci-News.com
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Some delicious things to begin your week:



First, a wonderful story by Rachel Swirsky, to read free online. If you don't know her work, this is a great introduction. Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia on Tor.com. The line between art and magic is a treacherous thing.



Next, another question and answer session on writing with Ursula K. LeGuin at Book View Cafe's blog. To a young writer asking about success, she responds:



I think the word success confuses people. They get recognition mixed up with achievement, and celebrity mixed up with excellence. I rarely use the word – it confuses me. I didn’t want to be a success, I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t set out to write successful books. I tried to write good ones. 

Receiving recognition is very important to a young artist, but you may have to settle for achievement with very little recognition for a long time. You ask about me. I wrote and submitted my work to editors for six or seven years without getting anything published except a few poems in poetry magazines – as near invisibility as you can get in print. It kept me going, though. Then I got two short stories accepted within a week, one by a literary quarterly, the other by a commercial genre magazine. From then on I had some sense of where to send the next story, and began to publish more regularly, and finally placed a novel. Each publication added to my self-confidence. Growing recognition added more. But the truth is, I always had confidence in myself as a writer – I had arrogance, even. Yet I had endless times of self-doubt. I think what carried me through was simply commitment to the job. I wanted to do it. 

Talent is no good without commitment. I’ve had students who wrote very well, but weren’t willing to commit to write, to go on writing, and to go on writing better. But that’s what it takes. 

“Feeling successful” – well, that’s something you have to work out for yourself, what it means to you, how important it is. You’re quite right that very good and highly celebrated writers may not feel “successful.” Maybe they have unhappy natures, and the Nobel Prize would just depress them. Or maybe they aren’t fully satisfied with what they’ve done so far, don’t feel they’ve yet written the best book they could write. But they have the commitment that keeps them trying to do it. 

Hang in there. And don’t push it. No hurry! Writing is a lifetime job.

What is a day without a beautiful galaxy to admire?



Like other flocculent galaxies, this spectacular galaxy lacks the clearly defined, arcing structure to its spiral arms that shows up in galaxies such as Messier 101, which are called grand design spirals. ... In flocculent spirals, fluffy patches of stars and dust show up here and there throughout their discs. ... Sometimes the tufts of stars are arranged in a generally spiraling form, as with this galaxy, but illuminated star-filled regions can also appear as short or discontinuous spiral arms.


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Paleontologists Discover Oldest Known Fur Seal. The fossil was deposited in what is now the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, where Mr Boessenecker found it while searching through its collections. He instantly realized that it was not the small walrus Neotherium but a tiny, early fur seal. “This was very exciting as fur seals and sea lions have a limited fossil record that, up until now, extended back to about 10-12 million years ago.” “Yet we know that their fossil record must go back to around 16-17 million years ago or so, because walruses have a record reaching back that far.”


NASA Europa Mission Gets White House Approval. Europa is thought to possess an ocean of liquid water under its icy shell. During its many flybys, the Clipper would confirm and study that ocean, yielding insights about its depth, salinity and conductivity, among other characteristics.

Dairy Saturated Fats Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk. "The message from this study is that saturated fatty acids are not only different but have opposite relationships with diabetes risk," Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News. Dr. Mozaffarian is the author of a commentary that accompanies the research. "These results add to growing evidence that dairy fat might reduce insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; benefits that might be greatest for cheese and yogurt," he writes.

Consuming oily fish could repair damaged blood vessels. "Fish oil is known to increase the release of nitric oxide from the lining of the blood vessel wall which causes relaxation of the vessel and increases blood flow. Our study shows that fish oils could be better for our heart in more ways than previously thought, decreasing damage to the lining of blood vessels and by increasing the numbers of cells which repair those linings.

Two New Jurassic Mammals Discovered in China. Early mammals were once thought to have limited ecological opportunities to diversify during the dinosaur-dominated Mesozoic era. However, Agilodocodon scansorius and Docofossor brachydactylus, and numerous other fossils – including Castorocauda, a swimming, fish-eating mammaliaform discovered in 2006 – provide strong evidence that ancestral mammals adapted to wide-ranging environments despite competition from dinosaurs.

Kinetic Insect Lamp. Korean artist U-Ram Choe uses resin, magnets, electric motors, CPU boards, and LEDs to create these amazing kinetic lamp/sculptures that are based on the morphology of insects. When switched on, the creatures light up and start gently moving
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A gift from the Hubble Space Telescope: "clouds of gas and dust carved by winds and radiation from the region's newborn stars, now found scattered in open star clusters embedded around the center of NGC 2174, off the top of the frame. Though star formation continues within these dusty cosmic clouds they will likely be dispersed by the energetic newborn stars within a few million years"

deborahjross: (Shield #1)


See if you can figure out what this is, then check your answer here. The rings are a hint.

APOD: 2013 July 29 - Saturn, Titan, Rings, and Haze
deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop needs your help to continue! If everyone who's attended chips in $100 or $10, we can do this. Even if you can't donate money, spread the word to those who love fiction with excellent science.



Support the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Science Fiction Authors | RocketHub
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft was sent to space over three years ago on February 11, 2010. The spacecraft was launched for a five-year mission to watch and observe the sun in our solar system. The new video of coronal rain on the sun was released to commemorate the third anniversary of the spacecraft’s launch date.



ASTRONOMY IS SOOOO COOL - or in this case, hot.
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How did I miss this? Back in 2005, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe got a lift from Cassini and made its way to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan, recording the journey and 90 minutes on the surface. For all the carping about space exploration being dead because the shuttle program ended, I think it's astonishing to see these images from a planet no human eye has previously glimpsed. Titan is shrouded in dense clouds, opaque to visible light.

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Eclipse Tailgate Party, Mineral Vista Point, CA

I've posted an "Eclipse Diary" in chunks on my blog (first part already up, the next three will come at daily intervals) and in an abbreviated but self-contained essay on Book View Cafe blog.


My attempt to photograph the "crescent sun" through a welding visor and solar shades... you can see it just at the far right of the image. I am sooo not a photographer.
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bouncy, bouncy...

I just arranged with my friend and neighbor to drive up to Lassen for the solar eclipse on the 20th. I've never seen one before -- I'm so excited!

Launch Pad 2011 has definitely corrupted me!
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From NASA and JPL:

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This beautiful spiral galaxy, which goes by the utterly inadequate name of NGC 3370, may be what our own Milky Way Galaxy looks like from the outside. It's about 100 million light-years away, in the direction of constellation Leo. This image is from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, and is good enough so we can study individual stars. It contains a well-studied supernova as well as Cepheids, pulsating stars, that help us to measure the distance to NGC 3370. Combining this distance with observations of supernovas at even greater distances gives us information about the size and expansion rate of the universe.
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More extremely cool (in more ways than one!) infrared discoveries - stars so cool you could touch them.

WISE: Coolest Brown Dwarfs Yet
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Stars orbit the center of mass of their systems (not center of star mass); hence, planets can perturb a star's orbit. Stars wobble due to tiny gravitational effects of their planets (meters per second). Look for shifts in the absorption spectra; from the period and size of the shift, we can determine the mass of an object affecting a star. A star's motion can be influenced by multiple planets, but it is still possible to determine their masses and orbits. Detecting these very tiny shifts requires precision technology.

Astrometric technique; we can detect planets by measuring changes in star's position.

Doppler shifts detected in the spectroscopic analysis of 51 Pegasi indirectly revealed a planet with 4 day orbit (50 m/sec). Rapid period means the orbit is small and the planet is close to the star. Discovered 1995. Mass similar to Jupiter but within radius of Mercury. This class of planets are called "hot Jupiters."
Read More )
deborahjross: (Default)
Planets are teeny specks in the middle of nothing, separated by vast distances. 8 major planets with nearly circular orbits; Pluto and Eris are smaller and have more elliptical orbits; Pluto-like objects (many!) Eris is larger than Pluto! (Kuiper belt, objects rocky and icy like comets, 1/2 dozen we know about so far.)

Sun comprises 99.9% of solar system's mass, mostly H/He gas; converts 4 million tons of mass into energy each second.

Mercury - metal and rock, large iron core; desolate, cratered with long, tall steep cliffs, very hot/cold 425oC to -170oC Why iron core: During planetary accretion, lighter elements blown off, only heavier elements left. Outer planets - ices solid, grow bigger and more quickly than inner planets. Jupiter orbit = "frost line" for volatile gases being ice (but we are having to re-think the frost line in light of "hot Jupiters" that orbit very close to their stars.)
Read More )
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Electromagnetic spectrum, light, astronomical tools. How we know about the stuff in space - by looking (i.e., using light and by analyzing other radiation). Astronomy is observational and technology-driven; we usually make new discoveries through improved instruments.

Light shares wave-particle duality with electrons and has wavelength, frequency, and speed. Speed is always c (in vacuum) but wavelength and frequency (related) can vary. (Light slows down in other media: atmosphere, water, etc., which changes wavelength, maybe 30%, must be corrected.) Experiments have slowed the speed of light with things like super-cooled cesium to less than speed of sound. Different colors of visible light correspond to different wavelengths.

Red dwarf star same spectrum as filament of incandescent light bulb (temperature about 3000 K) Landscape looks normal, not red. Don't see colors at light intensities either very high or very low. Read More )
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The mission of Launch Pad is "to get the science right in sf," increase the signal to noise ratio and reduce misconceptions - Hollywood moguls are next, so movies can get it right, too. Participants include emerging and established writers, fantasy as well as sf. Will know they've done their job when a werewolf novel describes the phases of the moon correctly.

Stan Schmidt says: Everything is outgrowth of astronomy, carried to extremes. Fictitious science is presented within constraints of real science.

Astronomical objects vast range sizes, speeds, times, most of the beyond our ordinary experience; we and our solar system are tiny on cosmic scales. How to convey scale to readers? Earth is about the largest size we can understand experientially.
Earth 12,756 km diam. (Use metrics for science!)
384,000 km (about 1 light-second) to Moon.
c = 300,000 km/sec
1 AU = 150,000,000 km (about 8 light-minutes) (orbit is actually elliptical, as most orbits, so this is average orbital distance) Use AU for solar system, use light years for beyond
solar system 100 AU diam.
closest stars 17 light years; typical interstellar distances, galactic disk not as dense as center but denser than non-disc areas.
63,000 AU = 1 light year
3 1/4 light years = 1 parsec = 206,000 AU (from parallax triangulation, earth baseline 2 AU, compare observations different times of year, 1 arc-second, measurable by telescope)
Milky Way 75,000 ly diam. (Large spirals typically about 100,000 ly diam.) Can measure stuff beyond that, like molecular or atomic hydrogen gas or dark matter. Not such a big gap between galaxies as between stars; hence, galaxies collide but stars rarely do. Only a few galactic radii, galaxies cluster (our local group about 20, Milky Way one of 3 large spirals, Andromeda is another) Distances, millions of light years.
Superclusters form filaments and walls around voids (like sponge structure) voids not empty but fewer galaxies
"Observable universe" only what emits light: 14 billion ly; but actual universe may be much larger.
Relate to reader's everyday experience; how long to walk to moon? Movies: Powers of Ten, Cosmic Voyages, opening of Contact, popular mass-consumption version.

Stan: Sun & planets are impossible to see all in same system, may not even be obvious that you are in a solar system; you must watch for very small objects moving, need instruments to record position with high precision.

In this solar system, planets more or less in plane (ecliptic); there is good reason to think this is true for other systems as well. Solar nebula forms from collapsing clouds of dust, spins faster with collapse; then forms disc. Planetary systems are very common; we see gassy dust discs around young and proto-stars that we think are forming planetary systems.

Jim Verley on Misconceptions. "Larger" size of Moon on horizon is optical illusion, not lensing effect of atmosphere. Authority of print gives power to written misconceptions.
Kids have private ideas, formed very early and very resistant to alteration: examples include what makes season, phases of moon, that air has no weight, and oxygen is the only component of air. Embarrassment is a common response to confrontation. Many readers harbor these misconceptions; as a writer, put on a teacher's hat. Repeating a misconception cements it; bad information tends to be self-reinforcing. Conceptual change theory requires identification/confrontation of misinformation. Other examples: the age of universe, mastodons and dinosaurs coinciding with humans; astrology = astronomy; greenhouse/global warming deniers. Pedagogy is never at its best when declaratory; in fiction, you can address misconceptions in many ways; a character who is wrong or who has questions. General misunderstanding about science as belief system or information handed down by authority, don't understand scientific thinking. Legal argument vs. scientific thinking: "let me convince you about my position." Science is not like a jury verdict based on how two sides of case are presented. Majority opinion is not necessarily the right answer. On the internet, anyone can claim to be an authority. Conceptual change involves people making predictions based on their theory.

Jerry Oltion: Amateur astronomy: amateurs look through telescopes; professionals attach cameras to telescopes and then analyze the data. Refracting telescope gives larger field of view - harder to build because of precision of lenses. Also reflector (uses mirrors). Both turn images upside down. Binoculars - brain designed to use both eyes - 2 sets of prisms result in right-side up images. A lot of cool stuff is too dim to see with naked eyes or binoculars. The bigger the light-collecting ability the more you can see (i.e., size of mirror). What's important is how much light, not magnification. This is diameter, not length of telescope. Can change focal length with eyepiece lenses. 50x power per inch diameter. (3" refractor; 4" reflector is minimum). Benefit of low power is field of view, but crispness important. 1/2 hour to dark adapt eyes for chemical changes to occur in retina, so use dim red light. Tricks to use (rods) on periphery of vision, which is much more sensitive to dim light. This is called averted vision. Don't see much color, but will see what colors your retina is most sensitive to, telescope camera pictures show other colors. Telescope lenses can compensate for myopia but not astigmatism; get "eye relief" to accommodate corrective lenses.

What to see? Planets readily accessible, including details on Moon and Mars, rings of Saturn, even moons of Jupiter. Stars are so far away, magnification doesn't change appearance. About half are double-stars, so can see split. Clusters of stars, born in batches; light blows residual dust away, leaving cluster. Globular clusters 1/4 million stars so densely packed you cannot see through them - 200 in our galaxy, can see about half. Messier studied comets; found 110 fuzzy non-comets; list has beautiful and important objects.

Amateurs do make discoveries, pick up work that's too much for professionals, such as monitoring variable stars. Automated sky surveys find most comets, but amateurs still find some.
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Today was Travel Day, the process of gathering warm bodies from the many corners of the land. Dave made me waffles, sweet man. We trundled off to San Jose Airport, where I discovered that my flight was delayed, albeit not by much. Mike Brotherton says that one year, transport was such a mess, people didn't all arrive until 10 pm and then the dorm keys didn't work. We, however, all made it in at a civilized hour, trekked by van from Denver to Laramie, checked in, and walked up the block to a sort of sports bar/brewput/burger joint named, either appropriately or inappropriately, "The Library." (As in, Mom, I was at the Library until 12 am!)

On the way, I saw unbelievably flat land with unbelievably straight roads. But also very beautiful mountains and hills and lots of green... and pronghorn antelope, browsing along the freeway. Gorgeous caramel and cream beasties. To a Californian, very exotic. Also some birds that Stan Schmidt, riding in my van, said were ravens. Also some camels from a sort of wildlife station place, looking very out of place amid all that green.

We also had a little thunder and a little rain, mostly in Denver. These are not so exotic, although the locals seem to take them for granted more than I do.

Class begins at 10 am tomorrow, looking at scales of the universe. Our instructors are Mike Brotherton and Jim Verley, plus Stan Schmidt and Jerry Oltion. We are in a dorm at one end of the campus, and classes are in Classroom Building at the other end. There appear to be no campus maps of the sort one may carry around. For me, who is the most directionally-challenged person I know, this presents interesting possibilities.

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Deborah J. Ross

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