Celestial Self-portrait

Astronaut Clay Anderson (see below)
Source: wisebread.com. Credit: NASA.

I came across this on wisebread.com; apparently the photographer and subject is astronaut Clay Anderson. It’s a beautiful picture—he is facing Earth and taking a photograph of himself, so the Earth is reflected in his visor. Sadly, I was unable to find this on NASA’s web site; they have a couple pictures of visor reflections but none as beautiful as this, in my opinion.


Flight Patterns: Visualizing Air Traffic Patterns Over the United States

Via TreeHugger, I found this cool work by artist Aaron Koblin:

graphic showing air traffic patterns over the United States, by artist Aaron Koblin
Created by artist Aaron Koblin. See full-sized version and other versions.

This beautiful visualization is part of his project “Flight Patterns”, showing the density and path of airplane flights over the United States. The project features several different visualizations in different styles, but I’m partial to blue. He also created several animations that add a whole new level; it’s especially neat to see the wave of increased air traffic travel east to west as morning arrives in each time zone.

Hip Hop Violin

As I’ve previously posted, I am very impressed with the musical skills some people possess. My friend Jux2p0ze introduced me to a very unique video today that combining remarkable violin skills with a hip hop beat. I’m amazed by this!

By the way, the URL listed at the beginning of the video is unrelated, not in English, and not safe for work, so don’t bother.

I love to see people developing their talent in this way and doing something constructive. And it’s great they’re sharing it with the world.

The violinist is Paul Dateh and inka.one is on the turntables. If you like, you may download an MP3 version of the song from Mr. Dateh’s MySpace page.

I Need to Wake Up

“I Need to Wake Up” is the beautiful song Melissa Etheridge wrote for An Inconvenient Truth. It is the only time a song from a documentary has won the Academy Award for Best Song.

It is a wonderful song, catchy and meaningful. The lyrics are beautifully apropos, expressing horror and shock transforming into determination.

I remember the first time I watched An Inconvenient Truth. I knew about global warming before that. We’d learned about it in high school, and in recent years there were increasing reports in the scientific literature of its effects on weather systems and ecosystems. But yet, very few people appreciated the magnitude or urgency of this problem. There can be little doubt that An Inconvenient Truth brought global warming to the public’s attention and has played a significant role in the current environmental movement.

Al Gore asked Melissa Etheridge to write a song for the film, and she agreed. After watching the film, she immediately felt moved to write the song, but wasn’t sure where to start. Her partner suggested she write about how the film made her feel. Etheridge asked herself, “What do I want to hear? I want to hear somebody else who feels the way I feel, which is ‘My God, have I been sleeping?’ ”

I think a lot of us had been sleeping.

Comet McNaught Video

The fine folks at NASA recently released a very cool video of Comet McNaught. Taken by the STEREO-A spacecraft, this video was assembled from photographs taken on 17 January 2007. The camera is extremely sensitive, and even Venus (lower left) and Mercury (upper right) are bright enough to cause “desaturation streaks.” The head of the comet is quite bright and produces a large amount of desaturation, but once it passes out of the field of view, one can see the beautiful tail.

I really hesitated to upload and post this video. Of course, as a work of NASA, a division of the federal government, it is in the public domain. But the lower resolution really doesn’t do the comet justice. I post this lower-resolution version because I want to make it more accessible, but please, if you are at all interested in this, view one of the higher-resolution versions available at the STEREO web site (or download the highest-quality version, in the Quicktime format). The fine detail in the tail can’t be seen in the version below.

Still, it is amazing, no?

Crossing Saturn’s Rings

The Cassini imaging team (CICLOPS, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations) just released some new images of Saturn today. Among them is this incredible time-lapse video from photographs Cassini took as it crossed Saturn’s ring plane. You can see how thin the rings are as the orbiter crosses them.

The spacecraft crosses the ring plane twice each orbit. This video represents approximately twelve hours and so runs around a thousand times faster than real time. Cassini starts on the sunlit side of the rings, then crosses to the darker side. We see six moons during the video, though the smaller ones aren’t really visible at the low-resolution version of the video I’ve shown here. A high-resolution version is available at the CICLOPS web site and is definitely worth the download. The first large moon is Enceladus; the second one is Mimas.

The Cassini spacecraft was launched from Earth on 15 October 1997 as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission, a joint project between NASA, the ESA (European Space Agency), and the Italian Space Agency. It entered into Saturn orbit on 1 July 2004. It is the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn and the fourth one to visit it (after Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, and Voyager 2).

(Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for the link!)

DNA Animations

PZ Meyers posted a neat animation on his weblog “Pharyngula” the other day. The first part shows DNA coiling and packaging; the second part DNA replication.

They’re from a web site called DNA Interactive; you can see more excellent animations there.

I especially like these because they portray the complexity and beauty of these ubiquitous cellular processes, yet also exhibit their chemical, mechanical nature. We tend to personify biological phenomena (“the DNA unwinds, then adds complementary base pairs to each strand”); it’s easy to forget that these are essentially mechanical, step-by-step processes.

And yet they’re still beautiful.

The Moon and Saturn

On 2 February, the moon drifted right past Saturn’s position in the sky (from the point of view of Earth, of course). It made for quite a lovely sight, though as the moon approached its closest, it would not have been possible to make out the dot of Saturn right next to the extremely bright full moon—with the naked eye, that is.

P-M Hedén maintains a great web site with his collection of astrophotography; he captured this beautiful portrait of both worlds:

View of full moon and Saturn

Copyright P-M Hedén. Used with the author’s permission.

The full-sized version is quite striking. Both worlds are essentially on the opposite side of Earth from the sun, so they are fully lit from our view. The contrast of the incredibly sharp detail of the moon’s geologic features with the blurriness of Saturn, as well as the remarkable size difference, just underscores the unbelievably vast distance between Saturn and Earth.

It’s a wonder we’ve been able to guide spacecraft to Saturn and beyond.

Planet and Star Size Comparison

Via THS Earth/Space Science (a weblog for a 9th-grade science class), I came across this neat animation comparing the relative sizes of planets in our solar system and various stars. It really does a good job!

Humans evolved on Earth, and our brains do a poor job grasping sizes much larger (or much smaller) than that which we’d find in our typical environment. True, we can describe it mathematically, but it’s so difficult to really see the comparison.

Unfortunately, I do not know who the creator of this video is. No credits are given, and a web search was unsucessful. It is perhaps European, based on the spelling of the star names. If anyone has any information, please let me know.

Update: It appears the original video used copyrighted music without permission of the copyright holder, and has been removed. I changed the post to a different version of the video without music.

Update #2: The old link no longer worked (thanks, Sara!) so I updated it.

Sun and Silhouette

Several months ago, I came across a web site featuring the remarkable astronomical photography of Thierry Legault; I did not have this weblog then, but a post at Bad Astronomy reminded me of this photograph. While there are several amazing pictures there, the following one is truly a jewel, a photograph that prompts you to look at the familiar in a different way. Take a look at our sun:

Copyright Thierry Legault.
Copyright Thierry Legault/Eurelios. Used with the author’s permission.

Continue reading “Sun and Silhouette”