Prepare to feel small and insignificant #CityOfRocks #DarkSkies

Find a weekend, pack a tent, hotdogs and smores, and stay at the City of Rocks, NM. The dark skies in New Mexico are one of our greatest assets . 1 hour from Las Cruces, 30 minutes from Silver City, and you might as well be alone in this universe. Go see the beauty of the Milky Way with your own eyes.



Touched by the beauty of the Sun. #amacrojot #beauty #sun #aurora

Beauty is a over-used word. But in this case, it’s the only word.

As scientists, we often get asked why we do science.
Is it to help society? Well, we do invent technological advances, medical advances, and engineering advances, but that’s not why do to science.

Is it to make money for the country? Well, we do return investment at the rate of 10:1 over a decade, invent the internet, create new modes of travel, but that’s not why we do science.
Is it to educate? Well, we do teach in critical thinking, mathematics and engineering, but that’s not why we do it.

We do science because nature is beautiful. In fact, the only thing as beautiful as this video is the mathematics we use to explain why this happens. There is no need for the mystical, the magical, or the deities to explain this beauty. This is just mathematical beauty, dancing in front of our eyes.

Great job, Sun.
Keep reminding us why we do this.

Smile for the ultimate 99 million mile selfie #amacrojot #curiosity #PaleBlueDot

Humans have reached a long way, but we can never resist the urge to look back. And this one is the ultimate look back. From 99million miles away, the Curiosity rover on Mars captured an image of the brightest object in its evening twilight sky, our own Earth and moon, on January 31, 2014. Everything on earth, everything good and bad, past and present is all inside that little dot. Kind of makes us feel small.

“A human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright ‘evening stars,'” NASA officials said in the image description. Aside from some processing to remove the effects of cosmic rays, the Curiosity photographs are unmodified, they added.

Dark skies


Here in the southwest USA we are spoiled with our dark skies. Anyone only has to travel a few miles into the desert and they will be able to see the wonder of the universe first hand. Elsewhere things are not so good. Many people have never even had the chance to see our own galaxy, the Milky Way. From now through Earth Day, April 22, an on-line “Earth and Sky” photo contest is open for submission by any photography enthusiasts of any age from around the world. International projects The World at Night and Global Astronomy Month along with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory are the organizers of the Earth and Sky Photo Contest. The contest was founded by TWAN and Dark Skies Awareness project in 2008 as a regional program. It was expanded to an international effort in 2009 during the International Year of Astronomy. In 2012 participants from about 50 countries submitted a wonderful collection of nightscape images. The contest news was broadcasted by major science news media world-wide and the winning images were widely promoted. With the growing efforts of Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), the organization behind the Global Astronomy Month, the Earth and Sky Photo Contest will have an even larger feedback this year.

Name that moon


Want to name Pluto’s two tiniest moons? Then you’ll need to dig deep into mythology. Astronomers announced a contest last week to name the two itty-bitty moons of Pluto discovered during the past two years.

Pluto is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Hades, lord of the underworld, and its three bigger moons have related mythological names: Charon, the ferryman of Hades; Nix for the night goddess; and the multiheaded monster Hydra. The two unnamed moons need similarly shady references. Right now, they go by the bland titles of P4 and P5.

Online voting will end Feb. 25. Twelve choices are available at the Web site Among the choices: Hercules, the hero who slew Hydra; Obol, the coin put in the mouths of the dead as payment to Charon; Cerebrus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of the underworld; Orpheus, the musician and poet who used his talents to get his wife, Eurydice, out of the underworld only to lose her by looking back; and Styx, the river to the underworld. The vote tally is updated hourly.

Select your favorite name, or even better, come up with your own!.

What is a (exo)planet?

According to the IAU decision of 2006 a planet is a celestial body which:

is in orbit around the Sun,
has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and
has “cleared the neighbourhood” around its orbit.

and an exoplanet is a planet around another star.

So what is this?

Looks likes a planet, definitely not a star. It’s bigger than Jupiter, but not big enough to be a brown dwarf (a brown is technically a star). But it doesn’t go around a star. Instead it seems to wander lost through space. It’s bigger than Jupiter, but not big enough to be a brown dwarf (a brown is technically a star). So what word should use to describe it?

Deflecting an asteroid, with paintballs

A fantastic think-outside-the-box idea from a student at MIT.

Sung wool paek suggests we fire paintballs at any asteroid on a crash collision with Earth. The combined effects of multiple hits will knock the asteroid slightly off course. Then the white paint will increase the asteroid’s reflectivity, moving the asteroid more and more off course. The only catch it that we need about 20 years warning, and we’ll need to fire the paintballs from space. Nevermind the naysaying though, this is a great piece of thinking way outside the box.

Pure? Applied? Just good science

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Two scientists who invented methods to observe and measure the behavior of tiny particles, a key step toward developing powerful quantum computers, were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics today.

Working independently, American David J. Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Serge Haroche of France developed ways to study individual particles of matter and light without destroying them, a feat that was previously thought to be impossible because quantum particles lose their special properties when anything interacts with them.

The nice part here is that wineland is the 4the Nobel prize from this lab since 1997. In the old style of thinking national labs do applied science, and the academics do the thinking (the pure science). But this shows how outdated this model. Now, everyone does both. Congratulations David, now go and get that quantum computer working.

The ‘Sagan’ effect

Nice article on science outreach.

Couple of snippets.

5 percent of the most active public scientists do half of all outreach
This seems about right to me. My assumptions were that this was because non active scientists either didn’t like it or didn’t see the point in it.

There is also a widely perceived “Sagan Effect” or a professional stigma attached to spending too much time translating one’s research to the broader public

This one was a bit of a surprise to me. Interestingly no one admit to placing a Sagan effect on anyone but many think that it happens.

Additionally, a widespread conception among academics is that dissemination of research findings beyond peer-reviewed journals is “dumbed-down” [9] science and thus not undertaken by the most talented of researchers [10].

Einstein one said that if you cannot explain it to your Granny, then you don’t really know it. Dumbing down is not the same as careful explanations.

However, some scientists feel widespread disinterest in science and mistrust of scientists is a more pressing issue than a lack of science knowledge among the public. They believe that the public is simply apathetic or even opposed to learning about science and the scientific process, meaning that outreach efforts will have little impact

This one is very worrying. This could become a self fulfilling prophecy.

How not to report science



A lesson on how bad journalism is when it comes to science. The inference from this story is that natural causes caused a lot of warming back then, more than carbon-based emissions have today, and hence global warming is irrelevant. Of course a quick glance at the actual scientific paper shows that the journal article authors never made this claim. Yes, the ‘dinosaur methane’ did have the effect of warming the atmosphere. But it did so in a steady rate over 10s of millions of year. It didn’t suddenly jump up over 50 years. There is no reason to suspect the dinosaurs were not killed by the effects of an asteroid collision.