Archive for June, 2010

Hurray! and Boo!

Posted in Personal with tags on June 30, 2010 by davidnm2009

Hurray!: I have the referee’s comments back on my paper, and they seem to like it.

Boo! I didn’t get the telescope time I applied for. Oh well.

I’m also trying to keep myself writing…


Night Rescue

Posted in Art with tags on June 27, 2010 by davidnm2009

I rendered the night rescue scene from The Misfits in Poser. It’s not perfectly faithful, but it’s close enough.

You can see a much larger version over here, should you wish.

N_exoplanets > N_T_dwarfs?!

Posted in Astronomy with tags on June 18, 2010 by davidnm2009

I just realised something that seemed a bit odd today.

Pre-Kepler, we had ~450 exoplanets. That’s arguably ~750 now. And the big thousand can’t be far off.

However, T-dwarfs and exoplanets* were first confirmed at more or less the same time (1995-1996). But, there are still less than 200 T-dwarfs known, and if we add in the L dwarfs then we still don’t reach the magic thousand.

It just seems odd that the planetary regime is better-sampled than the bottom end of the ‘stellar’…

*Ignoring the pulsar planets, of course, because they live in the box marked ‘weird’ and ‘WTF?’. If we count them, then the exoplanets date is 1991.

Astronomical Mysteries No.4: What in the heavens is KOI-74b?

Posted in Astronomy, Space with tags , , on June 16, 2010 by davidnm2009

Update: There’s actually two of these objects. See Rowe et al. (2010) for KOI-81b, which if anything is even more extreme.

It’s a good time for exoplanets. The Kepler mission has recently released a list of around 750 exoplanet candidates, many of them in what are believed to be multi-planet systems. (As a point of comparison, on Monday evening, the list of known and confirmed exoplanets was ~450 – if we assume that even as few as 2/3rds of Kepler’s ‘maybes’ checkout, then this week has seen the planet count more than doubled.) The Corot mission has also been returning many new objects. And so far, the results are interesting. It’s led to a revolution in the way people think about exoplanets. The historical model was a nice, tidy one with terrestrial planets close in around a single star and gas giants futher out, and everything on nice, tidy orbits. This model is now basically dead. Hot Jupiters are everywhere. Eccentric orbits are normal. The Universe is, in short, a glorious, untidy mess. What this means for the physics of planet formation remains very much an open question.

However, bizarre as these planets are, they are not the strangest things unearthed by the planet-hunter satellites. That crown has to go to two things: KOI-74b and KOI-81b. I call these ‘things’, you see, because I have simply no idea whether to refer to them as planets or stars, or even if they are in some freakish new third category. Their properties are wholly unprecedented.

Continue reading

The First Starship…

Posted in Space with tags , on June 10, 2010 by davidnm2009

…is Pioneer 10.

It was launched in March 1972, to conduct a flyby of Jupiter. In March 1973, it became the first human-made object to pass beyond the asteroid belt. It passed Jupiter on December the Third, 1973. It returned the first close-up photos of our solar system’s largest planet. After that, it carried on, further outward. By this point it was travelling much too fast to return to the inner solar system.

Even after its Jupiter flyby, it remained in use. For many years, it was used as a training aid for telemetry operators, allowing people to practise picking up weak signals from space. However, over time, the RTG power-unit slowly ran down and energy levels dropped. The last signal was received from Pioneer 10 on January the 23rd, 2003. There was an attempt to pick it up one last time in 2006, but this was unsuccessful. By now its antennae will no longer be aligned with the Earth, so there is no realistic hope of ever hearing from it again.

But, space is quite empty. There’s nothing much that can happen to Pioneer 10, barring the odd hydrogen atom here and there, and maybe a very occasional stray dust particle. We can reasonably expect it to carry on, for millions of years (if not more). It will still be drifting out there, somewhere in the darkness, long after we and almost all of our terrestrial works have vanished. The most anything can reasonably last on Earth is a few thousand years. Plants, mould, erosion, weather, earthquakes and volcanos … all of these things will intervene. Even the Pyramids, arguably the most durable human buildings, will be worn down eventually. Probably our last memorial on this planet will be empty petroleum reservoirs, but even they will eventually subside or flood.

But, barring the unimaginable, in around 2 million years’ time, Pioneer 10 will pass within a few light-years of the star Aldebaran. After that, who knows? However, there is every chance that it will become our longest-lasting, and most-distant, monument.

The Misfits…

Posted in Writing with tags , , on June 7, 2010 by davidnm2009

…and a plea for indulgence!

I’m going to start posting more chapter of the unexpected novel again, with an eye toward kicking myself into getting. It. Finished.

However, I’ve been away from it for a while now and I’ve got a bit rusty. (And some of it has been a bit … difficult to write. The evolution of one of the characters, although unavoidable, isn’t entirely pleasant, and I think that’s held me back a bit.)

Anyway, due to being out of the loop for a while, the next couple of chapters are probably not going to be much good. Hopefully it will get back together once I have my wits about me again.

In the meantime, please humour me!

Random Find

Posted in Personal with tags on June 5, 2010 by davidnm2009

I don’t tend to pay a huge amount of attention to YouTube, beyond the odd music video, but this caught my eye:

What they’re doing, essentially, is playing with the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies in the context of the media. Sort of riffing off the theme that ‘all we have to fear is fear itself’, I suppose.