This is a bad joke.

This cosine is xHARD COREx.
If you get this, you are a fucking nerd.


The technical term for what you are seeing here is "Astronomical Clusterfuck"

Happy Birthday Спутник-1!

50 years ago today Sputnik 1 was launched into geocentric orbit. Happy birthday, you beautiful satellite.

(on a much less historic note, today also happens to be my 21st birthday. W00t.)


Triangulum, Casseopia, and Andromeda

Last night the sky was clear so Logan and I pulled out the starmap and flashlight and did some observing from the backyard. Recently I've been focusing on the Southwestern horizon simply because of the lack of line of sight obstructions, but decided to check out the Northeast sky. I'm really glad I did! Here are the most interesting objects we observed last night.

The first constellation that caught my eye was Cassiopia (click for larger):As you can see, Cassiopia has a distinct "W" shape, making it easy to find in the sky. The leading star, alpha Cas is an irregular variable star and together with its ninth magnitude neighbor forms an optical double star (not physically related). An irregular variable star is a star which goes through significant changes in it's luminosity which show no regular periodicity. Gamma Cas is an rapidly spinning unstable blue subgiant with a decretion disk around its bulging equator. Another near variable star is rho Cas. Its variable period is unknown and it is surrounded by lots of nebula and open clusters.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

Near Cassiopia in the Andromeda constellation is Messier Object 31, the Andromeda Galaxy. M31 is the largest of our near galactic neighbors, composing the Local Group together with its companions. The Spitzer Space Telescope recently estimated the number of stars in M31 to be approximately one trillion stars, much greater than in our own Milky Way.

To the naked eye, M31 appears to be quite small because only the central part is readily visibly, but the full angular diameter is actually seven times that of the full moon. M31 is one of the only galaxies that appears blue-shifted to us due to the fact that it is approaching the Milky Way at a speed of about 300 kilometers a second. It is possible that in about 3 billion years M31 and the Milky Way will collide to form a giant elliptical galaxy. It tripped me out last night to look at M31 and realize it's flying straight for us. It's really pretty amazing.

The Triangulum Galaxy (M33)

Also near Cassiopia in the Triangulum constellation is M33, the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is approximately three million light years away from the Milky Way and is the third largest galaxy in the Local Group. The Triangulum Galaxy is the faintest naked-eye object visible in the night sky because it's considerable brightness is (more or less) evenly distrubuted over an area of the sky equal to four full moons. I guess last night we got really lucky!


Let's learn about light!

[UPDATE]: Spectroscope build instructions delayed until I fix whatever the hell is wrong with my digital camera. Sorry :\

This weekend I was blessed with a dearth of homework, so I decided to build two types of spectrometer from more-or-less useless items found around my bedroom. But before we get to the fun part (building), we need to learn some science-y shit first.

Electromagnetic Energy

What we commonly refer to as "light" is actually a type of electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the eye (note: radiation means the exchange of energy between bodies which need not be in physical contact). The electromagnetic spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves (actually a type of radio wave),infrared radiation, visible light, ultaviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays. Electromagnetic radiation travels in waves (though it also exhibits characteristics of a particle, we will not be dealing with that aspect here). Below is a diagram of a wave with it's parts labeled (click images for full version).

Electromagnetic energy at a particular wavelength λ (in vacuum) has an associated frequency f and photon energy E. Therefore, the electromagnetic spectrum can be expressed in terms of these three qualities:
wave speed (c) = frequency x wavelength
λ = c/f
E = h/f
E = (hc)/λ
c = The constant of light 299,792,458 m/s (exact)
h = Planck's constant 1.05 *10 -34 kgms -1

Thus, high frequency waves such as x-rays and gamma rays have a short wavelengths and high energy while low frequency waves such as radio and IR have long wavelengths and low energy.

The electromagnetic spectrum

Most objects in the universe either emit, reflect, or transmit some type of light. The spectrum of an object (the distrubution of light over the electromagnetic spectrum) is determined by an object's composition. Therefore, by observing an object's spectra we can determine it's composition. Depending on the nature of the radiation, different types of spectra can be observed. If the spectrum is composed by thermal emission radiated by the object itself an emission spectrum can be observed. If the spectrum is composed primarily of background light, some of which is transmitted by the object and some of which is absorbed, an absorbtion spectrum can be observed.

Each element has a characteristic fingerprint that is unique to that particular atomic makeup. For example, the element sodium shows two distinct yellow lines known as the Sodium D-lines at 588.9950 and 589.5924 nanometers. This color will be familiar to anyone who has seen a sodium vapor lamp. Below is both the absorption and and emission spectra of sodium.

Tomorrow we will learn how to make a spectroscope out of common household materials to observe various specta.


CIA Sued over MK-ULTRA Experiment

Holy hell. I found this article via Coast to Coast. A Canadian senior is suing the CIA for brainwashing techniques used in the 1950s. She was suffering from post-partum depression and checked herself into the renowned Allen Memorial Institute in 1950. Over the next 15 years, she was subjected to massive electroshock therapy, expiremental drugs, dosed with LSD, induced into coma, and listened to repetitive messages for days on end. This is a technique called psychic driving that is supposed to erase harmful memories and rebuild the psyche without psychiatric defect. The experiments were part of a larger CIA project called MK-ULTRA which administered LSD to prison inmates and brothel patients without their knowledge according to a 1977 Senate committee.

I’m not sure how legitimate this is, but it’s pretty damn weird.

Extremely powerful extragalactic radio burst

I found this online today and it’s pretty neat. An undergrad at West Virginia University discovered an extrememly powerful extragalactic radio burst in archived data from Parkes radio dish in Australia. The signal lasted only 5 milliseconds but in that time released approxiamately the same amount of energy the Sun puts out in a month. They’re not really sure what it is, but it’s very interesting. One hypothesis is that it’s the result of two merging neutron stars, but data archived by gamma ray observatories show no corresponding signals that would be expected during a merger. Another hypothesis is that the burst of energy came from a black hole evaporating completely from Hawking Radiation.

Whatever it is, it reminds me of the WOW! signal.

It came from the Small Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to the Milky Way:

Hubble Space Telescope/NASA
My Zimbio