Here’s an interesting tidbit that came across my radar today: A very illusive and rare meteor shower may flare up tonight for the first time since 1930! On June 11th of that year, a small group of astronomers reported a short-lived meteor shower that was sought out in subsequent years, but never seen again. Now an astronomer named Peter Jenniskens with NASA and SETI has suggested that Earth is passing through the same comet trail it did back in 1930, and thus we could see this rare outburst, called the Gamma Delphinids, again- TONIGHT. Fortunately the moon will have set several hours before the expected peak between 2:30 and 4:30am CDT, leaving only the weather to stand in the way of getting to witness this rare event. I must point out, however, that scientists aren’t nearly as certain about this meteor shower as they are about the more reliable yearly showers such as the Leonids, Geminids, Perseids, etc… So if you’re a fan of meteor showers and have the will power to get up in the wee hours and sit outside to watch, tonight could reward your efforts with a show not seen in 83 years. (Via Universe Today and the American Meteor Society)

In other science news, more evidence of normal, habitable water on the ancient Mars surface was discovered recently. You’re probably thinking this discovery came from the Curiosity rover, but it actually came from Opportunity, one of the twin rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity’s team sent her to investigate an interesting rock outcropping, and they found evidence of certain clay minerals that could only have formed in water that would be habitable to life as we know it. This discovery is right in line with Curiosity’s findings from February, and strongly supports the theory that Mars once had running water on the surface, and might have even supported microbial life! As Curiosity keeps trekking toward Mount Sharp, the rover will keep looking for these same minerals to help paint a clearer picture of Mars’ watery past. (Via New Scientist)



Credit: Fred Espenak/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

You must’ve heard about this by now, but I’ll mention it to make sure you know: there’s a full lunar eclipse happening tonight, and it just so happens that it’s also the winter solstice, a.k.a. the shortest day/longest night of the year. Just a coincidence, but a relatively rare one. Lunar eclipses aren’t super-rare- we get one about once every 2-3 years, but they can be pretty spectacular if the earth’s atmospheric conditions cast an eerie orange-red hue on the moon. There’s no way to know if that will happen for sure, but from my experience it happens more often than not. Unfortunately there’s a very good chance it will cloudy and/or raining tonight in middle TN, but if you’re elsewhere, good luck! It starts at about 1:30am EST, that’s 12:30am central, 11:30pm mountain, and 10:30pm pacific. For more details and a good rundown of what to expect, visit Bad Astronomy, and for a good explanation of the red/orange hue, visit this NASA article.

And I can’t help but post this comic from xkcd: I agree 100%

Monday night must’ve been a slow news night in California, and everywhere really… but what most media has been calling a “mystery missle launch” was probably just a jet airliner contrail. It’s all a matter of perspective, really.

The footage came from a news helicopter that was flying off the coast of Orange County, CA, Monday night. The footage is shot looking westward and the object appears to be a rocket rising from the ocean. But if a jet airliner is flying directly toward you from over the horizon, and leaving a contrail behind it, it will look as though it is rising from the ground going straight up. If the atmospheric conditions are right, the contrail will quickly get widened by upper-level winds, and vortexes left by the plane’s wings can cause a spiral-like appearance. The bright light at the tip of the plume is only visible for a short time, which would indicate that it’s simply the glint of the setting sun reflecting off the plane’s underbelly. After some blog-reading I found that in fact, contrails have been mistaken for missles from this very same area before, and the culprits are planes traveling from Hawaii to Phoenix. There’s also a small possibility that it was a small target rocket from an island west of LA and used to test the military’s new airborne laser defense system, but the company that conducts those tests has said that it did not have any launches that day.

I think what we have here is a case of sensationalist media capitalizing on the mistake of a helicopter news team. Normal people probably see contrails from this same flight path almost every night and may think it’s interesting, but they forget about it and move on. Because it happened to be a news helicopter team who were fooled by the illusion this time, it instantly became a media blitz and got blown waaaay out of proportion. I’m saying I’m 100% sure it was a jet airliner contrail, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. More detailed info on this particular incident’s explanation can be found at NewScientist. Also, a detailed explanation and comparison of this incident to other contrail incidents can be found at the Contrail Science blog.


November 1, 2010

Time for some good old-fashioned debunking.

It seems like Astrology is one of those old myths that manages to pervade everyday language even with some of the most well-educated people. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it simply is a load of crap. The biggest reason, and the only one I will spell out in this post, (you will get links to more thorough debunking articles later) is that the 12 “houses” of the zodiac are not constant. Our earth’s axis of rotation wobbles, just like a top’s axis of rotation slowly wobbles when you spin it on a table. This phenomenon, called precession, causes the zodiac to slowly change over many years. In fact, there are now 13 constellations that fall within the zodiac, not 12. The Babylonians created the 12 sign zodiac we’re all familiar with, but that was thousands of years ago. The zodiac has shifted so that there’s a good chance that when you were born, the sun was not in the constellation that corresponds with your astrological sign based on the calendar. Said calendar is based on how the Babylonians observed the sky thousands of years ago. It is not the same today!

Modern astrologers have turned this pseudo-science into a huge moneymaking scam that is no different than that of psychics and other scam artists that use misdirection and mentalism techniques to screw people out of their money. They use vague predictions that could be applied to almost anyone or anything, and they use the fact that people always remember the few things they get right, and not the many things they got wrong. The logic people use when they claim that an astrological prediction was right is appalling. “My horoscope said I’d come into money today, and I found a dollar on the ground! It was right!” The predictions made by astrologers have never EVER stood up to actual scientific research. They get no more predictions correct than a person making random chance guesses would.

One more point- the idea that the position of the planets and sun when we were born could have any effect on our personality is totally absurd. How? There are 4 forces in nature- electromagnetism, gravity, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. None of them can affect you based on the positions of the planets/sun when you were born. This is scientifically proven fact.

I don’t have a degree in science, but I do consider myself an amateur scientist and a skeptic, and I follow the writings of extremely smart scientists who do have degrees in what they write about, and I can be damn sure that I can trust them. Go read their more thorough debunkings of astrology here, here, and here.

As expected, today Obama submitted his budget proposal for NASA, which includes cutting the Constellation/Ares rocket program. Under the new plan, he wants to pursue commercial options for getting people to low-earth orbit, and focus NASA’s main efforts on exploring the rest of the solar system. This will no doubt meet some resistance in Congress and the Senate, but overall I think it will go through. I’m starting to agree with it more and more. The biggest reason is that companies like SpaceX will probably be capable of safely transporting our astronauts to the ISS much sooner than NASA’s Ares rockets could have (without a massive and utterly impossible funding boost). Read more details at and at Discovery news.

Now enjoy these two nice nuggets via yewknee’d:

Unhappy Hipsters


New comet/Fairey arrested

February 9, 2009

Science first today, people.

A new comet has been discovered and will be visible at least with binoculars and maybe even the naked eye for people in rural areas over the next few weeks. It was discovered by a 19 year-old student named Quanzhi Ye at the Lulin Observatory in Nantou, Taiwan on July 11, 2007. Be on the lookout for it over the next few weeks. I’m sure Universe Today or Bad Astronomy will post something about the exact location in the night sky, and when they do I’ll be sure to post it here. Via Live Science.

Space Shuttle Discovery’s launch has been pushed back again, to no earlier than Feb. 22nd. Engineers are still testing those new hydrogen flow valves to make sure they’re safe.

Do you own a cat? Do you know if it’s plotting to kill you in your sleep? Here’s a quick quiz to find out…

Shepard Fairey has been arrested for tagging property with graffiti. He was on his way to a kickoff event for his first solo exhibition. Shitty timing!

Did you you know the grammys were this past weekend? Yeah, me niether. I actually did know, I just forgot about them. They seem to be pretty forgettable these days. Brooklynvegan has a listing of all the awards.

Various people in London decided to use the opportunity nature gave them in the form of recent snowfall to make a bunch of giant snow-penises around town. Reminds me of a few years ago when Nashville got a few inches of snow and some Vandy kids made several snow phalli around campus. The final button in the dailogue box to post a photo on this blog is “insert into post.” Huh… huh huh…. Via Vice Magazine blog. (I promise I’m not really this immature…)