ellestra: (tiger)
The biggest story this year so far is the discovery of gravitational waves. This just confirmed Einstein was right and will allow for a new ways to observe the universe. But here let Brian Greene explain it - he does it much better:

(This is official so probably geolocked - sorry :( )

Red globes

Sep. 28th, 2015 11:21 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
The biggest news today is free flowing water on Mars. Google has a doodle already. And it's been on all the websites and news and late night shows. In perfect timing all of those also run the commercials for The Martian. It's almost as if that movie PR planned it for the marketing campaign.

It was suspected before with a photos that looked like a streams but we needed to be sure.
This time we knew where and when to look and here it is. Multiple photos and spectral analysis. Just like previously suspected it is very high in salt which is why it stays liquid in Mars cold atmosphere.

And for those of you who like me couldn't see it or were just asleep last night here are photos of the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. It's pretty in red (although the previous ones I remember and in my dads description from Poland it's more brown in real life) but all I could see through clouds was this:
ellestra: (lightning)
I was supposed to write about Doctor Who but there is something more important happening tomorrow night - Lunar Eclipse. This is the last on of four happening in the two year period and this one will hit over the Atlantic so people living on both sides of the Atlantic will see it in full (Western Europe and Africa, The whole of South America and Eastern half of North America. The people in Eastern Europe and rest of Africa and most of North America should see the full length of total Eclipse of the Moon but will miss some part of the end or beginning of the eclipse. Unless like me you are in the third day of non-stop rain and there is no hope of a break in the cloud cover. I really wanted to see this one - it will be Supermoon Eclipse so the moon looks slightly larger then usual full moon and the total eclipse hit US East Coast at very reasonable hour - just before 11 PM - so no need to wake up in the middle of the night. It woud've been perfect. But with this weather I will have to watch it online - like west Pacific coast people (don't worry Japan, Australia - you'll get your own lunar eclipse in January 2018).

And if you don't care bout any of these here something else to wait for (my dad says Netflix should start services in Poland by December).

It's almost as if she sleeping off the night spent watching lunar eclipse.


May. 19th, 2015 11:51 pm
ellestra: (sunrise)
On May 20 Planetary Society is sending the first test solar sail into Earth's orbit. You can watch the launch here tomorrow.

This first one is destined to burn in the atmosphere but this is the prototype for a actual launch next year. But they still need to secure additional founding so they have their own Kickstarter. They already almost 3x their goal but when both Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are asking nicely how can you not donate. Especially for something this awesome. It's like making science fiction happen yourself.

ellestra: (tiger)
Remember that "impossible" drive that everyone agreed cannot work but few labs made it work? Sceptics said that it wasn't really working. That thrust was just natural thermal convection currents arising from microwave heating or some other environmental conditions external to the drive. So NASA used it in vacuum and it still works. The physicist are very aggravated as noone understands how it works. It's like something out of an sf novel. I hope it's really true. Not just because space travel but also because there a whole new branch of physics that will need to explain this. And maybe other impossible things are possible too - like wormholes at reasonable energy levels.

After all there are other planets out there. We discover more and more everyday and now you can name them. The International Astronomical Union started a NameExoWorlds contest were you can propose popular names for 15 stars and 32 planets. Just remember you need to explain your choices.

So if we are getting ready to space travel maybe also same better power storage system. Tesla just made new batteries. Not just for cars - for houses. Right now if you generate your own power (solar, wind, etc.) you cannot really store it. You can sell it back to the grid but it's usually at the times when it's least necessary (solar) or it's unpredictable (wind). But if you could store it for the night and cloudy days it wouldn't go to waste. That's what these are supposed to accomplish. And they come in different colours.

And something needs to run the calculations for all that space travel and new physics. Good thing that IBM just made a crucial breakthrough in quantum computing. They found a new method for correcting errors on a quantum circuit. Unfortunately quantum bits are prone to spontaneous flipping between 0 and 1 or changing the sign of the phase relationship. Those two types of quantum error (called bit-flip and phase-flip) that will occur in any real quantum computer. IBM found a way to detect them both at the same time which should allow for greater reliability of quantum computers which should finally make them usable.
ellestra: (sunrise)
As always when I can I took some photos of the eclipse. It wasn't much - there was barely a bite before the sun set - but I only travel for total (and annular) eclipses and this one missed the Earth completely. But if you are north and/or west of here I hope you had good weather and nice viewing spot and saw the much bigger bite. I'm already planning to see another total one.

My favourite photos from today - one looks like sun is an engine spewing fumes and the other like it's eating the tree top.
ellestra: (sunrise)
Tomorrow a partial solar eclipse is going to be visible in almost all of the North America and far eastern Russia and northern Japan. If you are in any of those places and it's sunny you can see it too. Eclipse calculator allows you to find a close city to see the times the eclipse is going to be visible where you are and how much of the sun is going to be covered. For me it's going to be below 40% but in northern US and Canada it can be up to 90%. So if you have something to look through (don't use sunglasses or look directly at the Sun!) it can be a pretty cool view. I use multiple layers of large overexposed and developed film but that's because they are easy to find for me. That type of film is used in biology and one can always find ones from botched experiments in the the dark room. Those are perfect. Welding mask filters and, of course, eclipse glasses work well too. I also have my camera filter I used to take pictures of the annular eclipse. Time to use it again.
ellestra: (slingers)
In celebration of Yuri's Night tomorrow this is a science post.

There is going to be a series of Lunar eclipses - roughly every 6 months - and the first one will happen this Monday night. By fluke, Monday is also the date of Mars’s closest approach to Earth, when our neighboring planet should appear larger and brighter than usual. Both Americas will see it whole early on Tuesday - the lunar eclipse will start around 2 a.m. EDT and and around 5 with totality, called the umbra, at 3:45 a.m. EDT.

The LHC discovered a strange new particle known as Z(4430). This new particle is about four times more massive than a proton, has a negative charge, and appears to be a theoretical particle known as a tetraquark. There were previous indications of this state of matter but LHC caught ten times more events then anybody else so we are more certain this is something that can exist. Due to strong force rules quarks cannot exist outside particles - they have to be together with other quarks to create a particle that has neutral colour charge. So baryons - protons and neutrons - have neutral colour because they contain quarkks with all three colour charges (blue, red and green) and mesons are neutral because they have a quark with colour charge and quark with a anti-that colour charge.
Under the rules of the strong force, there are other ways quarks could combine to form a neutral particle. One of these, the tetraquark, combines four quarks, where two particles have a particular color and the other two have the corresponding anti-colors. Others, such as the pentaquark (3 colors + a color anti-color pair) and the hexaquark (3 colors + 3 anti-colors) have been proposed. But so far all of these have been hypothetical.
Now we are starting to capture those theoretical particles and we even know what they are made of - Z(4430) is made of a charm, an anti-charm, a down and an anti-up quarks.

Four teenagers were successfully implanted with lab-grown vaginas. The surgery was done 5 to 8 years ago and the organs are are working normally in four teenage patients who were among the first people to receive such an implant. All of them were born with a rare genetic condition - Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome - in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent. The The vaginas were grown in a lab from patients own cells from small sample of vulvar tissue. The cells were grown on two sides of scaffold to get the right shape and the two different cell types vaginas are made of - muscle cells and vaginal epithelial cells. When the organs were ready the doctors implanted them connecting uterus with surgically made cavity. And now they work. Hopefully, all the people who need a vagina will have access to this procedure soon.

This Jason Barnes playing drums with his new metal prosthetic arm


Dec. 11th, 2013 10:17 pm
ellestra: (tiger)
Today is 11-12-13 and it's the last date like that in this century. So happy last sequential day to all who got married today to make it easy to remember. But of course dates are just an artificial construct made even less important by the possibility that the whole Universe might be just a hologram. It's of course a theoretical physics stuff so the fact that the math is sound doesn't make it real but it is a way to give one explanation to both quantum physics and Einstein's theory of gravity.

Another thing that may help reconcile quantum theory may lay with wormholes made by entangled black holes. Entanglement is a term usually associated with quantum particles when two of them, no matter how far apart behave as one and the same particle. It's been used to teleport particles before. Black wholes are points where gravity is so strong nothing can escape it - not even light and the time stands still. In this scenario wormholes — understood as shortcuts between connect distant points in the universe - are black holes that are linked with entanglement. Still doesn't explain how we can use them to travel. I want my space vacations.

I already have to live with the disappointment of now comet in the sky. There was a very brief moment of hope that some part of the ISON comet might've survived but it's now official - it's gone. That what happenswhen you don't listen to the all the warnings and fly to close to the Sun. That can happen when you are made of ice. We should've called it Icarus or Frosty. What will we do now when the ISON project discovers another comet - call it ISON 2?

But at least Curiosity didn't disappoint and brought us evidence that there was a fresh water lake where it now threads. A small portion of the Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed last year, was once covered by an ancient Martian lake that could have supported life as we know it for long stretches — perhaps millions of years. It existed there about 3.7 billion years ago so millions of years wasn't a long time but it was about the time that life appeared on Earth so it might've also existed on Mars. Or even it some theories are right it did show up on Mars and then travelled all the way here.
ellestra: (sunrise)
There was a solar eclipse today. It was a rare hybrid solar eclipse - from some places on Earth it is an annular eclipse (like the one I saw last year) and from others it is a total eclipse. But the totality was only visible over the Atlantic and in some parts of Africa. Here in the US east coast the sun rose after the main part was done so all I could see was partial eclipse as the Moon was moving away from the Sun.

I was afraid I won't be able to see it. Firstly, because the weather is changing and after few days of very warm days and nights it's starting to get colder. There was a cold wind yesterday and then it suddenly started to rain just at sunset. Luckily, today morning it was cold - just 6oC - but sunny. The second challenge was finding the right spot. There are hills and trees everywhere and this late in the year finding a place with unobstructed view of sunrise is a bit tricky. I had to walk for a while to find one. But I did and it all worked out fine.

As my father noticed this is something like my 5th solar eclipse. I saw two partials in Poland, total in Austria in 1999, annular in California last year and now another partial here. If I stay here for 4 more years there will be a total one going through whole US with totality visible in south west corner of North Carolina - just around the corner. Maybe I should start calling it a hobby.
ellestra: (tiger)
Earlier this month second of four gyroscopes on Kepler telescope failed. Since the planet hunting requires steady eye and that means at least 3 gyroscopes Kepler's been spinning out of control and became useless. Unfortunately it couldn't be saved and it's mission is over but it left us with over 130 confirmed planets and 2,700 planetary candidates and tons of data we can use to look for more.

We lost our way to look at the big stuff so lets look at the really small. The new quantum microscope allows us to take pictures of atoms and its first subject was the hydrogen atom. Then scientists at Berkeley used the fine tip of the non-contact atomic force microscope to read the electrical forces produced by the molecules to take first ever pictures of atomic bonds. Both directly observing what we deduced was there.

Have you seen Google Doodle tribute to Julius Richard Petri? The one with Petri dishes showing what kind of microorganisms live on different surfaces (at least the ones that can grow on the kind of growth medium used for this)? It reminded me of my microbiology classes. If not and it's already tomorrow where you live here it is:
ellestra: (lightning)
We finally had clear skies here. Just in time for me to see the PANSTARRS comet. Yesterday when it was nice and warm I just watched with my eyes (barely visible smudge with brighter dot at the end if you know where to look). Today I took my camera and tried to take a picture. It's very grainy because I don't have a real telescopic lens (11x is all I normally need but this would've been better with something more) and the comet is very faint and contrast is poor as it's just where the colour changes between day and night and it disappears below tree line before it gets really dark (my first photo was way overexposed). So this is the best I could do but here it is:

Within one year I saw solar eclipse, transit of Venus and now a comet (the last 2 for the first time in my life). By the end of this year there might be another, much, much brighter comet coming so I'm hoping for something even more awesome.
ellestra: (Default)
So it looks like there will be no announcement of "for history books" discovery on Mars. No organics, life, aliens or even twinkies. I'm not really disappointed because I didn't expect much. He said they need to confirm the results and they were probably unable to. Happens all the time in science. The mission just got started I'm sure it will find a lot of coll things before it's done.

Cool things like ice on Mercury. Real water ice on the planet so close to the Sun it orbits it in 88 days. The image of scorched small planet is so ingrained I sometimes forget how fast and how cold the parts Sun doesn't reach are and that there must be all the temperatures in between. Thank you Messenger for awesome news.

Even bigger news is the biggest black hole ever discovered. It's in the middle of a very small galaxy and it could shake the foundations of current models of galaxy evolution as its mass is much greater then they predict (17 billion times the mass of the Sun). It also takes much more it's galaxy mass then we've ever seen (14% of the total galaxy mass). Maybe Peter Hamilton was right and someone is powering their paradise.

On the opposite end of scale someone finally took a picture of the DNA. Till now we only new how it looks from secondhand sources (like X-ray crystallography) but now it's the electron microscopy time and the helix is clearly visible in all it's glory.

On even smaller scale there is a new transistor that controls the flow of atoms, rather than electrons creating superconductors out of superfluid atoms, flowing with no friction or physical resistance. So take some very cold superfluid and add some lasers and get you can have a transistor. Not very energy efficient but certainly very cool (like 500 nano-degrees above absolute zero).

And BTW do you remember the Niantic Project I mentioned last week? Well, players are having fun but the really cool thing might come out of all the data Google is able to get through this. Everything points to them using it to set up the Augmented Reality for Google glasses. Part of me feels like this is Google taking last bits of privacy and discovery and just mapping the rea into virtual like in some distopian novel and using us to do it with our own hands (and phones) but I don't even care because players enjoy it and I want AR. This is the future I was promised.
ellestra: (slingers)
I've been reading science fiction since the moment I learned how. I was so young when I started that sometimes I had problems to differentiate between fact and fiction (I'm still waiting for the RL to catch up to the way I thought it should be). My imagination was filled with space adventures and alien planets. And the Alpha Centauri name was there so often. That's were all the first missions go. There's a whole history of science fiction living on the planets orbiting stars of that binary system - from Krzysztof Boruń and Andrzej Trepka's Trylogia Kosmiczna (Space Trilogy) to Avatar.

Now we know there is a planet there. And that planet's the smallest we've ever found - mass just 113% of Earth - but very close to it's sun. It is so close to Alpha Centauri B that it orbit's it in 3.236 days and it's surface temperature is at least 1200oC. So not somewhere Zefram Cochrane can live but there might be more planets orbiting either or even both stars. This is so awesome.

Alpha Centauri has been the subject of so many science fiction stories because it's so close. It's an obvious target for the first interstellar trip - just little over 4 light years away it's basically right around the corner in the galactic distances frame. Of course we are still nowhere near speeding our craft to speed that would get us there in a reasonable time (e.g. something faster then millennia). After all our farthest away probe is just getting out of heliosphere (crossing fingers for Voyager entering the interstellar space soon). However there are some ideas how we may get there faster and they may not be complete science fiction. Now that we know there is something to see I may see the solarsail ships.

And if perspective of living with two suns is not enough here's another recently discovered planet that has four of them (wonder if there are weird black flying creatures that come out at night).
ellestra: (sunrise)
Today Venus is trying to be the Moon and cover the Sun but it's too far away and their difference in size cannot stay unnoticed. However, this is the last time this happens till 2117 so I felt the need to see it. After all I don't think I'll be able to wait a century for a next one. I almost didn't make it as today was a pretty cloudy day. Certainly, worse then the eclipse. Luckily, Venus transit takes much longer - about 7 hours - so I just waited for the sun to come out. And it did.

If you want to see it too it's visible from most of the globe (sorry, west Africa and most of the South America - congratulations to East Asia you get the whole thing) and if you are further west (where the sun hasn't set yet) or somewhere east (where the sunrise already happened or will happen soon) and there aren't too many clouds you just need something that will protect your eyes. Or you can go online.
ellestra: (sunrise)
I realised that I keep forgetting to post the photo evidence of my travel. I still keep sorting through thousands (literally) of photos and haven't shown it all to my own family so for now you get the part that matters the most. The rare part. The total eclipse of the sun.

I travelled all the way to the other side of the country and all the way up California to see this:

The eclipse sequence under the cut )

The photos of the total eclipse are so smudgy because just as it happened the sky got covered by clouds and the cold wind from the ocean started to blow. It got so windy we had to catch bottles and filters I had for eclipse watching. I expected something like this, as I remember the semi-dark, sunset-like conditions with wind from my last eclipse when we went to Austria in 1999. The wind wasn't as chill but it was in a mountain valley in Alps in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer. This time it was springtime on Pacific coast (that has cold winds even on normal days as I experienced through the week) so I had a long sleeve shirt over my t-shirt on and hoodie and a rain jacket in my backpack. I spent most of the day and first hour of the eclipse overheating. When totality came it got so cold that I put all the extra clothes on.

This is how it looked like - I almost lost hope I'll get to see the best part:

I managed to see (and take photos) of some of the totality as dense clouds didn't last the whole thing. It never cleared completely but enough for me to take those photos above. It was an annular eclipse so the moon seemed a little smaller then the sun and never covered it completely leaving the 'ring of fire' around the moon. There were moments that clouds were filter enough and you could see this with your bare eyes.

After the maximum when the moon started to move away the skies cleared a little again but soon the dense fog started coming from the ocean and eventually covered everything (that's why the receding photos are so few). By the time I got back to town fog started condensing to drizzle. Nothing like sudden weather change.
ellestra: (Default)
I'm deep in preparing for my tomorrow talk so all I have for you is science spam:
The touch of death - Brinsicle. The Groke has nothing on this.

Steven Colbert (the person not the character) interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson and it made me feel so much better about my result. It's good to listen to someone being passionate about science when you are deep in the boring part of it.
ellestra: (Default)
You've probably heard about the Nobel in Physiology this year. It was awarded for the breakthroughs in the immunology to Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffman discovered how the body's first line of defence was activated and to Ralph Seinman discovered the dendritic cell, which helps defeat infection. However after the laureates were announced it turned out Ralph Seinman died three days ago. It was so recent that the Nobel committee didn't know about his passing. It created a problem as the awards are only given to living people. There is a rule that if someone dies before the awarding ceremony the award is still theirs but this is the first time someone was already dead when they announced it. There was some confusion what to do in this case but now we know that he will keep the award. The best part of this story is, however, the story of his fight with pancreatic cancer. It is one of the most deadly forms of cancer but he managed to live for four years since his diagnosis thanks to the very discoveries he was awarded the Nobel Prize for. Four years is even better then Nobel.

Wired has a story about The Search for a More Perfect Kilogram. I was sure that by now it is defined by some relation to the constants of nature like second and meter but to my surprise it's still a lump of an alloy of nine-tenths platinum and one-tenth iridium kept in a basement in Paris. This is unacceptable. Kilogram is used as a reference for the mass of everything and while it is and object any changes to that object change mass of everything else. You may think that the change of a dust speck means nothing but when you are measuring stars and planets it's a pretty sudden weight change. And if you think it doesn't concern you because you use pounds remember that pound is defined in relation to kilogram so it changes too. I hope they'll hurry up. This uncertainty is unnerving.

The Bolshoi Simulation a computer simulation of everything. A massive, incredibly detailed model of the whole 14 billion years of our universe. Probably that's why it's called Bolshoi (which means big, great in Russian). They used data from maps of light left over from the Big Bang in for of the cosmic microwave background radiation and theory of dark matter being 25% of everything in the universe and about 80% of all matter to get the normal matter behave how we observe it does in RL. This created incredibly detailed simulation of our Universe showing how many things we observe probably happened. And now we can watch how it happens in visualisations from the simulation data.
ellestra: (Default)
There's a new, cheap meningitis vaccine and after just 6 months it managed to reduce the number of new cases in three west African countries to almost zero. It costs just 50 cents and is more potent then old ones. Still to vaccinate all children in the meningitis belt millions will be needed.

The emergence of new vaccine manufactures forced big pharma companies to compete harder for contracts to supply UNICEF with childhood vaccines over the next five years and drove down the prices for vaccines for preventable diseases. At least in poorer countries but they are also the ones who need it most. Richer ones have more problems with those who refuse vaccinations endangering not only themselves but also those around them. Of all the stupid conspiracy theories and scams for publicity the one that made people believe vaccines cause autism is probably most harmful. There is no medicine with less side effects and more positive results.

In more distant news Voyagers are traveling through the last barrier to leave Solar System. They are crossing through a border of Sun's magnetosphere where magnetic field lines are snapping and reconnecting sculpting the wind of high-energy particles coming from space into discrete bubbles that are many tens of millions of kilometres wide. Looks like the border is much more violate then we thought.

Even further away there were some strange supernoveae detected. The fact that they lack hydrogen is not unique but that they burn oxygen is. Seems the yesterday's poster was even more wrong then we though - some stars do burn oxygen. At least when they explode. And this really makes the explosions bright.

And finally someone took and unified the theories of multiverse and many worlds into one. You know the ones that postulate that either cosmos constantly splits into parallel universes in which every conceivable outcome of every event happens or our universe is part of a larger multiverse. The end result is pretty much the same and most people never learn the difference anyway. No you no longer need to.

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