Mars, Oh Inconstant World

Mars, Oh Inconstant World

I’ve decided Mars is the taunting red planet. She hangs up there, red and provocative, reveling here poles and captivating us with her canyons. She plays a careful game of peek-a-boo with her here-today, gone-tomorrow sand storms. She spikes our curiosity with gullies that seem to have been made with water, and black streaks that could be made by water. With scientific whispers, she hits at the possible of present day liquid water and maybe even present day life. And then… And then she takes it all away. A trio of new articles in the journal Science indicate Mars may be just another dry, lave covered world. (see HiRISE for information) In the first article, they take a new look at the gullies formed inside craters. Some of these gullies have appeared...

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The Wizards in the Tower

Somewhere, once upon a time, the metaphor of faculty living in a mystical Ivory Tower entered the vernacular. I don’t know the history of this imagery, but it always conjures images of wizards working their spells while the look out over the common people – the little people – from their vantage on high. These gray-haired men of wisdom sometimes enter the courtyard to educate the young. At their feet the future wise ones absorb knowledge and engage in Socratic dialogue. This image doesn’t have much room for young woman – heck it doesn’t really have room for the young at all. But it’s just a metaphor, right? The problem with stereotypes and metaphors is they are often rooted in a certain amount of truth. One of my favorite...

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Screaming to the Stars: Quasar Echo’s

Screaming to the Stars: Quasar Echo’s

It is possible to map a room using sound, the sea using sonar, and to generally just get at the shape of things based on how the absorb and emit waves. This is true both in our Earthly locations (caves, canyons) and also in the centers of galaxies. In the past several days, I’ve seen a couple different journal articles on how quasar flickering is being used to map galaxy cores. This isn’t a new idea, but it is an idea whose technological time has finally come. Here’s how it works: A supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy eats something and emits a burst of light. Some of that light flies immediately to us on a straight line. That’s what our telescope catches first. Some of the light travels outward and interacts with surrounding...

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Lensing Lenses & Einstein’s Cross

Lensing Lenses & Einstein’s Cross

While going through journal articles today, I came across a really neat paper on teh apparent variability of the different images of the famous lensed quasar, Einstein’s Cross (Q2237+0305, in science speak). The light from this distant quasar is blocked from reaching us directly, and is instead bent toward us along 4 different paths by the nucleus of an intervening spiral galaxy (image left, credit:  J. Rhoads (STScI) et al., WIYN, AURA, NOAO, NSF). Each different image provides us a snap shot of the quasar from slightly different angles. While many quasars with split up images have significant time delays between one image and another, the images in this situation have negligible time delay. Astronomers in Switzerland and Washington, lead by A....

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The Universe tours the solar system

It’s time to leave the Universe behind. The History Channel’s the Universe series is out of new episodes, and their sponsorship is about to drop off this blog and Astronomy Cast. If the Universe was your favorite space series of all time, have no fear, it will be showing in reruns, and you can purchase the complete series on DVD. Looking over the past summer’s series, we can see 13 episodes laid on in a steady march through the solar system, with occasional field trips to the outer cosmos. The episodes were: Secrets of the Sun; Mars: The Red Planet; The End of the Earth: Deep Space Threats To Our Planet; Jupiter: The Giant Planet; The Moon; Spaceship Earth; The Inner Planets: Mercury & Venus; Saturn: Lord of the Rings; Alien Galaxies; Life...

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