Wednesday, May 23, 2012


     During class, I have been classifying galaxies on Zooniverse.  It is specifically the Galaxy Zoo Hubble project.  I would not say this is particularly challenging so maybe that is why I find it boring.  I think I like doing hands-on projects, but I understand that of course that is hard to do with astronomy, especially galaxies.  At least at a high school level, I think it is near impossible to do any hands-on work with galaxies in a formal lab setting, but if students are interested in this type of work in the future, I think Zooniverse would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Astronomy Cast

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar:

While listening to this podcast I learned that Chandra discovered a lot about white dwarfs.  Chandra had a very interesting, unconventional life.  Coming from a famously scientific family, he grew up in Punjab, which is now Pakistan.  He came up with the maximum mass of a white dwarf star while traveling from India.  He graduated college in India at age nineteen and then went on to graduate school in Cambridge.  Chandra had a very successful career and was a Nobel Laureate.

Astronomy Cast

Episode 207: Lyman Spitzer

     Before listening to this podcast I only recognized Lyman Spitzer for the Spitzer Space Telescope.  However, after listening I learned that he was also a Yale physicist and did a lot of work with plasma physics and star formation.  He also spent some time learning how sonars work.  I would not necessarily say he had an interesting life (socially) because it seems like he was very typical/what you would expect from a scientist.  He was from Ohio and went to prestigious highschools and went on to go to an ivy league college.
     I knew he was known for the Spitzer Space telescope but I also learned that he was one of the key people involved with Hubble.  This podcast definitely taught me a lot about the life and career of Spitzer that I did not expect.

Friday, May 18, 2012

APOD 4.8

May 15, 2012: All the Water on Planet Earth

     Even though we tend to think that there is a lot of water on Earth (since 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered by ocean), there actually is not that much, as this photo demonstrates.  The oceans are very shallow in comparison to Earth's radius.  If all of the water on Earth were bunched up into a concentrated point, the sphere of water would only have a radius of 700 kilometers which is less than half the radius of our moon.  We are unsure if there is water under Earth's surface.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vera Rubin Biography

                Vera Cooper Rubin, the second daughter of Rose and Philip Cooper, was born on July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Since age ten she was interested in astronomy and would constantly look at the stars.  At age fourteen she built her first telescope with the help of her father.  Although she was encouraged by many not to pursue a career in science, she did so anyways.  She got a scholarship to Vassar College (a women’s college) where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in astronomy in 1948.  From there she attended Cornell where she met her husband Bob Rubin, a physicist.  Originally she had applied to Princeton but was told that Princeton did not accept women into their astronomy program.  Princeton only started accepting women into their astronomy program in 1975. She graduated from Cornell with a master’s degree in 1951.  She then attended Georgetown and got her doctorate from there in 1954.  Interestingly, Vera Rubin does not drive so her husband Bob would drive her to night classes and sleep in the car in order for her to earn her doctorate.  She also taught and did research at Georgetown. 
                In her research she discovered that galaxies themselves rotate around a central point.  This contradicted the widely accepted Big Bang Theory at the time which suggested that galaxies just expand outwards.  She presented this thesis to the American Astronomical Society.  She was somewhat criticized for her theories by the scientific community, but she still persisted in her research.  She also established the theory of dark matter within galaxies because she realized that there were unknown forces acting upon these galaxies.
                In 1965 she got a job with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (of the Carnegie Institution of Washington), and she has worked in the Carnegie Institution in D.C. ever since.  There she teamed up with Kent Ford, who had developed a very sensitive spectrometer.  With this spectrometer, Ford and Rubin measured the Doppler shifts across the disks of galaxies.  This allowed them to calculate the orbital speeds of some of the stars in the different regions of the galaxies.  This led to the discovery of dark mass.

                Vera Rubin has four children, and several grandchildren.  She wrote a children’s book called “My Grandmother Is an Astronomer” and still does research.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

APOD 4.7

May 10, 2012: Green Flash and Super Moon

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

     This photograph (of two seconds long exposure) captures the largest full moon of 2012 (green) rising over a harbor on the coast of Brittany, France.  The green flash of the supermoon was caused by atmospheric refractions and atmospheric temperature gradients common with a sea horizon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

APOD 4.6

May 5, 2012: Full Moonrise

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

The exact full moon will occur on May 6th, 03:36 UT.  The above photo is a telephoto image of April's Full Moon above Fort Collins, Colorado. May's Full Moon will appear less than one percent larger than the moon in the above photo.  The next opportunity to see a full moon near perigee is June 23 of next year.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

APOD 4.5

April 29,2012

A Dangerous Sunrise on Gliese 876d
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

    This picture is an artistic interpretation of what a sunrise on a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 876d.  Gliese is believed to be very volcanic and it is believed to rotate very slowly so that there is significant difference between night and day.  Gliese is so exciting to astronomers because it is one of the few extrasolar planets close to its parent star that may possibly be habitable in the future.