Wallpaper Wednesday: Aurora Borealis

4 09 2013
Big Aurora. Image copyright Göran Strand.

Big Aurora. Image copyright Goran Strand.

Earlier this week, the Universe Today blog featured aurora photographs taken by Frank Olsen and Göran Strand. Both photos were beautiful, but I’m in love with luminous sky in the image Strand posted on his blog last week. I’m also in love with his description of the scene: he claims that photo looks as “if a green blanket was put on top of the sky (om en grön filt lagts över vår himmel)”. This aurora is much friendlier than the goblinesque northern lights that frightened me as a child.





Milky Way at Dawn in Yosemite Valley (Wallpaper Wednesday)

19 06 2013

Milky Way at Dawn in Yosemite Valley. Image courtesy Gregg L. Cooper

I wrapped up my California research trip with a weekend in Yosemite. In my mind, Lick Observatory and Yosemite Valley are linked landscapes; it seemed appropriate to go from archives to the park. We did some quality star gazing out behind our cabin, but as frequently happens on vacation, I was ready for bed well before the darkest observing hours. Luckily, photographers like Gregg Cooper are out there doing the hard work while the rest of us are resting up. Enjoy this particularly successful photo taken at Valley View; it’s a lovely combination of moving water, the Milky Way, and the growing glow of sunrise.

Click on the image to go to Mr. Cooper’s flickr page, where you can see this and other beautiful Yosemite photos.





Lick Observatory (Wallpaper Wednesday)

15 05 2013
Lick Observatory. Image credit: Rick (瑞克)

Lick Observatory. Image credit: Rick (瑞克)

If all goes as scheduled, by the time this post reaches its intended audience, I will be in the air, flying toward the American west coast. I’ll be spending the balance of the month in central California, working in the Lick Observatory Archives at UC-Santa Cruz. This trip marks the beginning of an entirely new research project for me—new topic, new time period, new theoretical concerns. I’m more excited about this than I have been about anything I’ve worked on to date; I hope that means I’m headed in a good direction. Regardless, I get to spend some time reading original correspondence and papers related to the construction of the observatory in the 1880s. How cool is that?

The above panorama of the observatory building was produced by Rick (Ruei ke). Right click to save to your hard drive, or visit Rick’s flickr page to download other sizes and look at his other intriguing images.

Lick Observatory, stereographic projection. Image credit:

Lick Observatory, stereographic projection. Image credit: Rick (瑞克)





For Catherine

10 05 2013
Astronomy iPhone Wallpaper

Astronomy Wallpaper

This post is for my wife (this is my way of initiating a tutorial on updating the wallpaper on her new smart phone).





Wallpaper Wednesday: NRAO Green Bank

17 04 2013
Drive Wheels, Byrd Telescope (Pinhole Photograph), July 7, 2009. Photograph by Scott Speck

Drive Wheels, Byrd Telescope (Pinhole Photograph), July 7, 2009. Photograph by Scott Speck

Today’s selection features the pinhole photography of Scott Speck. In July 2009, Speck had the opportunity to photograph the NRAO’s Byrd Telescope. The results are beautiful, the type of photos that move architectural historians to tears.

Click on the image to see a larger version of “Drive Wheels,” or follow the link the in previous paragraph to see more of the NRAO on Speck’s flickr site. His work is available for purchase at imagekind.





VAB Construction (Wallpaper Wednesday)

20 03 2013
VAB Construction

Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) under construction with the Launch Control Center (LCC) and LC-39 Service Towers as seen from across the Turning Basin, January 5, 1965. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

Not enough hours in the day. Here’s some nice VAB construction photos to distract you from the fact that I haven’t written anything of substance here for a while.

VAB under construction, September 1963. Photo credit: NASA/KSC via Library of Congress

VAB under construction, September 1963. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, October 22, 1963. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, October 22, 1963. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, January 14, 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, January 14, 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, August 14, 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, August 14, 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, November 1964. Image credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, November 1964. Image credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, c. 1965. Image credit: NASA

VAB under construction, c. 1965. Image credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, c. 1965. Image credit: NASA (via Stayne Hoff)

VAB under construction, c. 1965. Image credit: NASA/KSC (via Stayne Hoff)

VAB under construction, June 9, 1965. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, June 9, 1965. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, August 1965. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

VAB under construction, August 1965. Photo credit: NASA/KSC





Wallpaper Wednesday (Aristarchos, Helmos Observatory)

27 02 2013
Snow on Mount Helmos. Photo credit: Helmos Observatory/National Observatory Athens

Snow on Mount Helmos. Photo credit: Helmos Observatory/National Observatory of Athens

This astonishing image of Helmos Observatory (look closely) introduces the news item posted by the Royal Astronomical Society. Panos Boumis of the National Observatory Athens and John Meaburn of the University of Manchester have published the results of their research based on observations made with Aristarchos, the 2.3 m telescope at Helmos Observatory. Aristarchos only saw first light in 2005, so that Boumis and Meaburn are revealing their conclusions so soon is pretty exciting. In order to measure the distance and age of three lobes of the nebula KjPn8 (in other words, three parts of the gaseous shell that was ejected by a star as it collapsed into a white dwarf), they attached a narrowband camera to the telescope. By comparing the imaging results over the course of several months (years?), they were able to track the velocity and expansion of the lobes; from there, they calculated the distance and age of the nebula.

It’s interesting enough to learn that KjPn8 is some 8000 light years away from Earth. Even more interesting, however, is the conclusion that the lobes were created at different times: 3200, 7200 and *50,000* years ago. That’s…what…the Paleolithic? Homo neandrathalensis has another 10-20,000 years to go extinct and Homo sapiens has just arrived in Europe. That’s seriously cool stuff.

Click on the image to go to the original, posted by the Helmos Observatory.





Wallpaper Wednesday (Ice Cube South Pole Neutrino Observatory)

20 02 2013
IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory

IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory

The IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory is seeking candidates for its “Winterover” positions. If you’ve got wicked UNIX skillz, don’t mind living in isolation, and aren’t particularly attached to sunrise, take a look at the advertisement. If you’d rather just fantasize about working at the South Pole, click on the image above to download various sizes of wallpaper for your computer.





Wallpaper Wednesday (Pierre Auger Observatory)

13 02 2013
Surface Detector, Pierre Auger Observatory. Photo credit: Pierre Auger Observatory

Surface Detector, Pierre Auger Observatory. Photo credit: Pierre Auger Observatory

It was surprisingly difficult to locate an image to illustrate today’s post. I was inspired by the March 2013 cover story in Astronomy magazine. Written by Yvette Cendes (follow her on twitter at @whereisyvette), the article outlines the structure and research goals of the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. As you can probably see from the image above, Pierre Auger is a different sort of facility, more akin to the neutrino detectors I discussed last year than South America’s more famous observatory, ESO at Paranal.

I read Cendes’ article a few hours after one of our weekly “Networks of Exchange” colloquia, the focus of which tends to be the  materiality of science. This week, we were back on the subject of astronomy and how the tools—and the movement of tools—shape practice. I’m not sure anyone is ready to attribute agency to the instruments, but I feel like we’re moving closer to the default position of architects/designers, which is that objects shape experience and subjectivity in unexpected ways that have little to do with human or social intent.

At any rate, I was inspired by Cendes’ article to think more intently about the construction of scientific spaces. One one hand, it seems as if cosmic-ray detectors are minimally invasive, small-scale structures with low profiles slotted into what Cendes describes as a “truly remote and empty corner of the world.” On the other hand, the observatory is backed by a multi-national contingent of 500 scientists from 55 institutions, which means that regardless of the physical location of the detectors, the exchange of data also requires a robust communications infrastructure with a global reach.

I was completely intrigued by one of the graphics that accompanied the article. It shows the distribution of particle detectors on the pampas northeast of Malargüe. Here is a very similar graphic, published a few years ago in the CERN Courier:

Distribution of water tanks, Pierre Auger Observatory. Image credit: CERN

Distribution of water tanks, Pierre Auger Observatory. Image credit: CERN

As Cendes explains, we can expect a ultra-high energy cosmic ray (UHECR)  strike only once per square-mile of Earth’s surface every 39 years. The distribution of 1,600 water tanks over an area of 3,000 sq. km with a 1-km module maximizes the chances of detecting a UHECR strike. This graphic raises more questions for me than it answers, though. That is, it illustrates quite well the system for detecting UHECRs, but as a historian, I wonder about labor processes behind the land survey, the construction and placement of the tanks, the cadastral maps that must have determined the boundaries of the observatory, the rationalization and flattening of the landscape into an instrument of measure, and the occupation of “nothingness”.

Some of my questions were answered by the “Voices of the Universe” video issued by the observatory. I was intrigued by Paul Mantsch’s assertion that the project transcended nationalist aspirations. As I’ve noted elsewehere, there is a significant number of NASA supporters in the United States who want us to return to the “glory days” of a U.S.-dominant space program. While I wish we as a people would do a better job supporting NASA, projects like the Pierre Auger Observatory demonstrate that “national” science, if it ever existed, is almost extinct.

Okay, this was a rather loosely constructed post (and I didn’t even get to the part about Auger North or ESO’s Deep Space Antenna 3, 30km south of Malargüe), the point of which was just to say: cosmic ray research is very interesting, Cendes’ article lead me to new questions, and you should probably pick up a copy of the March issue of Astronomy.





Wallpaper Wednesday (Peach Mountain Observatory)

6 02 2013
Peach Mountain Observatory. Image credit: James Rotz, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

Peach Mountain Observatory. Image credit: James Rotz, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

As a consolation prize to Michigan for their loss to the Now-Number-One-Ranked Hoosiers (in both polls!), today’s post features the University of Michigan 26-meter Radio Telescope at Peach Mountain Observatory. Built in 1958, this dish supplanted an 8.54-meter radio telescope that had been built just three years earlier. If you zoom in with Google Maps (here, I’ve already zoomed for you), you can see the smaller dish at the south of the observatory’s cleared property, with the large dish at the north.

The most interesting thing I discovered while trying to ferret out primary sources documenting the construction of the radio telescope was a stack of technical papers from the 1970s related to the Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (OGO) and Interplanetary Monitoring Platform (IMP-6). For instance:

I love that a search for construction documents can lead to random readings on low frequency solar bursts and orbiting observatories.

Right click on the image above to download it or go to Michigan Engineering’s Peach Mountain Observatory set on flickr.