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.

Griffith Observatory (Tony Millionaire)

18 02 2013
Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic.

Griffithus vs. Gettyus, Tony Millionaire Comic

Well, I can’t get behind Millionaire’s assessment of the Getty Center, but I like the idea of the two buildings having a laser fight. You can visit the image on Millionaire’s blog.

While You Were Away…

17 02 2013
Zarina Hashmi, Stars (from Home is a Foreign Place, 1999)

Zarina, Stars (from Home is a Foreign Place, 1999)

I know, I know. One of the most exciting (and potentially tragic) earth-meteorite encounters in living history and I did nothing to keep you informed. In my defense, I was on the go all day, trying to coax just a few more minutes out that sorry excuse for a battery that powers my iPhone. I just didn’t have the time, mental space, or energy (phone energy) to connect you to videos and analysis. On the other hand, everyone else seems to have had plenty to say about it, so I doubt you missed my commentary.

While I was running around this weekend, supposedly ignoring science, I stopped in at the Guggenheim with a friend. We went for the Gutai exhibition, but I was more taken with the Zarina retrospective. Not only are her prints beautiful and striking as objects, she works on some of my favorite themes—location, memory, space, identity, architecture, environment, mobility, nation. Her personal geography coincided with mine in many places and I was captivated by her ability to pin a spatial memory to paper with ink. And you can see from the image above that her locative work isn’t just about house or city or continent, it’s about the sky and the universe as well.

Zarina, Santa Cruz

Zarina, Santa Cruz, 1996

Zarina: Paper Like Skin is on view at the Guggenheim (New York) through April 21, after which time it moves to the Art Institute of Chicago. In the meantime, you can view some of her work in the online gallery at Luhring Augustine.

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.

Astropoetry (@Tychogirl)

11 02 2013
Wanderlust #2, redacted poem by Christine Reuter, 2012.

Wanderlust #2, redacted poem by Christine Reuter, 2012

My most sincere apologies for not drawing your attention to Christine Reuter’s astropoetry before today. Like most good things in life, I discovered Reuter’s work through twitter, where she posts as @tychogirl. Once I’d started reading her poetry, I couldn’t stop. I love the tension she creates between suppressed and revealed text, past and present, science and humanities. Young Ladies’ Astronomy was one of the best poems I read in 2012, partly for its beauty, partly for its subversiveness. Aside from the literary or political merits of Reuter’s work, I find her poems very satisfying as objects (potential objects?). Even in digital form, I can appreciate the layering of media and am continually delighted by her appropriation of original form and illustrations (the globe tethered is a good example of this). This is a poetry I would love to touch.


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.

Liquid Light Show (Aurora Australis)

4 02 2013

Liquid Light Show:Bioluminescence and Aurora Australis from Alex Cherney on Vimeo.

Aurora Watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden

4 02 2013

Aurora watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden, January 19, 2013 from Tim Nordström on Vimeo.

Observatories and Instruments