Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Tech and Space Post

Found a nice magazine on Flipboard that's the inspiration for a lot of this post, but before I get to that, check this out: 

That's ... well, it's a little weird, of course, but it's kind of cool in that I didn't actually take "that" photo. I took the several images that comprise that photo, and after Google Plus automatically uploaded my photos after taking them, it also created what it calls "#autoawesome" - that is, it automagically (sorry, I don't really like that word; it automatically, like magic) converted the several static images into a motion GIF version, which made Ronnie look like he's dancing. In fact, the several images weren't even "in a row" - there were two separate sets of images taken, but they were close enough in composition that Google Plus automagically (argh! sorry again!) made them into a motion photo. Kind of cool (if a little scary, sort of like how Picasa photo albums, several years ago, did a pretty decent job of automatically suggesting tags of people for your photos, and got smarter the more you tagged people; Facebook has this sort of functionality now, suggesting tags for photos you upload).

So, onto more of the tech post, with stuff stumbled upon through Flipboard. I still like Flipboard - it's a quick look at things that might interest me, and I can quickly decide whether to look more in depth at an article or not. And it brings up great articles like these:

Star of the week: Fomalhaut had first visible exoplanet. Did you catch that? Visible planet (known as Fomalhaut b). Not just an inferred planet (based on dips in luminosity of the host star when the planet traverses the face of the star, coming between the star and our viewpoint from the earth), but actually visible to the eye in photographic images! Check out this photo, which shows the planet (in the inset image):

I've always been fascinated by space (I was one of those kids who wanted to be an astronaut; my experience at Space Camp was awesome, and somewhere or other I still have a Space Shuttle Operator's Manual, probably in my storage unit with lots of other boxed-up books). This is really cool. And, if you look south in the sky at night, you can actually see the star itself, knowing that it has a planet orbiting it, a planet that's now been seen in photographic evidence.

In other news, a tech breakthrough that parents will rejoice about: you know how when you go to visit family at Christmas or kid's birthday, and someone gets the child an awesome little toy that makes lots of neat noises and quickly gets on your nerves, and then you have to drive hours back home with the toy driving you crazy in the back seat? And you really hate your relatives for that toy? You'll love this idea: rechargeable batteries that are "smart" and remote controllable - you can remotely "turn off" the batteries in that infernal noise-making toy! And it's got a name that could become a great joke in itself: "Batthead." You know, somehow referring to the gifters as a similar sounding thing, and then saying, "but Batthead to the rescue!" Go check out the article for more details (and other useful possibilities, such as battery powered flashlights that turn themselves on when you pick them up by sensing the motion with the built in accelerometers).

If you're looking for life on Mars, though, your search may be fruitless (bad pun slightly intended, haha: fruit is from a plant, which is alive...), as the NASA rover Curiosity can't locate traces of methane that were previously noted in plumes back in 2003. Seems they were hoping that the methane plumes would be indicative of living organisms (the source, apparently, of the majority of earth's methane), but the rover can't find methane (at least not where it's roving). On a positive note, there's a disturbing David Bowie video at the article you can watch.

And, finally, our galaxy is about to explode. Well, the core of it, anyway, the giant black hole that anchors the Milky Way (you do know that the Milky Way spins around a giant black hole, right? that our solar system is orbiting the galactic center much the same way that the earth orbits the sun?). If you search G2 Milky Way, you'll find more articles about it, by the way, such as this one in physicsworld.com which explains that the gas cloud, known as G2, will actually be passing near several smaller black holes that are clustered near the galactic center (they've predicted that it should encounter around sixteen of the smaller holes), and there are hopes that it will encounter some as-yet-unobserved "middle-sized" black holes (masses somewhere between the small ones in that cluster and the supermassive one that anchors our galaxy). Either way, we should be in for some spectacular fireworks in the night sky, night will be erased for years, and the galaxy will explode, sending the earth careening off into space and away from the sun. (OK, I made that part up, although, per the Popular Mechanics article, a similar flare up a century ago has left light echoes bouncing around the center of the galaxy to this day.)

Incidentally, some guy's putting together a giant telescope to actually observe the supermassive black hole that anchors our galaxy (which has not been directly observed, only inferred, to this point). His telescope is actually not really a telescope in the classic sense, but rather an array of radio dishes all around the earth that will collect microwave data from the galactic center, feed all that data to a supercomputer at MIT, and the supercomputer will assemble the data into "an image of the shadow of the black hole." Sort of like the auto-awesome that Google Plus assembled of Ronnie dancing, which didn't actually happen. I wonder: does that mean the image of the black hole might be a fictitious representation? Eh, whatever...

Go outside tonight and look south, check out Fomalhaut, and know this: there are other planets in the universe outside our solar system, and now we've even seen them (courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope). And know this: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." What an awesomely creative God!

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