Friday, March 28, 2008

NGC 1300 in Eridanus

NGC 1300 is an unbelievably beautiful galaxy in the constellation Eridanus, the River. Our attention is on the tiny section of the utmost outer limits of this giant barred spiral galaxy, half again bigger than our Milky Way:

The outer arms of NGC 1300 are studded with bursts of young, blue giant stars. These stars are hundreds of times larger than the Sun yet live only a fraction as long as the Sun because they burn their hydrogen fuel at an intensely fast rate. NGC 1300 is about 70 million light years from Earth. The yellow spiral galaxy in the photo is twice that far from Earth.

Looking these pictures reminds me of why the early 20th century astronomers referred to other galaxies outside the Milky Way as "Island Universes." If you ponder the distance and paucity of matter between NGC 1300 and the lonely galaxy far behind its outer arm, no bigger in size than star, the distances and isolation flatten your imagination.

Like Podunk, some galaxies are truly out in the middle of nowhere. This spiral behind Eridanus must not get many visitors.

Behind the Pinwheel Galaxy, M-101.

Below is the tiny yellow dot at the end of the arrow:

The Pinwheel Galaxy is 27 million light years from Earth (a light year is 6 trillion miles). It is 170,000 light years in diameter and is found in the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Note the ultra kool crown of young, blue stars in the upper right of the photo. The yellow galaxy in the lower photo is a galaxy as far from the Pinwheel Galaxy as the Pinwheel Galaxy is from us. That's far. It can still be named by you, if you pay me a dollar.

Here is a massive open cluster of young, blue stars in the outer fringes of the Pinwheel Galaxy. These stars are so bright and hot that they would frizzle the Earth into a cloud of plasma if they were where the Sun is to us.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Richard Dawkins

"As a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it." -- Richard Dawkins.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

But Home Prices Always Go Up !!!

"The mortgage industry built their entire business on ass-backwards, shit-kicking, dumb-fuck assumptions. The housing market couldn't just go up forever. Yes, that was part of their “models.” You just have to be alive for 15 years to know that these things cycle. People who said that real estate prices weren’t ever going to go down should be beaten over the head with piles and piles of foreclosed mortgages. Idiots."

-- Investment analyst Barry Ritholtz in Esquire.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I have lost dear friends from racism.

Barack Obama addresses the third rail of American society. How to talk about race honestly, without having the discussion become a whitewash or a bloodbath.

If anyone ever again tells me Barack Obama is all suit and no substance, I will shove this speech in their face. His speech is a primer on the history of the races in the United States.

As W.E.B. Dubois said, the problem of America is the problem of the color line. Barack Obama so obviously and massively keyed into W.E.B. Dubois in this speech. He did it in a way that I think MLK was moving toward, and certainly Malcolm X was moving toward, until they had lead injected into their heads.

This man rocks. This was a profoundly difficult speech for him to give. It was hard for me to listen to, in parts. But I can see where he is trying to go. As usual, William Faulkner nails it. The past is not even the past.

This is what Barack is trying to exorcise. I think he has done it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two Uses for Stolen Lumber

Not stolen, actually. Last summer the construction dudes who replaced all the sewer and water lines on the street up the street used the abandoned high school across the street to store all their junk and dirt and asphalt chunks.

Among that junk was a whole mess of 2x6s and 2x4s and planks they used as forms for pouring concrete.

So I stole them. Sorry. Recycled them. Saved them, actually.

Today (March 18) was the first day in Augusta, Maine I have been able to do any work outside since the snow started last November.

These boxes are for heirloom tomatoes and peppizz.

Monday, March 17, 2008

There Is No Silver Bullet

It is axiomatic that endangered animal populations already very sick from the acute and chronic effects of humans, when confronted with bad environmental conditions, break, and disappear.

This is how the AIDS virus kills people. You die of pneumonia or staph infection -- but the real killer is AIDS. Death by 1,000 cuts is another accurate analogy.

A lot of otherwise intelligent biologists, scientists, public officials and citizens often try in vain to find the "silver bullet" that is causing the decline of a species, such as Atlantic salmon.

It is very rare for one thing to extirpate a species. Even the Great Extinctions of the Permian and Cretaceous (the dinosaur extinction) are thought to have played out over millions of years and had numerous contributing causes.

Everything that kills an animal kills an animal. Every killed animal is one that is not alive. Animals must be alive to give birth to their children. Therefore, all impacts are important and deserve our attention.

Shifting the blame is not a recovery strategy for endangered animals, any more than it is for alcoholics.

Guy's Supermarket

A guy's supermarket would be a sports bar/boat show/specialty tool showroom/electronics center with 9 foot high speakers/beers of the world walk-in condo-sized cooler and a half aisle of frozen food.

In the shape of a pick-up truck.

Decision Time Is Upon Us

Sunday night I stopped waffling, soberly examined my pale, wan, winter-emaciated face in the dirty window of the abandoned building across the street, took a deep draught of cheap, lead-contaminated moonshine from a paper bag, knuckled down, held onto my tear-stained and spittle-flecked keyboard for dear life and ...


Rattlesnake Pole Bean (A=2oz) $1.20
Multicolored Pole Bean Mix (A=1/2oz) $1.00
Scarlet Runner Bean (A=1oz) $1.30
Alderman or Tall Telephone Shell Pea (A=2oz) $1.00
Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea (A=2oz) $1.30
Sugarsnap Snap Pea (A=2oz) $1.50
King of the North Sweet Pepper OG (A=0.5g) $1.20
Hog Heart Paste Tomato ECO (A=0.2g) $1.20
Heirloom Tomato Mix OG (A=0.2g) $1.20

Subtotal: = $10.90
Maine Sales Tax: + $0.55
Handling Charge: + $5.00
Grand Total: = $16.45

From Fedco Seeds of Clinton and Waterville, Maine.


Whew ...

Corporatism Fantasies

The problem with Corporatism is demonstrated by the exact situation we face today. Corporations, driven by short-term monetary objectives, cannot be trusted to act in their own long-term interest, or respect the most basic bounds of an advanced open and democratic society. Regulation is good when it rewards long-term thinking instead of penalizing it.

The real estate meltdown is a text book example of what happens in the absence of regulations that reward long-term thinking. Instantaneous gratification is not a good personal, business or societal model. Just ask Elliot Spitzer. Unfortunately, our consumption driven economy (due in part to the massive decline of making stuff in the U.S.) depends on instantaneous gratification . The concept of buy now, pay later has become this country's business model. We are now arriving at the "pay later" date.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Does God Bless America?

"God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."-Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in 2003

God Bless America is a pretty shitty song anyways, when you think about it. If your people have been totally fucked over by America, and enslaved by America, and lynched by America, and burned at the stake for exercising your right to vote in America, if you actually believed in a benevolent God, wouldn't you have to logically conclude that either God Doesn't Bless America, or God is not on your side?

Critics of the Rev. Wright's statement might want to note that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said nearly the exact same thing in 1967:

Sorta like the chickens coming home to roost ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Prostitution should be legal if you can put a down payment on a house for one blow job.

It's like a Pell Grant with syrup.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Baboon Nebula

This is the Baboon Nebula in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), one of two dwarf galaxies which closely orbit our Milky Way.

Like all of the outstanding features of our sky, the Small Magellanic Cloud is only observable in the southern hemisphere of Earth, the SMC being located in the constellation Tucana, the toucan.

The Small Magellanic Cloud is 210,000 light years from Earth, or two diameters of our Milky Way Galaxy. The Baboon Nebula is part of a huge star forming region of the Small Magellanic Cloud called NGC 346 (NGC = new general catalog).

The Small Magellanic Cloud is a kool place.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Best Gravitational Lensing ... Evah

Here we see a spiral galaxy being smeared into a crescent as its light is bent through the warped space around a galaxy cluster. The size and brightness of the smear indicates the warped spiral is not too far (ahem) behind the galaxy cluster.

Albert Einstein predicted this exact effect in 1916 while developing his General Theory of Relativity. Only now, with the Hubble Space Telescope, can Albert Einstein's prediction be observed and confirmed. Gravity is the bending of space. Light must follow the bending of space, just as light must bend as it passes through the glass lens of a telescope.

I love this Hubble Telescope photo because it illustrates the Greatness of Science. Science is at its most powerful when theory and data independently point to one explanation and exclude all others. This photograph shows gravity bending space itself. If someone has an alternative explanation for this photograph, they are always welcome to propose it.

'Round the Sombrero

From the Hubble Space telescope image of the Sombrero Galaxy there are some kool things in the background:

This is the area around the two bright stars above and to the right of the Sombrero Galaxy. Here we have a white and blue star in the Milky Way galaxy somewhat close to Earth. Near the right star, looking like fighter planes, are two edge-on spiral galaxies that are so far out they barely register on the image. Given that the Sombrero Galaxy is 28 million light years from Earth, you can imagine how far out these spiral galaxies are from us. Yoinks. Also notice the two kool star pairs. Are they actual binary stars or optical doubles? Me dunno. Now look at these bizarre things:

These are the two tiny white dots at the bottom and slightly to the left center of the Sombrero Galaxy. When examined on the massive (11,000 x 7,000 pixel) full resolution Hubble image, they look like two perfectly matched spiral galaxies side by side and "holding hands." At first I thought this was an image artifact, ie. somehow the spiral galaxy got doubled when the Hubble image was prepared, but the Spitzer Space telescope image shows both of them as well, in infrared. It would be great to get Hubble to do a close-up of these two. I find it unbelievable that Nature "allowed" two spirals of the exact same size, shape and orientation to become next to each other in this way. The fullres Hubble image nicely displays the swarm of globular star clusters orbiting the Sombrero Galaxy. Here's a huge one where the individual stars can actually be seen:

Supernova in Sagittarius

The Spitzer Space Telescope website is dance massive for outrageous, downloadable space photography -- all infrared.

This is the billowing bubble from a very old Supernova in Sagittarius that is invisible to telescopes at visible light frequencies due to the massive dust clouds at the center of the Milky Way. It is about 10,800 light years from Earth. Infrared telescopes, like the Earth Orbiting Spitzer telescope, can see through all the dust in the center of our galaxy and show us what is there for the first time.


As in Infrared Warm-Cool-Not Hot but Warmish Cool.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Name This Galaxy

Really. You can came it. It has no name. It is a tiny galaxy in a photo of another tiny galaxy, ESO-325-G004, which is itself a tiny speck 450 million light years from Earth in a cluster of galaxies called Abell S0740, which are a cluster of tiny specks in the southern hemisphere constellation of Centaurus. To the left and center you can see even smaller galaxies. Here's few more cuties from the same tiny speck of sky.

The bright objects with cross-hair points are very small stars in our own galaxy that happen to be in the field of view. Here's another:
This is a loose barred spiral galaxy with very active starforming regions in the bright blue section of the arm. This appears to be the aftermath of a collision and merger of two galaxies. The arms look very odd and incongruous for a barred spiral. The bright blue area of star formation may be caused by the collision. Note the even more distant spiral galaxies around it. The mind boggles. This is what these galaxies looked like a billion years ago, when life first started to form on Earth. Here's some more:
This is a kool duo of a nearly round elliptical galaxy, an edge-on Sombrero Galaxy-type spiral with massive amounts of dust, and a half dozen dwarf ellipticals.

These photos were taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, which in my opinion is the best investment of tax dollars the U.S. has ever made.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Video Store Theology

If the Old and New Testaments were hour one and hour two of a movie, you'd think the video place gave you the wrong tape for the first hour.

Woodrow Wilson Keeble, Sioux Veteran.

Almost six decades after his actions, and 26 years after his death, Msgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble was awarded the Model of Honor in the East Room of the White House by President Bush. The MOH was accepted by Keeble's stepson, Russell. Woodrow Wilson Keeble is the first full-blooded Sioux to receive the Medal of Honor. He served in the Korean War.

Msgt. Keeble's Medal of Honor citation states:

"Alone, Woody was able to get into the trenches with the enemy soldiers and eliminated two trenches' worth. From there, he worked his way to the right of the enemy and took out the first bunker with a grenade.

Then, he retreated back to his first line of defense, crossed to his extreme left and took out the second bunker with a grenade. Then he went back to the third bunker with a grenade and subdued the rest of the enemy with his rifle.

Woody was hit in the chest, both arms, right calf, knee, right thigh and left thigh. One eyewitness said he saw the chest bullet come out of his back."

H/T and thanks to Jesse Wendel and The Group News Blog.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Art is Not Oil

Music is art. Selling art is not like selling oil. All oil is the same. All art is different. Each batch must be sampled. It's like a wine tasting. The customer needs to have the chance to take a sip of your wine without being charged $18 for the chance. Radio used to be the "wine tasting" for music. Radio, thanks to Reagan and Clinton's FCC, is dead.

But more important, you need a culture and society that treasures, celebrates and FUNDS the arts, including teaching kids prowess on instruments like violins, violas, drums, french horns, tympani and the human voice ... skills that take years of practice to master. And giving these kids an audience to play for. Which means a society that likes, and appreciates, and has the time, and wants to listen to ... live music. My nephew and niece love to play music. They bang on my instruments when they are up here at my house. Music is a massive societal plus and good. It is worth paying for. Or as Frank Zappa said, what you get for not investing in music and arts education for children is an impoverished, illiterate and dead culture feeding off the floor scraps of the past. We can do better than that.

The Good Side of Global Warming

Has anybody ever considered that a warmer climate will benefit countries like Canada, Russia and Northern United States? Why is this never taken into account?

Because that type of "thinking" leads one to conclude that setting your house on fire is a good way to prevent frostbite.

Or buying a huge life insurance policy and then killing yourself is a great way to pay for your kids' education.

Investing in No Future ...

Big Picture's Barry Ritholtz offers a fascinating slice of life as to how his investor-centric readership views Global Warming. Not surprisingly, Apollo Moon Hoaxers abound.

It was all done with mirrors on a Hollywood sound studio !!!11!!!!

It sux when the laws of physics require that your actions have consequences.

Bad Physics !!! Bad Physics !!!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Penobscot River Sturgeon

What a difference it makes when you actually look for two critically endangered species in a river instead of ... not looking for them.

This news release is wrong because it implies that the Atlantic sturgeon is not endangered. The shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) was declared an endangered species in 1973 when the U.S. Endangered Species Act was first passed into law. The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) was actually more endangered in 1973 because there was a large commercial fisheries for Atlantic sturgeon along the Eastern seaboard. The Atlantic sturgeon was not protected as endangered precisely because more of them were being killed every year than shortnose sturgeon. Go figure.

Today the Atlantic sturgeon is in much greater danger of extinction than the shortnose sturgeon precisely because the Atlantic sturgeon has not been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1973 and the shortnose sturgeon has.

Why should this be surprising?

If you don't protect them, they go extinct.