Thursday, November 08, 2007

HDTV from the Moon!

The Japanese spacecraft KAGUYA ("SELENE", in English) has taken the first high definition video from lunar orbit! Now it's even easier to imagine what it would be like to be in orbit around the moon!

Check it out the awesome video here:

And there's more information about the spacecraft here:

Monday, October 01, 2007

Giant Black Sea Bass


2 weeks ago, I went out diving in La Jolla Cove to see if we could catch a glimpse of the black sea bass that are said to be in the kelp forests this time of year. We had no luck, mainly because we descended on the wrong buoy. This past Sunday, I went back in the water with my sister to look for the seabass at a different buoy. . . and we found 'em!

I dive with two of these black sea bass every week at the Long Beach Aquarium, but this is the first time I've seen them in the wild. This species can grow to as large as 500 lbs, though the ones we saw in La Jolla were probably ~150 - 200 lbs. We saw 4 of them at one time, and they were very cool to watch. Check out the video above, and take a look at some of my pictures from the dives at my flickr site.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dawn and the pursuit of purpose

The Dawn spacecraft launched this morning from Cape Canaveral. Dr. Russell, the Principal Investigator of the mission, is a professor in my department here at UCLA. Dawn is going to be the first spacecraft to orbit two separate planetary bodies (the asteroids, Vesta and Ceres) in the same mission. Its mission is to study these asteroids to determine their geophysical properties: whether their interiors are differentiated (like the Earth's), or undifferentiated (like a smaller asteroid or rock). It will send back data that will help us to understand the process of planetary formation.

One of the reasons I chose to go into space science as a career is stuff like this. The sense of true exploration; of finding ways to explore places no human has ever been before, and of using these observations to better understand the amazing and surprising universe we find ourselves in.

In my (possibly a bit melodramatic) estimation, organizations like NASA are important because they help to give humanity a purpose. At the end of the day we humans spend so much time, money, sweat, and blood fighting with each other over chunks of dirt, hurting each other because we don't believe in the same mythology, working hard to ensure that more members of the human race are able to live healthy lives, or simply finding new ways to keep ourselves entertained. But what for? All the military effort spent keeping us safe, all the medical science helping us to survive, all the time we spend on enjoying and accentuating our art and culture is essential and vital to our existence as a species; don't get me wrong. But should we be content with merely existing?

Increasing the percentage of the human population that can expect to live long, healthy, and happy lives is a noble pursuit. . . but it is ultimately all for the purpose of our continued existence. Assuming we humans continue to improve our ability to survive, to increase our population, to increase our quality of life. . . what do we intend to do with ourselves? Will we just sit on the porch and enjoy the existence our efforts have earned us, content to live out our lives happily, then disappear after our individual deaths?

It is efforts like exploration, or natural science simply for the sake of satisfying our curiosity, that can give humanity deeper purpose: to explore and understand our amazing universe. We are such an insignificant species, a result of an accident of physics and chemistry, on a tiny world in a vast, vast universe. There is so much in our world and beyond it for us to explore. Stretching our vision out into space is an effort in the pursuit of our purpose.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dryer-sheets are like gremlins

Today, on the bus on the way to school, I was standing up hanging on to a pole for dear life, still waking up, and I noticed in my reflection in the window that I had a dryer-static-cling-removal sheet stuck to my rear end.

That is all.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Phone and the Dumpster

Last night, I decided to clean out the car. Regan tends to leave junk and garbage in the car for months on end, while I tend to try and keep the car interior a bit more tidy. The typical routine is that the amount of junk in the car builds up for a month or so before I get frustrated enough to angrily put it all in a bag and throw it away.

As I was throwing papers into the bag for trash and Oprah magazines into the bag of Regan’s junk to bring upstairs, I was also juggling my backpack, my cell phone, and my telescope (which was in the car because I had just returned from a canceled star party). I closed up the car, tossed the garbage into the dumpster, and carried the rest of the stuff back up to the condo.

That evening I couldn’t find my phone in the house. I knew it was somewhere at home because I had called Regan from the car on my way home, so I figured I must have left it in the car. I figured I’d just get it in the morning when we went downstairs to leave for the day.

So, this morning, we get to the car and the cell phone is nowhere to be found. Confused, I went back up to the condo to look around again, with no success. Since I couldn’t find it in the car OR the condo, and I knew I hadn’t left it at school, I started to retrace my steps. As I was trying to remember everything I did last night, my eyes fell to the dark catacombs in the corner of our garage where the dumpster is kept. . . oh crap.

I didn’t really think I’d thrown my phone in the dumpster; instead, I figured it would turn up somewhere I hadn’t thought of in the condo in a day or two, but I figured I might as well take a look, just in case. I asked Regan (who was getting impatient sitting in the car waiting to leave while I took one last look around for the phone) to call my phone. I opened the big metal door that quarantines the dumpster dungeon, and peered over the rim into the dank, vile pit of refuse.

And there it was. Vibrating in the bottom of the dumpster was my phone, lit up and crying out to be rescued. I climbed into the great clangy trash-box, making sure I stepped only on large pieces of cardboard and newspaper, and retrieved the little fellow. It was only a bit dusty, but I made a note to wipe it off with a damp cloth later on.

Getting back in the car after emerging from the trash room, Regan asked if I’d found the phone. Yep. A pause. Regan narrowed her eyes and smiled slightly.

“Was it in the dumpster?”

I know that this event will end up on a list of dumb things I have done, which will probably also include the time I locked myself out of my own house. But it’s important to remember the moral of this story: Keep your car tidy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lunar transit as viewed from STEREO

Another cool vista from space. Check out this movie of the moon in a transit across the sun, as viewed from the STEREO satellite, which is in orbit around the sun, about a million miles behind the Earth in its orbital track.