### Existential Crisis Averted

I'm fairly convinced that every astronomer experiences at least one period of existential crisis at some point in her/his career. After all, astronomy is a luxurious pursuit of knowledge only afforded to the wealthiest of societies. It doesn't build bridges or clean up oil spills. So isn't there a more worthwhile use of my intelligence and schooling? a burgeoning astronomer might rightly ask. Shouldn't I be teaching kids in Haiti?

Well, maybe we should. But if we did, who would come up with the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS)? And for that matter, who would come up with our snappy acronyms?

Who? John Tonry, that's who. John popped up on astro-ph to remind us that astronomers are, in fact, capable of useful endeavors:
Earth is bombarded by meteors, occasionally by one large enough to cause a significant explosion and possible loss of life. Although the odds of a deadly asteroid strike in the next century are low, the most likely impact is by a relatively small asteroid, and we suggest that the best mitigation strategy in the near term is simply to move people out of the way. We describe an "early warning" system that could provide a week's notice of most sizable asteroids or comets on track to hit the Earth. This system, dubbed "Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System" (ATLAS), comprises two observatories separated by about 100km that simultaneously scan the visible sky twice a night, and can be implemented immediately for relatively low cost. The sensitivity of ATLAS permits detection of 140m asteroids (100 Mton impact energy) three weeks before impact, and 50m asteroids a week before arrival. An ATLAS alarm, augmented by other observations, should result in a determination of impact location and time that is accurate to a few kilometers and a few seconds.
Of course, in addition to being altruistic, he is also an astronomer. So his abstract goes on to say

In addition to detecting and warning of approaching asteroids, ATLAS will continuously monitor the changing universe around us: most of the variable stars in our galaxy, many micro-lensing events from stellar alignments, luminous stars and novae in nearby galaxies, thousands of supernovae, nearly a million quasars and active galactic nuclei, tens of millions of galaxies, and a billion stars. With two views per day ATLAS will make the variable universe as familiar to us as the sunrise and sunset.
Either way, protecting Earth from asteroid impacts or providing a view of the variable universe, this is a really important concept.

Oh, and I used to work in the office right next to Prof. Tonry, albeit doing less useful things...

blissful_e said…
Snappy acronyms are key!! :)

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…