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Showing posts from October, 2011

On Parenthood

Erin recently sent me this amazing post On Parenthood. A snippet:

As an adult, you may think you've roughly mapped the continent of love and relationships. You've loved your parents, a few of your friends, eventually a significant other. You have some tentative cartography to work with from your explorations. You form ideas about what love is, its borders and boundaries. Then you have a child, look up to the sky, and suddenly understand that those bright dots in the sky are whole other galaxies.You can't possibly know the enormity of the feelings you will have for your children. It is absolutely fucking terrifying.When I am holding Henry and I tickle him, I can feel him laughing all the way to his toes. And I realize, my God, I had forgotten, I had completely forgotten how unbelievably, inexplicably wonderful it is that any of us exist at all. Here I am with this tiny, warm body so close to me, breathing so fast he can barely catch up, sharing his newfound joy of simply bei…

Dragons and Space Dust

My teaching assistant, Jackie Villadsen, recently completed an excellent podcast for 365 Days of Astronomy. The audio and transcript are here. Here's an excerpt:
Stars are the dragons of the Universe. Their massive fiery bellies boil with an inconceivable heat. This heat comes from nuclear reactions. When we set off a nuclear bomb on Earth (which is a very unfortunate and unnatural process), we create for just a tiny moment and in a tiny space the high temperatures needed to fuse together four hydrogen atoms and make helium. By comparison, this process of fusion chugs along constantly, and completely naturally, in the belly of the Sun for 10 billion years! Imagine 10 billion years of continuous nuclear bombs… how strong that is! The rest of the post takes the reader through the fascinating process of stellar nucleosynthesis, or the way in which all of the elements heavier than lithium are processed in the centers of massive stars and blown back into outer space through supernova e…

Sunday Morning Music Break: 8-bit edition

Q: How many marimba-ists does it take to reprise an 8-bit Nintendo song?
A: As many as it takes to result in this level of awesomeness:

Feynman Science and Beauty and Doubt

Oh, internet...

I was looking for exoplanet-related pictures using a Google Images search, and I stumbled upon this bit of awesomeness:

(The sine of the angle b divided by the tangent of b is the cosine of b, or cos b.)

Monday's guest astronomer

Oops, I meant to post this to my Ay20 class blog. Oh well, enjoy it anyway!

Monday we'll be joined by an esteemed visitor, Dr. Jon Swift:
Dr. Swift was my graduate student mentor at UC Berkeley and we both ended up at the University of Hawaii together as postdocs, where he was a Sub-millimeter Array Postdoctoral (SMA) Fellow. His research focus is on massive star formation and he uses interferometers to study molecular clouds where these behemoth baby stars are born.

Dr. Swift is also a professional musician, photographer, poet and an accomplished surfer.

Come prepared with questions for our guest. We'll also be learning about blackbody radiation, so stay tuned for the worksheet, which will be posted this weekend.

Wednesday morning pick-me-up

h/t Brian

My students' writing

A friend and colleague of mine, Prof. Andrew West, gave me the idea of having my students maintain research blogs, both as a way for him to keep up with what they are doing and for the student to practice writing. 
This has worked so well for my mentees that I decided to use it in my Intro Astro course. I was further encouraged by this article, in which the author Prof. Cathy Davidson notes Given that I was teaching a class based on learning and the Internet, having my students blog was a no-brainer. I supplemented that with more traditionally structured academic writing, a term paper. When I had both samples in front of me, I discovered something curious. Their writing online, at least in their blogs, was incomparably better than in the traditional papers. In fact, given all the tripe one hears from pundits about how the Internet dumbs our kids down, I was shocked that elegant bloggers often turned out to be the clunkiest and most pretentious of research-paper writers. Term papers r…

Order of Magnitude Astrophysics

From the Ay20 blog, here's a solution to one of the week 1 worksheet problems.

Estimating The Luminosity of a Sun-like Star
by: John A. Johnson, Jackie Villadsen


We present the solution to Worksheet problem #2, from week 1, estimating the power output of a Sun-like star. Each group should submit one to two of these per week. Decide amongst your group members who will be first author, second author, etc. Acknowledge people and resources used in your solution. Cite ancillary information. State your assumptions clearly. Write your solution such that a frosh could duplicate your steps and arrive at the same solution.


The oldest astronomical instrument is the human eye. A marvel of evolution, the eye has both high sensitivity and a large dynamic range. A classic study of the eye's response to light conducted in 1942 showed that of order 10 photons need to impinge on the eye in order for the brain to register detection (Hecht, Schlaer & Pirenne 1942). In other…

Dreaming of a Basketball Future

Owen, Mar and I have been watching a Youtube video of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, the two fleet-footed guards on the Golden State Warriors. Owen likes to imagine himself as the shooting guard Ellis, and Mar is the point guard Curry. The music is nice, too.

A vision of things to come? At the very least we'll be at the Warriors vs. Clippers (pre-season) game later this month!