Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Space Weather Webcast at the AGU Conference

Log in NOW to view the session "Space Weather Prediction: Are We There Yet?" Sessions on this topic will be occurring today AND tomorrow!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Los Hollywamos, NM.

Sitting in the ABQ airport, waiting for my flight to Toronto to board. Thought I would shoot off a quick post to describe a very bizarre scene from yesterday.

Because Los Alamos is so far from the nearest major airport, the standard protocol is to pick up a rental car in town (often the day before your flight) and drop it off at the airport. Yesterday, my wife drove me to the local Hertz station at the LA airport, which serves small airplanes and few flights. As we tried to pull in, a young man sporting a black hoodie and a walkie talkie stopped us and asked us what we were doing. We told him we just wanted to get to the rental car place and he waved us through.

It became far stranger as we approached the tiny Los Alamos terminal: in the gloomy weather we've been experiencing lately, there were dozens of people, large semi trailers, tents, equipment, and a lot of commotion. As I got out of the car I was stopped again by a tall man in a black, large rimmed hat, a long black trenchcoat, and a police badge hanging from his neck. Again, my request to get to the rental car desk was enough to get me through and I was able to pick up my car.

The cause of all of the commotion? Los Alamos was the background for a day of shooting a major hollywood movie, "Did you Hear About the Morgans?". The shoot had lasted all day, and the stars of the movie were on hand: Hugh Grant, Kim Shaw, and a talking horse.

I guess you never know what you'll run in to up here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spring AGU

This Saturday I leave for the spring American Geophysical Union meeting, held in Toronto, Canada (this year, anyway).

I'll be sure to blog the interesting space science that goes on. Additionally, this year AGU has a Twitter page that you can follow if you are so inclined.

Being held over Memorial Day is going to hurt attendance this year. Spring AGU is already a smaller meeting, so it will be interesting how many people turn out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More people should do things like this.

Following some links provided in a comment in my previous post led me to this study of the happiness of programmers using different languages from Dolores Labs. They surveyed Twitter posts that concerned various languages (e.g. "I sure love Fortran!" or "C is making me ANGRY!") and tallied the results to see what language garnered the most positive responses.

Here are the results:

The winner... PERL! I guess I can't leave my favorite language quite yet, eh?

Clearly, the results should be scrutinized and a formalized study would likely yield different results. Despite these criticisms, simple studies like this are fantastic. The results give clues as to what a broader, more rigorous study would uncover. The methodology provokes thought on ways to improve the study, the implications of the outcome, etc. And more importantly, the results are just neat. I am reminded of Mark Twain's famous quote on science, "One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

Please explore the Dolores Labs site so I feel better about hot linking their results.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shhhh... I'm having an affair!

Yep, you read it correctly- I'm cheating on my one true programming love, and I may wind up leaving her altogether. I've been a Perl monk for 3 years now, and it has been my go-to language for everything except scientific numerics and visualization. There's a good reason, too: it's easy to use, intuitive, and exceptionally powerful.

This is changing as I type, however. I've been enticed by Python, which promises to do everything that Perl can do. More importantly, it is becoming a staple in scientific programming and has powerful visualization modules available. The allure of my glue language becoming my EVERYTHING language is too much to resist. Imagine a CGI script that performs the calculation, generates the plots, and returns the requested material - and it's all in the same language! It is for reasons such as these that Python is climbing up the most used language charts.

My first task with Python is to re-create Dawkin's Weasel program, a straightforward goal (Oh, look - the good folks at New Mexico Science Watch are already on it!). I have a working version in Perl now with a CGI frontend. Let's see how quickly I can get up to speed in Python. But don't tell Perl yet; I don't think she could take it. If Python lives up to its billing, I'll let Perl down slowly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on the new active region.

A few days old, but the TRACE satellite took a great snapshot of the new active region:

This is rotated 90 degrees clockwise, obfuscating the view a tad. This was taken as the active region was rotating around the limb and into view. SpaceWeather.com is reporting that this active region is not a full-fledged sunspot yet, but working its darnedest to become one.

Be sure to check out more on the TRACE mission.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Space Crap: There's a lot of it.

Old news: Back in February of this year, an American satellite from the Iridium constellation collided with a Russian satellite from the Cosmos constellation (both in Low Earth Orbit, or "LEO"). This highlights one of the issues with near-Earth outer space: it's crowded as all get-out. One of the difficulties of flying spacecraft, both manned and unmanned, is ensuring it is not going to run into something else. As more and more satellites are put into orbit, this sort of event becomes increasingly difficult to avoid.

Newer news: the result of this collision? A bunch of space debris was released, creating an even more hazardous environment. You can read more about this at spaceweather.com, third story down as of today (no hard links on their site!) To give you an idea of how much space junk was placed into orbit by this crash, here's a great picture from the site (click to embiggen):

All of those objects are from this single event. This is only a small percentage of the total space garbage present around Earth, whose sources range from dead satellites, satellite debris, debris from rockets and manned space flights, to naturally occurring objects such as micrometeorites. This poses two huge problems: one, where is this stuff? There are companies that do nothing but track space garbage in the sky and sell this information to space agencies. Two, where can we put a satellite without hitting this stuff, or, alternatively, is a particular satellite safe from collisions with this space trash?

While I focus on solar driven space weather on this blog, space debris is a vital part of space weather as well. Constantly tracking the innumerable bits of garbage is one more factor that goes into avoiding the hazards of near-Earth outer space.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm not slacking!

...just been very, very busy. With many conferences coming up (quickly), posts will likely be sparse. I will blog the conferences, however.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Solar Activity, Ahoy!

Last week I posted concerning a sunspot on the western near-equatorial region of the sun. What I should have focused on is the new sunspot on the eastern limb as detected by the STEREO B satellite. This spot is currently hidden from Earth (the STEREO mission has two satellites that see the sides of the sun that can't bee seen from Earth) but will rotate into view in the next few days.

STEREO B image, linked from SpaceWeather.com

Yesterday, this region produced a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a violent release of mass, radiation, and magnetic field into the solar system. While this particular CME had no chance of hitting the Earth, these are the kind of events that damage satellites, over load electrical grids, put our astronauts in danger and produce the beautiful aurora. The sun is, apparently, slowly waking from its long cycle minimum.

A movie of the CME event can be found here.
Be sure to check out the latest images from the STEREO Mission!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Hike - Deer Trap Mesa

Deer Trap Mesa is just north of Otowi Mesa, which was the target of my last hike. Deer Trap trail is not nearly as challenging, but I was far less adventurous as last time. With a Red Wings playoff game on national TV at noon, I wanted to get back quickly. This meant a lot less non-trail extensions to my hike which will likely not be the case next time I go.

Kwage, Otowi, and Deer Trap are all candidates for my kite-camera project: I plan on strapping a camera to my (very large) kite on a breezy day and let all 1000 feet of line out to get the best possible aerial footage of the area. Kwage is close to the airport (bad for high-flying kites) and Otowi is a much more difficult trek. Deer Trap, the northern most of the three, is a good compromise, but there aren't many good places to launch the kite from.

Anyway, check out the path I set up in Google Maps; the waypoints all have pictures. Enjoy.

View Hike - May 3 2009 in a larger map