Monday, November 20, 2017

The Stars Overhead

I love stargazing. Using telescopes and binocs to look at the stars is great, but something about looking at the stars at night with your own eyes is just magical. It reconnects us with ancient people, who knew the heavens above so very well, even if we have more knowledge now about what those stars really are.

As a communicator of science, I've been slowly building up my set of tools to use to share science in various ways. One things I've been wanting to do for a long time, but just haven't accomplished is producing videos of my field work, videos about science, and videos about the awe and wonder I feel in the presence of thinking about the universe and that I know many others likely share as well. So I've decided to start doing it! I'm going to be producing videos (hopefully one each week or two) to share these things.

The first one to get started with is a video about the stars you can see overhead at night. I'm still finding my voice and my style, but, if you have a moment, give it a watch and, please, let me know what you think. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Humanity, Technology, and an "Einstein Quote" that Einstein Never Said.

I was recently thinking about the film Powder. Released in 1995 and starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, and Lance Henriksen, Powder was about a young albino man, nicknamed Powder, with unique capabilities of intellect, telepathy, and paranormal ability. The man is an outcast due to his differences, and the film explores some of his interactions with others. The tagline for the film was "An extraordinary encounter with another human being!". Here's the trailer for the film:

It's definitely worth a watch. I remember being quite moved by it when I was a kid (I was 12 when the film came out). There's one scene in particular that stuck with me and comes up in my thoughts from time-to-time. Jeff Goldblum's character, Donald Ripley, is supportive of Powder and awed by Powder's abilities. In the scene that I still remember so well, the following exchange is had between the two of them:

Donald Ripley: “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

Powder: “Albert Einstein.”

Donald Ripley: “I look at you, and I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology.”

Beautiful, right?! I loved that scene as a kid, and I still love it now. However, something very interesting that I just learned is that the first part of the quote ("It's become appallingly clear...") isn't actually a quote from Albert Einstein!

Folks at Quote Investigator and Snopes have tried to track down this claimed Einstein quote and have found that the first instance of the quote in known history actually is the movie Powder! The quote was written into the script as being from Einstein even though it wasn't actually an Einstein quote. Later, due to the film, others began using the quote and misattributing it to Einstein (such as DeAnna Emerson’s "Mars/Earth Enigma: A Sacred Message to Mankind" in 1996 and Nina L. Diamond's "Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers, and Healers" in 2000).

It's still a great quote and a moving sentiment. It reminds me of what I found to be the most powerful line in Martin Luther King Jr.'s essay "The World House":

"When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

Of course, the quote from Powder sounds like something that Albert Einstein would have said. And, even though I think it's good to be aware of things like misattribution, there's also something interesting about how we often will begin building legends around famous people from our past (and even present) and can slowly attribute talents, spoken words, and acts to those legends that may not have been true of the actual people the legends are based on. 
Maybe it doesn't matter that Einstein never actually said that. Maybe part of the legend of Einstein, the myth of the man, is that we build him up and attribute sayings and deeds to him that weren't really his. Even though I prefer knowing the truth in this instance, it might just be part of our human nature that we build our legends up in such ways. It's definitely something to ponder.

I'll leave you here with a quote that is pretty surely actually from Einstein:

"The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

(Of course, many have shortened the quote to say "The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think". Oh well.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Und Here Ve See zee Illusive Anglerfish!

Anglerfish are some of the most bizarre creatures on our planet. They sport the well-known fleshy lures, dangling from the front of their bodies to entice prey organisms to come in close for a better look (and, then, only to get chomped on). Their bodies tend to be compressed, making them weirdly blobby or weirdly elongated (depending on the species). Some of them also have some of the strangest sexual dimorphism, where the male of a given species may be incredibly small compared to the females. 

I just stumbled upon the video below on the Facebook page for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). They captured a video of an anglerfish 600 m (1968.5 ft) down in the ocean using the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. Take a look at the bizarre creature as it swims among the marine snow, sporting its "luminous lure at the tip" (as it was described by MBARI's Bruce Robison).

Here's the description offered by MBARI for the video:

"Deep-sea anglerfish are strange and elusive creatures that are very rarely observed in their natural habitat. Fewer than half a dozen have ever been captured on film or video by deep diving research vehicles. This little angler, about 9 cm long, is named Melanocetus. It is also known as the Black Seadevil and it lives in the deep dark waters of the Monterey Canyon. MBARI's ROV Doc Ricketts observed this anglerfish for the first time at 600 m on a midwater research expedition in November 2014. We believe that this is the first video footage ever made of this species alive and at depth."

Still haven't had enough? Check out a longer, narrated version of the video from MBARI here:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Grace in Flight with Maja Kuczyńska

Image: Red Bull athlete profile for Kuczyńska
I've tried indoor skydiving once, and I most certainly wasn't as graceful as young Maja Kuczyńska, a competitor in the growing sport of indoor skydiving. Indeed, when I tried it, my long beard flew up over my face and gave me a ninja mask! Kuczyńska makes the sport/art look so smooth. Check out one of her videos below:

You can also check out more of Kuczyńska's videos and pics from indoor skydiving competitions on her Instagram. Happy flying!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'An Arctic Whirlpool" pic by Daniel F.

An Arctic Whirlpool by Daniel F. on

This stunning gem shows a majestic pool waterfall dropping into a blue pool of what I can only imagine is some chilly water for a dip. Dig it? Check out more of Daniel Fleischhacker's photography. He's got some amazing photography skills.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Stunning Timelapse Video from the Deck of a Cargo Ship: Night, Day, Stars, Storms

JeffHK has some incredible videos from his maritime adventures (and some awesome photos as well!). The video below is stellar, literally. It's a 4K vid of a 30-day timelapse from the deck of a cargo ship during JeffHK's watch as they make their way along the route from the Red Sea, to the Gulf of Aden, to the Indian Ocean, on to Colombo, then Malacca Strait, hitting Singapore, on to the South East China Sea, and, finally, Hong Kong. During the video, you can see the clouds coming and going, rains falling, thunderstorms raging, the stars and the Milky Way streaking along the heavens as the ship makes its way through the open ocean, and the process of docking and unloading/loading the cargo ship. It's a stunning video and one that you can just sit and watch and let yourself go with. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Who's The Most Stupid Here?" - a test of your bias in viewing a problem

I've seen the following picture pop up a lot lately in my social media feeds:

What do you think?

It seems like a lot of people instantly answer "4" and move on, but I don't know if the answer is all that simple. Let's consider what might actually be happening to everyone in the picture.

Number 1, the guy in the blue shirt who kind of looks like he's probably the kind of guy who smokes a pipe, is sitting on a branch doing nothing while numbers 2 and 3 are both trying to make him fall. We don't know how high the branch is, so the fall may cause minor injury or it may kill. Either way, number 1 is doing nothing to act against those who are trying to harm him. Is he a pacifist or is he just not paying attention to the world around him? Hard to say. If he's aware of what's happening but does nothing to stop it, then I'd say that's pretty stupid. If he's simply unaware of what's happening then he's also pretty stupid. Inaction, by choice or due to ignorance, is not a strong position to me.

Number 2 has the look of a guy who was once a high school bully but now is the old balding asshole who still takes pleasure in hurting others. We don't know why number 2 is sawing off the branch on number 1. The smile definitely makes it look like he's being a jerk, though it's also possible that, say, number 1 is a pedophile and number 2 is helping society make a hard but righteous decision. Again, it's hard to tell. However, since number 2 is looking at the branch he's sawing, we can say that he's aware that he's about to injure or kill number 1. Without having any justifiable reason for doing this, we can assume that 2 is a jerk. However, 2 also seems unaware that 3 is sawing the branch on which both he and number 1 are seated. Although the thickness of the branch may suggest that 2 will saw off number 1 long before 3 can saw off number 2, it still seems like 2 is oblivious to the fact that 3 is sawing the branch. His ignorance to his own situation while harming number 1 is pretty stupid, if you ask me.

Number 3 is the guy I'm most worried about here. We can't see his face, though he may be wearing a suit (maybe he's a Martin Shkreli executive asshole, kind of guy). Number 3 is sawing the branch of 1 and 2. Number 3 is not in danger himself (as far as we can tell). Number 3's action here will directly cause harm to 1 and 2 (well, as I said above, it may be more likely that 2 harms 1 first and then, after 1 falls, 3 will harm 2). Number 3 is looking at the branch he's sawing. He seems like he might be aware of the harm he's about to cause. What I see here is that 3 is about to injure or kill one or two people by choice. There could be good reason for it. What if 1 and 2 are both CEOs for health insurance companies that have been preying on the weaknesses of the nation while making themselves uber rich? Or, what if they're both serial rapists? However, without knowing more, it seems like 3 is the biggest jerk of them all. He's targeting others for harm.

Number 4, the one a lot of folks seem to think is the dumbest of the lot, is sawing his own branch and appears to be aware of it. He's looking down at the branch while sawing. However, he also has a smile. He could be unaware of the fact that his own action is about to cause him harm, but his smile makes me wonder if he knows what he's doing. Maybe he's committing suicide. Maybe he's harming himself on purpose. Maybe he knows the drop isn't very far and just wants to get away from the other idiots. Again, hard to say. If number 4 is unaware that he's sawing his own branch, then, yeah, he's pretty fracking stupid. However, if 4 is aware of what he's doing, then he may be the least stupid of them all. He's making a choice to do something (action), this something will not harm anyone else (1, 2, and 3 are not in danger through 4's actions), and he appears to be happy with the choice (not necessarily a good thing, but it could mean that he's found resolution in this choice). So, the only way 4 is the dumbest of them all, as most people say, is if he has no idea what he's actually doing. But we can't know that based solely on the picture.

So the choices become a little more difficult then. Which is dumber: inaction in one's own demise (number 1), causing harm to another while being unaware of your own danger (number 2), harming others outright (number 3), or harming yourself (number 4)? A lot of people think that 4 is the dumbest of them all, but I think that's only possibly the case if 4 is unaware of what he's doing. However, if 4 knows what he's doing, then I think 1, 2, and 3 are all far dumber than he. Number 1 is going to be harmed through inaction, number 2 is causing harm while seeming to be unaware of his own danger, and number 3 is about to harm others. But that's just my take on this situation (and making a lot of assumptions). What do you think?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Luca Stricagnoli's new video for Now We Are Free

I love Luca Stricagnoli's music! He's a fantastic guitar player, using all of his fingers to strike up beautiful tunes on his guitars. I've previously shared his covers of Thunderstruck and Sweet Child O' Mine. Now, Stricagnoli has a new album out, featuring some of his own original music as well as come more of his covers. I thought I'd share one of his new videos here. For your aural enjoyment, here is Luca Stricagnoli with Meg Pfeiffer covering "Now We Are Free", a song that Hans Zimmer composed for the film Gladiator:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Microbial PacMan

Micromaze under electron microscope (via Micromazes Facebook Page)

Stop what you're doing and watch this video of microorganisms flitting about in a PacMan maze right now!

Ah, wasn't that just a little extra awesome! Learn more about Micromazes at their Facebook Page.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A brief bit about my field site using only the thousand most common English words

To say a lot with a little is harder than you may think. 

Words are important, but what if you only had
a small number of known words with which to speak?

Chris Trivedi (right) and Graham Lau (left) at Borup Fiord Pass in 2014.

The Up-Goer Five Text Editor, created by Theo Sanderson, is a web-app that challenges you to type using only the one thousand most common words in the English language. It's intriguingly far trickier than you may think. I gave it a go, in an attempt to explain the reason that my colleagues and I went to Borup Fiord Pass to conduct our field research in 2014. What d'ya think?

On the top of the round world where we live, lies a land with ice and cold. In this land there is a piece of ice, long and thick, and covered in a color that does not seem right in such a place. This color let us know that something important was on or in or around that colored ice. We went to that place to find the colored ice and learn more about what made the color, to learn about why this place is just so cool. In the ice I found something important about fire's friend in the book of one god. This friend of fire as spoke upon before, was to be found in new forms within the ice, and of this I wrote with my friends. Now we know more about the stuff that causes the colors of the ice in that land with ice and cold that lies so far to the top of the round world where we live.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Get Deep With the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field Image
(NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; & HUDF09 Team

The Hubble Space Telescope has had a remarkable impact on space science and humanity. From observations of the outer planets of our solar system to exploring other stars and nebulae in our galaxy, Hubble has been an impressive mission and has produced some of the most incredible images of the cosmos to date. One series of incredible images are the Hubble Deep Field (HDF), the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF), and the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (HXDF).

The picture above shows the HXDF in all of its glory. Released in 2012, this picture shows a smattering of galaxies, something in the range of 5,500 of them, and some of them are as far away as 13.2 billion lightyears (meaning that some of those blobs of colored light in this image sent their shine our way some 13.2 billion years ago!).

Just looking at this image should make one wonder about the immense vastness of our universe and the potential things that may be happening in any of those thousands of galaxies far, far away. Now that have evidence to show that many stars in our galaxy have planets, it makes me wonder about how many worlds are out there in just this one region of space from the HXDF alone. Could there be other inhabited worlds? Are there species of beings out there who are turning their own instruments our way and seeing our light from long ago flashing at them? I'd like to think so. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Earth and our Moon from Voyager 1

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, 
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. 
On such a full sea are we now afloat. 
And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures." 

-William Shakespeare

This picture of the Earth and Moon were taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of 7.25 million miles (~11.66 million km). Taken on 18 September 1977 (when I was -6 years old!), this picture as the very first ever taken that showed the Earth and the Moon in one single frame.

Voyager 1 is the most distant piece of human engineering and human exploration. It's fanciful to sit and think sometimes about how far away it really is now. As of the exact time of this writing, Voyager 1 is 20,661,735,297 km from the Earth and still going. The Voyagers and their mission were a hallmark of early space exploration. Now is truly the time for us to work together to take this current of humanity's evolution as a spacefaring species, and find our ventures among the other realms in the cosmic ocean.

(Note: in the picture above, the Moon appears very close to the Earth. However, the Moon is really about as far away from us as 30 times the diameter of the Earth! The picture certainly wasn't taken from equal distances to both Earth and Moon)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stairway to Heaven played skillfully on koto and shakuhachi - a stellar performance

"No stairway. Denied."

...Well not in this awesome video from performers Keiko Hisamoto, Masako Watanabe, Miromu Motonaga, and Kizan Kawamura, where they play two koto (stringed instruments and the national instrument of Japan) and two shakuhachi (Japanese end-blown flutes). 

I can always jam out to some Stairway to Heaven, and this version is definitely incredible and well-performed:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sit back and let yourself be stunned by this awesome video of Mars imagery

Mars, dune-filled, desert planet. Mars has long held intrigue for many of us. From that red sprinkle of light in the night's sky, evoking gods of war, to the canal-irrigation hypotheses of Percival Lowell that led to some of the earliest alien science fiction, to the several dozen spacecraft that have been launched for Mars (with less than two dozen having been successful), Mars has a special place in the planetary hearts of many of us who are intrigued by the cosmos. 

One of the missions that has been uber successful, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), has the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (or HiRISE), which has taken well over 200,000 pictures of the Martian surface at high resolution. I just came across a sweet video compilation of false-colored images created by Kamil Bubeła that is definitely worth a watch. The video, called Vivid Mars, is stunning and enticing. I definitely felt the human imperative to get out there and explore a new place when I watched this video. Check it out below (or at Kamil's Youtube page):

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Extreme Humans: Big Meets Small

Sultan Kösen, the world's tallest living human, meets with Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who was the shortest known adult human. (Credit: AFP/Andrew Cowie)
Humanity is wonderful! We come in all shapes and sizes and have different skin colors and physical and mental attributes. Some people even push the extremes of what we know about the human condition. 

In the photograph above, two extreme people can be seen meeting one another back in 2014. Sultan Kösen is currently the tallest human alive. Measured at 2.51 m (8' 3") in height for the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2011, Kösen is a Kurdish farmer from Turkey. He has undergone gamma knife treatment on the tumor which affects his pituitary gland and which caused his unusual height, and this has effectively halted his growth. Kösen is, however, not the tallest human ever known. The tallest verified living person known was Robert Wadlow, who came in at 2.72 m (8' 11.1")! Man, that's really freaking tall!

In the photograph above along with Kösen is the shortest known adult male human of all time. Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 75, was recorded at 54.6 cm (1' 9.5") in height. Dangi had never left his village in Nepal until 2012, at age 72, when he was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. After that, he used his new-found fame to travel in his remaining years of life.

Humans really are amazing and incredible. Sure, we have our flaws and should always be cognizant of those flaws in order to improve them, yet our species has come to be a dominant part of the biosphere of our planet. If some major epidemic were to come by tomorrow and wipe out all of the human species, the impact of our actions on the planet would still remain in the rock record for an intelligent alien species to one day find! We come in so many varieties, yet I sometimes wonder if there are even more varieties possible. What lies down the road for our species? I'll come back to this idea in future posts.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wally wins the internet with a story about some spice and GMOs

Was just cruising along Facebook while snuffling through the tapering end of this sinus infection and I saw this post on my wall from the page of SciBabe (Yvette d'Entremont):

Ya, it really is just an apple. We could hope that it had been genetically modified to improve crop yields or to make it more nutritious, though most current genetic modifications are so that more pesticides can be applied, sadly. Still, it is just an apple. We have absolutely no evidence yet to suggest that genetic modifications to our food cause any differences to how our bodies digest them. Even if the full benefit of genetically modified foods hasn't been realized (perhaps in part due to the anti-GMO hysteria), that still doesn't mean we should fear what so few of us understands; rather, we should work together to increase public understanding of the science involved.

On another note, I personally agree with food labelling, but not just for GM crops. I think our citizens are more likely to make informed decisions about food when they actually have information. Country-of-origin, pesticides used, estimated fossil fuel consumption for delivery to the super market, and other descriptors could go along with the ingredients and nutritional information (even if that nutritional info here in the US is biased by the wants of lobbyists). Or, maybe rather than labelling, a QR code or barcode could link to a website or in-store system that displays all of the information an informed shopped may wish to peruse. Still, the real issue with GM crops, as I see it, isn't in labelling our foods with pertinent information, but rather is in the lack of scientific literacy among the public, which leads to misunderstanding of what genetically modified foods even are.

Still, that's not why I wrote this post. No, my friends, I wrote this post to share with you the insight of Wally. If you're someone who freaks out over a little dirt in your food or doesn't have an understanding of the fact that we humans are still a part of a larger biosphere, then you may not want to read what Wally has to say about spices. But, I have a feeling you're not that person, and you're going to find this to be a good point:

So ya, if you're concerned about the genetic compliment within the DNA of the foods you're eating, then you might want to consider a little further the other things that are in our food. From bat shit and dirt to pesticides and preservatives, at various levels of processing, you're bound to be getting some stuff in your food that you probably don't really want. Most of it's probably not going to hurt you, but we can definitely cut back on the pesticides and preservatives by using GM crops instead (again, if done right). 

In your thinking about GM crops, consider the story of Wally. Maybe you agree with Wally. Maybe Wally wins the internet. Or, maybe like these commenters you feel like Wally just ruined spices for you:

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Cosmobiologist's PhD Defense

I'm now finishing out 6 years of graduate studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Yikes! Where did all of that time go?

Those who know me also certainly know that this past year has been exceptionally rough. Long hours of typing, physical and mental self-abuse, and a slowly degrading attitude toward everything is what comes out of writing a PhD dissertation. Well, that and the fact that you then get to defend that work against a group of research scientists. After writing over 77,372 words in 299 double-spaced pages with abundant figures and tables, all the while using cigarettes, coffee, and booze to fuel the ever longer days of writing (for most of 2017 I was working 60-100 hours a week on the writing), I then had to parse it all down into one coherent talk for my public defense (which comes before the actual defending occurs).

In the week leading up to the talk, I was having some hard times. I was aiming for a 40-45 minute talk, but also knew that I had to have enough data to get the main points across while also making it accessible to a general scientifically-literate audience (something I find to be extremely important). In my many practices, I either hit the right time but with not enough information, or I had lots of info and ran way over on time. Luckily, I was able to give a practice talk to a group of friends and they helped me hone down some key ideas and to figure out how to focus the talk more on my main contributions. Still, the night before my defense I did a run through of my talk and it hit 90 minutes. I was crushed. I was terrified. I was mortified. 

I tried to sleep that night and it just wasn't happening. I think I may have gotten a total of 45-60 minutes of sleep the night before my PhD defense. When the morning finally came around, I did one more practice run with my wife, and this time it hit 45 minutes and felt like just the right level of info for the general audience and for my committee (at least, according to me). I managed to walk away from it and have a breakfast out with Amanda. I then did a 30 minute meditation in the tub, using a guided meditation from The Honest Guys on Youtube (I definitely recommend this one. It's called The Sanctuary). I managed to get myself shined up all nice like and head in for my PhD defense. 

I'm so thankful for the huge turnout of people who came to the live talk. It was great to speak in front of a room full of such awesome people! Also, I was super lucky in that my friend Mike of the Don't Panic Adventure Club duo was able to attend and made a pretty snazzy recording of my talk so that I could share it here with you, on A Cosmobiologist's Dream. Check out the video below (or click here to go to the NASA Astrobiology Youtube page and watch it there):

If you watched the talk, I hope you stuck around until the end to see a picture of my husky, Darwin. He's a hipster, but he's one cool cat (or dog, or, whatever). 

Of course, after that talk came the actual PhD defense. The part where everyone else is kicked out of the room and it's just the lowly graduate student and their panel of research scientists (the committee) who will judge their work. I think I'll save the take-home points on my actual defense of my work and the comments from my committee until I finish the revisions of my dissertation (it may actually end up a little shorter by the end!). At that point, I'll post a link to the dissertation itself and give an overview of everything.

Well, after the night-of-no-sleep and all of the fear and then the talk and the defense that followed, I was finally through the defense side of the PhD process. Although I successfully defended, there are a lot of revisions to do yet. However, maybe now I can cut back to more sensible hours (especially since a graduate student's pay has nothing to do with the amount of work they do). Also, in finishing up the defense, it was incredibly awesome to celebrate over whisky and champaign with so many awesome people. We later went out to The West End Tavern, one of my favorite places in Boulder for having a good whisky. I had several scotches and bourbons, including a 25 yr. Laphroaig and a 23 yr. Pappy Van Winkle (both remarkably awesome glasses of booze!). My friends, being the incredible folks that they are, covered the costs of the spirits, of which I'm pretty sure I drank over 400 years of aging that night.

Now that I'm through the defense, I'm excited for working on the revisions and hopefully publishing at least one more paper from my work (though I think there could be two or three there as well). After all that I put myself through this past year, I kind of feel like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, after crawling through all of that mess of shit and grossness and finally feeling the beauty of the world as I find some freedom. It feels like I'm now able to discover myself again as I finish out this research and prepare for what comes next. As George Fairman's song goes, "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way!"

Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Monday, April 17, 2017

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

Given the issues concerning immigration, emigration, human rights, and "otherness" that have come to the forefront in American news lately, this poem has been coming back to my mind a lot. It's one I think all Americans should learn and consider, even if they disagree with the implications. The Statute of Liberty, initially conceived to honor freedom and democracy following the Union victory of the Civil War, has this poem engraved on a bronze plaque within the lower level of the pedestal. The poem, the source of the famous line "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...", was written by a young woman who was an advocate for refugees, specifically Russian Jews seeking refuge in America. The issue of acceptance of modern-day refugees and immigrants is complex and many of us find ourselves falling somewhere in the middle of a large spectrum of opinions, the extremes of which may be indifference on one side and utter hatred on the other. Wherever you find yourself in the large mix of ideas about refugees and immigrants, consider what a monument like the Statue of Liberty and ideals like those upon which the United States of America was built can mean to people fleeing from tyranny and from suffering. Is there still a Golden Door to this nation, or is that solely a dream of past generations? As you consider such ideas, remember this poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Cosmobiologist, Ph.D.

Well, I've successfully defended my Ph.D.! It's a strange feeling, but a good one. I've wondered a lot in this past year if it was worth all of the long hours for little pay with lots of self-doubt, depression, and physical and mental degradation. Honestly, I don't know yet if it was worth it. I figure it will take a few years before I can look back and say, oneway or the other, if I feel like this was a good idea in the end. However, it is pretty awesome to achieve something I've thought about for my entire life. Now I need to start working on figuring out what the next steps will be (while also finishing up some rather large-scale revisions to my dissertation). However, now that I'll have some more free time, I can get back to sharing more of my life here with you, on A Cosmobiologist's Dream!

Monday, March 6, 2017

A few quotes about stars to brighten your day

And to enliven your night! 

Credit: Christophe Lehenaff

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” 

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“A philosopher once asked, "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?" Pointless, really..."Do the stars gaze back?" Now, that's a question.” 

― Neil Gaiman, Stardust

"There is no easy way from the earth to the stars” 

― Seneca

“There’s as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy. We are, each of us, a little universe.” 

― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos

“It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” 

― Mark Twain

“Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.” 

― Ptolemy

"There is, though I do not know how there is or why there is, a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.” 

― H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau

“The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space.” 

― George Gordon Byron

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Groove like the sci-fi nerd you are with these sci-fi and ambient sound videos

Gates to Elysium, by Christian Hecker
Getting lost in layers of thought about what else there may be is one of the fun parts of science fiction!

As I've been getting my Ph.D. dissertation closer and closer to being finished, I've been slowly meandering through watching sci-fi (like Star Trek Voyager), listening to music (like metal instrumental and electronic groove music), and finding ambient sounds to groove with in the background while I write. I recently shared a post with a video that had 10 hours of ambient noise mixed with the sounds of an Arctic icebreaker. I've played that video as background a few times now while writing and it's been awesome, but now I've found something else that is definitely pretty groovy.

The Youtube channel for crysknife007, who also goes by Cheesy Nirvosa at Bandcamp, is full of ambient music tracks that are awesome for background noise. But, what's even better, he's put together a whole bunch of tracks that feature ambient sounds from science fiction television shows and movies! Like this one, which features 24 hours (yup, one full day) of the ambient sounds of the starship Enterprise-D from The Next Generation: 

Or, this one, with 12 hours of the engine sounds of the starship Serenity from Firefly:

These ambient sound videos are great for background noise for focusing on work or even for just relaxing. Also, I've found that playing some of these along with some soft background music is really helpful in getting my mind into the writing zone. 

Let's say that living on a spaceship isn't exactly your thing, well why not then enjoy the sounds of a police call booth that's both a spaceship and timeship and a living being, with this video of ambient sounds from the TARDIS from Dr. Who:

It's definitely worth taking a look at the stuff over on crysknife007's page. He's got a bundle of tracks with background ambient sounds from various sci-fi shows and movies, but also a lot more. For instance, he's got some tracks featuring the sonified data from the EM fields collected by our spacecraft around Europa as well as from the Voyager spacecraft. Here's one more that's pretty freaking cool:

If you're a sci-fi nerd like me then you're probably already digging it, but just for a little more enticement, check out crysknife007's biography of himself from Bandcamp:

Crysknife007 specializes in extended ambient space and spaceship sounds. He also enjoys working with other scifi soundscapes.

Also known as Cheesy Nirvosa, his homefried beats break from traditional cycles and regularity. The sound aims more for confusion than melody, often favoring some that sounds particularly out of place than a tune which syncopates expectedly. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Some Chemical Properties of Sulfur, a Learning Video from FuseSchool

Sulfur is one the coolest chemical elements. It's crucial for life as we know it, has more solid allotropes than any other element, produces a lot of the scents that we recognize with our sense of smell, was one of the few elements in pure form that was known by ancient people (it's even mentioned in The Odyssey), it's yellow in its natural form but melts into a beautiful red and burns blue, and it's become part of the highlight of my graduate research (okay, that last bit probably only makes it super important to me). 

I recently discovered two rare allotropes of the mineral form of elemental sulfur (also, technically called polymorphs) at Borup Fiord Pass, a glacier system in the High Arctic. One of those allotropes, known as beta-cyclooctasulfur (ya, cool name), usually only forms in warm environments and wasn't expected to be found on an Arctic glacier. 

I'm working on some videos to share information about my work with sulfur and Borup Fiord Pass. However, in the meantime, here's a fun video from FuseSchool that explains some of the awesome chemical properties of sulfur. Check it out:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Alaskan Aurora, from Tyler Nordgren

If you don't know who Tyler Nordgren is, then you should definitely check out his website. He's an astronomer and artist who's made some of the coolest space-themed artwork I've seen in recent years. Nordgren is up in Alaska right now, kicking off an aurora tour, and shared the above picture to his Facebook profile today. It's definitely a stunning picture of an aurora, with a beautiful mixing of color across the sky. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Soothing Sounds of an Arctic Icebreaker - 10 Hours of Background Noise

Here's something you didn't know that you need in your life, but you'll be totally happy to discover. The Youtube page Relax Sleep ASMR has recently uploaded a video that contains ten hours of white noise and the sounds of an Arctic icebreaker ship. It's absolutely glorious. Last night I put on some instrumental metal music along with this while writing and it really helped my mind to focus solely on the writing. You can check out the 10 hour long video below or at the Youtube page, but, whatever you do, definitely bookmark this one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Holy Planets, Batman

The Google Doodle celebrating the TRAPPIST-1 system announcement on 22 February 2017
Hopefully you've already heard about today's announcement during a NASA press conference about the confirmation of discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets around the star TRAPPIST-1, three of which are in that star system's Goldilocks Zone for liquid water. This star system is only 39 lightyears away from Earth (coincidentally, that's 12 parsecs, so just within one good Kessel Run if you have the right ship). 39 lightyears is practically down the street in the context of our galaxy (which spans over 100,000 lightyears from one end to the other). This announcement isn't only exciting, but it also comes with a lot of implications for astrobiology. We have the capabilities right now to start observing these planets closely to look for signs of biosignatures in their atmosphere and that will only get better in the coming years (especially when the James Webb Space Telescope goes into operation). I'm still in the process of crunching out my Ph.D. dissertation, so I can't write up all of my thoughts about this incredible announcement right now, but definitely stay tuned to the exoplanet and planetary science community to see what more we can learn in the coming years about these world so close to our own. 

Credit: JPL/NASA

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Arrakis, Dune, Desert Art

The above image is now my desktop wallpaper. It's a piece of concept art from Gary Jamroz for the Dune Universe. You can find this piece and more like it at Concept Art World. For instance, here's a rather stunning piece by Jordan Lamarre-Wan:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Billie Jean, smoothly done, by Alexandr Misko

Alexandr Misko, a young musician from Russia, has been bouncing about the interwebs lately with some of his acoustic arrangements for some well-known covers. For instance, I just caught his take on Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and it is pretty damned slick. Definitely worth a listen, my friends. Check it out:

If you dig that, then you might also like some of the tunes from his album that came out last year, "The Songs of Adolescence".

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Post-Technological Future Imagery of Simon Stålenhag

Simon Stålenhag's artwork is beautiful, dark, and suggestive of a post-technological dystopian future where robotics and high-tech have fallen and people are putting the pieces back together. I feel like I can see a story evolving out of every image that he's created. Check out the pictures below for some more, but also visit his website for lots and lots more!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Red Dwarf Lego

Red Dwarf is one of my favorite television shows. If you haven't seen it, then what the smeg are you doing with your life?! Get on it! It has a pretty decent cult following. Enough so that it led one fan, Leigh Hadfield, to build a Red Dwarf Lego set to match the show! You can find a bunch more pictures of the set at the British Comedy Guide. The set has been submitted to Lego Ideas

Monday, January 23, 2017

Re-Fuelling a Spaceship

This image comes from the New York Public Library's Digital Collections, which recently released a large number of newly digitized images. The image above, titled "Re-fuelling a Spaceship" comes from the collection of George Arents and the Arents Cigarette Cards. Little images like this were printed on hard cards and added to packaging for cigarettes in the not-too-distant past; they were called cigarette cards. Interesting to think that cigarette manufacturers thought to include images of space exploration in packages of cigarettes.