When Black Holes Collide… Astroengine Is Now On YouTube!

So… it begins!

Astroengine has finally been launched on YouTube, kicking off with a summary of the recent gravitational wave discovery by LIGO. I’m aiming to produce at least one video a week and I’d really like to make it as viewer-driven as possible. So if you have any burning space science questions or any critique about the videos I’m posting, please reach out!

But for now, you know what to do: like, subscribe and enjoy!

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Want to Feel Good? Watch the Aurora Borealis in HD

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

I actually posted this jaw-dropping video on Discovery News last month, but today it got picked up on Digg, so I was reminded why I had to feature it.

The video is actually composed of 22,000 high-definition photographs, stitched together is a finely crafted time lapse video. The photographer in question is Terje Sorgjerd who braved -22C temperatures in the Arctic Circle to bring us this stunning perspective of the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. Throw in the Hans Zimmer “Gladiator” theme tune “Now We Are Free” and we get a timeless classic video that can be watched over and over again and never get bored.

So, sit back and enjoy the Sun-Earth interaction at its most spectacular.

For more of Sorgjerd’s work, check out his Facebook page.

Special thanks to my good friend Geir Barstein, science journalist at the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet for originally writing about Sorgjerd’s work.

To A Ufologist, The Answer Is So Obvious

For a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a conspiracy theorist’s brain, check out this hilarious explanation of the super-duper-hyper-speed-top-secret-military-drone that was captured in this video of an Iranian missile test on October 8th. There’s some spooky music added to the edited FOX News coverage to get you in the mood:

So do you see what the conspiracy is? Something really fast shot through the clouds just after Iran launched their Shahab-3 rocket. Obviously there is something weird about that, right?

It’s OK, Nick Pope is on the case.

One theory is that it’s a secret American drone. At any time there are prototype aircraft and drones being operated that won’t be shown in public for years.

Stealth aircraft flew for many years before their existence was acknowledged.

But the speed and acceleration seems phenomenal. I’m not convinced we’ve got anything capable of such manoeuvres.”

Oh come on Nick, you can’t fool us! You know it’s not a classified military aircraft don’t you. In your expert opinion, you’re “not convinced we’ve got anything capable of such manoeuvres.” Don’t leave us hanging, just say it. We won’t judge you. Much.

Obviously leaning toward the extraterrestrial argument, Pope — who was once a UFO advisor to the British Ministry of Defence — appears to have numbed all the reasoning functions of his brain. He’s taken one look at the video footage — probably with an amazed look on his face, mouth open wide — and when asked by reporters what he saw, he responds with a smug look of knowing. There be aliens in them clouds.

As you might have guessed from the video, it’s certainly not a UFO. Hell, it’s not even a flying object. It’s a shadow. For observers in the space community who see rocket launches all the time, shadows of rocket smoke trails often fall on clouds. In the case of the Iranian missile launch (which, in actuality, is the real concern in this footage), the sunlight is coming from the right of the picture. As the missile passes through the altitude at which the Sun lines up with the cloud, a shadow dissects the cloud. It really is that simple. Any confusion about the altitude of the cloud is down to the angle of the camera view and the opacity of the cloud.

For his continuing UFO studies, I think Pope should be doing more research on how to recognize shadows rather than letting his imagination run rampant. However, it is interesting to see how the brain of a prominent ufologist works; zero skeptical thought, oodles of imagination and conspiracy theories behind every cloud.

Wildfire? Volcano? Warzone? Hell? All of the above?

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I think this timelapse video pretty much puts the Station Fire into perspective. The fire has so far destroyed over 120,000 acres of land, gutted dozens of homes and taken the lives of two fire fighters. Although it would appear fire crews are slowly getting a handle on the blaze (it was around 20% contained at time of writing), should there be a change in weather, the fires could flare up once more, but there are hopes that humidity should continue to rise through the night.

Also, it would appear the earlier fires spotted on the summit of Mount Wilson were primarily controlled backfires (i.e. small fires started deliberately by the fire service to burn off brush, thereby removing fuel for an uncontrolled fire). Now, an airborne assault has begun, water and fire retardant being dropped to slow the advance of the Station Fire around the mountain leading to the observatory. And now, the word is that fire crews seem to be winning the fight to save the Mount Wilson Observatory (thank you @palomarskies for the update!).

So, for now, I’ll leave you with this phenomenal HD timelapse video of the Station Fire created by willieworks. The view is of the mountains to the north of LA, from Mulholland Drive, above Universal Studios. It’s a scene that really does belong in the movies. What a sight.

Ares I First Stage Test Set For August 25th (Video)

The completed Ares I first stage five-segment solid rocket booster in Promontory, Utah on July 21st (NASA/ATK/RedOrbit)
The completed Ares I first stage five-segment solid rocket booster in Promontory, Utah on July 21st (NASA/ATK/RedOrbit)

Development of the Constellation Program pushes ahead with the announcement that the first stage motor of the Ares I crew launch vehicle will be fired in the Utah desert on August 25th. The Ares I five-segment first stage booster is based on the design of the shuttle’s four-segment booster, but it will deliver a far meatier 3.6 million pounds of thrust. A single shuttle booster delivers 2.8 million pounds of thrust (but remember, there are two of them attached to the shuttle at lift-off).

Naturally, the ATK/NASA Utah test will be a huge event, a major milestone towards the construction and assembly of the rocket that will carry the Orion spaceship into orbit. This is in addition to the continuing developments of Orion.

So, to promote the event ATK has released this snazzy movie-style trailer ahead of this historic rocket test, and to be honest, I’m impressed:

Although Constellation is hitting wave upon wave of setbacks and criticism, it seems the tests are pushing ahead, and we are beginning to see the physical embodiment of the Ares I/Orion combo take shape.

Source: Fox Business

Arizona State Senator: ‘This Earth’s Been Here 6,000 Years…’

…I know I’m going on and on and I’ll shut up.” Yes, please do.

I’m not sure what’s going on these last few days, but Astroengine has been filled with pseudo-science, media insanity and conspiracy theories. I suspect we’re seeing the first few cases of the Stupid pandemic (I’m joking, we all know you can’t “catch” Stupid — but can somebody please make sure Jenny McCarthy gets the memo this time?).

I’m beginning to miss real science. I promise I’ll resume normal service, after you’ve seen this video:

It looks like there are some basic educational failings, or some very strong Creationist teachings in Arizona. But to hear, “the Earth’s been here 6,000 years,” so casually stated during a hearing about uranium mining, it’s a little concerning as to how many individuals in positions of power genuinely ignore science and opt for belief instead.

Thank you to @MrGuilt for pointing me to this little piece of craziness.

For more, check out The Universe Could Soon Be 6,000 Years Old… In Texas.

Brian Malow Presents Galileo and Astronomy (TIME.com Video)

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Of course, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, and half-way through this important year, we’ve seen some amazing feats of science. We’ve been fixing telescopes in orbit, assembling space stations, peering deep into the cosmos with a vast suite of telescopes, we’ve acquired new and improved techniques to analyse data and we’re on course for even bigger discoveries in the run-up to 2010.

So this evening, I receive word from science comedian Brian Malow that he hosted a TIME.com video all about Galileo and the history of astronomy.

It’s superb!

If you wanted a one-stop overview of the spirit behind IYA2009, this is it. It’s witty, informative and above all, it’s entertaining — all the things this special year for science should be about.

Take it away Brian!

Follow Brian on Twitter: @sciencecomedian

Watch Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch in HD

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Today’s launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis went according to plan and the crew of seven astronauts are now chasing the Hubble Space Telescope for its final servicing mission.

As I’m a little behind the curve on reporting this story, I thought I’d assemble some links to other sites who covered the launch far more expertly that I can at this late stage. However, not to be outdone, I wanted to share this incredible high definition video of the launch. If you want to watch the embedded HD version, look below, but if you want the full, i’m-on-the-edge-of-the-launchpad-oh-my-god-i-can-feel-the-heat wide-screen version, check out the awesome, fully-loaded YouTube HD video.

Links:

Deflecting Doomsday Asteroids… and Plundering Them

A metorite impact would be very bad, but using asteroid deflection techniques could provide mankind with a lucrative opportunity (©Discovery Channel)
A metorite impact would be very bad, but using asteroid deflection techniques could provide mankind with a lucrative opportunity (©Discovery Channel)

I’ve always found asteroids to be fascinating. They are often surprisingly big, they contain a wealth of information about the history of the Solar System… and, let’s be honest, they’re frightening.

There are thousands of asteroids out there, often collecting in clearly defined belts or gravitationally stable regions known as Lagrangian points. However, many are not so well behaved; they seem to have their own agenda, flying around the Solar System in their own orbits, sometimes buzzing the Earth.

Fortunately, the vast majority of these rocks are harmless; if they hit our atmosphere they might create a dazzling light show, burning up, possibly even exploding as a fireball. Sometimes though, a big asteroid might be observed and astronomers become a little concerned. The next known threat that might hit us is the famous asteroid named Apophis that is expected to make an uncomfortably close encounter with Earth on April 13th, 2036. The odds of Apophis hitting us in 2036 (not 2029 as quoted in the above video) are 45,000:1, which may sound fairly unlikely, but if you start comparing those odds with dying in a plane crash, or being hit by a car, you’ll see that actually, a one in 45,000 chance are the kind of odds you’d happily quote when placing a bet in a Vegas casino. I have a chance!

Yes, and there’s also a chance of a 350 metre-wide asteroid hitting us in 2036, so perhaps we should start planning for the worst?

Fortunately, we have some lead time on Apophis, and we’ll learn more about the chunk of rock when it flies past the Earth in 2029. And that’s what it’s all about: lead time. If mankind spots a potentially deadly asteroid approaching us, we’ll need as much time as possible to nudge it off course.

In a video I just stumbled across on Discovery.com, Joseph A. Nuth III from NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center shares his views on what we could do to prevent a potential asteroid catastrophe. By developing asteroid deflection techniques, we’ll also be presented with an opportunity. As pointed out by Nuth, if we have the ability to deflect an asteroid, perhaps we can steer it into lunar orbit, so we can carry out mining operations…