Posted in astronomy

Solar System’s wonders

Thanks Boing Boing and Scientific American:

When it comes to science fiction, fantasty, and space art, Ron Miller is an artist’s artist. Before becoming a freelance illustrator (and Hugo-nominated book author), Miller was art director for the National Air & Space Museum’s Albert Einstein Planetarium. Along with doing book and magazine illustrations, he’s also created production art for films like Dune and Total Recall, and designed stamps for the US Postal Service. Recently, Scientific American commissioned art from Miller to illustrate their new online feature, “8 Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive.” The multimedia feature explores the likes of Jupiter’s Red Spot, the Geysers of Enceladus, the sunrise on Mercury, and, of course, Saturn’s rings.

Valles Marineris on Mars, Ron Miller
Valles Marineris on Mars, Ron Miller

See them all here.

Posted in astronomy, biology, communication and networking

Draw Carl Zimmer a profile

From his blog The Loom

We writers, in case you didn’t know, are scratching our heads about what exactly to do next. It’s hard to figure out, because there are so many things we could do, at least in theory. If we wanted, we could write a novel in tweets, record an epic poem as a podcast, or transform a history of inorganic chemistry into an Ipad app. In fact, I’m sure that someone, somewhere, is doing all these things and more–but not all at once. Each writer has to figure out how best to use the twenty-four hours in a day.

It makes sense for writers to choose work that makes the most of their particular talents. And for writers who depend on writing to pay the mortgage, it also makes sense to write things that have a chance of being read, and perhaps (dare to dream) earn their creators some money. Ten years ago, the course for a writer wasn’t easy, but at least it had some clearly marked sign posts. You could try to break into newspapers or magazines with pitch letters and clip files. You could try to get a contract with a publishing house and write a book. Today, of course, people read in other ways as well. They read blogs, Facebook posts, Kindle editions, discussion threads, and on and on. The sign posts have been moved, turned upside down, or taken down altogether.

The writer is left to wander across a confusing landscape. This morning, for example, the Pew Research Center released a report on the foraging habits of the online reader that Gawker summed up fairly well: “Paywalls are anathema. Nobody clicks on ads. The value of news is zero dollars and zero cents.” But wait! Yesterday Business Week reported that ebooks are selling like hotcakes on the Iphone.

One thing is clear: it’s no time to sit in the monastery and continue to illuminate vellum scrolls. It’s time to try new things. Recently, for example, the novelist John Edgar Wideman skipped past traditional publishers to self-publish an e-book over at Lulu. It’s too early to know the outcome of that experiment; for actual results, one can follow the blogging of novelist JA Konrath, who is chronicling his experiences over the past year  publishing short stories and rejected novels as ebooks. It’s working out well for him, and promises to get even better.

I suspect that the fate of different writers will depend, in part, on the nature of their readers. As a result, I think the Pew’s report has a fatal flaw to it: it’s based on the old-fashioned notion that readers form a homogenous swarm. If you call a few thousand phone numbers at random, you will get a meaningful picture of people’s reading habits. But if there’s anything we know for sure, it’s that the country does not sit down in front of the TV and watch Walter Cronkite en masse. The motivations of the reader matter. Some people love to read about sports online, to the point that they will pay to roll around in baseball stats like a happy pig in mud (and no disrespect intended towards baseball fans or pigs). A lot of people will not spend that money. They’ll glance at scores on Yahoo News and move on.

So this is where you, dear reader, come in. Clearly, the simple fact that you are reading this blog means that you are…well, let’s call you exceptional, shall we? You may not be a baseball nut, but you are interested in science. Right now, you’re reading a post on a blog hosted by a fine magazine and financially supported by advertising and paid subscriptions. I want to get to know the science reader in 2010 better–how you get your science fix, where you expect to be getting it, what you hope for the future, and how writers may or may not be able to supply that fix and make a living at the same time.

Read the full plea for profile participation…

Also check out his previous post of a medusa tattoo

“The tattoo is courtesy of the always-brilliant Jon Nott of Guildford, Surrey (U.K.).”
Posted in astronomy, communication and networking, food, literature, music

Artists in Space

Now for something a little more uplifting, an archived podcast from my absolutely favorite show Radiolab, revived and polished off for Valentine’s Day, but this particular show is just exploring what artists would send as a message from Earth, so good for all year round.

More explanation –

Imagine trying to sum up existence on Earth into one little record… for an alien or humans of the far-off future. What sounds would you use? What music? What images? We put this charge to a bunch of artists, and asked what they would put into a space capsule. And in this week’s podcast, a few of the answers we got back. From Margaret Cho, Philip Glass, Alice Waters, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman.

Listen to the Radiolab Podcast.

Support Radiolab.

Posted in astronomy, communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays, engineering, medical imaging

Academic awards…for science!

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Paul E. Debevec may be the only research professor whose laboratory subjects have included Charlize Theron and Will Smith. The University of Southern California computer scientist is about to take another unlikely step—from academe to the Academy Awards, for special effects. His pixel wizardry has been featured in films such as Spider-Man 2 and Avatar.

On February 20, in a black-tie geek gala hosted by the actress Elizabeth Banks, of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Mr. Debevec will pick up an award in science and engineering for his work on digital facial-rendering technology. The 38-year-old professor leads the graphics laboratory at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. In Avatar, a futuristic film set among the alien Na’vi people on the moon Pandora, Mr. Debevec’s techniques helped map the faces of live actors onto digital puppets, creating astonishing realism amid fantasy. Back on Earth, he sees applications for the techniques in higher education.

Read full interview

Posted in astronomy, music

What a supernova sounds like

The tag line from the film Alien “In space, no one can hear you scream” may be true, but that doesn’t mean that space doesn’t make music.

From Discover Magazine’s Discoblog, how supernovas make music:

cassWhile we know what it looks like when a star explodes into a luminous supernova, here’s a chance to discover what one sounds like–sorta. Scientists have translated a supernova’s electromagnetic waves into waves of sound; and when there is sound, there is music. Enter the Grateful Dead.

The band’s famed percussionist Mickey Hart is working on a musical project to “sonify” the universe, taking sounds collected by scientists from supernovae and other astronomical phenomena and using them in his new album “Rhythms of the Universe.” To anyone who has ever heard one of the Grateful Dead’s extended “drums and space” jams, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Keith Jackson, a computer scientist and musician who works at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, collaborated with Hart on this project, collecting data from the supernova Cassiopeia A. He converted this high-frequency electromagnetic wave data into lower-frequency sound waves that are within the range of human hearing. Hart took these sounds and used them to create music that was presented during the Cosmology at the Beach Conference held recently in Mexico.

For Jackson, Science Daily reports, the opportunity to turn data from supernovae into something Mickey Hart could use in an album was the best of both worlds.

Here’s a supernova making noise:

And now, all those jokes about what Saturn’s rings would sound like if you played them like a record are no longer jokes!

Posted in astronomy, communication and networking, literature, Optics

Stargazing at the Opera

From NPR:

The Hayden Planetarium in New York takes opera to the moon with a new production of Il Mondo Della Luna, a comic opera about the moon written by Joseph Haydn in 1777. The performance blends traditional opera with laser and light technology provided by the planetarium.

Diane Paulus and Philip Bussmann talk about merging cosmos footage with music, how science can enhance the arts and the future of technology and theater.

Here more about the theatrical process on NPR’s Science Friday.

Also read the NYT article.

Posted in aerospace, astronomy, education

Come fly with me over Mars

From Wired:

A space-loving animator has created stunning flyovers of Mars from data captured by NASA’s HiRISE imager, which is mounted on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite.


HiRISE creates detailed digital-elevation models. Crunch that data, add perspective and some cinematic effects, and you have the movies that Doug Ellison, founder of, posted to YouTube this morning.

The video at the top shows the Mojave Crater. The one below takes you flying through Athabasca Valles. Ellison said that both animations are rendered accurately from the data with no exaggerated scaling.