Posted in astronomy, literature

Astronomers determine time of year an ancient poem was written

This is amazing! There is so much science in art, and art in nature and science.

Sappho Poem translated by Mary Barnard
by ancient Greek poet Sappho

In her poem…

Sappho talks about the Pleiades, a cluster of extremely bright stars near Taurus. What’s more, Sappho mentions two interesting facts:

  • she watches the Pleiades go down, sinking beneath the horizon. And …
  • … this occurs before midnight.

Recently, two scientists got interested in the poem, because they realized these two facts could be used to determine precisely what time of year Sappho wrote the poem.

After all, constellations change their position in the sky as the year progresses. That means in different months they’ll sink beneath the horizon at different times of day. Since we know that Sappho saw the Pleiades go down before midnight, first you have deduce where Sappho was located — geographically — when she wrote the poem (because this will determine what part of the sky she was looking at). Then you check the star charts from that vantage point, and figure out what time of the year the Pleiades would have been visible right until midnight.

That’s what the scientists did, in their fascinating paper “Seasonal Dating of Sappho’s ‘Midnight Poem’ Revisited”.

Read the analysis via the original article (worth the read!): Astronomers Crack The Secret of This Gorgeous Poem by Sappho

Posted in astronomy, communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays, museum

Learn about the cosmos while playing on your phone

American Museum of Natural History: Cosmic Discoveries App

This is a great example of combining technology, science education, and art into one engaging toy.

This App is actually very cool. It’s the American Museum of Natural History: Cosmic Discoveries. The App puts things into one of those mosiac images in which several tiny pictures create one huge image. You can zoom in by double-tapping or pinching, and read up on a ton of information.

Cosmic Discoveries was produced by the Museum’s Digital Media Department and curated by Dr. Michael Shara, a leading scientist and Curator in the Department of Astrophysics. It was developed in celebration of this exciting tradition of innovation and is the latest offering of the Museum’s expanding digital platform which enables public access to the Museum’s extensive resources in science, education, and exhibition—whether they are visiting on site or online. By anticipating the new ways that people access, learn, and share information today, the digital platform integrates the experience of visiting the Museum with a variety of mobile offerings that extend the Museum’s impact beyond its walls and put the wonder and excitement of discovery into the palm of one’s hand.

The design is great because it is artistically engaging, making the user want to explore and vicariously learn. It doesn’t feel like learning to the user, it just feels like a cool toy that they get cool factoids from.

It’s also free, so have a look at it here. Credit to for the discovery.

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, electronic imaging and displays

Amazing solar eclipse picture

From Wired Science: But none of this year’s solar eclipse seen in Africa provided the kind of exquisite detail that a team of astronomers watching from the Marshall Islands captured during last summer’s total solar eclipse. By combining 31 images of the eclipse shot with a Canon EOS 5D, the composite shows the incredible structure of the sun’s corona stretching out from occluded central disc. The moon’s surface details are also clearly visible.

The next total solar eclipse will occur on July 11, 2010, and will be visible only from the South Pacific. So, read our how-to guide on solar eclipse tourism and start saving those frequent flyer miles.

More photos and details.

Posted in astronomy, design and architecture, Optics, physics

Year of Astronomy posters

More good stuff from the U.K.

Okay, so the year of Astronomy was last year – this year it’s all about the laser. I’m sure there’ll be some good laser art coming out soon.

However, I couldn’t pass up on these. Artist Simon Page designed some amazing posters to celebrate last year’s ode to Astronomy; and now that 2009 is over, they’re all on sale!

Check them out!

International Year of Astronomy 2009

Posted in astronomy, electronic imaging and displays

Best Astronomy Photos of 2009

I have FINALLY gotten around to posting the top ten astronomy photos as voted by blog Bad Astronomy:

#9: "A Computer’s Spot in the Sun" Credit: Matthias Rempel, NCAR

Every year, this gets harder.Not that deciding what pictures to use in 2006, 2007, or 2008 was all that easy! But astronomy is such a beautiful science. Of course it has scientific appeal: the biggest questions fall squarely into its lap. Where did this all begin? How will it end? How did we get here? People used to look to the stars asking those questions, and coincidentally, for the most part, that’s where the answers lie. And we’ll be asking them for a long time to come.

But astronomy is so visually appealing as well! Colorful stars, wispy, ethereal nebulae, galactic vistas sprawling out across our telescopes… it’s art no matter how you look at it. And our techniques for viewing the heavens gets better every year; our telescopes get bigger, our cameras more sensitive, and our robotic probes visit distant realms, getting close-up shots that remind us that these are not just planets and moons; they’re worlds.

So every year the flood of imagery takes longer to sort through, and far longer to choose from. And the choices were really tough! This year leans a bit more toward planetary images than usual, but that’s not surprising given how many spacecraft we have out there these days.

I don’t pick all these images for their sheer beauty; I consider what they mean, what we’ve learned from them, and their impact as well. But have no doubts that they are all magnificent examples of the intersection of art and science. At the bottom of each post is a link to the original source and to my original post on the topic, if there is one. If you disagree with my picks, or think I’ve missed something, put a link in the comments! All the pictures have descriptions, and are clickable to bring you to (in most cases) much higher resolution version. So embiggen away!

And welcome to my annual Top Ten Astronomy Pictures post. Enjoy.