Astronomy

The Fermi Paradox

Tim Urban ponders the likelihood of extraterrestrial civilizations existing in our galaxy, and what such a thing might mean for humanity:

“Beyond its shocking science fiction component, The Fermi Paradox also leaves me with a deep humbling. Not just the normal “Oh yeah, I’m microscopic and my existence lasts for three seconds” humbling that the universe always triggers. The Fermi Paradox brings out a sharper, more personal humbling, one that can only happen after spending hours of research hearing your species’ most renowned scientists present insane theories, change their minds again and again, and wildly contradict each other—reminding us that future generations will look at us the same way we see the ancient people who were sure that the stars were the underside of the dome of heaven, and they’ll think “Wow they really had no idea what was going on.””

The Overview Effect

Overview is a lovely short film about the phenomenon known as the Overview Effect (which to me feels akin to Neil deGrasse Tyson's idea of the Cosmic Perspective). I've transcribed my favorite quote:

“One of the astronauts said, "When we originally went to the Moon, our total focus was on the Moon. We weren't thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we've done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went."”

Do yourself a favor and set aside 20 minutes to watch this video today.

(via Kottke)

Chicago Avenue Moon

Chicago Avenue Moon

Thanks to my buddy Nate Boateng, I discovered an awesome new app called Chicago Avenue Moon. As the developer describes it:

“Chicago Avenue Moon is a responsive, generative music app that gathers a set of variables including date, time, phase of the moon, and GPS location, and uses that data to determine how its music unfolds, in real-time. The piece is intended for a listener in motion, whose route and speed affect the composition. Composer Joshua Dumas wrote 1000 brief musical phrases which the app manipulates, sequences, and layers to create trillions and trillions of variations, a unique experience with every listen.

He imagines the piece as a personalized soundtrack for strangers’ mundanities—an effort to help re-enchant a person’s daily commute, trip to the laundromat, or evening jog.”

As I just wrote about on Tools & Toys, the music this app generates is very akin to the Journey game soundtrack, which I love it for.

Chicago Avenue Moon is only $1 right now, and will go up to $2 after Feb 11th. I highly recommend checking it out. If nothing else, it will totally change the way you experience a nighttime walk.

'The Far Future of our Solar System'

Ethan Siegel wrote a fascinating piece on Medium that uses our existing understanding of physics to extrapolate what the far (and I mean far) future of our solar system might look like:

“But neither the accelerated expansion of the Universe nor our impending great galactic smashup will, in all likelihood, affect our Solar System. (In fact, you know how many stars are likely to undergo a collision with another star due to the entire merger process between our local group’s two largest galaxies? Just six, out of around a trillion stars!) Instead, let’s focus on our little corner of space in the Solar System, and look at exactly when certain spectacular events are likely to occur!”

It's a slightly different perspective of the future than the one portrayed in one of my favorite book series, but I'll let it go this time.

Finding Your Own Meaning

Ever feel like your life has little to no meaning? That your existence is very likely non-essential, and the world probably wouldn't be much different if you weren't around?

Well, you're probably right!

Each and every one of us, even our celebrities and world leaders, are infinitesimal motes of life living on a speck of dust (relatively speaking) in a galaxy that itself is merely one of about 176 billion. Our ~100-year lifespans are practically nothing compared to the universe. Makes you feel pretty insignificant, doesn't it?

'A Stroll Into Space'

Luca Parmitano, the first Italian astronaut to take part in a spacewalk:

“After shaving more carefully than usual (I don’t want to have any cuts on my head or face), I have a particularly big breakfast – there’ll be no lunch today. Then I turn to Chris [Cassidy], and he must have been able to read the question on my face, because he answers even before I have time to speak: "Yes, let's do this". In other words, it’s time.”

I loved this whole story.

'Making the NetNewsWire 4 App Icon'

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John Marstall, designer for Black Pixel, details the steps that went into the design of NetNewsWire 4's new app icon, the beta of which I linked to on Tools & Toys the other day:

“With the release of NetNewsWire 4 Public Beta, we wanted to overhaul and modernize NetNewsWire’s app icon as much as the rest of the app. We didn’t throw out everything — the color scheme and satellite metaphor stayed — but the design is completely new.”

I love how much thought and care went into the design (and it certainly doesn't hurt that they're sticking with the astronomy theme).

'The Best Astronomy Images of 2012'

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Phil Plait, astronomer and writer of the Bad Astronomer blog, has assembled some truly fantastic images from the world of astronomy in 2012. I highly recommend checking them out.

Relatedly, Phil also wrote about an image taken from the dark side of Saturn. Make sure to head over there and click for the big version because it's magnificent.

'The Long Shot'

A fascinating read from 2009, describing how a group of astronomers is attempting to locate Earth-like planets outside of our solar system.

RV shifts are how the vast majority of extrasolar worlds have been discovered, but only because these planets, called “hot Jupiters,” are extremely massive and in hellishly close orbits around their stars. Their stellar wobbles are measurable in meters per second; seeing the much smaller centimeters-per-second wobble of an Earth twin is orders of magnitude more difficult. For the Alpha Centauri system, the feat is akin to detecting a bacterium orbiting a meter from a sand grain—from a distance of 10 kilometers.

Add it to your Instapaper queue and enjoy sometime.