September 26th, 2008

My alarm clock is a clock radio tuned to NPR.

Some mornings, it takes a few minutes to wake up, with the news playing in the background of some rather odd dreams.

Today I learned that few things catapult you out of sleep faster than hearing "Your bank has gone out of business."

Dear astronomers:

September 22nd, 2008

Please take a break from making the universe seem bigger and cooler than it already is. It's getting tough to keep up.

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Swift satellite has found the most distant gamma-ray burst ever detected. The blast, designated GRB 080913, arose from an exploding star 12.8 billion light-years away.
Because light moves at finite speed, looking farther into the universe means looking back in time. GRB 080913's "lookback time" reveals that the burst occurred less than 825 million years after the universe began.

The Bad Astronomer waxes poetic:

The star probably only lived a few scant million years before detonating, catastrophically tearing itself to shreds at the end of its life, and releasing as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will over its entire 10 billion year lifetime. For a few seconds the dying star was the single brightest object in the Universe, but over the intervening eons as its roar traveled across the cosmos it faded to whisper, eroded by its travel, literally fighting against the expansion of space itself.

Swift was launched just under four years ago. Looking through the project's featured articles is not for the faint of heart: "Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite have spotted a stellar flare on a nearby star so powerful that, had it been from our sun, it would have triggered a mass extinction on Earth."

Time to build those colony ships.

The reign in Spain is unknown to McCain

September 18th, 2008

Two choices, both bad...

Either McCain forgot/didn't know who Zapatero is, or he was just being a dick.

Which reminds me of something that happened to me this week...

While at the gym, I tend to watch the CNN news crawl. Which is usually not terribly informative, but it's not like my brain is doing much at the time, anyway. Various "Obama said..." and "McCain said..." things were scrolling past. Then it switches to a commercial, which features a old, white-haired man who looks a fair bit like McCain.

Without hearing the narrative, you can tell that the man is a bit confused, and seems to have forgotten who is granddaughter is.

It was a commercial for an Alzheimer's drug.

I like to think that somewhere, a GOP operative turned a bright shade of purple.

Sometimes, you just appreciate the confirmation

September 16th, 2008

I don't have a problem with being contrary. In fact, I'll just go ahead and admit that I, at times, revel in it. But it does lead to moments of self-doubt. "Self," you might say, "I'm starting to doubt you. Because I keep hearing that Band X is really great..."

Wait: Not actually X, of course, but some random band. Band Y, ok?

So: Band Y. Some people seem to love Band Y. Enough that you wonder what the hell these people are hearing, because it's not coming through to you.

Full story »

The universe is beautiful and freakin' terrifying

September 11th, 2008

Brightest gamma-ray burst was aimed at Earth

The blast, dubbed GRB 080319B, came from 7.5 billion light years away, more than halfway across the universe. Despite the immense distance, it would have been visible with the naked eye at dark sites on Earth for 40 seconds.

Which is awe-inspiring, because the idea of being able to actually see something halfway across the universe, with your eyes, is absolutely incredible. Just the amount of energy that represents is staggering.

And it's terrifying, because we're being hit by gamma rays produced by a dying star halfway across the universe. If a relatively close star did that, the human race (and anything else looking up at the time) might be able to say, "Wow, that's bright..." just before becoming ash on a well-sterilized chunk of rock. Or maybe just a writhing mass of planet-wide tumor.

And maybe if it's only a quarter of the way across the universe, we'd become a planet of Hulks. And that just couldn't turn out well.


The Bad Astronomer has a typically excellent post about the gamma-ray burst.