Posts Tagged: Ann Finkbeiner

Beth Willman Really Does Have A Galaxy

She does. Actually, it's not much of a galaxy, it's more of a sub-galaxy, a dwarf galaxy, or maybe not even any kind of galaxy at all, maybe just a cluster of stars. It's hers because she found it, hanging around the edges of the Milky Way. That's it, above. If you look with the eye of love, you can see in the left-middle what she calls a "slight overdensity" of dim blue stars. It's named Willman 1.

Beth Willman is now a member of the astronomy faculty at Haverford College. When she found Willman 1, though, she was a postdoc at NYU (astronomers have long childhoods that don't [...]


The NASA Announcement: A New Form of Life? Maybe!

After several days of hoo-ha brought on by a vague NASA press release about mysterious life forms that will change how we see alien life, the story finally was published in Science and announced by NASA and so, okay, I'll bite. It turns out that a geomicrobiologist found a bacterium in a California lake full of arsenic, and the bacterium was full of arsenic too. The arsenic atoms were being used by the bug in place of phosphate atoms; and if you'd paid attention back when you were supposed to, you'd know that phosphate atoms are crucial to 1) DNA which is the molecule that makes up [...]


Passing the Turing Test: Killing Machines Now Indistinguishable From Humans

Poor Alan Turing proposed a test by which you'd know whether The Machines are thinking: converse with someone you can't see and who might be a human or might be a machine, and you'll always know which. Test after test, we always know; machines are inferior conversationalists. But recently from the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-an extremely large, ruthlessly intelligent, highly organized professional association-comes troubling news. Change the test from conversing to killing, and all hell breaks loose: machines are indistinguishable from humans.


The Bookmobile: An Excerpt from Ann Finkbeiner's "A Grand and Bold Thing"

Ann Finkbeiner's A Grand and Bold Thing: An Extraordinary New Map of the Universe Ushering In A New Era of Discovery documents the founding of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-and is out today! "Delightful," says Publisher's Weekly! "Totally awesome," says The Awl! The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, begun ten years ago, is mapping 100 million celestial objects-and measuring distance between a million galaxies, giving us the first real map of where we live. And here, an excerpt!


Higgs and the Certainty of Physicists

The room is 100 percent physicists, 75 percent of them are likely to be under age forty, under 10 percent of them are likely to be female. They're all unusually quiet, no scrooching, no whispers, motionless.

On two screens is the broadcast from CERN, the physics institute in Switzerland, of a scientific talk. Invisible in the air is the theory called the Standard Model, or at least one of its articles of faith, which you can read like it's liturgy: the first fundamental particles in the universe had no mass; but as the universe cooled, it changed, and during this change a force called the Higgs field condensed [...]


Science Vs. Math, It's So On!

"I think this is funny because it explains a problem I’ve had with math all along, which is that math just makes stuff up: makes up numbers, and space between numbers, and relations between numbers, and I’m not even mentioning zero. Also I know that the horizon problem went something like, the universe shouldn’t have been born as uniform as it was because it was farther across than light—which created the uniformity—could have traveled by then. Something like that. So AG’s mathematicians solve the problem by making light travel faster than light." —I'm with Awl pal Ann Finkbeiner: Math sucks! (Especially zero!) After that, she kind of [...]


Their Nobel for Graphene Today, Your Products Tomorrow

This picture is not chicken wire or a tesselation or a patchwork quilt or a cross-section of a honeycomb-amazing how many things are linked hexagons-but a material called graphene, which is just plain old pencil-lead graphite sliced thin, sliced as thin as you could imagine thin could be. It's thin enough that electricity flows through it effortlessly. It's thin enough to see through. It's one atom thin. Those atoms are carbon and their little arms hold tight and so in spite of being thin, it's also flexible and strong. Its possible applications are making the technoratiat fall all over itself with joy and lust. It just won its [...]


The Great Baltimore Earthquake of July 16, 2010

Okay, Washington felt it too, probably more than Baltimore. It was the biggest earthquake in the history of recorded Baltimore/Washington earthquakes, meaning since the 1970s or something, and magnitude 3.6. Southern California doesn't even roll over in bed for a magnitude 3.6. It woke me up at 5:04 a.m., the room was vibrating, a rumble moved through and on out, and by 5:05 I was asleep again. Of no concern, right? The east coast doesn't get earthquakes, right?


A Terrifying Incident in Space!

Hanny's back, this time with a plausible story. Back in 2007, Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher, was on her computer happily classifying galaxies on Galaxy Zoo and was about to click Next, when she thought, "Wait. What was that?" At first, nobody knew: it was green, it glowed, it was shapeless, they called it Voorwerp.

Eventually, after astronomers burned up telescope time looking at the Voorwerp in optical, radio, ultraviolet and xrays, they decided it was a blob of gas whose oxygen—oxygen is green, you know that, don't you—was being lit up by something going on in a nearby galaxy with the unforgettable name of IC [...]


Part Of 'Wall Street Journal' Enjoyed

I have never read Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, but after Sarah Weinman's terrific appreciation of it in the Wall Street Journal's weekend Review, I think I probably have to add it to the list. Anyway, this is a good a place as any to mention that the recently-revamped Review section is actually very enjoyable. Sure, it skews a little to the right, but not in the crazy, creeping way that the paper's editorial section does. It's just a nice, compact journal of arts and literature, and conservative in the good, comforting way. Also, any publication that runs the byline of Awl [...]


First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found! So What's the Big Deal?

Read enough astronomy press releases, and you'll know that "habitable" is better than "earth-like," which means a certain distance from a star, which is better than "earth-sized," which could mean Venus which looks like pizza right out of the oven. So "Potentially Habitable," this is good. The planet's name is Gliese 581g, it's around three earths, it's probably not made of gas, it could conceivably hold on to an atmosphere, and it's at the right distance from its star, Gliese 581, to have liquid water on the surface. Gliese 581g for some physics reason always faces Gliese 581, so half of it may or may not be [...]


The Story of Hanny, So Far

Hanny van Arkel was 24 years old and teaching primary school in Heerlen, the Netherlands. She also played guitar and during summer vacation back in 2007, she was noodling around on the website of a famous rock guitarist named Brian May. Brian May got famous in the middle of a doctorate in astronomy on interplanetary dust, so his website had links to astronomy websites, and Hanny clicked on a new site called Galaxy Zoo. A week or so before, Galaxy Zoo had posted a million galaxy pictures and asked the internet to please classify each one according to whether it was a spiral or an elliptical or something [...]