AAS Post #7: Images, news, wrapup

By Phil Plait | January 12, 2006 12:51 pm

As I sit here, Thursday afternoon at the American Astronomical Society meeting, things are winding down. Not too many folks wandering the exhibit halls, the talks are closing down, and we’ll start packing soon. I was far, far too busy to blog last night– we had a press dinner, and from there a passel of us went dancing in a happening DC bar (yes, not only do some astronomers dance, but some are pretty good at it– it was quite the spectacle last night).

There has been so much news I couldn’t keep up with it. So here’s a wrapup of some of the cooler things I saw:

  • NASA Administrator Does the AAS

    NASA heads guy Mike Griffin gave a talk yesterday, which (duh) was very well attended. He took questions from the crowd (pre-selected by AAS President Craig Wheeler). Griffin restated his support for a Hubble servicing mission (which received warm applause), but the atmosphere changed when education came up. NASA has been extremely supportive of education in the past, but Griffin appears to have a different attitude. "We are not the Department of Education," he said. There is quite a bit of scuttlebutt that education may get severely slashed in the new budget environment. Given that this pays my mortgage, it’s a matter of some concern to me. I’ll report more when I get more info.

  • GALEX Does Cartwheels

    The image at the top of this post is from the GALEX mission, which studies the ultraviolet light emitted by galaxies. UV traces things like where stars are forming and where they die. It has produced some great images, and this one is the famous Cartwheel Galaxy. The image is a combination of Chandra (X-ray, shown in purple), Hubble (visible, green), Spitzer (infrared, red), and GALEX’s own UV imagery (blue). For some reason, I like this image. It’s garish, but cool. The Cartwheel was probably once a normal galaxy like our Milky Way, but a smaller galaxy plunged through the middle of it, and the ripples from the gravity of collision warped the galaxy into that ring shape. The gas inside compressed and started forming stars, which booms out the UV.

  • Hubble Does Orion

    This is a new Hubble image of the most famous gas cloud of them all: the great Orion Nebula. The full-res image is stunning (click the image for more), and they even have a zoomable image too. Very cool.

  • Pulsar Does the Spin

    Astronomers have found the fastest-spinning star known. It’s a neutron star, the dead ultra-dense remnant of an exploded star. When a skater brings in her arms she spins faster, and the same thing happens to a star. When the core collapses, the spin increases hugely. Many neutron stars spin several times a second — think about that: something with twice the mass of the whole Sun, squeezed down into a ball a few miles across, and it’s spinning at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. That’s cool! And this new spins a fantastic 716 times every second– faster than a blender’s blade.

There was lots more news, but I have some more meetings to go to before I head for home. This has been an incredible meeting, with a tremendous amount of new information, lots of good people, and enough astronomy to last anyone for quite some time.

… except me. I’ll have more astro-blog-o-rama to talk about later. There’s always more to talk about!’

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (28)

Links to this Post

  1. phentermine | May 18, 2006
  1. KingNor

    that pulsar… scares me

  2. MikeyP

    Wow. 716 times! Who were the ones that found this?

  3. Pittsburghmuggle

    There’s always something sorta sad about the last day of a confrence.

  4. george

    Is there not any more color availiable for the top image? Just gorgeous!

    It would be cool to listen to the sound of that pulsar, if converted to audio.

    I suspect heliochromolgy was not heralded this year. Darn, and nearly every thing you’ve shown is so colorful, too. :sad: ūüėČ

  5. “And this new spins a fantastic 716 times every second√Ę‚ā¨‚Äú faster than a blender√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs blade. ”

    It’s a LOT faster. In fact, it’s as fast as a gas turbine or a turbo-pump rotor at 43,000 RPM!

    – Jack

  6. Theodore Lyman

    Most interesting but I feel there are some “simple but different” answers that have never been taken into consideration as an explaination that could comfortably answer these observations


  7. Blake Stacey

    Looking at that top picture makes me think. . . We have finally found the Raver Galaxy!

  8. P. Edward Murray

    NASA & Education,


    I’m quite sure that whatever happens you will be able to land on your feet
    but I think there is some truth in what the NASA administrator says.

    Like many other amateurs, I am a child of the space age being born only months before Sputnik. We were there, all of us, as Mercury,Geminii & Apollos launched, we were there late on Chrismas Eve of 1968 when astronauts Borman, Lovell & Anders read from Genesis in orbit around the Moon, we were there during our “Moon Summer” when Neil Armstrong & Edwin Aldrin landed on the Moon.

    And we were there during Challenger …

    Some of us knew a bit more math and became PhD astronomers and some of us still are amateurs and taxpayers.

    All the while we see NASA reaching out to kids but not to the space generation who still has the awe and enthusiasm but unlike the kids pays the taxes to keep NASA running and flights to the Space Station.

    And we are hardly listened to.

    I think that we have become too darn specialized. We limit those who come to our ranks, whether it be in the sciences or education or I guess any other walk in life.

    I think back on those old astronomers in years past, the ones who made discoveries and while I know that you can make discoveries in Astronomy I know that I can’t even teach an Earth Science class without having to go
    back to school.

    I think this specialization locks folks out and all the while
    there is a hew and cry because there aren’t enough teachers or nurses or whatever and I have to wonder:

    If all this specialization is so necessary, especially in science or education, then why the heck do we have a large amount of folks running around not knowing that a year means that we on the Earth have gone around the Sun one more time?

    Yes, education is really wanting but as a society we seem to be afraid to open the floodgates and let those of us who have always had enthusiasm teach or do science.

  9. Phil,

    You know what am I reading every morning for the recent news?

    1) http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/
    2) Universe Today
    3) Astro-Ph

    I think you know what does this mean.
    Thanks for doing this for us.



  10. Megan

    The education aspect of NASA, indeed any scientific program funded by taxpayers, is an important one. Kids seem to not be taking science in the numbers they used to, and outreach and education through something as awe-inspiring as the space program (and astronomy in general) is an important way to get them enthusiastic. Specialisation has advantages, but you shouldn’t lose a sense of perspective and a view of the subject as a whole.

  11. Phil, thanks a lot for sharing all this information with us. It is great to have you reporting all these news in such a promptly, clear and exciting way.
    And as someone who has only the chance to attend one astronomy conference per year at most, your blog has become a valuable resource to keep me updated. It also helps me to renew my enthusiasm for Astronomy and Science in general, especially in days like these when it has become so difficult to be a scientist on this side of the Atlantic.

    Sorry to hear about the future NASA education policy. I think it would be a pitty for NASA to cut down on the public outreach and education programmes. These are extremely important in motivating new people and in getting the tax-payer support for the different missions. And if you look at the NASA and ESA activities in this area, for example, NASA has done/is doing by far a much better job. Not a good idea to slowdown of cutdown now. However, even with any possible cuts, I wouldn√ā¬īt mind getting here just a fraction of the support and investment you get in the US. I little help to pay my mortgage would be nice as well :)

    The images are fantastic, extremely cool, and the science behind them can be tremendous. Difficult to choose a favourite one, but being a “star formation person” I have to go for the Orion Nebula :)
    The zoomable image is simply amazing!

  12. Amstrad

    at 716 Hz and 20 miles in diameter, I calculate that material on the surface is traveling at about c/4

    I wonder how fast _it_ thinks it’s rotating.

  13. rasa

    Does this mean that if you were standing on this, you’d be going about 81,000 miles per second (45% c)?! I think I’m gonna get sick.

  14. P. Edward Murray

    If Kids aren’t taking the science classes that they used to it is not for the lack of interest of NASA so that means that something else is going on.

    Kids don’t vote but adults do and especially those who are interested in things like astronomy I think.

    What I am really stressing is extend the outreach to the folks that are interested.

    In the final analysis, it comes down to money.

    Kids don’t vote but adults can & do.
    Kids for the most part don’t have to earn a living,adults have to.

    You want your programs funded? Find a way to include those who are most likely to support you and you will find your programs funded.

  15. PK

    P. Edward Murray, kids grow up to be adults that vote and pay taxes. Do like the tobacco industry: catch ’em when they’re young and impressionable. Then they’ll always be supporters no matter what, because you have the nostalgia factor working for you.

    I remember being an 8 year old boy in Holland, sending a letter in broken English to “NASA, Washington, USA”, and they sent me a large promotion package with pictures of the space shuttle, and articles that I couldn’t read, etc. Fantastic! Was I the cool kid on the block that week! And look at me now…

  16. Cindy


    Thanks for the report since I can’t get to the AAS meetings anymore.

    I remember about 5 years ago being on a NASA EPO review for all of the interferometry missions and they were talking about ways to include underserved populations (rural and inner city). I really hope that won’t go away but probably will.

    Too bad we can’t convince rich people to reject their tax cuts from Bush and have the money fund education instead.


  17. Kevin Conod

    I was at the AAS Conference as well and Mike Griffin’s comments on education, and comments at the NASA Town Hall which followed, were short but very disturbing.

    Ed — if you are saying that NASA is doing outreach to kids at the expense of adults I can’t agree. NASA is doing a lot for adults through the Solar System Ambassadors program, all the information and pictures and websites that are produced for you, there are also observing campaigns amateurs can participate in, ect. ect. The small amount of funding that’s put towards children’s programs is apparently being “refoucused” on higher education. The problem is that if young kids are not hooked early, they won’t go to college for science or engineering, so the taxpayer will be paying for programs that their kids will never benefit from (most likely those spots will be filled by foreign students with the US taxpayers footing the bill).

  18. Folks-

    Thanks for all the comments. I’m glad I was able to give a taste of the meeting to those who couldn’t attend!

    Cindy, yeah. The SIM and TPF missions I think are still doing OK. Girrfin mentioned one of them by name in his talk (as he did GLAST, one of my missions). Some missions might be in trouble due to JWST’s huge overruns but we’ll know better in a few weeks when the budget comes out.
    Kevin– you were there? I never saw you! And yes, NASA’s missions do a vast amount of outreach to people of all ages. The missions tend to concentrate on school age kids, but it’s not exclusive. We just funded a planetarium show about black holes, for example, that anyone can see (well, for the moment, if they live in Denver). I’ll blog about that in a couple of weeks when I go to the premier. :-)

  19. bigjohn756

    I am certainly glad that PSR J1748-2446ad is not any closer to us. The sound that thing makes would probably keep me awake all night.

  20. Jeremy

    Mandatory IANAP.

    No idea how you would do it, but it seems that something as massive as a pulsar and moving that fast would be a good place to start looking for some of those more difficult to detect gravitational distortion theories (Frame dragging I believe is the correct term for one of them) certainly it would be making space/time in the immediate vicinity look like it went through the puree cycle.

  21. PK


    For something to generate a substantial amount of gravitational waves, you need a quadrupole moment (the graviton has spin 2). That means that a spherical rotating body is in itself not enough. People are looking for two heavy bodies that are spiralling in towards each other. It seems that the pulsar discussed here wouldn’t do the trick.

  22. Nigel Depledge

    BA, nice blog antry and fantastic pics. Imagine if we could see for ouselves all the way from IR up to X-ray…

    Jeremy, I think frame-dragging is expected to be detectable in Earth’s gravitational field. There is a probe out there tryng to do this right now. It’s called Gravity Probe B and was launched back in April 04 (http://www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/launch_update_gpb.html).

  23. Nigel Depledge

    OK, so I can’t type. I meant “entry” not “antry”.

  24. Chris

    Holy cow – just downloaded the 385Mb .tiff of the Hubble image of Orion – that is some AMAZING resolution.

  25. P. Edward Murray


    Thanks, I do know about the Ambassadors program too.
    I maintain though that we have gotten too specialized so that it
    is harder for folks to make a living doing what they want to do and
    would be good at doing.

  26. COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-)

  27. the hartford life insurance

    Hi – big thanks (great site!).


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar