Astro info overload!

By Phil Plait | January 12, 2011 11:21 am

This week is the semi-annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the largest society of professional astronomers in the US. The January meeting is always huge, and always has a lot of news flooding from it like the collimated jet from a supermassive black hole. The big news stories I’ve written about the past couple of days have come from there, and I’ve been scrambling to keep up. But that’s proving to be difficult, so instead of my usual Pulitzer-level reporting of astronomy news, here are some links to stories that will probably interest you. And if you’re on Twitter you should be following the awesomeness that is Pamela Gay, aka StarStryder, as she writes live from the floor of the meeting (and blogs about it, too).

A very cool announcement from the orbiting gamma-ray observatory Fermi: thunderstorms on earth generate this high-energy form of light by creating antimatter. Yes, antimatter. This idea has been around for a while — I remember thinking about it years ago when I worked on the education and outreach for Fermi — but the scientists finally nailed down the specifics, and it’s pretty amazing. Not enough there to power a starship (and it might be hard to bottle it anyway), but still. Wow.

The Planck satellite is designed to look at the background radiation of the Universe in unprecedented detail. While it may not see any signatures by The Ancients (man, I’m ticked Stargate:Universe was canceled) it just released a whole lot of science, and Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance has links to some of the science and scientific papers.

SOFIA is a mid-infrared telescope that flies — seriously — on an airplane with a hole cut out of the side. Astronomers just released a way cool image of the Orion Nebula, comparing it to previous images. It’s a lovely shot showing new-born stars, and accentuates a ginormous shock front of gas in the nebula that I’ve seen probably 5000 times in my life, but never like this; you get a real feel for the three-dimensional nature of the cavity being eaten away in the gas as the hot star blast it with stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation.

I have some background info about SOFIA from last May, when it first started producing scientific data, It’s an amazing machine.

A new survey of the sky has just been released, and it is essentially the largest color picture of the sky ever taken: over a trillion pixels of information! That’s a million megapixels, or a terapixel, if you’re keeping track at home. The data comprise the third generation Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the part you see here is a teeny tiny fraction of what’s available, showing NGC 604, a star-forming region I coincidentally wrote about recently. You can read more about the SDSS data at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab website, and Discover Magazine’s 80 Beats blog.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. Supersized Starlinks | January 14, 2011
  1. Adam Slagell

    I think that is a terapixel

  2. well, “antimatter” is a bit of an overkill for the positrons (i.e. anti electrons) that were actually detected… According to wikipedia “matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass”, and ok, an electron has a mass, but you wouldn’t say that “matter travels through electric wires”, right ?

  3. D’oh- I wrote “petapixel” when I meant “terapixel”. I fixed it. :)

  4. Chris

    I feel your pain for Stargate:Universe as well.

  5. Ethyachk

    SGU canceled is so depressing.

    At least a terapixel is pretty sweet.

  6. mike burkhart

    I have to admit this is the best image of the Orion Nebula I’ve seen . To my eye it looks like a smuge of light ,in my telescope on the highest mangifaction it looks like a triangluar cloud of gas.(roughly trianglar)

  7. CB

    @#2 Dr. Goulu
    and ok, an electron has a mass, but you wouldn’t say that “matter travels through electric wires”, right ?

    I sure would say the particular kind of matter called an electron travels through wire, especially if I was trying to explain the difference between the speed at which electrons travel through a conductor, and the speed at which electric potential (electricity) travels though a conductor.

    A positron is a type of antimatter. So what’s the problem? That it isn’t every kind of anti-matter, that only a subset of antimatter was created? Would you say that you own a car, even though it’s only a subset of all possible cars?

  8. AJKamper


    Electrons don’t travel through electric wires, either. IIRC, an electron in a wire moves a couple millimeters before bouncing into the next one. The electricity is more like a wave of energy being propagated through it.

    Electrons are TOTALLY matter–and positrons antimatter.

  9. Rick

    That image from Planck resembles a false color image of the earth’s clouds.

  10. Matt B.

    Speaking of a 3D effect, has anyone thought of putting a satellite at Neptune (where the associated parsec is close to 100 c-yr) so we can get some really good parallax?

  11. Matt B.

    And speaking of stargates, imagine the interferometry you could do by connecting two telescopes that orbit different stars!

  12. Andy Taylor

    I am the biggest SGU fan. I can’t believe they canceled it either. You can thank sites like that helped the show get canceled. I’m a full-time worker and full-time college student so I don’t get to watch it when it’s on and I have to wait till I get home to watch it on my DVR. Every episode left me wanting more and I couldn’t wait till the next one. I wish there were more people like us who felt the same way and we could start a letter writing campaign to get the show reinstated. I actually liked the plot and it’s sad that there are people out there who actively try to sabotage other peoples favorite TV shows. Oh and the other stuff you wrote sounds cool too. Nice joke about the supermassive black hole.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    Caprica was cancelled as well as SGU. Bummer. NOW what the heck am I going to watch?

    Gary 7

  14. réalta fuar

    Thank all that is holy (or isn’t) that SGU WAS cancelled. What a derivative piece of crap. Even calling it Stargate cheapened the memories of the very good AND very well liked series that preceded it.
    The winter AAS meeting is almost always fun. Last year’s was the largest astronomy meeting in the history of the planet.
    On another note, doesn’t one have to not just have their tongue firmly embedded in their cheek but to actually have swallowed their tongue to describe their writing as “Pulitzer-level ” without actually having won one? Seems as though that would actually insure one of never winning one…….(my apologies if I somehow missed the announcement).

  15. Brian Too

    I don’t know. The scientist on SGU was such a giant a**hat that it kind of turned me off. I know they need to generate conflict in order to create interesting story lines. However this is a fine line to walk, especially when the “bad guy” is on the home team.

  16. Kaptain K

    Add my vote to the “ticked about SGU” roster!

  17. Sam H

    The only Stargate I ever saw was the original movie and snippets of SG-1, so I can’t comment on SGU.
    But antimatter in a TERRESTRIAL lightning storm? Not millions of light years away? We have A-mat right freaking HERE on the third rock from Sol :o?!!

    (cue piano)
    “I love the cosmos, I love the endless void,
    I love the planets, I love the radio noise,
    I love the systems, in every galaxy –
    (cue chorus)
    (you fill in the rest)

    Couldn’t help myself :D. But hey, the universe is JUST AWESOME.

  18. The Yorkshire Sceptic

    Missing Stargate? You could try an unofficial spin-off ~ Stargate, the Fifth Generation. If interested, here’s a link:

  19. DrivethruScientist

    SGU got cancelled?! I was just wondering when the next episode would come out …


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