Archive for November 9th, 2011

Symphony of Science: Onward to the Edge

By Phil Plait | November 9, 2011 5:20 pm

A new Symphony of Science has come out today, in honor of Carl Sagan’s birthday. And I’m pleased to see it features three people I call friends: Neil Tyson, Brian Cox, and Carolyn Porco:

Isn’t that wonderful? Symphony of Science is the work of musician John Boswell, who takes the words of scientists and creates these lovely videos. You should watch them all.

I mention that Neil, Brian, and Carolyn are all friends for two reasons; one is that sharing a love of science is not a zero-sum game, a conserved quantity. The more we share it, the more people who are heard and seen doing it, the more desire there is for it. Each of us broadens the audience for all. There is no fixed capacity for learning and wonder.

But also, it’s more than that. It’s a reason I think Sagan would’ve agreed with as well: we’re all in this together. Paupers and kings, famous and infamous, men, women, black, white, all flavors of humanity. We are all riding this planet, and where we go is largely up to us. We can make the most of it, or we can squander it.

I am personally inspired by pieces like this. Like most people, I sometimes lose sight of my own goals, I sometimes get mired in the day-to-day business of life. But when I see Neil and Brian and Carolyn and, yes, Carl Sagan, letting their passion show, mine returns as well.

Keeping the passion is what drives the personal thirst for learning. Showing that passion is what instills it in others.

Show a little passion now and again. Who knows who you’ll inspire?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Piece of mind, Science

On the birthday of Carl Sagan

By Phil Plait | November 9, 2011 11:12 am

If Carl Sagan were still alive, he’d be 77 years old today. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been overly concerned with arbitrary time measurements, especially when based on the fickle way we define a "year", but it’s human nature to look back at such integrally-divisible dates… and Carl was very much a student of human nature.

I’ve written about him so much in the past there’s not much I can add right now, so I thought I would simply embed a video for you to watch… but which one? Where James Randi eloquently and emotionally talks about his friendship with Carl? Or the wonderful first installment of Symphony of Science using my favorite quote by Carl? Or this amazing speech about how life seeks life?

But in the end, the choice is obvious. Carl Sagan’s essay, "Pale Blue Dot", will, I think, stand the test of time, and will deservedly be considered one of the greatest passages ever written in the English language.

Happy birthday to Doctor Carl Sagan, Professor of Astronomy, scientist, skeptic, muse, and – though he may not have thought of himself this way — poet.

I’ll leave you with this, something I wrote abut Carl a while back, when asked about what his greatest legacy is:

Sagan’s insight, his gift to us, is the knowledge that we all have the ability to examine the Universe with all the power of human curiosity, and we need not retreat from the answers we find.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind

Giant sunspots are giant

By Phil Plait | November 9, 2011 8:40 am

Active Region 1339 — a huge cluster of sunspots which appeared on the Sun a few days ago — is still going strong. "Amateur" astronomer Alan Friedman took a devastating picture of the 100,000 km-wide-grouping:

[Click to embiggen.]

This picture was taken using an Hα filter, which picks out the light from warm hydrogen, and really shows the texture of the solar surface. I added the Earth in there just to give you a taste of how fracking huge this cluster is; the scale should be pretty close. Obviously, several of the individual spots in AR 1339 are as big or bigger than our entire planet, in case you happened to feel too big for your britches today.

… but still. The thing is, we’re starting to understand sunspots, better than any time in human history before us. Heck, a few centuries ago most people didn’t know sunspots even existed, and if you had said they did — violating the Aristotelian perfection of the heavens — they would’ve laughed at you. If you were lucky. Some folks had a really hard time dropping Aristotle’s influence.

And not only that, we can now routinely capture incredible images of these spots and present them on the internet, where an entire planet can see them and gasp at their size and beauty. I posted my own imaging attempts on Google+ last weekend, for that matter.

Chinese curses be damned: we do live in interesting times, and I’m glad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image credit: Alan Friedman, used by permission.


Related posts:

For your viewing pleasure: Active Region 1302
Seriously jaw-dropping picture of the Sun
The boiling, erupting Sun
The birth of a sunspot cluster

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