Category: Geekery

Revealed: My tattoo

By Phil Plait | November 12, 2012 6:00 am

Folks, it’s time. And an appropriate time: for my penultimate post here at Discover Magazine, I’ve decided to show you my tattoo.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but there were a lot of behind-the-scenes issues getting permissions I won’t bore you with. But by the time I was able to post this it was so long after I got inked it seemed a little silly. Still, Discover Magazine was the reason I got it, so it seems fair and fitting to post this now. And I’ve dyeing to let y’all know anyway.

As a brief recap, a few years ago I made a bet with then-Discover Magazine CEO, Henry Donahue: if I got 2 million page views in one month, and the magazine got 5 million total, we’d both get tattoos. In March 2009 we did it! So Henry and I went about getting inked.

He got a pretty nifty Celtic fish on his shoulder. For mine, I decided to turn to you, my readers, for suggestions. And they poured in. I narrowed it down to a handful I liked, then made my decision. Henry and I thought it would be fun for me to try to get my tattoo on the TV show "L.A. Ink", so I applied. They accepted! Discover Magazine generously offered to cover my expenses, and so a little while later I was on my way to Hollywood to get myself some ink.

That’s the basic story. So, without further ado, here it is: my tattoo!

Cool, huh? It’s perfect, and just what I wanted! And how appropriate is it to get an asteroid burning up over the Earth? I know, the scale’s a bit off, but it’s a tattoo, not a scientific graphic in the Astronomical Journal. And I love the flames and the colors.

The actual clip never wound up getting aired on TLC, but they did create a fully-produced version and put it up on YouTube – they have a higher res version on the TLC site. For those of you too lazy to click, here is the YouTube video version:

The first thing to note in the video is that while I seem upbeat I was actually screaming in pain inside my head. The whole thing took just under four hours, and the last quarter of that was where Dan was going over the flames again and again, shading in all the reds and oranges. The pain was, um, astonishing.

Still, I love the end result! If you’re looking to get a full-color tattoo, you could do a lot worse than Dan Smith. He’s an excellent artist, and a friendly guy. If I were to get another tattoo – which will never ever happen – I’d want him to do it.

Thank you Henry, thank you Dan, and thank you Discover Magazine for supporting this bit of fun. It was quite a ride, and I have a nice piece of art to show for it that’ll last the rest of my life.


Related posts:

- Big news: Bad Astronomy is moving to Slate magazine
- My secret nefarious inky plan revealed
- We who are about to dye
- Tat two

MORE ABOUT: L.A. Ink, tattoo

Nerd deGrasse Tyson

By Phil Plait | November 10, 2012 7:00 am

Speaking of Neil Tyson, if you’re a fan of his you’ll be pleased to know that his show, Star Talk Radio, is now going to be part of the Nerdist Channel network! Thats actually a pretty big deal; Chris Hardwick has created this juggernaut of Nerdist and it reaches a lot of folks.

The new show is essentially a video version of the radio show. Chris interviewed Neil about it for The Nerdist website. If you’re curious what it’ll be like, here’s a video of a live Star Talk interview he did with several comedians (Hodgman! Schaal!) and Mike Massamino, a NASA astronaut:

Cool, eh? And maybe I’ll have more news about this soon, too. Superman isn’t the only guy who walks around in his underwear Neil has talked to.


Related Posts:

- DC Comics pins Krypton to the star map
- My Nerdist episode is online!
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery

Unicorn chaser

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2012 10:16 am

I suspect something like half of the people reading my blog will, today, need this: a video of a puppy playing with a spring doorstop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEmq6Denjqo

[The term "unicorn chaser" comes from Boing Boing, and is akin to a palate-cleansing for your brain after something awful.]

c/o my pal the geektastic Bonnie Burton.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor
MORE ABOUT: doorstop, puppy

DC comics pins Krypton to the star map

By Phil Plait | November 5, 2012 9:31 am

The story of Superman is so well known that I hardly need go into detail. But in case you’re some sort of commie, the idea is that he was born on the planet Krypton orbiting a far away red star, and sent to Earth while still a baby by his parents as their home planet exploded around them. Our yellow Sun somehow gives Kal-El superpowers, and he goes on to star in a series of increasingly poorly-made movies*.

I’ve often wondered exactly what kind of star Krypton orbited and where it was. Up until now all we’ve known is that it was red, and red stars come in many flavors, from dinky red dwarfs with a tenth the mass of the Sun up to massive supergiants like Betelgeuse which outweigh the Sun by dozens of times (I’ll note that a deleted scene in "Superman Returns" indicates it’s a red supergiant).

Well, that’s about to change. DC comics is releasing a new book this week – Action Comics Superman #14 – that finally reveals the answer to this stellar question. And they picked a special guest to reveal it: my old friend Neil Tyson.

Actually, Neil did more than just appear in the comic: he was approached by DC to find a good star to fit the story. Red supergiants don’t work; they explode as supernovae when they are too young to have an advanced civilization rise on any orbiting planets. Red giants aren’t a great fit either; they can be old, but none is at the right distance to match the storyline. It would have to be a red dwarf: there are lots of them, they can be very old, and some are close enough to fit the plot.

I won’t keep you in suspense: the star is LHS 2520, a red dwarf in the southern constellation of Corvus (at the center of the picture here). It’s an M3.5 dwarf, meaning it has about a quarter of the Sun’s mass, a third its diameter, roughly half the Sun’s temperature, and a luminosity of a mere 1% of our Sun’s. It’s only 27 light years away – very close on the scale of the galaxy – but such a dim bulb you need a telescope to see it at all (for any astronomers out there, the coordinates are RA: 12h 10m 5.77s, Dec: -15° 4m 17.9 s).

Which brings us back to the Superman story. I was sent an advance copy, and it’s actually a clever tale, with some relatively solid science in it. I won’t spoil it, but apparently Superman comes to visit the Hayden Planetarium in New York City (where Neil is the director) every 382 days, which happens to be the period of Krypton around the star (known as Rao in the comic canon). Although it’s not said explicitly in the story, it sounds like they try to observe Krypton when it’s at the point in its orbit where it appears farthest from its star, reducing the glare and making it easier to spot.

As for the major plot point of the story, I won’t reveal it. But I’ll give you a hint: Superman is about 27 years old. PLEASE don’t leave any guesses in the comments below until a few days after the issue is out. I want to avoid spoiling it for any other readers.

Being a dork, I have to comment on some of the science in the story, though. Given the mass of a star and the period of a planet orbiting it, you can find the distance between the two. Doing the math (I’m a dork, remember?) I find the distance of Krypton to its Sun is about 100 million kilometers, somewhat closer than Earth is to the Sun (150 million kilometers).

But remember, Rao is a dim red dwarf! It’s so cool and faint that even at that closer orbital distance, Krypton would be a chilly world. Even if the planet is black as soot (and thereby absorbing all the heat falling on it from Rao) its temperature is still something like -170° Celsius – about -270° F! [If you're curious, I outline how to calculate this on the Bad Astronomy website.] At that temperature oxygen and nitrogen are still gases – barely – but it’s way below the freezing point of water. And if it’s not black, but instead snowy and white, the temperature will be even lower.

So Krypton maybe isn’t the best place for life to arise… still, there are ways out of this. Maybe either the Kryptonians migrated there (they couldn’t find a warmer planet?) or there’s something else going on. If it’s really volcanic then greenhouse gases could be prevalent, raising the temperature. Possibly the planet’s interior is still warm from heat leftover from its formation… or maybe whatever made it warm enough to be habitable also led to its destruction. Comic book science can be pretty ironic.

[DC comics: call me! I have ideas.]

I also feel obligated to note that in the comic, they made the planet look much larger than the star. That doesn’t work; the two are so far away it doesn’t matter if Krypton was on Rao’s near or far side; it would have to appear smaller than the star. We know Krypton is not a gas giant, so it can’t be much more than a few times Earth’s size. Even compared to a red dwarf that’s pretty small.

Still, it does make for a dramatic series of panels, and I’m always willing to let art trump science if need be. And this really is a pretty nifty story.

The issue comes out on November 7, and I’ll be heading over to my local comic store (Time Warp) to pick up a copy. Next time I see Neil maybe I’ll get him to sign it. It’s not too often I get to do that with someone who knows Superman.

Image credits: DC Comics; Digitized Sky Survey/NASA/Skyview


* I love – LOVE – the 1978 Superman movie, and I still to this day listen to the soundtrack, so you can argue with me over this, but you will be wrong.


This actually happens twice per orbit, when it’s on either side of its star. That means the orbital period is actually twice 382 days, or well over two years… and as you’ll see, that puts it farther from its star, making things worse.


Related Posts:

- My comic book premier
- Apparently, Black Widow knows me. And maybe Nick Fury, does, too.
- Great Tyson’s ghost!
- Neil Tyson and I talk time travel

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery

The return of Something Fierce

By Phil Plait | November 3, 2012 7:03 am

Regular readers of my long-standing crush on singer/songwriter/siren Marian Call. Her voice is lovely, her lyrics brain-poking, and her self-motivated music career an inspiration.

So I’m really pleased to let y’all know she is re-releasing her last album, Something Fierce. She’s doing this for several reasons, but one is to get it more widely released. She wants to get on NPR and other places where the audience for her would fit right in.

Of course, this is Marian we’re talking about, so she’s gone to ridiculous lengths to do this. She wants her listeners to participate, to be a part of this. So she’s done something both silly and clever (typically): she’s started a treasure hunt. Well, she’s calling it Adventure Questing because, let’s face it, her fans (of which I am a big one) are all geeks. Anyway, she’s issuing one task per day to her followers, and they’re, well, silly and clever. I won’t give anything away; instead, just go look.

Also, follow her on Twitter for updates and such.

This all started on November 1 – sorry, I know I’m late, but there has been some other stuff on my mind lately – and ends on the 13th. So go and start questing adventurously! And know that what you’re doing is helping support an extremely talented artist who has worked enormously hard to get where she is, and does it all for the love of music, and the love of fans. That’s honest truth, and one of the many reasons I really dig her.


Related Posts:

- Rocketfest!
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- The (Marian) Call of Mars
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery

Drama bike ride

By Phil Plait | November 2, 2012 11:03 am

Because I can.

If you don’t get it, this might help.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor

Awkwardly Embraceable interview

By Phil Plait | October 26, 2012 12:57 pm

My friend, the geekeriffic Jessica Mills, interviewed me for her blog on Tech Republic (the second part is here). It was a lot of fun talking with her; we wandered over topics like Hubble, Star Trek, science, Doctor Who, black holes, Neil Tyson and Bill Nye, and what I would do if I encountered advanced aliens in a wormhole (answer: self-promotion).

Jessica is amazing. She is a writer, producer, and actress, and was the driving force behind the very funny web series Awkward Embraces (which I wrote about in a post a while back). If you’re a geek – and you are – you should watch it.

She’s also just cool and funny and smart and talented, and you could do a lot worse than follow her on Tumblr and Twitter. Hey. She was a Geek-A-Week, so you know she’s cool.

MORE ABOUT: Jessica Mills

OSU marching band boldly goes

By Phil Plait | October 25, 2012 9:30 am

A little while ago, the interwebz went all twitterpated over the Ohio State University marching band doing a halftime show tribute to gaming. Don’t get me wrong: it was really cool, especially the part starting at 6 minutes in. I was in a marching band for many years (shocker) and I’m amazed at what OSU did.

But somehow that particular show overshadowed the one OSU did on September 15 that was way cooler. And by cooler, I mean geekier.

Behold:

I don’t want to spoil it, but if you want a cheat sheet, the You Tube page for the video has a list of the highlights and their times in the video.

My favorite part – duh – starts at 4:50. Make sure you keep watching for a minute. Make it so.

Tip o the shako to Heather Curtis.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, Space

To Dorkly Go

By Phil Plait | October 24, 2012 12:00 pm

How much do I love Dusty Abell’s artwork?

A whole quadrant’s worth, that’s how much. And here’s why:

Oh, my. [Click to massively balokenate. This is only one small part of a much larger piece, and it's amazing.]

And why, yes, I do recognize Every. Single. Thing. in this drawing. Because my geekery is beyond even the capacity for Norman to coordinate.

Dusty also did this piece of awesomeness, too. And? He has the coolest name ever. He should’ve been an astronomer.

Tip o’ the Tranya to io9.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, Humor, SciFi, TV/Movies
MORE ABOUT: Dusty Abell, Star Trek

PUNY Helicarrier!

By Phil Plait | October 17, 2012 11:09 am

I’m no Loki (I look terrible in a helmet with long curving horns), but I still know how to take down S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier. My pal Veronica Belmont asked me to come on her TechFeed show "Fact or Fictional" to talk about whether the ginormous turbo-fan driven Helicarrier from the Avengers movie could actually fly. SPOILERS: yes, kinda, but at grave cost to the planet below it.

It turns out that just to power the thing would take about a trillion Watts – enough to supply electricity to a billion homes. That might prove detrimental to the environment. Worse, the air blasted downward from the fans would have to be moving supersonically to support the tremendous weight of the Helicarrier, so it would pulverize anything near where it was landing.

And don’t even get me started on Iron Man kick starting that one engine. The centrifugal force alone would reduce him to the size of a soggy jelly bean inside that suit.

And before I get accused of nerdgassing about the movie, note well that what I bet most people would think is the craziest thing about the Helicarrier – its ability to cloak – actually strikes me as being possible. It’s a bit tougher than getting a 100,000 ton carrier off the ground without utterly destroying everything within a hundred square kilometers, but still not outright nuts. It’s all in the video.

And heck, I loved the movie. If you want nerdgassing, read what I have to say about "Armageddon"


Related Posts:

- Veronicarmageddon
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Debunking, Geekery, Humor
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