MSM tackles the need to explore… and gets it very right

By Phil Plait | July 21, 2012 7:00 am

BABloggee Steven Avery on Twitter sent me a link to a story about astronomy done on MSNBC… and it’s great. Seriously, it’s worth the 11:30 to watch it. They show not just what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it. It’s rare for any mainstream medium to cover this well, but it’s extraordinary that they delve into the philosophy and sheer joy of exploration.

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Fantastic. The short segment after, with Brian Williams talking to Harry Smith is simply wonderful. It’s uplifting to see two news people talking about how much they love this sort of thing. I wish we had more of this. I spend a lot of time shaking my head and gritting my teeth over science coverage in the news in this country, so something like this is a breath of fresh air so sweet it’s staggering.

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First light for ALMA

By Phil Plait | October 3, 2011 6:00 am

After a decade of painstaking engineering and construction, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is now open for business.

ALMA is a collection of (currently) 19 telescopes, each 12 meters across, that can detect light that is between the radio and infrared parts of the spectrum. All sorts of interesting objects emit this kind of light, including solar systems in the process of forming, very distant galaxies nearly at the very edge of the visible Universe, and warm gas and dust from star birth.

In fact, ALMA released an image of that latter type of thing, and it’s pretty nifty:

That’s a close up of the Antennae Galaxies, one of my favorite objects in the whole sky. This is what used to be two separate spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. A few hundred million years ago they collided, and are still in the process of merging. As they do so, vast clouds of gas slam into each other, collapse, and form stars. We get a pretty good view using visible light, but ALMA can penetrate the thick dust and see what’s going on inside those clouds, and does so in detail and resolution we literally could not get in the past. In that image, blue is visible light from Hubble, and orange and yellow is from ALMA, showing where stars are currently being born.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: ALMA, Antenna galaxies

Time lapse: The spinning Chilean sky

By Phil Plait | February 21, 2011 7:10 am

I do so love time-lapse animations, and this one is particularly nice: it shows four of the ALMA microwave antennas in Chile as they scan the night sky, while the starry vault rotates around them. [Make sure you set the resolution to 720 and make this full screen; it’s really nice.]

The video starts at moonset, and ends with an amazing view of the the vast central bulge and disk of the Milky Way looming over the ‘scopes.You can see the famous Coal Sack dark dust cloud as a circular "hole" in the Milky Way, with Crux, the Southern Cross, right next to it. Just above and to the right (at the lower tip of the elongated dark patch in the Milky Way) is the bright star Alpha Centauri, with Beta Centauri just below it. The European Southern Observatory has posted a similar video showing a different part of the sky, too. These videos are from last summer, but there’s a timeless, enthralling quality to them.

I found this through the tortuous route of a tweet from my friend Lila Mae, then to io9 (who got it from reddit), and then to the ESO. Phew!

Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

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