Tag: Boulder

Moon bounce

By Phil Plait | November 9, 2012 7:00 am

Of all the amazing pictures returned from the moon by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – and I may include the Apollo landing sites among them – I think my favorites are the ones showing boulders that rolled down slopes.

Did I say rolled? I mean bounced!

[Click to enselenate.]

This shot from LRO shows the floor of crater Shuckburgh E, an impact crater about 9 km (~6 miles) across. The image shows a region about 655 meters (0.4 miles) across. The crater floor here is not level; it’s tilted up from left to right, and also has contours. Boulders dislodged for some reason (a seismic event, or a nearby impact) on the right have rolled down to the left… and some actually skipped along, bouncing and bounding as they did.

The two biggest trails are dashed, indicating the boulders had a bit of a rollicking time before coming to rest. You can see both boulders at the left of the trails, where they came to a stop. Note that the sunlight is coming from the bottom of this picture, which can play tricks on perspective. I see the boulders looking almost like craters and the skidding trails they left like little mounds. If you flip the picture over it may look better to you.

As always, pictures like this are a strong reminder that even on the Moon, where time stretches long and processes are slow, changes do occur. Maybe not often, and maybe not recently, but given enough time you have to think of the Moon as a dynamic place.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

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Lunar boulder hits a hole in one!
Excavating a long-dead lunar fire fountain
A lunar crater is graben the spotlight
Peaking into lunar craters

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

The scars of a Colorado fire

By Phil Plait | July 29, 2012 7:15 am

A few weeks ago, Colorado fires raged. They are still there, but mostly out and contained – the Boulder fire is completely contained, but pockets of fire will probably burn at a low level for weeks and be put out as they’re found.

South of us, in Colorado Springs, the wildfire was apocalyptic. It destroyed over 18,000 acres (72 square kilometers, 28 square miles) and many buildings and houses. The scar it left behind is visible even from space, especially in the infrared, as in this image from the Earth-observing Terra satellite:

[Click to conflagrate.]

The way this image is color-coded, ironically vegetation looks red while fire-ravaged areas are greenish. The scale bar at the lower left should give you a sense of how big this fire was. Most of the houses destroyed were in the Mountain Shadows subdivision, which is labeled. A vast amount of effort by firefighters went in to making sure the fire didn’t progress farther down the slope of the foothills.

Images like this one can help people assess the extent of fire damage. And they serve as a reminder that our environment can be tragically fragile. To some extent it’s a natural process – this fire, along with the one in Boulder and the huge one west of Fort Collins were all started by lightning during thunderstorms. But our presence changes some of these processes, and we make some things better and others worse. The more we understand how fires start, how they spread, and how to stop them, the better. Watching all three fires both from the ground (in the case of the Boulder fire, in person as well) and from space is something I’d prefer not to have to do again.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using data from the NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

Related Posts:

Boulder wildfire
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, Pretty pictures

Boulder wildfire

By Phil Plait | June 29, 2012 12:52 pm

I’ve been keeping a wary eye on the fires in Colorado, including one north of me, one south, and one way too close for comfort: the Flagstaff fire. This one crept over the foothills just southwest of Boulder and was pretty threatening there for a day or so, but it looks to be under much better control now, and firefighters think they’ll have it fully contained very soon. It was started by lightning, which is ironic since a few rain showers helped keep the fire under control as well.

Boulderite Dustin Henderlong took some amazing time lapse footage of the fire showing how much smoke was pouring out. The shots at night are, well, lovely, as much as I hate to say it.

The footage runs from 3:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday June 26 to 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. We’ve had some "spot" fires caused by more lightning strikes since then, but they’ve been taken care of quickly and efficiently by the amazing firefighting force deployed.

Not long after the fires started I was able to see the plume of smoke and water vapor from my house, nearly 10 km away:

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the thick parts of the smoke are red and the outer parts blue. A lot of that is due to the way light interacts with the particles in the smoke; blue light gets easily scattered away near the edges, but red light penetrates more deeply.

Just hours after the fire started, the plume had two pieces: a darker smoky part blowing east, and a lighter, bluer one that went up higher and got caught in more northerly winds. That blew it over my house, and I took this shot facing north, away from the fire – indicating just how far-reaching this was:

Read More

MORE ABOUT: Boulder, Flagstaff fire

Venus orbital plane

By Phil Plait | June 10, 2012 7:03 am

Local (to me) photographer Patrick Cullis was filming the Venus Transit last week from Colorado, and got a surprise:

Pretty cool. That’s part of a longer video he made of the transit that’s nice, too.

While I’m at it, he made a really pretty time lapse of the sky over Boulder, including footage of Venus and Jupiter setting over the Flatiron mountains; it’s well worth a moment of your time to watch. You can see the moons of Jupiter, too!


The Flatirons are huge slabs of rock hundreds of meters high that used to be seabed, but were pushed nearly vertical when the Rocky Mountains broke through. They make a stunning backdrop to these videos by Patrick, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

I'm giving a public talk in Boulder, Colorado on May 12!

By Phil Plait | May 1, 2012 12:00 pm

On Saturday, May 12, I’m giving a public talk at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado!

The talk is "10 Amazing Facts About Our Solar System", and if I’m in a good mood I may throw in a couple of extra facts (technically, I should call it "10 ± 2 Amazing Facts About Our Solar System" but I think that would scare away all but the math geeks). It’s a fun talk that lives up to the title. I expect I’ll have one or two things in there you haven’t heard before, too. I’m pretty sneaky that way.

Boulder is my hometown, so I’m really pleased to be doing this. I like doing local stuff, and this is a benefit for the school: although admission is free, a suggested donation of $8 for adults and $5 for kids will be happily accepted at the door. Proceeds go to the school’s Parent Advisory Council and the Beautify Boulder High project. The PAC does great stuff all year round, including funding a lot of projects at the school and organizing parents to do volunteer work for the school. It’s a good group.

The talk starts at 7:00 p.m., and afterward there will be a star party outside! The folks from the Boulder Astronomy and Space Society will be on hand with telescopes, and we’ll be looking at Venus (if it’s still up), Mars, Saturn, and a few deep sky objects like star clusters. I’ll be on hand to answer questions and talk more astronomy, too.

So if you’re anywhere near Boulder, please come! It’s a fun talk (really, the single greatest talk you’ll ever attend, I hear) and it’s for a good cause. I hope to see you there!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Reminder: Nerdist podcast Friday live in Boulder, with me!

By Phil Plait | March 1, 2012 12:43 pm

More shameless self-promotion…

A quick reminder: if you’re in the Boulder area and you’re a geek, you want to come to megaultrasupduperstar Chris Hardwick’s live Nerdist podcast being recorded at the Boulder Theater on Friday, March 2, at 8:00 p.m. (doors open at 7). Tickets are on sale now.

Oh, and did I mention the super-A-list celebrity guest is… me? OK, maybe those adjectives don’t exactly fit, but still, I’m the guest. And knowing Chris — and me — I expect this will be a nerd-out of epic proportions, mixed with juvenile humor. Count on it.

You can get more info at my earlier post about this. I am way, way excited about this!

I hope to see some local BABloggees there! Enjoy your burrito.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Geekery

Hey, I can see my snow-covered house from here!

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2012 1:51 pm

In case you were wondering what the snow was like here in Colorado the other day…

[Click to ensnowflakenate.]

That’s an image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 5, 2012. I live in Boulder, to the northwest of Denver (which is labeled), right on the edge of the Rockies. We got well over 30 cm here locally, and it was deeper in other places. Typical of the area, though, the Sun was out the next day, and now our yard looks like a fairyland of sparkles.

It’s unusual to get a heavy snowfall like this in February (we do get big ones, but later in the year) and from what I’ve heard this was a record for a February. And not to overextend the post to climate change, but a) weather is not climate… unless you add time, and 2) contrary to any soundbite you might hear, snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms. Warmer weather means more evaporation, so more moisture in the air. It’s still cold higher up in the atmosphere, and it’s still cold in the winter over land, so a warmer planet overall means more snow in some places. I’m not attributing this event to global warming, to be clear. But it’s the kind of thing we can expect in the coming years.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Related posts:

Snowpocalypse 2011 from space!
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MORE ABOUT: Aqua, Boulder, snow

Nerdist + Boulder + … me!

By Phil Plait | January 12, 2012 1:15 pm

If you read my blog (and you’d better accept that as an axiom) then you have probably heard of Chris Hardwick. His podcast, Nerdist, is a monstrous juggernaut of podcasty geekiness, for one thing. And he’s been on Craig Ferguson’s show, and Conan, and Chelsea Lately, and a bunch of others. He wrote a book on how being a nerd can make your life better. Chris is something of a Doctor Who fan — proof, you want? — and so he and I have significant overlap in our lives. We met at Comic Con a couple of years ago, but we haven’t managed to get together since then.

But all that will change on Friday, March 2, when Chris will be bringing the Nerdist podcast here to Boulder, live at the Boulder Theater!

Chris and his co-hosts Jonah Ray and Matt Mira will be on stage making the nerdery in my fair town, and — wait for it, waaaiiittt for ittttt — Chris has invited me to be his guest.

I don’t know what we’ll be talking about, but I’m sure it will cover these topics at the least: the Doctor, growing up geeky, astronomy, w00tstock, space travel, the Mythbusters, zombies, and which of us wants to run off with River Song more. Probably pretty much in that order.

I feel obligated to note that if you’re not familiar with Chris’s podcast, it might be possible that it should be considered just ever so slightly NSFW. Or maybe a lot. Just so’s you know.

Tickets are on sale now! If you’re in the area come on by… and face it, if you’re reading this blog and you know who Chris is you have nothing else to do on a Friday night anyway.

P.S. If you’re not around Boulder, the Nerdist Podcast Live is going to be at a bunch of other towns as well, so look for one near you.

The Moon and Venus, a gorgeous pair

By Phil Plait | November 26, 2011 6:42 pm

Just an hour or so ago as I write this (Saturday, November 26, 2011) I was sitting at my desk at home, puttering around on the computer. I glanced out my office window and noticed the Sun had set a few minutes before. Even though it was still quite bright out, I thought I might be able to spot Venus low in the west. So I leaned back and looked out the window. Venus was easy enough to spot — it’s really quite bright — but to my surprise and delight a very thin crescent Moon was hanging right next to it!

I did two things right away: I tweeted about it, so others could go outside and see the pair if they could, and then I grabbed my camera and went outside. I took literally 111 pictures, and put the best of them on Flickr. Check this one out!

[Click to embiggen.]

This was one of the first of the set I took; the sky was still quite bright. You can see the very young Moon on the right, and Venus way over on the left. I measured the distance off the picture, and they were about 3° apart, or about 6 times the width of the Moon’s face. That’s pretty close!

I kept snapping away as the sky darkened, and moved around a bit to get a more interesting foreground. I like the way this one came out:
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Boulder, Moon, Venus

Up, up, and away

By Phil Plait | September 25, 2011 7:00 am

I was in my home office yesterday morning, sipping my coffee and trying to wake up while perusing the latest news from Twitter and Google+. It took a second, but the sound coming from outside worked its way into my head… a rushing, roaring sound. "GGGGggggggshhhhhh! GGGGggggggshhhhhh!"

I knew what it was right away: the flame from a hot air balloon, the pilot giving the bag some gas. We get a lot of balloons here in Boulder; the cool air in the summer mornings coupled with the spectacular view of the mountains makes them really popular. But this time was different; the sound was much louder than usual. Hmph, I thought, better grab the camera.

I ran outside, and yeah, it was close:

Wow! [Click to fifthdimensionate.]

It actually rose up from behind my house, so I ran down the street to get a good view. It flew past me (where I got this shot) then passed overhead where I got that shot.

How close was it? Close enough to wave at the passengers in the gondola, and have them wave back. That was cool.

It slipped out of sight, and landed in a field across from my neighborhood. I went back inside, but a few minutes later my wife called out, "We’ve got two more!" I went into my back yard, and one was landing in the field behind my house, too:

I have to say, this is a great way to wake up in the morning. It’s simply delightful. And I have a sneaky suspicion that sometime in the next year or so I’ll have to taker a ride like this myself with my family. I’d love to be able to take pictures like this from the other side.

Related posts:

Moon balloon
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Boulder fire damage seen from space
Ephemeral snow and ancient rock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

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