Bad Astronomy Newsletter

The entire Universe — or at least parts of it — as interpreted through the brain of Phil Plait: astronomer, science communicator, and goat herder.

A Substack newsletter by Phil Plait

The entire Universe — or at least parts of it — as interpreted through the brain of Phil Plait: astronomer, science communicator, and goat herder.

BAN #61: Music of 5,000 sols and a noisy astronomer

November 12, 2018 Issue #61

Subscribers are like seeing 5,000 sunrises on Mars. I don’t know why, exactly, but it sounds nice and ties into one of the sections below.


Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

[Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.]

In part to celebrate the Opportunity Mars rover, scientists took an image of the 5,000th sunrise it experienced on the Red Planet and converted it into music! This is pretty cool: They examined the image pixel by pixel and examined the brightness, color, and structure of the image, created a way to map that to sound (for example — and I don’t know the details, so this is a made-up example — red could be a low tone and blue a high one, and letting the brightness be mapped to volume), and then scored it.

The result is actually quite pleasant.

I like things like this. First, it’s clever, and I appreciate new ways to present data. But also it can help people with various impairments experience the data, too (like tactile books that create 3D raised plastic impressions of astronomical images). And also you never know what you’ll get when you do this; when you use different senses to examine data you can get a more visceral feel for it, and perhaps understand it better.

In a way it’s just an expansion of what we do all the time when we make color photos. You take one from a red filter, a green one, and a blue one, and combine them to create something much easier to appreciate and understand than lining up the three images next to each other. Also it’s much grander.

BTW, a day on Mars is a half hour longer than a day on Earth, and to keep them separate scientists call a Martian day a “sol”, after the Latin word for “sun”. So, music for your sol?

I like it.


Follow o’ the Letter

Someone you should follow on social media

I have known Nicole Gugliucci for a long time. I’m not sure just how long, but a decade seems like a decent Fermi estimate. I knew her when she was at UVa getting her PhD in radio astronomy, and as she grew to be an important voice in the skeptic movement.

She’s an excellent writer, a passionate feminist, a funny person, and a good friend. She’s also a force when it comes to science outreach. She attends conferences (both sci and scifi) where she does hands-on work with kids, the public, and educators (I totally stole her comet-making demo to use in an episode of “Bad Universe”). She does research into science communication. She teaches astronomy at a university. She holds workshops to train educators. She writes a blog.

If you want to learn more about astronomy and also get a solid dose of intersectional science and feminism, Nicole is just great. Follow her on Twitter, go look at her website Noisy Astronomer (making a pun on noisy data), watch her videos, and hey: Buy her a coffee. She more than deserves it.

[Credit: Nicole Guggliucci]


Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

Monday Nov. 17, 2018: Hayabusa-2 hovers 21 meters over an alien world – just for practice

Tuesday Nov. 18, 2018: The Milky Way ate another galaxy, and we can still see the undigested bits

Wednesday Nov. 19, 2018: Is 'Oumuamua an interstellar spaceship? I'm still going with 'no.'

Thursday Nov. 20, 2018: Astronomers see material orbiting a black hole *right* at the edge of forever

Friday Nov. 21, 2018: Breathtaking storm time-lapse video: Monsoon V


Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!

The entire Universe — or at least parts of it — as interpreted through the brain of Phil Plait: astronomer, science communicator, and goat herder.