BAN #195: Cruise the galaxy, read the Expanse

24 February 2020   Issue #195

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers have one hand on the wheel of the galactic ship.

Astro Tidbit

A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news that may be too short for the blog, too long for Twitter, but just right (and cool enough to talk about) for here.

I just want to make sure y’all check out my blog post today: Betelgeuse has started getting brighter again, and pretty much right at the time we expected it to. This variability is natural with huge, puffy red supergiants, and I explain why in the article. So no, this whole megillah didn’t have anything to do with it being an impending supernova; it was just an unusually deep dip in brightness.

Also, make sure you scroll down to the video near the bottom of the article. It shows convection models of Betelgeuse, and it’s super cool.

A Bit o’ Science

The entirety of science is too much for one sitting. Here’s a morsel for you.

Citizen science has really been making some strides lately.

This is where people who aren’t necessarily trained in the ways of science can help pros by looking at large amounts of data. Each person might only look at some small amount, but if enough people participate a lot of analysis can be done.

Cosmoquest is a great example of this, as is Galaxy Zoo. At these sites you can get trained briefly in what you need to do, then jump right in and start looking at data. Sometimes it’s IDing galaxies, or looking for asteroid craters, or something like that. You only need to click on an image and answer a question, or draw a circle of something of that nature. This sort of thing is actually quite fun, and it can get competitive (“I found 73 spiral galaxies”, “Well, I found 83!”).

A new one just got started, created by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. It’s called “Galaxy Cruise”, and it’s much like the others. It has a fairly intuitive setup, where you have to register then log in. Then there’s a brief set of training exercises where you ID spiral versus elliptical galaxies, and ones that are interacting versus ones that aren’t. It doesn’t take long, and then you’re sent to the actual images.

[The Galaxy Cruise playing screen. Credit: NOAJ]

I played with it for a few minutes, and I have to say the ones I looked at were not easy to classify. Some looked to have very faint spiral arms but it was hard to say, and others had odd shapes that might mean they’re interacting, but it was hard to tell.

The beauty of these sites, though, is that it doesn’t matter much if you can’t ID it because 20 other people look at it, making the ID statistically stronger. Studies have shown that “citizen scientists” can do as well as the seasoned pros at classifying things like galaxies. The more eyeballs on the data the better.

So go take a look! They really are surprisingly fun to do.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

As you probably know, I’m a massive fan of “The Expanse”. I was an early adopter; in fact before it first aired on SYFY I got an advance copy of the first few episodes and was totally blown away by what I saw; not only was science important but there’s a scene early on where they went out of their way to get the science right, and it was critical to the action! So I was hooked.

The reasons SYFY couldn’t keep it going are a bit complex, but in the end Amazon bought it up and Season 4 just aired, and definitely IMO kept up the quality of the show. In fact I may have enjoyed it more because they could really let Avasarala swear more. J

I was very happy and a little surprised to see that Season 5 principle shooting has wrapped:

The show is based on a series of books collectively called “The Expanse”, and James SA Corey is the pseudonym the two authors used when they wrote them. The books are really great, huge sprawling space opera that, if anything, are even more sweeping than the show. Lots more detail, more characters (in some cases you can see how they left out or consolidated characters for the show)… the show follows the general arc of the books, though there are differences. If you read ahead, you can see where the show is going.

I just finished the 8th book (there’s a substantial dependence on astronomy in that one, and the authors asked some astronomers, including me, for some ideas there which I was happy to provide), and there’s one more coming out to finish the series this year. I can’t wait! So I recommend reading them; Amazon has the complete (minus the last one) set for Kindle (affiliate link), too.

So give ‘em a read if you haven’t already!

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[A solar flare seen in October 2003 in high-energy light. Solar storms that could potentially have dire consequences for humanity may occur more often than we thought. From Thursday’s article. Credit: NASA/SOHO]

Monday 17 February, 2020: A Fast Radio Burster is seen to repeat every 16 days... deepening the mystery

Tuesday 18 February, 2020: How to build a Kuiper Belt Object: Arrokoth's two halves formed separately and slowly came together

Wednesday 19 February, 2020: An Earth-sized planet may be igniting an aurora around a nearby red dwarf star

Thursday 20 February, 2020: How often do severe solar storms pummel the Earth?

Friday 21 February, 2020: Charlotte’s Daydream

Et alia

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