BAN #217: Paradis video, Chicago (happily) dims

11 May 2020   Issue #217

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

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Something I think you’ll like

My friend Carly Paradis is a musical composer; she’s written the music for quite a few TV shows (including The Innocents on Netflix, which is quite good) and her debut album “Hearts to Symphony” is something I also quite like. Her music is… different; classical would be the genre with perhaps the most overlap in the musical Venn diagram, but it slides into epic as well, and some of it is experimental and very interesting.

Her new album is called “Nothing is Something” and it follows up with some great stuff. The first track, “The Crushing Weight of History”, is easily my favorite thing she’s written.

She just released a video for the track “I Can’t Wait to Get Things Started”. She put out a call for people to participate by making videos of themselves doing things for a short period of time: Look left for 5 seconds, look right, look up… also to hold up a white card and then a black one. I got the email, too, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to participate in time. But my curiosity was piqued, and now that the video is out I see what she did, and the results are quite enthralling. Watch:


Times are very tough right now, but it’s amazing and uplifting to see how this adversity is inspiring artists of all kinds. Carly wrote this song long before the pandemic, but it’s startling to see how well the lyrics fit with the current situation. How many people are alone in a crowd — say, in an apartment surrounded by a hundred other people yet cut off from them, visually simulated so well in the video?

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.

This news caught my eye: the city of Chicago is switching from low-pressure sodium street lamps to LEDs. As you’ll read in the article, this has an impact on astronomy; the lamps are directed more downward toward the ground, and won’t spill as much light into the sky. City lights are a huge contributor to light pollution, which brightens the night sky and makes it harder to see the stars.

The article also mentions that the new lights are bluer, which comes with some issues (it might mess up animals’, including humans, circadian rhythms). But this helps astronomers too, because we’re interested in observing sodium in astronomical objects, and those lamps interfere with that.

[Chicago at night from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA]

I went to the University of Chicago for a year (long story, but to sum up I was an immature jerk who was not ready for college, so I dropped out after a year, went to a community college, transferred to the University of Michigan, got my BS degree, then went to grad school at UVA), and observing from the city was… not easy. There was a telescope on top of the physics building, and I went up there a few times to look at the planets and the Moon, but if you wanted to see something fainter it was easier to just leave town.

Weirdly, this also means the iconic orange glow to the city will go away. I can’t tell you how many times I’d look up while walking around at night to see the sky luminous with an orange haze. It was disturbing.

Once, while flying into the city, my plane was in a holding pattern due to unusually high traffic. The pattern was a huge square over the city and east over Lake Michigan. The view out my window was surreal: You could see four or five airplanes along each side of the square, a virtual quadrilateral dozens of kilometers long. But what made it truly bizarre was looking down: The city was enshrouded in low clouds, and the lights illuminated them in a dull orange, a flat plain (or plane) extending west for a long way… which stopped abruptly at the shoreline of the lake, as if a god wielding an immense blade had cut the light away in a fit of pique. To the west, bright orange, to the east, a dark grey-blue that was so without substance it was actually hard to see.

It was something I’ll never forget… but something that hopefully future generations won’t see, at least not as sharply as I did. Light pollution is a serious issue for many reasons, and I’m glad to see the Second City doing something about it.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Jupiter in thermal infrared light; bright regions are clear air where heat from inside the planet can leak out, while darker regions are where clouds block that heat. From Friday’s article. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA M.H. Wong (UC Berkeley) and team Acknowledgments: Mahdi Zamani]

Monday 4 May, 2020: Our Sun is magnetically quiet compared to other stars. But why?

Tuesday 5 May, 2020: How to make a massive star cluster: Start with a lot of gas. A *lot*.

Wednesday 6 May, 2020: Astronomers find the closest known black hole to Earth!

Thursday 7 May, 2020: On May 4th, a tiny asteroid missed Earth… but just barely

Friday 8 May, 2020: Jaw-dropping images of Jupiter from ground and space display its massive storms

Et alia

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