Things have been rather hectic lately. On top of the normal (and abnormal) bureaucratic stuff, there was a little matter of moving our clocks to their new home in another building. The capacity for disaster was simply terrifying, because this represented several Simoleons worth of equipment, and scientist-years of effort. Breaking a vacuum system isn’t really that hard, and even though it would be fixable, it would represent a significant delay and so there was a wee bit of stress in all of this. We had mentioned the impending move at the conference a few weeks ago, and that induced a retelling of lab horror-stories of moving heavy and/or expensive apparati, and that fed our rampant paranoia.

But we pulled it off.

The air sled system worked like a charm; even when a hose popped out of place it wasn’t a problem — there’s a check valve that prevents the air from releasing through the hose attachment, and the load settled down gently. We gathered a contingent of folks to do things like manage the extension cord so it wasn’t a trip hazard, and move the 4’x8′ polyethylene sheets to the front after we’d slid over them. Our group did the pushing and pulling — we weren’t about to trust things to anyone else — which was a decent workout on the inclined surfaces.

I may post some pictures later on, but for the moment I’m taking a breather to relax and try and shed this cold that’s been attacking folks.

Toys in the Office: Gettin' Personal

My balls, when I’m not using them. (The brass ones are kept in a climate-controlled vault). People will occasionally pick them up and play with them.

The reason why I have them in my office: several years ago, a colleague arranged to have a construction crew replace a telescope dome with a new, sexy radar dome (transparent in all the right places, er, frequencies). The crew cut up the old dome and put it in a dumpster for disposal. Unfortunately, it was a construction dumpster that belonged to another contractor, and they refused to pay to have it emptied, and it became a big mess which I dubbed “Dumpstergate,” (I’m so frikkin’ clever sometimes) and it dragged on and on. It took a long time to find a way to pay to have the dumpster emptied without running afoul of arcane government spending protocols. This lingered to the point where the colleague retired, so another colleague put together a gag gift of a mini-dumpster-truck, and needed a ping-pong ball to slice up and represent the telescope dome. I bought a pack of six, gave him two, gave two to another, and kept two for myself.

Very Illuminating

Lighting up the night

Berlin, Germany is hosting its “Festival of Lights” this week, until October 26th. Dozens of landmarks are lit up with lamps, projectors and lasers, accompanied by fireworks and other events. We humans light up the night for many reasons, practical, artistic – even reasons with more meaningful messages. Pictured below are night scenes from Berlin and around the world, illuminated in interesting ways. (21 photos total)

Pollin', Pollin', Pollin', Rawhide!

Don’t try to understand this
Just knock, ring and canvass
Soon we’ll be votin’ high and wide

Obama Takes Lead in Galactic Polls

M83, known sometimes as the “Southern Pinwheel”, is a more complicated case, as its electoral votes are divided following Interstellar Congressional districts. The rural regions continue to hold out for McCain, with disaffected liberals in the more tech-heavy globular clusters opting to vote Nader in protest.

I've Seen Fire, and I've Seen Rainbow

The Fire Rainbow: An Astonishing and Rare Marvel of Nature

To name it properly, a fire rainbow is a circumhorizontal arc. It is also known as a circumhorizon arc but whichever you chose, scientists (and aficionados) call it a CHA. It is given its name because it looks as if a rainbow has spontaneously combusted as it made its way across the sky.

Contrast with the circumzenithal arc (upside-down rainbow)


More atomic force microscope writing. (Like spelling out ‘IBM’)

‘Atomic pen’ writes with individual atoms

An Osaka University research team has demonstrated an “atomic pen” that can inscribe nano-sized text on metal by manipulating individual atoms on the surface.

According to the researchers, whose results appear in the October 17 edition of Science magazine, the atomic pen is built on a previous discovery that silicon atoms at the tip of an atomic force microscope probe will interchange with the tin atoms in the surface of a semiconductor sample when in close proximity.

Zombie Water

Mysterious ‘dead water’ effect caught on film

Research has already shown that dead water occurs when an area of water consists of two or more layers of water with different salinity, and hence density – for example, when fresh water from a melting glacier forms a relatively thin layer on top of denser seawater. Waves that form in the hidden layer can slow the boat with no visible trace.

Now French scientists recreating that scenario in a lab tank have revealed new detail of the phenomenon and even captured the effect on video. The work will help scientists to better understand dead water and the behaviour of stratified sea patches.

All Right, Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for my Close-Up

Enceladus up close

Saturn’s tiny, icy moon Enceladus has recently been visited by NASA’s Cassini orbiter on several very close approaches – once coming within a mere 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the surface. Scientists are learning a great deal about this curious little moon. Only about 500 kilometers wide (310 miles), it is very active, emitting internal heat, churning its surface, and – through cryovolcanism – ejecting masses of microscopic ice particles into Saturnian orbit. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for over 4 years now, and has provided some amazing views of tiny Enceladus, some collected here. Another close flyby is scheduled for Halloween, October 31st. (26 photos total)