This is a nice orrery, I like the cool ability to shift between Copernican and (insane!) Tychonian renditions.
Combining my love of time-lapse photography with astronomy, this video captures something that is surprisingly not highlighted very often.
In it you can clearly see the center of our milky way galaxy, long considered the entirety of the universe (we are so damn egotistical) rising to zenith over a star party. A star party, for those who don’t know is when a bunch of astronomers, amateur and otherwise, gather together to share equipment, knowledge and the sky with each other. I have yet to attend one of these.
I find the video absolutely awesome. Our own galaxy is roughly 100,000 light years across and that it is just one of about 30 galaxies that comprise the “local group” of galaxies and all this is just a tiny fraction of the galaxies out there… it can make your heart skip a beat just trying to conceive of it at all.
Here is our galaxy for your viewing pleasure.
I thought I’d take a moment and note the podcasts that I’m currently enjoying.
There are a LOT of excellent podcasts and there are also a LOT of terrible ones. iTunes’ ratings help somewhat but, just like movie critics, you need to know the reviewer’s biases before you can really trust that their reviews are relevant to you.
If you know me, then maybe you know some of my biases and can figure out based on that if you’d enjoy any of these.
These are listed in order of preference from my favorites to the ones I like enough to listen to if I have the time. Yes, there are 39 of them, no I don’t get to listen to them all all the time. But I like having the option to listen to what I want, when I want.
Part of the reason some shows are more highly rated than others is that they are brief. I have more opportunity to listen to short shows (5-20 minutes) than the longer ones (1-2 hrs) so they get listened to more often.
Some of the podcasts are video podcasts and it again comes down to time available. I can easily listen to a podcast while driving, but a video podcast pretty much demands your full attention and so the opportunities to view them are much more limited.
Also, some of the shows are actually recordings of University courses or are infrequently produced, this will push them down in my frequency of listening and give them a lower rating. Keep in mind that I really like EVERY podcast below otherwise I just wouldn’t bother downloading it.
Just drag any of these to your iTunes podcast window and it will be added so you can check them out.
The Skeptic’s guide to the Universe – This is my favorite podcast of all. They publish regularly on Saturdays. They just published their 200th podcast and I’ve heard every single one of them. A group of intelligent folks discussing current issues with a critical (and often comical) eye. This is what you wish all folks were like when they get together to talk about things.
Slashdot Review – SDR News – Another podcast that I never miss. Published 5 times a week. A short 10 – 15 minutes podcast that’s great for keeping up to date on the latest news in the tech world.
60-Second Science – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of science from Scientific American.
60-Second Psych – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of psychology from Scientific American.
Astronomy Cast – A MUST LISTEN if you are at all interested in Astronomy. Start by listening to the back episodes. While they do cover some current topics much of the show is discussing various aspects of astronomy that will be valid for a long time to come. They’ve walked through the planets of the solar system (one per show), black holes, dark matter, interstellar distance, the shape of the universe and on and on. Fascinating stuff. Fraser Cain acts as the everyman asking questions of Pamela Gay, a physics professor with a great talent for clearly explaining the mysteries of the universe.
Are we Alone? – Science Radio for Thinking Species – Put out by SETI this podcast deals with plenty of topics beyond those to do with the SETI mission. Both the hosts, Molly Bentley (rowrrr!) and Seth Shostak offer intelligent discussion and well prepared and entertaining interviews. This is another show that I really look forward to.
Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena – Fairly short (usually under about 15 minutes) summaries of a particular topic. You know how you hear something and think “I wonder if that’s true?”. Well Brian Dunning get’s off his butt and does the research to provide a relevant and useful summary of the topic at hand. Often enough to satisfy your curiosity on a topic but a great launching point if it’s a topic that you have an interest in.
Quirks and Quarks Complete Show from CBC Radio – This is a generally science show, very polished and features interviews with folks on relevant topical science issues and discoveries. The host has a great skill for putting the interviewees at ease and fleshing out the relevant details of the topic at hand.
The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast – if you’ve ever thought of becoming a pilot or already are, you’ll enjoy this podcast. Start at the first one and work your way forward. Each is a 3-5 minute lesson that covers everything from aerodynamic theory to cockpit resource management to taking advantage of ATC resources. Good information and great reminders.
American Freethought – Very well reasoned podcast on topics from an Atheist perspective. Both the hosts are thoughtful in their commentary. If you are of a religious bent you probably won’t appreciate their candor concerning yours or anybody else’s beliefs. But if you can think rationally, you’ll appreciate their perspective. I think they are pretty fair in their assessments and largely non-inflammatory in their expression.
Clark Howard’s Call of the Week – A single call from the Clark Howard show that is thought to be of particular interest. I find it is useful for me about half the time.
Clark Howard’s Rip-Off Alerts
– This just helps me stay on top of the latest scams. As a fairly regular Clark Howard listener I often listen to about 2/3 of this podcast before moving on as much of his advice is common sense that I’ve heard him express before.
Science @ NASA feature Stories Podcast – Great 5 minute or so topical podcast that is essentially Dr. Tony Phillips reading his print article. Great for anybody who is interested in what NASA is up to.
The Clark Howard Show – I enjoy Clark Howard but after listening for a while you begin to get a good sense of what he’s going to say. But for particular topics I’m interested in his viewpoint. So I don’t automatically download all of his shows (2 hours a day… way more than I can hope to listen to). And I “get” (a button in iTunes) only the shows that I think will be novel for me based on the downloaded descriptions. It’s also just the right length for me to listen to while using the rowing machine. I don’t like wearing earbuds when I row and Clark’s voice carries nicely over the sound of the machine.
The Economist – In case you haven’t realized it, there is a world beyond America’s borders. The Economist offers great news and editorial insights from a perspective unlike that which is available from American media sources. Also, listening to the UK perspective on American issues is very eye opening. They’ve broken their podcast down into individual one article podcasts rather than a single podcast to cover the entire week. This is free and more than enough for me, but they offer paid subscriptions for WAY more articles if you’re interested.
Freethought Radio – from the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” (ffrf) this is a podcast of the radio broadcast that is hosted by the co-founder of the FFRF and her husband, a former preacher-turned-atheist. They are not ANTI religion but rather they are for both separation of church and state and for critical/rational thinking. This would be a good perspective for religious folks to consider. If you are OK with the government sanctioning religion, would you be so OK if it weren’t *your* particular sect that was the “winner”?
Skepticality – Science and Revolutionary Ideas – this is a pleasant podcast put out periodically and generally focuses on a single issue or interview. Swoopy and Derek are well regarded in the skeptical community and this podcast justifies that regard.
The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 – This is targeted at folks who are interested in understanding skepticism from a logical perspective. You could take this podcast into a classroom and use it as a great launching point for discussion. Basically you have 5 skeptics talking for 5 minutes on a topic such as “logical fallacies” or “ad hominem attacks”.
IT Conversations – I actually am a paid subscriber. This is their free feed. There is a WIDE variety of stuff covered. My favorites are their keynote presentations from various conferences as well as Dr. Moira Gunn’s “Tech Nation” show. The original mission of IT Conversation was to capture pretty much ALL tech seminars and presentations in America if not in the world. After all, after the presentation is done it often just disappears, it is great to be able to participate in these presentations that I could never afford (either in time or in money) to attend.
Scientific American Podcast – About 20 – 30 minutes, Steve Mirsky often has relevant insights and interesting guests.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts These are very short videos highlighting current activity at NASA including the Cassini mission and the Mars rovers. This lets you keep up on stuff that is usually ignored by mainstream media because it isn’t “NASCAR”.
The Amazing Show starring James Randi – Although production of this show has fallen off a lot lately, this show has James Randi discussing his life experiences. Relevant for anybody in the skeptical community.
The Finer Points – Aviation Videos – Like the audio podcast, the finer points videos are brief videos covering specific topics in aviation. Very useful when visual aids are required to help get a point across. I find these complement the audio podcasts very nicely.
Cato Daily Podcast – Cato is a think tank and offers perspective on current political and economic issues.
Spill Movie Reviews – definitely an adult podcast, these guys live and breath movies. If you are curious about whether you a movie is worth investing your time in, this podcast can help greatly. They offer some much longer shows as well (LEOG – League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, Cold Ones) which, while entertaining, are just too long for me to fit into my schedule. If I had more time or less interests I would probably listen to those too. As it is I just delete those.
Slacker Astronomy podcast – This USED to be a great podcast. It had 3 folks including Dr. Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast above) and was put out fairly regularly. But when Pamela left the show the production became somewhat inconsistent. I recommend listening to the earlier podcasts for great Astronomy information. For the current ones, I listen to any that have Dr. Doug Welch. He has a great sense of humor and is a font of knowledge and a real treat to listen to.
AOPA Never Again – I think this is now defunct but it is an audio version of AOPA’s “Never Again” column where pilots write in to tell about bone-headed or unfortunate situations they’ve encountered in hopes of helping other pilots avoid making the same mistakes or recognizing bad situations. Getting the existing podcasts is well worthwhile.
Camera Dojo: Digital Photography Enthusiasts – more targeted toward folks who do photography for a living, these podcasts are nonetheless useful for picking up nuggets for those of us who snap only occasionally. Kerry is the glue that keeps things together while David is somewhat more flamboyant…
TEDTalks (Video) – These are brilliant. Simply brilliant. There are so many that I doubt I’ll ever see them all and keeping up is not possible for me. But these almost always impress me. These are brilliant people who are given 18 minutes to speak about a topic that impassions them. There are some short comic or musical ones too and those are always worthwhile too.
The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Podcasts – These are infrequent and about 90 minutes long. An expert on some topic astronomical will fascinate you. I usually listen until somebody puts their kid up to the mike in the Q&A portion.
David Allen Company Podcast – Also infrequent, usually a 5 minute pep session on a particular aspect of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. I enjoy the refresher.
EFF Line Noise Podcast – Too infrequent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s podcast will keep you up to date on their trying to keep overly intrusive government or overly controlling corporation activities and the EFF’s efforts to keep them in check.
Humanist Network News – Would be nice if this was produced more frequently. A pleasant podcast presenting information and issues from a humanist perspective.
Mr. Deity (video) – A laugh and a half. Picture “Woody Allen” meets god. I understand these podcasts are presented in biblical forums to stimulate discussion.
This I listen to immediately after I watch the show:
Battlestar Galactica Podcast – Now defunct as the series is over, these are meant to be listened to as the episode plays. I find that distracting so I listen to them a day or so after having watched the episode. The executive producer’s insights very much enhance my appreciation of the series as he explains what he was trying to accomplish and why things are presented in the manner that you are seeing. This same kind of interaction was what made me a fan of Babylon 5. Understanding what is behind the show adds a tremendous dimension to the experience.
These I listen to periodically. The entire session is available but I don’t want to listen to it all in one go. I typically listen to one every couple of weeks or so.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Thinking – Obviously a little chemical entertainment is involved in this lecturer’s make-up but that does not detract from the very interesting approach to a world view that Rhetoric offers.
Virgil’s Aeneid – Audio – I enjoy classical literature and don’t spend enough time on it. Classes such as this, that can be enjoyed during my commute are absolutely wonderful.
English 117s: Shakespeare – Spring 2008 Audio – A bit choppy due to the missing copyrighted works and the student questions that are not captured by the microphone but overall worth the effort.
History of the International System – If you enjoyed James Burke’s “Connections” series you’ll probably appreciate this lecture series explaining how we all end up getting along economically and politically.
That’s it (for now). The great thing about podcasts is that you can go back and listen to old ones where it’s relevant and you can skip forward as you see fit or if something is not of interest. Also, you pick up your show just where you left off. I haven’t listened to my radio in… I don’t know how long. The only reason I turned it on before was to make sure it was still working. The control of time-shifting my listening to my schedule is too powerful to allow me to go back to “the old way”…
Back at the end of September, I splurged and picked up a Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium through Amazon.
This gadget is amazing! Once its GPS acquires your position it can either direct you to pretty much any celestial body you are interested in or you can point it at anything you see in the sky and it will tell you what it is and provide you with all manner of interesting info about it such as magnitude, composition, distance even lore concerning the object. For many items you can even listen to the description through the provided ear buds.
I had an initial issue where the unit simply would not acquire the satellites necessary to allow for a GPS fix. But updating the unit’s firmware (with the tool on the included CD) corrected this issue and allowed for rapid GPS position acquisition from then on.
Note that this is not a magnifying tool. The lens on it is strictly for directing you to an object (via little arrows around the circumference of the lens) or to allow you to center an object and then press the “Identify” button.
I’ve been using this lately with a pair of Canon 15×50 IS Binoculars that I picked up a few years ago and the two make a terrific team.
The light pollution in my area is such that even the major constellations always seem to be incomplete and I tend to have trouble identifying what should be relatively simple objects. I have used various PDA-based star charts and they’ve been moderately successful in guiding me. But personal planetarium is like having a seasoned astronomy veteran next to you pointing the way to the objects you’re interested in observing.
It even has a “tonight’s highlights” feature to help you get rolling.
I’m hoping to try my hand at a “Messier Marathon” in the next couple of weeks.
Looking for dark sky near where you live? I just came across the “Dark Sky Finder” (courtesy of the NGAstronomers yahoo group) which might help. It *seems* like it may be a little course-grained but It looks like it should provide a good general direction for your astronomical viewing.
I was listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe episode #128 where they discussed the realities of near relativistic speed travel. One thing I was not clear on was, what happens if you need to have a fleet of ships exploring all of them traveling to the same destination from the same destination?
1) You travel some tiny percentage of light faster than your companion ships. Do you arrive, and now that you’re not traveling at the same speed as the other ships, have to wait potentially thousands of years for your fellow ships?
2) You’re all accelerating at exactly the same rate and traveling at exactly the same speed. But because of relativity, all other ships experience thousands or even millions of years for your journey and you, likewise experience such for their journeys? So, in effect, you’d all vanish relative to each other and you’d never see each other again?
I’ve sent them an email with this question but I’m sure they get so many that they won’t be able to respond (ah, the problems of popularity…).
With a new moon, this most spectacular of annual meteor showers will be even more visible this year!
For my locale the Clear Sky Clock indicates that conditions should be nearly optimal. I’m thinking of popping up to Brasstown Bald for a chance to see this wonder of nature in as pristine conditions as we can get here in Georgia.
The peak meteor frequency is expected to be at about 1:00 am so it won’t be an early night that’s for sure.
All (known) Bodies in the Solar System Larger than 200 Miles in Diameter: Just saw this courtesy of Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog and thought it looks AMAZING. I think it’s really worth noting exactly how sad Mars is as a contender for supporting human life unassisted. *Sniff* so much for “The Martian Chronicles”…
Did you get a chance to catch last night’s lunar eclipse?
There was a little bit of cloud in the sky making it somewhat hazy but you could clearly see the dark shadow of the earth on our newly risen moon.
Where I live it’s difficult to get a clear line of site to the horizon so I went out just after sunset to see the moon. By then it had risen high enough in the sky to clear the trees in the area and about 4/5ths of the moon was still dark with a hint of orange/red in the shadowed portion.
I saw a lunar eclipse when I was much younger but was fortunate enough to see it much closer to the horizon where the optical illusion of the moon appearing huge combined with the natural emphasis on the red end of the spectrum common to objects that low in the sky made for a surreal experience.
Last night’s eclipse was pretty cool and was a nice experience, it’s a nice simple experience that showcases the wonderful reality that is our planetary system.
This site is excellent for laying out the simple astronomical events for the coming month. Telling you the date and time of the events along with great little pictures to help you visualize what’s about to come. It also includes handy icons with the event descriptions so that you will know the best tool to use for observation. i.e. Naked Eye, Binoculars or Telescope.
Unfortunately, tomorrow night will be a bust for trying to observe the Moon and Saturn in close proximity (always cool to actually see the moon moving relative to a background object. But the forecast is looking pretty sweet for Saturday’s Total eclipse moonrise.
Check it out SPACE.com — NightSky