Thursday, April 24, 2014

australia's snake-catching spider

i was walking around the botanical gardens in sydney this week when i came across several huge golden orb-weaving spiders and their webs.

the the golden orb-weaving spider in the centre of its metre-wide web.

the spider and its.... lunch?

yes, the spiders were large and a bit creepy, but i knew their venom isnt fatally harmful to humans, so i just looked on in awe.

then i saw this video captured by daniel reardon.   a brown tree snake falls out of a tree, into a golden orb spider’s web, and loses the battle.   ACK!

also.... help?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

to siding spring observatory!

taking a road trip tomorrow to siding spring observatory.   it's a pleasant ~7 hour drive across a fair chunk of australia!

from sydney to coonabarabran!

i'll be up during the nights for the next week observing for the SAMI survey.  i also plan to update that front page as, weather permitting, we will observe the 700th SAMI galaxy this week!  that's more galaxies with integral field spectroscopy (IFS) than previously observed by all other surveys combined! IFS allows a unique view of how stars and gas zoom around inside distant galaxies because we collect dozens of spectra across the entire face of each galaxy.

hopefully i'll have time to write more throughout the week! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

silent storms

Happy Easter Sunday: the first Sunday after the Full Moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. they really take the hot cross buns tradition seriously here in australia. i've eaten SO MANY in recent weeks since they're all over the farmer's markets. i dont think i knew what they actually were until i moved here - small, square fruit bread. yum!

now enjoy this timelapse of some fantastic northern lights sequences over norway.

Silent Storms from Ole C. Salomonsen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

lunar eclipse from siding spring observatory

after a disappointing start, with a cloudy eastern horizon and a lovely sunset on the western horizon, the eclipsed moon finally rose above the clouds and sat right underneath the star spica and to the bottom right of mars!

i was not impressed by the clouds on the horizon blocking the rising moon.

unimpressed by clouds
it's fascinating to watch the regrowth of the warrumbungles since the fires swept through SSO 16 months ago.   here is the view as the sunset's colours were intensifying.

regrowth in the warrumbungles

clouds do make for the most beautiful sunsets, even if they are bad for most attempts at astronomical observation.

sunset from the catwalk around the 4 metre AAT telescope

finally the clouds thinned and i captured a quick view of the lunar eclipse. the sun's light scattering through earth's atmosphere is why the sky is blue, why sunsets look red, and why the moon looks red during a total lunar eclipse.

the eclipsed moon, spica above, and mars to the left.

Monday, April 14, 2014

total lunar eclipse: 15 april 2014

a total lunar eclipse will occur tomorrow!  will it be visible to you?   check this site to find out.

the eclipse is visible from the red regions (credit:

for those on the east coast of australia, the moon will peak above the eastern horizon around 5:30 pm fully immersed in the earth's shadow.   it will be glowing red instead of the bright white of the normal full moon.  the full eclipse will last for about an hour as the moon rise continues on the eastern horizon and the sun sets in the west.

also, dont miss a very bright mars very close to the eclipsed moon.   such an astronomical treat!

the eastern horizon from sydney at 6:30 pm 15 april 2014 (credit: ian musgrave)

looking forward to the views!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

on the beach at night

i attended a funeral today for a woman i did not know well, but who made a strong impression on me.  i work with her husband.   the times i saw them together i was struck by how much they adored each other.  in many photos i've seen of the two of them, she touched his face in a noticeable, natural way.  she will be missed.

in her honor i share this poem by walt whitman, on the beach at night.

On the beach, at night,
Stands a child with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower, sullen and fast, athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter;
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate sisters, the Pleiades.

From the beach the chil, holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower, victorious, soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears;
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky–shall devour the stars only in apparition,
Jupiter shall emerge–be patient–watch again another night the Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal–all those stars, both silvery and golden, shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure;
The vast immortal suns, and the long-enduring pensive moons, shall again shine.

Then, dearest child, mournest thou only for Jupiter?
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding, I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than sun, or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters, the Pleiades.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

a starbug sings starwars

one of the major technologies we develop at the AAO is various ways to position hundreds of optical fibres before astronomical observations.

my current favourites are the mini-robot starbugs.   they are stuck to a glass plate by vaccuum and then "crawl" across the glass, which is located inside a telescope's light path.  each starbug moves independently, programmed to stop where the light from a particular galaxy will be aligned.

when a voltage is applied to the inside cylinder shown below, it bends slightly, and lifts the outer cylinder, allowing the whole thing to shuffle along the surface.

Credit: Australian Astronomical Observatory
here is a quick demonstration of many starbugs moving (this is from an older model of the little bugs).

what happened when AAO engineer jamie gilbert decided to get creative with the frequency, and therefore pitch, of the bugs' feet shuffling across the glass?   a geek's delight: star wars!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

tiny sydney

i just found a few videos of sydney by filippo rivetti that are stunning!

the first is a tilt-shift timelapse called "tiny sydney."

Tiny Sydney from Filippo Rivetti on Vimeo.

the second is a few minutes long, but has some incredible sequences of motion around and moving through sydney.   i particularly love the sunset and zoom that starts at 2:00.

Time to Sydney from Filippo Rivetti on Vimeo.

worth watching both of these all the way through at fullscreen!