APOD got screwed

I was very eager to see the latest APOD, a timelapse video of the night sky where every frame was digitally rotated to make the sky seem stationary and the earth rotate. Unfortunately, the video was served with a copyright takedown notice by one Nicolas Fabian Bustos Vargas, who appears to be a PhD at the Chilean observatory in question. Here’s the video linked from APOD and here’s the claimant’s video channel at YouTube, where the raw footage is from.

It seems that Bustos took the original video and Jose Francisco, another astronomer and “visual artist” processed the footage to make the video linked from APOD, without permission. APOD and its users are caught in the middle, and it’s a shame.

astounding Cassini video flyby of Saturn’s rings and moons

(UPDATE: credit due, via Mark. Who acounts for a disturbingly large number of my “neato lookit” posts of late.)

This is incredible – a digital compilation of images from the Cassini probe, no CGI or animation, assembled into incredible breathtaking flybys of the Saturn system. The best part os the third, final sequence where we flyby Titan, Mimas, pass thru the ring-plane, and swoop past Enceladus.

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

I’ve a photo of me from 1996 as a visitor to JPL (where my friend’s dad worked) in front of the Cassini heat shield. I really need to dig that up… Let’s also remember that the controversy about Cassini being nuclear powered was totally bogus, and use that as a data point for why nuclear power is not the ultimate bugaboo that people assume it to be after the still-unfolding tradegy and disaster in Japan.

“ancient” is a human concept, not a universal one

I was totally mesmerized by the APOD a few weeks ago:

Milky Way Over Ancient Ghost Panel
The Ghost Panel and the Milky Way

There are two kinds of antiquity here – one cosmic, the other human. Of course the age of the foreground is insignificant compared to the age of the background, but I confess to being more viscerally awed by the former.

I think it’s impossible to really relate to things beyond human timescales. The idea of something being “ancient” has no meaning if it predates our human comprehension. The Neanderthals disappeared 30,000 years ago, which is probably really the farthest back we can reflect on. When we start talking about human forebears of 100,000 years ago and more, it becomes more abstract – that’s why it’s no coincidence that the Battlestar Galactica series finale set the events 150,000 years ago, well beyond even the reach of mythological narrative.

pale blue pixel

What would the Earth look like to aliens? A recent astrophysics paper suggests that it would stand out, even if it were only resolved as a single pixel:

what if aliens were hunting life outside their own planet? Armed with telescopes only a bit bigger and more powerful than our own, could they peer through the vastness of space and lock in onto Earth as a likely home to life?

That’s the question at the heart of paper co-authored by a University of Florida astronomer that appeared recently in the online edition of Astrophysical Journal. The answer, the authors say, is a qualified “yes.” With a space telescope larger than the Hubble Space Telescope pointed directly at our sun, they say, “hypothetical observers” could measure Earth’s 24-hour rotation period, leading to observations of oceans and the chance of life.

“They would only be able to see Earth as a single pixel, rather than resolving it to take a picture,” said Eric Ford, a UF assistant professor of astronomy and one of five authors of the paper. “But that could be enough for them to identify our planet as one that likely contains clouds and oceans of liquid water.”

pale blue pixel (zoom)As the writeup notes, the motivation for this line of inquiry is to optimize the earth-based search for extrasolar planets harboring life. It occurs to me however that we’ve already an example of a single-pixel view of earth – the famed Voyager 1 photo of the Earth from a distance of 4 billion miles, labeled by Carl Sagan as a “pale blue dot“. I’ve cropped the original photo at right, click to see the full field and appreciate just how tiny that dot is. At that distance, Earth is only 0.12 pixels in size. The streak is an chromatic artifact, and not “the view through Saturn’s rings” as some have erroneously described it.

There’s a lot of data in that single, pale blue pixel.