Give This Man an Award

I recently came across this from one of Phil Plait’s posts on Bad Astronomy, and let me tell you it’s fantastic!

Except for getting a one-on-one experience with our galaxy stowed away in some remote part of Arizona at night, this is the best view of the night sky you will ever have. This man, Nick Risinger, has made a 5,000 megapixel image of the ENTIRE night sky. Not just what you can see in the northern hemisphere, but what you can see in the southern, as well.

This mosaic is a result of more than 37,000 exposures. Can you imagine going on a vacation and taking over 37,000 photos? I certainly can’t. Risinger managed to travel around the world, twice, in order to get all of the shots that he needed. Naturally, different stars are up at different times of the year, so he had to wait for the right time to collect photos of the tens of millions of stars captured forever in this amazing work.

Not only does this mosaic capture the complete view of the Earth’s peephole into the center of our galaxy, but you can zoom in to get a closer look of whatever you like! I personally enjoyed zooming in on the area located to the right below the central plain where I saw a great collection of nebulae; the Horsehead, Orion, and Flame Nebula together in an area small enough to fit on my computer screen. It’s absolutely amazing.

Hands down, this man deserves an award. I don’t care if it’s for art or for science. Frankly, he deserves both because he has given humanity a treasure that is both beautiful and insightful.

Nick Risinger's Mosaic of the Night Sky

The Science of Why Cast Iron Teapots are hot, Hot, HOT

I finally succumbed to the trend of cast iron teapots last Christmas, when I bought one for my boyfriend as a gift. Refusing to spend too much money I found a good deal for one that came with two cast iron cups. I’ll admit that cast iron certainly makes for a cool looking teapot, but besides the look there is nothing cool about these pots, except the tea inside – and I’m not talking fashion; I’m talking temperature.

Cast iron has a high thermal conductivity, meaning the rate that the high temperature of the water transfers its energy to the teapot’s surface is relatively fast. This means that within minutes of pouring the boiling water into the pot, the outside of your beautiful tea dispenser is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; not something you want to touch with your bare hands.

Well, the scorching high temperatures are not the only thing you need to be worrying about when you’re trying to drink your tea. The fact that the outside of the pot is hot means that it is radiating away all of that heat that is keeping your tea warm. So, instead of having hot tea longer, it’s actually cooling it at a faster rate than your ceramic tea pot would. Well, the obvious solution to that is a tea cozy. But, who wants to cover up a gorgeous teapot they have spent hundreds of dollars on? Lucky for us another solution was made. Teapot stores provide heating plates that will not only keep your tea warm but maintain the scorching temperatures of the teapot’s surface as well. Of course this heating plate comes as an additional charge, so you can spend more money to accommodate the primary function failure of something that is already overpriced.

Now, what about the cast iron tea cups? I know I’m not the only one who enjoys holding cups bare handed. It’s not a fetish, it’s just natural. But, with cast iron tea cups you must be patient and wait for the cup to cool down enough so that you can actually touch it. And, by the time that glorious opportunity roles around your tea is lukewarm; fantastic. Hey, look at it this way: you no longer have to blow on your drink and are guaranteed something that won’t burn your tongue. Just make sure you don’t singe your fingers by touching the cup before the opportune moment.

My boyfriend and I have used that teapot a total of four times since Christmas. I bought it for him because he always enjoyed looking at them when we went to the mall. So, all logic aside, I bit the bullet and now he has one that he does not use, which I don’t blame him for.

I have absolutely no idea why cast iron tea pots have become so popular, simply for the reason that I’m assuming people still enjoy hot tea. I asked my boyfriend the very question of why these teapots have become so trendy and his reply was “Because they look cool!” Well, there you go. A tea pot that is scorching to the touch, costs hundreds of dollars, cools your tea extremely quickly, and requires additional expensive equipment to keep your tea hot.

But aren’t they just so darned good looking?

Searching for Planets Outside of Our Solar System

I’m currently working on writing stories for Ohio State Astronomy Department’s second edition magazine, Galaxy. This is one of the stories I have written. It will need some adjustments made, but overall it’s pretty much finished. I have included a couple of pictures from google images, as well. This discovery was made a couple of years ago, but it was a pretty big deal for the student and her adviser, so it certainly deserves some coverage.

Searching for Planets Outside of Our Solar System

Undergraduate astronomy majors at Ohio State have the opportunity to
collect data at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, work on the
latest instruments that will be used to obtain data from the world’s most
technologically advanced telescopes, and discover planets.

During her participation in the summer undergraduate research program of
2008, Julia Janczak discovered an extra-solar planet. Extra-solar planets, also
known as exoplanets, are planets that are not in our Solar System.

Since the first exoplanet found in 1992, there have been more than four
hundred confirmed exoplanets. Of these four hundred, only ten exoplanets
have been found with a technique known as microlensing. Janczak
discovered the tenth and most recent.

Microlensing events occur when the light from a distant source is bent by
the gravitational force of a massive foreground object, such as a star or
galaxy. By observing how sharply the light is bent, astronomers can deduce
information about the foreground object. This means that very faint objects,
such as planets or brown dwarfs can still be studied, even though they cannot
be seen through a telescope.

Janczak collaborated with Dr. Andrew Gould who is a Distinguished
Professor in the Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences of
Astronomy at Ohio State. Her goal for the 2008 summer research program
was to analyze data from a microlensing event. “She was involved with the
data reduction as well as trying to understand the microlensing events as they
were coming in,” explained Gould.

Neither Gould or Janczak expected a planet to be found from the data. “The
event just looked like a single-star microlensing event, and part of the reason
for analyzing it was due to its apparent lack of planets,” said Gould.

Janczak worked on her research throughout her senior year, and presented her
work at the Biological and Mathematical Physical Sciences research forum
and at the Denman forum. Both of these forums are OSU sponsored and give

undergraduates a chance to present a poster about a research project they
have been involved with.

Janczak published a paper describing her work, Sub-Saturn Planet MOA-
2008-BLG-310Lb: Likely to be in the Galactic Bulge, as first author in March
of 2010. Gould remarked that, “Janczak’s paper is probably one of the longest
and most complex papers an astronomy undergraduate has written.”

Janczak is currently a graduate student at the Department of Physics at Ohio
State. “I have profound respect for Dr. Gould and the additional collaborators
Scott Gaudi, Richard Pogge, and Subo Dong ,” said Janczak, “They were
very helpful and a joy to work with. I had a wonderful experience.”

Searching for exoplanets via microlensing involves a global network of
communication between observational astronomers. This network is called
the microlensing follow-up network, or MicroFUN.

“Ohio State is the world headquarters of MicroFUN,” Gould explained. “It’s
a worldwide network of observers, where more than half of them are amateur
astronomers.”

Gould continued his research with another undergraduate, Li-Wei Hung,
during the summer of 2010.

Hung participated in the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
undergraduate research program in Cambridge, MA during the summer
of 2009. “I analyzed the accretion disc around an X-Ray pulsar within a
binary system and tried to understand the significance behind its geometrical
orientation to the pulsar,” said Hung. “My time at Harvard equipped me with
skills and knowledge that I continue to use in my current research. It was an
invaluable experience.”

The following winter Hung traveled to Chile. There she participated in
the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory research program where
she performed data analysis on three different galaxy clusters. “The CTIO
research program was a lot of fun. I worked with a Chilean student who
taught me programming in python, which turned out to be a very helpful skill
that I’m using in my current research with Dr. Gould.”

Hung presented her summer research at the Biological, Mathematical, and
Physical sciences research forum in 2010 and won first place in her category.

Hung’s knack for undergraduate research lead her to apply for the Ohio
State’s Astronomy REU for the summer of 2010. Her interest in planetary
science made her a good match for Gould.

“My research at Ohio State was the hardest work of the three REU’s
I have undertaken. Analysis of a microlensing event involves long,
complex computer codes which I am expected to modify to fit my event’s
specifications,” said Hung. “I will continue to work on this interesting event
and write my senior thesis on it,” she added.

Hung will graduate in the winter of 2010 and aims to expand her education in
graduate school for astronomy. Some of the graduate schools she is applying
to include University of Arizona, University of California, Berkeley, and
Harvard University.

A Budget Cut I Might Agree With

I recently came across an article in Popular Magazine discussing two NASA projects that had recently been thrown by the wayside due to budget constraints; big surprise. Usually, I’m disappointed when I hear that technology, whose purpose is to help expand our knowledge of our universe, is going to be discontinued or not built at all. However, this article discussed a particular instrument that just seemed too outlandish to be a possibility. LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, would have consisted of three different space telescopes located 3.1 million miles apart. For reference, the average distance to the moon is about 240,000 miles. That’s around one thousand times further.

The purpose of LISA was to detect gravitational waves that are produced when extremely massive objects collide. For example, when two massive black holes collide when two galaxies merge as a result of their gravitational attraction, gravitational waves are created. Although gravitational waves have never been detected, they are predicted in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Unfortunately, LISA will never get her chance since she would have absorbed nearly $1.5 billion of NASA’s investments. LISA was going to be an international project, but since NASA was the primary contributor, this project is as good as dead since they have been given the veto on funding it.

I must admit that finding yet another proof to the theory of general relativity would be very exciting, but I can’t fathom using money to throw a few satellites out in space to measure some gravity waves. Perhaps my conception of this project is too naive to fully appreciate its significance, but I feel that a great deal of knowledge can be achieved despite the lack of these three instruments. Basically, all of NASA’s budget cuts are due to the James Webb Telescope. Similar to a black hole, this second generation of space telescope is sucking all manner of fiscal budgets into its grasp. No doubt, this telescope will be fantastic when it finally reaches its final destination in earth’s orbit, but until then this project is the only large project NASA will be funding for a while, I suspect. Already behind schedule and over budget, this telescope has some big shoes to fill as Hubble’s successor. I just hope it opens the public’s eyes even more to the wonders of our magnificent universe. So, in that regard, I’m alright with Webb getting all of the money, as long as it delivers when the time comes.

Do Exoplanets Have Rings Like Saturn?


A new study has suggested the possibility that exoplanets are capable of harboring rings. However, unlike the icy chunks that form Saturn’s rings, the rings of exoplanets most likely consist of a different chemical make-up. Since the first “hot Jupiter” was discovered in 1995, these abnormal extra-solar planets have come with a lot of baggage. Not only did they destroy the model astronomers theorized for solar system formation, it is still unknown how they formed and why they are so close to their parent star they orbit around. Well, one thing the Jupiter of our solar system and these hot Jupiters may have in common is the existence of a ring system. With the new data coming in from the space telescope, Kepler, astronomers may be able to observe rings around approximately 35 of the 500 potential exoplanets found so far. Of the hundreds of identified extrasolar planets, none of them are known to have rings. Of course, this does not mean they’re not there; we just can’t see them, yet. This new study brings us that much closer to learning more about those other worlds we still know so little of. An exciting possibility is that by analyzing these rings systems, scientists may be able to get information about the inner composition of the extrasolar planets.

For Testing Skin Cream, Synthetic Skin May Be as Good as the Real Thing

I just finished a story involving synthetic skin testing. This research was performed at Ohio State, home of the Buckeyes. The story is provided below with a couple of photos I took from google images.

FOR TESTING SKIN CREAM, SYNTHETIC SKIN MAY BE AS GOOD AS THE REAL THING

COLUMBUS, Ohio – New research suggests that currently available types of synthetic skin may now be good enough to imitate animal skin in laboratory tests, and may be on their way to truly simulating human skin in the future.

Researchers compared the response of synthetic skins to rat skin when they were both exposed to a generic skin cream treatment, and the results indicated they both reacted similarly.

The scientists used high-resolution images of two types of synthetic skin and samples of rat skin to discover similarities on microscopic scales.

The findings have implications for the treatment of burn victims.

When a person’s body is severely burned, he or she may not have enough healthy skin remaining to attempt healing the burns through skin cell regeneration with his or her own skin. In this case, synthetic skin or animal skin provides a potential substitute. But the use of animal skin comes with a variety of problems.

“In addition to ethical issues, animal skin is hard to obtain, expensive, and gives highly variable results because of individual skin variability,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and the Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University.

“Animal skin will vary from animal to animal, which makes it hard to anticipate how it might affect burnt victims, individually,” Bhushan said. “But, synthetic skin’s composition is consistent, making it a more reliable product,” he continued.

Bhushan’s research will appear in the June 5 issue of the Journal of Applied Polymer Science.

Bhushan and his colleague Wei Tang, an engineer at China University of Mining and Technology, compared two different types of synthetic skin to rat skin. The first synthetic skin was a commercially available skin purchased from Smooth-On, Inc. of Easton, Pennsylvania. The second synthetic skin was produced in Bhushan’s lab. Ohio State’s University Lab Animal Resources provided the rat skin samples.

Whether a synthetic skin feels and acts like real skin is very important, Bhushan explained. The skin must stand up to environmental effects such as sunlight or rain, while maintaining its texture and consistency. Scientists have continued to improve the practical and aesthetic properties of synthetic skin, which suggests it may soon be ready to replace animal skin and, farther in the future, human skin.

“Right now, our main concern is to determine whether the synthetic skin behaves like any real skin. Then, scientists can go on to more complex problems like modeling synthetic products that behave exactly like human skin,” Bhushan said.

Bhushan is an expert at measuring effects on tiny scales, such as a nanometer, or billionth of a meter, which is important in skin research.

“Cellular events, like the effective and accurate delivery of drugs and the absorption of skincare products – these things occur at the nanoscale,” explained Bhushan.

Using a highly sensitive microscope, known as an atomic force microscope, Bhushan and Tang were able to view the skin and the affects of an applied skin cream on a scale of about 100 nanometers. The average width of a human hair is approximately 1,000 times larger.

Despite the difference in surface features between the two synthetic skins and rat skin, the skin-cream had a comparable affect on all three samples. “The skin cream reduced the surface roughness, increased the skin’s ability to absorb moisture from the environment, and softened the skin surface,” said Bhushan.

Even before the addition of the skin cream, the synthetic and rat skins appeared comparable. Although the synthetic skins lacked hair follicles, they had similar roughness, meaning the distance between the highest point and lowest points on the skins’ surfaces were similar.

“After treatment with skin cream, the trends of the peak-to-valley distance of the two synthetic skins and rat skin were the same, and both of them decreased. This indicates the skin cream treatment smoothed the skin surface,” said Bhushan.

Bhushan explains that their future work will involve improving testing methods for measuring certain properties such as surface roughness. They also want to test a different skin cream.

The Big Leagues

I came across a photo gallery in Science news offering a magnificent collection of galaxy collisions. When two galaxies collide with each other a lot can happen such as increased star formation rates and an intense volume of heat release.

When Galaxies Collide

Anyone who enjoys amusing themselves with ludicrous doomsday scenarios knows about the inevitably, colossal collision that will happen within the next 3 to 5 billion years. This collision is so well known and guaranteed in scientific predictions that it has even earned its own Wikipedia page.

Colliding galaxies are rather common in the universe. As you’re reading this, our Milky Way Galaxy is feasting on a scrumptious plate of miniature galaxies. Of course the larger the two galaxies involved in the collision, the better. And, how lucky we are to get a chance to see, in detail, some amazing galactic collisions and have the knowledge to analyze and understand what exactly is going on.

OIL DISASTER PAVES WAY FOR IMPROVED MODELS OF EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE

I was recently selected as a potential candidate for a science writing internship this summer with EARTH Magazine. In order to get an idea of my writing abilities, I was given a writing assignment to produce a story from a report that was recently published in Science Magazine. Below is the story I submitted to them with two added photos I collected from google images.

OIL DISASTER PAVES WAY FOR IMPROVED MODELS OF EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE

Recent research suggests a new break-through in understanding atmospheric particles involved in climate change and air quality.

Measurements taken from the air surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 has provided scientists with new information on the origins of atmospheric particles known as secondary organic aerosols (SOAs), which play a vital role in climate change and air quality.

Emission from combustion of manmade machines (anthropogenic emission) produces SOA in atmosphere

Pollutants emitted from such devices as smokestacks and tailpipes do not maintain their chemical composition once they’ve been released into the atmosphere. The initial pollutants, known as primary organic aerosols, combine with other material in the atmosphere to produce SOAs.

SOA particles measure tens of micrometers in size, roughly the width of the average human hair. Depending on their chemical structure, these particles will either absorb incoming sunlight or reflect it back into the atmosphere. Their ability to manipulate sunlight makes them a primary accomplice in climate change and an important component to consider in atmospheric models.

For years, scientists have known that SOAs are an important component of earth’s climate changes and air quality. But, understanding exactly how SOAs are created in the atmosphere is still a subject of ongoing research.

On June 8 and June 10, 2010 a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) WP-3D research aircraft flew over a region of the Gulf of Mexico where oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident had risen to the water’s surface from a depth of approximately 1,500 meters. The aircraft measured the chemical composition of the air surrounding the surfaced oil.

From the data, scientists identified a large column in the atmosphere composed of high concentrations of SOAs. This column, or plume, was discovered downwind of the main site where the oil had surfaced. The location of the plume holds important implications for how the SOAs were formed.

Gulf of Mexico after Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010

“One of the interesting findings is that the oil evidently surfaced in one small area only,” explained Dr. Joost de Gouw of the Chemical Sciences Division for NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. De Gouw is one of the primary authors of a report recently published in Science Magazine’s March 11 edition of this year, discussing the importance behind the SOA plume.

“Many groups have studied SOA formation from volatile organic compounds, and in most models they are the most efficient precursors of SOAs,” de Gouw stated, “However, these observations provide direct and compelling evidence for the importance of formation of SOAs from less volatile organic compounds,” he continued.

When the oil reached the water’s surface, it began to evaporate into the air. But, some of the material became a gas more quickly than other material. The less volatile particles evaporated over a time scale of ten to one hundred hours, while the more volatile particles evaporated within ten hours of when the oil surfaced.

Using the data taken on June 10, de Gouw and colleagues were able to construct a model indicating that the SOA plume could not have been created from more volatile gas particles. “These compounds surfaced in the same relatively small area, but because they evaporated on different time scales, they spread out over different areas of the Gulf before being released to the atmosphere,” stated de Gouw.

Since the SOA plume was further downwind from the freshly surfaced oil, it is only possible that the plume was created from mixing organic aerosols in the atmosphere with the more dispersed, less volatile particles, de Gouw concluded.

“This finding leaves us with some rather large challenges,” says Dr. Hugh Coe of the University of Rochester in England. Coe wrote the science perspective article to de Gouw’s report, which also appeared in Science Magazine’s March 11, 2011 edition.

“Most of the time volatile and less volatile organic compounds are released simultaneously, which makes it hard to measure either individually,” explains Coe. “This discovery has some major implications for the way one develops air quality understanding. It potentially changes the way we develop policy,” he concluded.