Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are We Alone for 06/01/09 - Robots Call the Shots

Image for Are We Alone weekly radio show
Are We Alone - Robots Call the Shots
Dr. Robot, I presume? Your appendix may be removed by motor-driven, scalpel-wielding mechanical hands one day. Robots are debuting in the medical field… as well as on battlefields. And they’re increasingly making important decisions – on their own. But can we teach robots right from wrong? Find out why the onslaught of silicon intelligence has prompted a new field of robo-ethics.
Plus, robo-geologists: NASA’s vision for autonomous robots in space.
Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Noctilucent Cloud Season Begins

Source - Space Weather News for May 30, 2009

FIRST NLCs of 2009: The first noctilucent clouds (NLCs) of 2009 have been sighted over northern Europe. Last night, May 29th, photographers recorded wispy electric-blue tendrils spreading across the twilight skies of Denmark, Northern Ireland and Scotland. This follows a similar display over Russia on May 27th. These sightings signal the beginning of the 2009 NLC season, which is expected to last until late July. Early-season NLCs are usually feeble, but these were fairly bright and vibrant, suggesting that even better displays are in the offing. Check today's edition of for photos.

Noctilucent clouds are an unsolved puzzle. They float 83 km above Earth's surface at the edge of space itself. People first noticed NLCs in the late 19th century. In those days you had to travel to high northern latitudes to see them. In recent years, however, the clouds have been sighted in the United States as far south as Oregon, Washington and even Colorado. Climate change, space dust, and rocket launches have all been cited as possible explanations for the phenomenon. Interestingly, low solar activity seems to promote the clouds, so the ongoing deep solar minimum could set the stage for a good season in 2009.

The best time to look for NLCs is just after sunset or just before sunrise when the sun is between 6 and 16 degrees below the horizon. That's when the geometry is just right for sunlight to illuminate the tiny ice crystals that make up the clouds. Observing tips and sample photos may be found in the 2008 Noctilucent Cloud Gallery:

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Solar Cycle Prediction

Source - NASA Science News for May 29, 2009

An international panel of experts has issued a new prediction for the solar cycle which takes into account the surprisingly deep solar minimum of 2008-2009. Read today's story to find out when they think solar maximum will return.


Check out our RSS feed at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eerie Red Glow Traces Ocean Plant Health

Source - NASA Science News for May 28, 2009

NASA's Aqua satellite has detected a red glow coming from phytoplankton in Earth's oceans. This unique signal allows researchers to monitor the health of ocean plants in a new and telling way.


Check out our RSS feed at

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Phantom Torso Returns

Source - NASA Science News for May 27, 2009

The Phantom Torso is back on Earth and he has quite a story to tell about the perils of space radiation.


Check out our RSS feed at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Space Station Flares

Source - Space Weather News for May 26, 2009:

SPACE STATION FLARES: Lately, a growing number of observers are reporting intense "flares" coming from the International Space Station (ISS). During some nighttime flybys, the luminosity of the space station surges 10-fold or more. Some people have witnessed flares of magnitude -8 or twenty-five times brighter than Venus. A movie featured on today's edition of shows what is happening: sunlight glints from the station's recently expanded solar arrays in a shadow-casting flash. Currently, the flares are unpredictable. You watch a flyby not knowing if one will happen or how bright it might be. That's what makes the hunt for "ISS flares" so much fun.

Sky watchers in North America should be alert for flares this week. The ISS is making a series of evening passes over many US and Canadian towns and cities. Flyby times are available from the Simple Satellite Tracker:

Would you like a phone call when the ISS is about to fly over your hometown? Sign up for Space Weather PHONE:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Are We Alone for 05/25/09 - Skeptic Check: Playing Doctor

Image for Are We Alone weekly radio show
Are We Alone - Skeptic Check: Playing Doctor
A new herbal supplements is on the shelf, and it claims to improve memory. Should you take it? It’s not easy to sort through the firehose of health and nutrition advice that comes at us daily. Find out how to get healthy about health advice, plus hear the story of Bernarr Macfadden, the eccentric who kicked off America’s fitness craze; he believed that eating less was good for you, but he didn’t believe germ theory.

Plus, our Hollywood skeptic spills his guts and other entrails for a phony class for nurses and Phil Plait gives us the latest lapse in critically-thinking brains.

It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it.

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Local Project Astro Star Party - May 23, 2009

Posted on behalf of David Dorais - Project Astro volunteer -

The Room 9 Community School is planning to hold a Star Party on May 23rd, Saturday, weather permitting, from 5pm to 11pm (roughly). We will have two Dobs-8'',10", a C-8 and 10x50 binos. Any fellow Project Astro'gators' and any local amateurs are invited to add their 'scopes to the party. Especially any refractors-in honor of Galileo/400 yrs/IYA2009 will be very welcome.

The location is the north SAS monthly site at Paramount School Park in Shoreline, WA at 155th NE and 8th NE. Map of site is available on SAS website-- .

If overcast or forecast is very unfriendly on Friday; we are planning an alternate date of May 30th which coincides with the regular SAS monthly SP event.

Parking lot is relatively small- parents and amateurs are encouraged to carpool and park their front headlights to the west to help with dark eye adaptation.

UW Jacobsen Observatory: May 20 UW Astronomy "Searching for Earths" Lecture

This notice presented on behalf of the University of Washington Department of Astronomy:

"Searching for Earths"
Dr. Debra Fischer, San Francisco State University
Wednesday, May 20
Architecture 147 -,66,533,559
7-8pm *No tickets required, first-come, first-served seating*

Science fiction writers often depict the billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy as homes for other Earths; so-called M-class planets where life abounds. The science is now catching up to the fiction as more than 300 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars in the past decade. The most surprising attribute of detected planets is their diversity, and we have yet to find anything that reminds us of home. However, humanity is taking the first steps into the solar system and beyond with the goal of detecting thousands of New Worlds. This talk will focus on the types of planets that have been found so far, with an eye toward understanding how our solar system compares. We will also discuss the conditions that are important for life as we know it and our future plans to one day obtain a picture of a pale blue dot orbiting a nearby star.

Join us this Wednesday, May 20 in Architecture 147 at 7pm for a lecture by Dr. Debra Fischer entitled "Searching for Earths". Dr. Fischer is a professor at San Francisco State University and is a leader in the field of searching for extra-solar planets. She is the principal investigator for research projects such as The Lick Planet Search program, and several Keck Observatory programs to detect Hot Jupiters and short-period Neptunes.

A poster is attached for distribution.

To request disability accommodation, contact the Disability Services Office at 206.543.6450 (voice), 206.543.6452 (TTY), 206.685.7264 (FAX), or

Sarah Garner

University of Washington
Department of Astronomy
Physics/Astronomy C-319 Phone: 206-543-2888
Box 351580
Seattle, WA 98195

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Colas for the Cosmos 2009

Besides having an addiction to astronomy, I also have an addiction to Diet Coke (both with caffeine, and without). Since I drink a lot of Diet Coke I tend to accumulate a lot of Coke Rewards points, so I've decided to use all those points to help kids who have an interest in astronomy by giving them telescopes or binoculars that I get in exchange for my rewards points. It is my hope that by providing these instruments to those kids who otherwise could not afford them, that they will be able to develop their interest in astronomy, and science in general.

Last year I gave four telescopes away, and while Coke is no longer offering the telescopes, they still are offering binoculars from Celestron. So far I have collected enough Coke Rewards point for three pair of binoculars, and with your help I would like to give away a lot more.

If you drink any Coca Cola product that offers the rewards points would you please consider donating them to my Colas for the Cosmos project. I am referring to the numbers that are either on Coke bottle caps, front panels of 12 or 24 packs, and the bottom of the plastic wrap for 32 count cases.

If you want to donate Coke Rewards points to the Colas for the Cosmos project then please contact me either via this blog, or send me an email by clicking here.

If you want you can start your own Colas for the Cosmos project and enter the points yourself, and maybe we could coordinate our efforts. Again feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and keep an eye on this blog for future news about the project, as well as other astronomy news.

Cheers ~ Jim Cox
PS: Please do not send me Rewards points that have already been redeemed. It can cause a lot of problems.

Are We Alone for 05/18/09 - Why We Do What We Shoo Be Do Be Do

Image for Are We Alone weekly radio show
Are We Alone - Why We Do What We Shoo Be Do Be Do
We see a man laughing and we smile in response. Our heart goes out to the sad-looking woman on the train. Humans are empathetic creatures – we feel what others feel, even the emotions of strangers. And it may be due to brain cells that researchers have only recently discovered: mirror neurons. Find out how these mimicking cells help us survive cocktail parties, keep society humming, and even give rise to the concept of self.
Also, are humans born with a moral code? And, if human behavior is hard-wired – whatever becomes of free will?

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Extraordinary Photos of Hubble and Atlantis Transiting the Sun

Source - Space Weather News for May 15, 2009:

A photographer in Florida has taken extraordinary photos of space shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope passing together in front of the sun. The shuttle's silhouette outlined by solar fire is a must-see. Shortly after the photos were taken, the shuttle's robotic arm reached out, grappled Hubble, and drew the great telescope into the shuttle's cargo bay, where it is now being serviced by NASA astronauts. Visit to see the pictures and to follow the progress of the STS-125 servicing mission.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee--on the Moon!

Source - NASA Science News for May 15, 2009

Have you ever wondered how you'd make your morning coffee if you were living on another planet? NASA engineers have power systems on the drawing board that could run coffee makers--and so much more--on the Moon, Mars and beyond.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches on Final Mission to Hubble

Source - NASA Science News for May 11, 2009

After a smooth countdown and picture-perfect liftoff, space shuttle Atlantis and a crew of seven astronauts are in space, ready to begin their 11-day mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis lifted off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:01 p.m. EDT on May 11th.


Check out our RSS feed at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Satellite Debris and Jupiter Moon Movie

Source - Space Weather News for May 10, 2009:

JUPITER MOON MOVIE: An amateur astronomer in Australia has photographed a very rare event--one of Jupiter's moons eclipsing another. Earth is now passing through the orbital plane of Jupiter's satellite system allowing such "mutual occultations" to be seen through backyard telescopes. Check for a movie of Europa passing directly in front of Ganymede and links to more information for observers who wish to try to record such movies themselves.

SATELLITE DEBRIS: On Feb. 10, 2009, Iridium 33 crashed into Cosmos 2251 and the two satellites were shattered. Since then, US Strategic Command has catalogued nearly a thousand pieces of debris. Today's edition of presents 3D maps showing where the fragments are located on the three-month anniversary of the unprecedented collision. One large piece of Iridium 33 wreckage is visible to the naked eye as it tumbles through the night sky flashing every 4.7 seconds. Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for flyby times:

Are We Alone for 05/11/09 - Seas the Moment

Image for Are We Alone weekly radio show
Are We Alone - Seas the Moment
With more water than land on this planet, Earth is more aptly-named “Ocean” or “Water.” The oceans have been here for billions of years, and make all life possible. Yet, it’s taken less than a century for humans to deal some serious blows to the watery cradle of our existence. Discover how our oceans are changing and the worrisome increase in their acidity from the maker of the documentary film, A Sea Change

Also, hear how hope is bubbling up for ocean recovery from famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Learn about her record-breaking voyages underwater and how her reprimand to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur gave birth to Google Ocean. Plus, farming the seas for new antibiotics.

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Salmonella Spills its Secrets on the Space Shuttle

Source - NASA Science News for May 6, 2009

NASA-supported researchers have figured out why Salmonella bacteria become more virulent when they travel on board spaceships. They've also learned how to calm the bacteria down again--a trick that could come in handy for fighting diseases here on Earth.


Check out our RSS feed at

The Sun is Stirring

Source - Space Weather News for May 6, 2009:

NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft is monitoring an active region hidden behind the sun's eastern limb. On May 5th, it produced an impressive coronal mass ejection (CME) and a burst of radio emissions signalling the passage of a shock wave through the sun's outer atmosphere. Activity has continued apace today, May 6th, with at least two more eruptions. The blast site is not yet visible from Earth, but the sun is turning the region toward us for a better view. Is a new-cycle sunspot in the offing? Readers with solar telescopes could see it emerge as early as May 7th or 8th. Visit for images, movies and updates.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Meteors from Halley's Comet

Source - Space Weather News for May 4, 2009:

METEOR SHOWER: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Halley's Comet, the source of the annual eta Aquarid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Wednesday, May 6th, with as many as 85 meteors per hour over the southern hemisphere. Rates in the northern hemisphere will be less, 20 to 30 per hour. The best time to look is during the dark hour before local sunrise on Wednesday morning. Visit for sky maps and details.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Are We Alone for 05/04/09 - Genes That Fit

Image for Are We Alone weekly radio show
Are We Alone - Genes That Fit
Encore: Remember Mr. Potato Head? You changed his look by snapping in plastic mustaches, googly eyes and feet. Now imagine doing the same with a living cell: inserting the genes you want to create the organism you want. Welcome to the world of synthetic biology. It has potential to create new bio-fuels and life-saving drugs. It also ushers in a host of ethical and safety concerns. We examine both when we discuss this emerging science of mix and match genes.
Plus, does doing an end run around Mother Nature challenge the essence of life itself?

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.