The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Space Shuttle!

Well, we got lucky here in Tucson this morning. As many of you know, the Space Shuttle Endeavour (or OV105) is being flown cross country to it’s final home at the California Science Center. Yesterday, Mark Kelly, husband of Garbielle Giffords and commander of Enedavour’s last mission, told NASA it sure would be nice if they could do a flyover of Tucson. Tucson is right on the flight path and it wouldn’t take much to make it happen, so, NASA made it happen.

I was going to go up to the roof of NOAO but at 11am I got a call from a friend across the street at Steward who told me I could get on their (much higher) roof so I went over there. The flyover was scheduled at 11:15am and it was as close to on time as you can get.

Here is our first view. The tower is part of NOAO (the building where I work).

It veered north toward the Catalina Mountains before it headed back toward campus.

Then it did a nice flyby where I got some closer shots (these are cropped).


I am not going to complain too much here…I think I had a nice view! There was a good crowd of astronomers gathered on the roof to watch this historic flyby and I am happy I got to see the shuttle in the air one last time.





September 20, 2012 Posted by | NASA, Science History | , , , | 1 Comment

Hurrican Allen: 1980

You might remember the old days of television weather before we had all these fancy computer graphics.  They had weather maps with magnetic numbers and H’s and L’s for the highs and lows they could move around.  When they wanted to show you a satellite photo, they taped it up to the wall and pointed a television camera at it.

When I was growing up, KSFY in Sioux Falls, South Dakota would give away the old satellite photos.  You sent in your name on a postcard and if they drew it, you got that day’s satellite photo.  As a nerdy boy, that was really coo.  Fortunately, Sioux Falls was not a major media market and didn’t have a lot of competition since I got a couple of them.  I still have one of them and just scanned it in to my computer.

I was lucky enough to get the satellite photo for August 7th, 1980 (the date is printed at the top but got cut off in the scan…I thought it was more important not to cut off the bottom of this one!)  Hurricane Allen was the first named storm of the season and it was a doozy.  It reached category 5 status with top winds of 190 mph making it one of the most powerful hurricanes of all time.  Fortunately, it wasn’t quite that strong when it made landfall north of Brownsville, it was down to a category 3 storm.

Okay, now I am totally geekin’ out here.  This hurricane was named Allen.  Look at the satellite photo…they called it Hurricane Alan when they wrote the name on the photo!  Yeah, a 30 year old, um, well not quite a typo but you get the idea!

Anyway, this is one of those old childhood pieces of geekenss which I still have and treasure to this day, yellowed and fading but a little piece of history.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Fun Stuff, Science History | Leave a comment

The Feyman Lectures: Project Tuva

I saw an article on CNET today about Bill Gates and Project Tuva.  Project Tuva is putting classic science videos online and they have picked a doozy to start out: A series of physics lectures by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman.

Feynam is one of the true giants of 20th century physics as well as a legendary character who had a real zest for life.  If you have never read Surely Your’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, go get it now.  It’s not a hardcore physics book (although there is some science in it) but rather a collection of short stories about his life from playing with radios as a child to working on the Manhatten Project to his Nobel Prize.  It is the most laugh out loud science book you will ever read (my favorites are the mischief he caused at Los Alamos while learning to crack safes).

The name, Project Tuva, is a tribute to Feynman.  He had a quest to travel to Tuva which is related in the book Tuva or Bust.

Feyman is not just known for his brilliant science and quirky personality, but his ability to explain science in terms others could understand, a master teacher on top of it all.  These videos give us a glimpse at one of the most remarkable teachers and scientists of the last 100 years.  Watch and enjoy…thank you Bill Gates.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | general science, Science History | Leave a comment

Good Bye to the Bevatron

I just saw a nice article on the dismantling of the Bevatron, a particle accelerator at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.  It was the largest and most powerful in the world when it was built and measured 185 feet in diamter.  This amazing device was built in the 1950s and discovered the anti-proton in 1955 (which led to a Nobel Prize, the first of four won by research conducted at the Bevatron).  The Bevatron was a fixed target experiment…it would accelerate protons around its ring and then shoot them off to a stationary target (many modern accelerators take two beams of particles moving in opposite directions and crash them into each other…the Bevatron could not focus beams well enough to pull this off).

The Bevatron discovered the first example of symmetry violation in quantum physics and resonances which led to the idea of quarks (which have now been discovered).

In the 1970’s, it was hooked up to a linear accelerator called the SuperHILAC.  This combination, sometimes called the BEVLAC, eventually allowed scientists to accelerate atoms of any element to almost the speed of light for experiments.  The BEVLAC contributed greatly to the field of cancer treatment by using different ions to attack tumors (ions give up most of their energy right when they come to rest, so a well targeted ion can destroy cancer cells while leaving the surrounding tissue undamaged).

But time marches on and eventually the Bevatron/BEVLAC was shut down in 1993 and sat unused for the last 16 years.  Now it is finally being dismantled (with the use of some stimulus funding).  It has passed the torch to larger and better particle accelerators such as the Tevatron at Fermilab, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven, the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and the new heavyweight on the block, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Science History | Leave a comment