Andromeda, Topology, and SMBC

A few things. First off, I saw Andromeda for the first time ever last weekend, on the 10th! I was at Big Pine Key and… ahh, it was so beautiful! Two and a half million year old light… it’s rather sexy, actually. And now that I know exactly where to look and what to look for, I’m able to see it from my house! Oh, it’s so beautiful. It’s a whole other galaxy. Looking at hundreds of millions of stars in about one square degree of sky… all that light traveling 2,538,000 light years, only to end that ages long journey on my retina… it’s really sexy to think about. Alright, I might be just the tiniest bit turned on by space. And by “tiniest bit” I mean quite a bit, as in, a lot.

On a random note, if I ever get the chance to name a chocolate bar, I’m going to call it Andromeda for one simple reason. There’s already a “Milky Way” chocolate. There must be an Andromeda. “Large Magellanic Cloud” doesn’t sound delicious… well, to me it does, but it doesn’t really sound like a chocolate bar. It’d be appropriate for cotton candy though.Oh great, now I’m thinking about galaxy names and what kind of candy it would be. “Arp 87” doesn’t really sound like any sort of candy. xD Now to look at the Hubble Deep Field again because it’s so beautiful… and then there’s that picture of Andromeda… mmm…

Second semester is going┬áto start… today, really. I gotta really work on my grades now. Like, really work on them. But now I don’t have college apps to stress me out. It’s also time to put this lighting to the test. Hopefully all should work out well and hopefully my dysfunctional family doesn’t get in the way again. My dad’s a little verbally abusive… but he’s away now, and hopefully he’ll stay away for a long time now so that I can get a little peace of mind…

This reminds me. No one gave me the room number of my Government teacher. I have to go to her class today, and apparently the school never gave the students their schedule changes. Ugh, yet another reason why my high school is… unfavorable… I can’t wait until I’m in a more organized college environment.

I’ve also taken up teaching myself topology. A professor friend of mine (he won’t tell me what college he’s a professor at, but I know he’s from Boston–not MIT though, I don’t think) has given me a copy of Armstrong (1983) Basic Topology, and it’s surprisingly readable. I’m working my way through it. Of course, it being a third-year topology textbook, and having taught myself only the basics of Set Theory, the book is not easy, so to speak, but it is definitely manageable. After getting through some of it, I’ll try and watch some lectures on YouTube. I’m sure there’s an OpenCourse one, but I want to see the other ones too and see which one I like the best. Virtual teacher quality matters, too!

On a side note, if you combine xkcd and SMBC together, that’s 95% me. There’s even a post that describes my “talk mathy to me” thing so accurately:


Andromeda, Topology, and SMBC

Quadrantids, Comet Lovejoy, and Caltech

So I submitted my application to Caltech. This time, I actually managed to get pretty much everything in on time (unlike how everything was late and last minute for MIT). And because I spent a fair bit of time writing the answers to the questions (instead of it being last minute for MIT because I’d decided to scratch everything and redo everything for MIT), and because I actually included a sort of portfolio this time, I think I have a much better shot this time. Also, because at Caltech, females are a minority (I mean, only a third of the students are female), I have a fighting chance. Caltech also seems to be a better place for me, as even though the dorms don’t allow cats, it’s the number one college for cosmology. That and if I get in, I can prank the hell out of MIT. ­čśŤ On a random note, I only realized about two hours before I submitted the application that Caltech is spelled with a lowercase t.

I’ve been trying to track Comet Lovejoy, but Florida decided not to participate in Winter, and introduced to us 80+ high humidity weather, with lots of clouds. I got to see Comet Lovejoy on two nights (the disparity between the location of the dot across both nights confirmed that it was Comet Lovejoy).

I’m going to try to view the Quadrantids tonight, but with what weather we’ve been having, I doubt I’ll get to see any. And because school starts again tomorrow, I can’t stay up too late. Still, I want to catch at least one Quadrantid meteor.

And I’m not sure why, but somehow I got 41 followers in 2 months. I suppose half of them are spam follows, but the other half… when I check the profiles, the stuff they post is at least somewhat relevant to the stuff I post, so I suppose there’s a “related profiles” feature somewhere here.

Quadrantids, Comet Lovejoy, and Caltech

“The Significant Insignificants” — Our Place In The Cosmos [Happy New Year!]

Happy New Year! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO 2015!!!
My resolution for this year? Pull up my grades, I suppose. Graduate, go to college, and all that jazz.

But anyways, to usher in the new year, I’ve narrated my post “The Significant Insignificants” to bring forth new hope and optimism, and inspire people to be more appreciative about their existence!

“The Significant Insignificants” — Our Place In The Cosmos [Happy New Year!]

Hypothetical Deep-Space Mission

With the recent news that Philae discovered that the water composition on 67P is much different than that of Earth (it has a much higher deuterium isotope content than Earth’s water), many scientists are reconsidering the theory that comets brought water to Earth. They are starting to generate new theories, such as thinking that asteroids brought water to Earth, or that Earth literally made its water by combining hydrogen and oxygen together. To me, To give up this theory so quickly based on very little data is ludicrous, especially given how numerously these balls consisting largely of frozen water pelted the Earth during the Late Heavy Bombardment. Somehow that water just disappeared, I assume?

I don’t think scientists should be ruling out the possibility that comets delivered water just based on one comet’s composition. I do think a mission should be launched that goes deep into the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud to probe the ice and dust composition of several comets to see its composition. It may be that 67P is unique in its composition and is an outlier, or that all comets have entirely different compositions of water, or that there’s a difference between Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud comets chemically. Maybe one day I can lead such a mission?
Also, despite the fact the water on earth analyzed came from basalt formations, with plate tectonics and all, all of the truly ancient rocks that would have been exposed during the Late Heavy Bombardment would have long subducted. The water trapped in the basalt may be old, but it may not be old enough. By then, many other factors could have contributed to changing the deuterium ratio in water, which is what makes the composition of water found on 67P “different” from the composition of water found on earth today, including both cosmic and terrestrial factors.

I’m quite surprised that scientists are making any sort of verdict, no matter how weak the conjecture, based on only a couple of data points. Sure, at this moment, data points are scarce, but that is no reason to rule out this theory, even slightly, just yet. There may be no way to analyze the water from Earth’s past, since much like Earth’s impact crater history, much of the evidence has literally slipped under the Earth’s surface, wiped from existence; however, this has never stopped us from other endeavors.

There are other ways. It is possible to analyze the water composition of distant frozen bodies such as moons to see whether the composition of such matches that of various comets. Enceladus, for instance, may similarly have a “tainted” water composition due to the geochemical reactions and radiation it receives; however, especially under its surface, the water source would largely be uncontaminated by radiation, and comparatively little geochemical contamination with respect to Earth. There, the water source would be very pristine.

If in fact, the water is much like that detected in comets, then we can theorize that the water on Enceladus did come from comets. It would be relatively easy to collect samples of such–all we’d have to do is fly a probe through one of the geyser jets it spews out, collect the samples, analyze the deuterium isotope to the regular isotope of water, and compare it to that of comets. In fact, Cassini did something very similar in order to collect samples to analyze the organic chemistry of Enceladus. The difficult part would be sampling the comets in order to get a sufficient sample size of the isotopic chemistry of the water on the various comets.

To do such, I’d imagine a very lengthy (and sadly unimaginably costly) mission into various portions of space. We’d launch a mother-probe. This mother probe would be filled with hundreds of tiny “mini-probes.” The sole function of this miniprobe would be to analyze the isotopic composition of the comet’s water-ice; however, if such a mission were to actually happen, it would be highly cost effective if we essentially made each probe a mini-Philae of sorts. That way, we would not only make a comprehensive sample of the isotopic composition of water on the comets, but also could potentially make a comprehensive sample of the organic chemistry of each comet. I should say that each miniprobe would contain only a spectrograph of sorts; that way it could complete many chemistry experiments, observations, and analyses, making the most out of one instrument. It might also contain a small camera, just to compare landscapes on the different comets that will be sampled–particularly the difference between comets in the inner solar system, outer solar system, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud.

While the mother-probe is waiting for the signals from the mini-probe, it would also analyze the composition of the comet’s tail, to see if it differs in any way from the ice on the comet. Why? If we find the composition of the tail is much higher in deuterium than on the surface of the comet, it shows that over time, the ratio of the deuterium isotope to the normal isotope slowly reduces, as deuterium gets blasted off into space to form the comet tail. It would also be good to analyze the organic chemistry of the tail while it’s waiting, to see how much organic material is being blasted out into space. If many comets are blasting out significant amounts of organic chemicals into space, this could show that there is a significant amount of organic dust in space, just waiting to be pulled in by the gravity of some astronomical body, quite literally scattering the seeds of life around the solar system.

We’ve analyzed such for a couple of comets–three if I remember correctly, but three comets can hardly be considered a sample size. As such, I think it’s crucial that we eventually plan some sort of a mission like this to collect a large sample of data.┬áThis mission may take a hundred years or so to complete, and that’s no hyperbole. It took the Voyagers 1 and 2 nearly half a century to get to the Kuiper Belt, and this mission would need to probe the Oort cloud to be truly comprehensive. It would span my entire lifetime–if I’m lucky enough to live that long. Even if it were launched today, by the time the century-long mission would be completed, I’d be 117 years old. It’s likely I will survive that long, but it’s still questionable.

It takes light about fourteen and a half hours to reach Voyager 2 from Earth, and it’s barely inside the Kuiper Belt. To put that in perspective, the entire Oort cloud reaches out to an entire light-year, which is a quarter of the way to our nearest star. Now of course such a reach would be unrealistic for many reasons, but one can imagine multiple “carrier” probes being released from the mother-probe.

These probes would carry a small handful of the miniprobes in various directions, dropping them off at comets surrounding it into the far reaches of the Kuiper belt and just inside the Oort cloud. The miniprobes would send signals back to the carrier probes, which would send signals back to the mother-probe. Once that region has been scanned, the mother-probe would move on to a different region and do the same task. This would also conserve fuel, which would otherwise generate unnecessary costs.

We would still need to work out what the most cost-effective way to collect samples from hundreds–at least a thousand–different comets would be. It would obviously be the most costly mission ever launched, but we could conclusively determine the composition of water in the comets, and how abundant organic compounds are in the solar system, among many other things. If we use this in conjunction with the compounds on Enceladus (and the data from the planned mission to there to analyze its organic chemistry in greater detail), especially if we find traces of microbial life there, then we can finally get a good picture of whether or not comets are bringers of water–and likely life. If we analyze other large untouched icy bodies and get a similar picture, then we can be almost certain that comets brought water to earth–and perhaps even life.

Perhaps the microbial life might be found on the comets, too. The greatest fear of looking for life extraterrestially is the fear of contamination from Earth biology. No matter how much sterilization we do, there always seems to be some trace of bacteria left on the probes. Surely if a large number of the hundreds of miniprobes we send out return positive, it can’t possibly be a false positive. That’s another plus to doing these mini-missions, among many. Some of the probes may fail, but if even only 20% of the thousand miniprobes we send out succeed in its mission, we still have a very large set of 200 data points to work from. Ah, I love Science! There’s never a shortage of things to learn and learn from!

I think I got a little carried away with postulating this hypothetical mission, but I do think a mission like this is necessary for truly discovering our origins. It may be expensive, but it’ll answer many of the biggest questions we have today either directly or as a result of its findings. It may not be finished within my lifetime, but I’d be happy to see it launched and start working at its mission. What do you think?

At least one of the probes should be shaped like Space Core just because no one said we can’t have fun while still doing science in spaaaaaace!
Hypothetical Deep-Space Mission

The Significant Insignificants

I was re-listening to Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” speech, and then I found myself channeling him again, in writing a comment… I tend to do that a lot… but heck, it’s not a bad thing that my words end up emulates those of Carl Sagan… that’s a good thing. And I’m not going to stop it.

Watch this first:

Then listen to this while reading my little spiel…

Saganist: A sentient product of dying stars that follows the wise, echoing, timeless words of the great, legendary Carl Sagan, and dreams of carrying these words and enlightening the world with his resonant philosophies in order to stop this senseless selfishly driven violence that serves no purpose but to drive our world into chaos…

import carlsagan.lgd

A cosmologist may not be god, but one comes as close as possible to godly understanding, of knowledge and truthÔÇöharboring the answers to the ultimate questions in existentialism, seeking the Grand Unifying Theory of Everything, to make sense of this 13.7 billion light year ball we call the universe.

It isn’t until we gaze up at the stars do we truly realize that we are awfully insignificant. We are a mere infinitesimal on the scale of the cosmos. We are not even a dot. We are not even a pixel. Our reach only extends so far as our atmosphere. We may have stroked the surface of a few planets and moons, a comet, and the far reaches of our solar system, but we are but a pixel in our solar system, which is a mere pixel in our galaxy, which is a pixel among our galaxy clusters, which are pixels among our superclusters, which are pixels in our universe, which is a literal infinitesimal among the infinite number of universes in the multiverse. Even considering chaos theory, our existence simply isn’t, on the scale of the universe.

Yet, here we are so awfully insignificant, legends in our own fraction of a pixel of a pixel of a pixel of a pixel of a pixel of an infinitesimal, many unable to appreciate the vastness of the universe. We are inebriated by our own ego; delusional that we are significant. We are far too drunk to realize that we are in fact drunk and drowning in our own flattery. We refuse to realize the truth that we don’t in fact matter in the cosmos.

Still, there are a few of us that have woken up. We are the cosmologists, the mathematicians, the stargazers; we are the philosophers, the existentialists, the few privileged individuals on this pale blue dot that have sobered up and know that we will never play a significant role in the cosmos; however, even more sobering is the thought that we even begin to comprehend the cosmos at all. While it is almost certain that life could have evolved elsewhere in the universe numerous times, only a handful of the spawns of life would even come close to understanding the vast cosmos as intimately as we do.

Despite being as tiny and insignificant as we are, we’re able to understand something as vast and mysterious as the universe. That is something significant on its own. We are one of the few lifeforms in existence capable of truly comprehending the cosmos, and that makes our existence significant. We may not be able to do much to the cosmos, but we can do all we can do to understand it. We can affect our own world–our pale blue dot. I could not be more privileged than to be blessed with the appreciation of the cosmos and everything in it. If I had to choose between ruler of the world blind to the truth and cosmologist with existential philosophies, I would choose the latter without hesitation.

I’m only a 17 year old girl. There is only so much I can do right now. But I am blessed to have developed an appreciation for this universe at such a young age; that means I have even more time to bring as much new understanding about the cosmos as I possibly can within my lifetime. To others, the sky is the limit. I see no reason to limit myself. I may never physically leave the earth, and it is possible that this is due to unfortunate technological, economical, and political reasons; however, nothing is going to stop me from doing my best to peer into the cosmos to understand something more… something beyond, something bigger, something that created this pale blue dot.

The Significant Insignificants

Another Fireball

I saw another fireball while stargazing! I mean, I SHOULD be working on college apps, but then I realized the deadline was January 1st for all the colleges I want to apply to, not December 1st. On top of that, I’d still much rather go to MIT anyways. Second choice CalTech (because Berkeley has a cutoff GPA that I likely won’t make), since they’re the MIT of the west. I mean, both are Institutes of Technology. I want to go to *an* Institute of Technology, preferably the one in Massachusetts. xD


I submitted another fireball report today morning

Name [Insert-Real-Name-Here]
Experience (1-5) 4
Comments I saw the fireball in my peripheral vision. Unfortunately, my camera was pointing a few degrees to the right, so I wasn’t able to catch it. It appeared about 15 degrees up above and about 10 degrees to the left of the main body of Canis major, and had approximately the same angle as Orion’s belt (I had been trying to photograph Orion. I’m not sure if I was imagining a bunch of smaller meteors (I know the fireball was real), but it was as if it was a tiny and short meteor shower.
Address Orlando, FL
Geo Loc. 28.4┬░ | -81.5┬░
Altitude 30.747 meters
Local Date & Time 2014-11-30 03:30:00 EST
UTC Date & Time 2014-11-30 08:30:00 UTC
Duration 0.50 sec.
Direction UpRightToDownLeft
Facing (bearing) 228┬░
First seen (bearing) 164┬░
First Altitude 57┬░
Last seen (bearing) 128┬░
Last Altitude 49┬░
Stellar Magnitude -7.00
Color Orange
Observation UNKNOWN
Duration 0.00 sec.
Length 0.00┬░
Terminal Flash NO
Fragmentation NO
Concurrent Sounds NO
Delayed Sound(s) NO

But I… I finally figured out what that bluish thing I saw when I was very, very young (maybe 5 to 7 years old) was. It was a fireball. May have been a bolide. For years I thought it was a comet, since it looked exactly like the description of one in many books and stuff. I’d even poked my mom (who was watching TV at the time) and said “Look mom, a comet!” but being a layman, she didn’t really care to look up, and had her eyes plastered to the TV. So no one believes me that I saw such a thing. I know what I saw. It wasn’t a comet, but I know I wasn’t imagining what I saw. When I was 10 onwards, I realized it couldn’t have been a comet, since comets don’t enter the earth’s atmosphere, at least, not the way this thing┬ádid. You know, it may have been that thing that prompted me to be into astronomy. I remember wanting to know what it was so badly. No one else saw it. It was as big as the sun appears in the sky, and had a very, very high magnitude, near solar magnitude even. Technically it was a UFO, since I couldn’t identify it, and it was flying. But finally, I may have an answer, after over a decade. It was a giant fireball. A GIANT, bluish white fireball. ­čśÇ

Another Fireball


While others were rushing about to get the best deals they can possibly find, I was busy looking at the stars. We had guests over until really late at night–as in, until literally 3AM–which didn’t bug me since because of Thanksgiving break, I stay up until when I would wake up to go to school.

Oh, it really was a “black” Friday. I do not remember seeing the Orlando sky as dark as it was. While 95% of me wants to go to MIT, there’s a 5% of me that wants to go to Berkeley simply because it has the best cosmology/astronomy program of anywhere in the United States. That and the light pollution in the Boston area would make all but the brightest (possibly only the magnitude ÔëĄ1 stars) stars almost impossible to see. Berkeley is my second choice of prestigious college, but MIT’s been my dream since I was 2…

Anyways, I went off-topic. The stars… they were… I’ve never seen the sky so clear in Florida. Of course this never beats the sky in Fiji ┬á(Plantation Islands) when I was 9, where the Milky Way sprawled across the sky like bluish-green watercolors mottled with white and blue, shining as bright as the full moon, if not even brighter. Oh, had I known that the Andromeda galaxy was visible to the naked eye, I’d have looked for it. There was an occasional meteor that streaked across the sky. Oh I wish I knew photography back then. I’d have took, pardon the pun, the most stellar photograph I’ve ever taken! Oh, just thinking about it, I can hear Space Core screaming his famous line, zipping across the sky.

Black Friday didn’t cross my mind even once until much later. I’d gone outside to wish a different set of guests goodbye with the other set of guests around 1AM, and saw just how beautiful the sky was. I spent some time with her outside, powerful green laser pointer in hand, with my astronomy app pulled up (since I’d finally be able to use it to find the stuff that’s not usually visible).

She knew what Orion was, but I named the stars. Orion was my first constellation. I never cared for the Big Dipper, but I’ve known about Orion for longer than I can remember. Both math and astronomy are two subjects that I think that I’ve always loved. I think my mom was the one that pointed out Orion (she only knows Orion and the Big Dipper) to me when I was really young. I used to call the Orion Nebula the “Spider Bite Nebula.” Little did I know that it also goes by the name Tarantula Nebula!

Some random Orion facts:

Not the reason why it has always been my favorite constellation. Betelgeuse (the reddish star) and Bellatrix (right across from Betelgeuse) are supposed to be the hunter’s shoulders, and the two other stars, Rigel (under Bellatrix) and Saiph (across from Rigel and under Betelgeuse) represent his feet. The three stars in the middle (Mintaka being on the side with Betelgeuse, Alnilam being the center star, and Alnitak being on the side with Rigel, the side stars really being their own star systems rather than individual stars). He has his sword and shield, but most people regard these stars as the main body of Orion (as it is). Orion also has a clearly visible┬ápenis*… I mean, sword, (that hangs right under his belt, which is the Orion Nebula (the closest stellar nursery to us at about 1.5k light years away).

* I actually didn’t notice it until I saw this. What has been seen cannot be unseen. At least he is his own Rule 34. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.

I hope Betelgeuse goes nova within my lifetime. While this might cause severe shoulder ache to Orion, the remnants will be visible even during the day!

I even saw a fireball meteor, which was highly surprising because at the time, I was casually observing the sky with my guest. It must have been around 2:30ish. I reported it to the AMS (which I just found out I should do about half an hour back–it is now about 7:30AM), although with accidentally wrong timing since I forgot the guests left at 3 and not 2, with the following parameters:

Continue reading “Stargazing”