Picture of the Week #59

Mercury as imaged by the MESSENGER spacecraft during its fly-by yesterday.

More information on this image

I was following the fly-by on Twitter yesterday, but I missed some of the drama of the spacecraft going into safe mode until I got home from work. It turns out that some of the data was lost, but the ultimate goal of the fly-by was a gravity assist, which worked fine. The spacecraft will actually go in to orbit in March 2011, but during the three Messenger fly-bys we've already seen parts of Mercury that have never been imaged up-close before. Only about 40% of Mercury was imaged by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974 and 75, so there is still a lot to learn about this little planet!


The second and third watermelons chucked off the roof of my building today:

How things have changed

I was looking for a photo the other day and came across this one of my desk in my office at UT from around 1996:

And here is the same desk now:

There is actually a large CPU under the desk, which is what the monitor is attached to (it's not connected to my laptop). A BIG change from that old Mac II Plus!

Picture of the Week #58

The Very Large Array in New Mexico. Photo March 1993.

The astronomy undergrad group I was part of as a student stopped at the VLA as part of a spring break tour of the southwest we did in 1993. We got a nice tour of the control room, including going up the very same stairwell Jodie Foster runs up after the detection of the message signal in Contact!

So long summer!

... and don't let the door hit you on the way out! We didn't hit the record for most 100F+ days (fell one short), but the average temp was the highest on record for Austin - 89.1. The scary thing is that is an average of the high and low!

Although it will definitely still be warm from time to time for the remainder of the year, the worst is finally over. Right on cue for the first day of fall, we had a nice cold front come through central Texas and drop the afternoon (yes AFTERNOON) temperature in to the mid-60s. I've always loved fall, in part because the summers in Texas can be so brutal and the relief from that first cool-down is almost indescribable. Unfortunately we don't get a huge amount of fall color here because of the dominant types of trees - one of these days I'm going to treat myself to a "leaf peeper" trip to New England in the fall - but it is still a nice season in Texas.

Maybe now I'll get that little extra spark of energy that usually comes with the cooler temperatures and get some more blogging done! I've got some material saved for a new "occasional series" now that the entertaining spam subject headings have dried up. :)

Picture of the Week #56

Skeleton of Buettneria at the American Museum of Natural History in New York

From the information plaque:

One of the large temnospondyls that lived in the Triassic of North America was Buettneria. This animal, with its large toothed skull and small limbs, may have been a lurking aquatic predator, similar to modern crocodiles. Buettneria must have been successful, because its fossils and those of its close relatives are found throughout North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. This skeleton is a composite (made up of more than one individual), and is one of the few actual skeletons of Buettneria mounted for display.

AMNH 2994, collected at Herring Ranch, Potter County, Texas; received in exchange from the Panhandle Plains Museum, 1955.

Buettneria Lived about 225 million years ago

Picture of the Week #55

M8 - The Lagoon Nebula, taken with the Prime Focus Camera on the 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in 1998 (AASTRA participants took the images and then I combined them into the image you see here).