Sunrise From Space

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A Trip To Joshua Tree

I recently embarked on a trip to Joshua Tree with several classmates to film our final project and experience the majestic beauty that is the national park. As part of the project, we researched the geological nature of the park and its history. We found out that the rocks in Joshua Tree are made up of monzogranite and that the face of the park was formed over 100 million years ago when molten liquid, heated by convection, oozed up through the outer mantle and cooled just below the surface. Over time, erosion washed away the softer rock and dirt and allowed for the emergence of the rocks we see now. This is how the seemingly precarious rock formations arose. They were initially underground and have slowly developed into their current placement.

After completing the filming, we spent the rest of our time in Joshua Tree hiking and climbing on rocks, which really gives you a sense of context. Climbing on rocks that were formed over 100 million years are one thing, but doing so in such a barren, alien world is another. Joshua Tree is one of the few landscapes on this Earth that resembles the surface of Mars far more than our own Earth. Climbing and hiking in the park truly gives you a sense of wonder of what else is out there.

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A Visit To Griffith Observatory

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Last week, myself and a two classmates made the trip into Los Angeles to visit the world famous Griffith Observatory. We went into the trip with almost no expectations about what the observatory would entail, but left wowed by the scope of the project. Griffith is situated in the middle of a park of the same name and features some of the most impressive vistas in the entire city. The exterior of the observatory/museum is impressive to say the least, featuring a vast garden that glowed despite the late hour of our trip. An art deco exterior gives Griffith an old-time-y Los Angeles feel that belies the nature of the technology and innovation housed inside of its walls. Three massive domes stand out in the light polluted Los Angeles sky and dominated nearly every point of view. Similarly, a massive obelisk-type structure adorned the front line and offered every visitor a direct line-of-view to the entrance to the observatory.

The inside of Griffith Observatory features an impressive array of life in the universe exhibits and interactive displays, ranging from an ancient (1935) Foucault pendulum meant to display the rotation of the Earth and several newer telescopes that are available for public use. Exhibits house a number of scientific achievements, past and present, and were swamped with people even at the late hour that we attended. The basement of the museum offered some relief from the crowds as well as a scale model of our very own solar system and an informative section on asteroid/comet impacts on Earth. The majority of the exhibits housed in Griffith were rather rudimentary in their exhibition of the science involved, but certainly offered an accessible take on some incredible difficult, dense topics. The one part of the museum that seemed lacking to me was the lack of attention for new/developing research. There was a bulletin board in the basement outlining some recent research, but it was completely unattended and seemed to be pushed to the side in preference of more gift shop/display space.

Nonetheless, it was an impressive sight to witness so many people interested in invested in the study of life in the universe. Everyone asks the big questions, but it warmed my heart to see so many citizens taking the next step in the journey towards scientific enlightenment.

 

 

The Human Condition In Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’

Like many other vaunted science fiction films, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is heavily focused on the moral debate over technological advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. Located in a futuristic, dystopian Los Angeles, the plot centers around Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter of sorts who tracks down and kills “skin jobs”, incredibly intelligence robots who look and act exactly like humans. Struggling with his own internal issues of loss (most humans have left Earth for presumably greener pastures), Deckard tracks four skin jobs who have escaped and have already killed several humans. On a simple level, Deckard falls in love with another skin job, Rachael, and struggles with the meaning of human/artificial existence. On a deeper level, the film explores questions of morality in artificial intelligence and technology in general. The human spirit is generally diametrically opposed and supportive of technological advances, consistently wary of each new development, but overtly exited as well. It has been that way for centuries and doesn’t look to change anytime soon.

On Mount St. Helens

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Being from the Pacific Northwest, there were plenty of notable geological features from which to choose from. Mount Rainier is the largest mountain in the region, but Mount St. Helens seemed more applicable to this assignment because of its quite recent volcanic activity. Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano (also known as a composite volcano) and is located 96 miles from Seattle,WA. The name Mount St. Helens is derived from 18th century British diplomat Lord St Helens, a friend of George Vancouver who took an important survey of the region in the late 18th century. Part of the Cascade Volcanic Arch, Mount St. Helens is one of over 160 active volcanos in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The mountain most recently erupted on May 18, 1980, the most destructive (both in terms of loss of life and economics) volcanic event in the history of the United States. See below for a video documenting the eruption.

Mount St. Helens’ eruptive history dates back 40,000-35,000 years ago, an era referred to as the “Ape Canyon Stage”. The “Cougar Stage” (20,000-18,000 years ago) followed, and subsequently the “Swift Creek Stage” (13,000-8,000 years ago). The mountain itself began to form in the Pleistocene 37,600 years ago with original eruptions of dacite and andecite. 36,000 years ago, a large mudflow occurred, a consistent feature in all of Mount St. Helens’ eruptions. Following the Ape Canyon Stage, the mountain faced around 17,000 years of peace. The Cougar Stage was highlighted by Pyroclastic flows of hot pumice and ash, as well as significant dome growth. 5,000 years of dormancy followed, broken by the Swift Creek stage, highlighted by more dome growth and eruptions of tephra, which blanketed the countryside. The modern period of the mountain (since around 2500 BCE) has been highlighted by a wide variety in the composition of erupted materials, ranging from olivine basalt to andesite and dacite). The mountain’s volcanic activity comes as a result of the Juan de Fuca plate subducting the North American plate.

Mount St. Helens is significant for the tangible damage it caused in the past 50 years and for being one of the few active volcanos within the United States.

The Eagle Nebula

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I created the above Tri-Color Image using Photoshop and the FITS Liberator. I added the required colors and cropped it so that it is more aesthetically appealing.

The Eagle Nebula is categorized as Messier 16 or M16 and is also known as the Star Queen Nebula. It was discovered by  Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux in 1745-46 and its name is derived from the fact that early astronomers thought it looked like an eagle. It is part of a diffuse emissions nebula. It’s region of active star formation is about 7,000 light years away. The tower of gas that can be seen coming off the nebula is about 90 trillion kilometers high and are often called the “Pillars Of Creation”. The Nebula has been referenced in popular culture several times, most notably in the television series Star Trek and the film Contact.

 

 

Does Science Matter?

The New York Times article “Does Science Matter?” revolves around the debate on contemporary science, the good and the bad of modern research and the transition from an American-centric scientific world to one dominated by Asia. The article even goes so far as to ponder whether abstract physics research is even necessary or worthwhile, quoting Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg who come off as diametrically opposed on the issue of the romanticism of cosmic research. Weinberg takes a “militantly atheist” approach while Hawking takes the romantic angle, preaching that some research is like seeing into ”the mind of God.” Despite their differing positions on the theistic reasoning (based on an analogy or no) behind the research, they both view it as integral to the effort to push science forward. In my opinion, the reasoning behind the research is somewhat irrelevant to the final goal. The concept of figuring out the bigger “why” questions is tantalizing to me, but it isn’t necessary to engaging in this type of research.

Moving to another point, the politicization of science in America isn’t a new phenomenon. Science has always been used for political causes and has often been utilized for destructive purposes. The news cycle in 2013 just focuses that much more on the integration of science and politics and specifically on the evolution “debate” (as absurd as it is). Obviously, keeping the politics out of science would be ideal, but that’s pretty much out of the question at this point in time.

First Post

Hello internet, my name is Gabe Meier. I’m a junior at Pitzer College and was born and bred in Seattle, WA. I have no prior experience with astronomy, but have always been interested in the big existential questions. I am a Political Studies major (as of now) with a specific interest in urban studies. I initially chose Political Studies because I was interested and participated in local political campaigns in high school, but over time my interests become more conceptual. I have no idea what (if anything) I’m going to with my degree post-graduation, but it will probably involve traveling outside of the US. My passion is writing, specifically about music, and I write for several music blogs (Truants and The Astral Plane). I spend too much time behind a computer screen. I want to live in Berlin and/or London at some point in my life. I have dreams and aspirations although I can’t really put my finger on them at the moment.

I’m taking Life In The Universe partially to fulfill my natural science requirement, but also because I haven’t taken a legitimate science class since high school and seriously need to flex that part of my brain more often. Astronomy, while not as applicable  as some other life sciences, seems like a good place to investigate some broad, intriguing concepts.

One part of astronomy that I find fascinating is the impossible nature of the history and size of the universe. No one really knows how old or how big the universe is and there’s virtually no way of ascertaining (at this point in time) a definite answer. I do not know a single thing about this topic, but find my self pondering it quite often. The immensity of it is overwhelming and I’m looking forward to investigating just how far it stretches.