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Weekly Shhhout-Out

Roaming librarians file dispatches from the world of information.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Astronomy Picture of the Day

One of the most fascinating and beautiful sites on the internet is the Astronomy Picture of the Day.  It has been online almost since the beginning of the World Wide Web, and is still breathtaking in beauty and simplicity.  Each day features a fabulous photograph and sometimes a video, along with a brief description packed with information. This kind of condensed informative and readable information is not easy to write, and the APOD writers make it look graceful and effortless. The scope of the pictures ranges from local to microscopic to cosmic.
Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is originated, written, coordinated, and edited since 1995 by Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell. The APOD archive contains the largest collection of annotated astronomical images on the internet.
In real life, Bob and Jerry are two professional astronomers who spend most of their time researching the universe. Bob is a professor at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, USA, while Jerry is a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland USA. They are two married, mild and lazy guys who might appear relatively normal to an unsuspecting guest. Together, they have found new and unusual ways of annoying people such as staging astronomical debates. Most people are surprised to learn that they have developed the perfect random number generator.
Here are a selection of recent pictures to give you a taste of the site.  The caption follows each picture.   It is well worth checking APOD on a daily basis for a bit of inspiration and to expand out from the usual narrow focus of daily life.


M16: Pillars of Creation  July 22, 2012
Image Credit: J. Hester, P. Scowen (ASU), HST, NASA
Explanation: It was one of the most famous images of the 1990s. This image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995, shows evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs) emerging from pillars of molecular hydrogen gas and dust. The giant pillars are light years in length and are so dense that interior gas contracts gravitationally to form stars. At each pillars' end, the intense radiation of bright young stars causes low density material to boil away, leaving stellar nurseries of dense EGGs exposed. The Eagle Nebula, associated with the open star cluster M16, lies about 7000 light years away. The pillars of creation were imaged again in 2007 by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared light, leading to the conjecture that the pillars may already have been destroyed by a local supernova, but light from that event has yet to reach the Earth.
Be Honest: Have you seen this image before?


An Ancient Stream Bank on Mars October 2, 2012
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS
Explanation: Fresh evidence of an ancient stream has been found on Mars. The robotic rover Curiosity has run across unusual surface features that carry a strong resemblance to stream banks on Earth. Visible in the above image, for example, is a small overhanging rock ledge that was quite possibly created by water erosion beneath. The texture of the ledge appears to be a sedimentary conglomerate, the dried remains of many smaller rocks stuck together. Beneath the ledge are numerous small pebbles, possibly made smooth by tumbling in and around the once-flowing stream. Pebbles in the streambed likely fell there as the bank eroded. Circled at the upper right is a larger rock possibly also made smooth by stream erosion. Curiosity has now discovered several indications of dried streambeds on Mars on its way to its present location where it will be exploring the unusual conjunction of three different types of landscape.


A Solar Filament Erupts September 17, 2012 
Image Credit: NASA's GSFC, SDO AIA Team
Explanation: What's happened to our Sun? Nothing very unusual -- it just threw a filament. At the end of last month, a long standing solar filament suddenly erupted into space producing an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The filament had been held up for days by the Sun's ever changing magnetic field and the timing of the eruption was unexpected. Watched closely by the Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the resulting explosion shot electrons and ions into the Solar System, some of which arrived at Earth three days later and impacted Earth's magnetosphere, causing visible aurorae. Loops of plasma surrounding an active region can be seen above the erupting filament in the ultraviolet image. If you missed this auroral display please do not despair -- over the next two years our Sun will be experiencing a solar maximum of activity which promises to produce more CMEs that induce more Earthly auroras.


Other pictures you might enjoy are Hurricane Paths on Planet Earth that show the path of every known hurricane round the globe since 1851.  Or see this dramatic view of a lightning storm around an erupting volcano: Ash and Lightning Above an Icelandic Volcano, taken during the 2010 volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier Iceland.  Also check out the Orion Nebula: The Hubble View and the Cats Eye Nebula.  The Astronomy Picture of the Day is always worth a visit.

To learn more visit the Astronomy Picture of the Day's Educational Links for a variety of sources appealing to every level of interest in astronomy.

To find books and dvds on astronomy in the library look in the section with the Dewey numbers 520 - 529, especially in the 523 section.

Nell M.
CATEGORIES: Science , Nell M.
POSTED: 12:12:00 AM |

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

April Showers

A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew, Photo by Scott Bauer of cherry tree blossoms near the Tidal Basin at Washington, D.C. from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/apr99/k5876-18.htm
A cloud, and a rainbow's warning,
Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue--
An April day in the morning.
- Harriet Prescott Spofford, April  

After a brief taste of summer, Mistress Weather returned us to a more typical spring season. Gardeners across the region are getting their hands dirty preparing vegetable gardens for planting and finding early annuals to bring color to April’s rainy days. My husband and I still have a LOT of work to do with the landscaping and yard around the house we bought last year and the work will probably take us a few years to make it as we dream it can be. We do plan to have a small kitchen garden this year, though, and I have been working my way through books about smaller gardens to figure out the best crops for my space. Now I just have to hope for a few days without rain so I can get the planting started…

Photo from NASA Image of the Day gallery at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_206.htmlRain is not the only form of shower to watch for in April. The Lyrid Meteor Shower happens in the skies April 20 – April 21, with best viewing predicted for pre-dawn hours. Set your alarm for 2:00 am (or just make it a “star party” and stay up all night!), grab a blanket and a lawn chair (or an old camping mattress like my mom and I used to do) and head outdoors to take in the show. Think it might be too bright in your neighborhood to see anything? Join the National Capital Astronomers group at their first Exploring the Sky event for 2012 on April 21. If you miss this one, don’t worry—there are other meteor showers throughout the year, most notably the Perseids in August.

CATEGORIES: Science , gardening , Tina R.
POSTED: 5:01:00 PM |

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Odds and Ends (Sometimes Really Odd)

animated MRI of a watermelon

After writing entries for this blog for over two years, I have learned to save links to
possible sites of interest as I discover them. When blog time rolls around, I check my
bookmarks and see if any themes emerge. Some things just don't fit anywhere, and this has left some oddments lingering in my files. Hey! Maybe that's a category in itself. So, just for fun, here are some sites I've come across in my travels through the Web and wanted to share.

Ever wondered what would happen if you mashed up a famous science fiction book with a famous picture book? Here it is--Goodnight Dune.

That is actutally a good book compared to the one I'm now  going to tell you about. Possibly the worst picture book ever written is Little Kettle-head by Helen Bannerman. Yes, the same Helen Bannerman who wrote and illustrated the controversial book Little Black Sambo. At least Little Black Sambo had a coherent plot--this one is plain weird. Little Kettle-head should be given to everyone who thinks they can write a children's book as an example of what not to do--not ever, ever.  It is so creepy that one doesn't know where to start to enumerate its failings. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. (Okay, I admit it--there were screams of laughter eminating from my office, once I was able to get my jaw off the floor. But I have a sick sense of humor.)

I think it's time to get back to the world of good books, now. Did you know that Tove Jansson of Moomintroll fame also illustrated The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien? Click on the first picture to enlarge it and use the arrows to move through the slideshow.

Speaking of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is number 10 in this list of Top Ten Most Overrated Novels. Maybe you don't agree with this list. Let them know--they appear to be still taking comments.

I've had many hamsters during my career as a children's librarian, and currently I have
hermit crabs in my office (don't ask) but, early on this year, The Library of Congress had a hawk take up residence in the main reading room.

One thing no library I've worked in has had--zombies. But you never know these days. When confronted with a zombie outbreak is your library prepared? Here's a  Zombie Emergency Prepardness Plan for libraries. 

Libraries have expanded the scope of their collections greatly over the years from new media formats to items such as puzzles and tools. This, however, takes the cake, although I'm vaguely disgusted to talk of food in the same breath as introducing you to the largest collection of belly button lint in the world. All together now: EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!  Way to go Graham Barker for further eroding the reputation of librarians.

Speaking of food and too much time on your hands (that was implied by the above example, right?) some people are creating animated MRI's of fruit to produce living fractiles. Yeah, you heard me. Cool, huh? There's one at the beginning of this blog post. That's a watermelon, believe it or not.

From the innerverse to the outerverse: Do you want to explore the universe and not leave the house? Try Celestia a free space simulation. Whew! I needed a break.

There, we've gone from the ridiculous to the sublime; science fiction to real science. Aren't you glad?


CATEGORIES: Science , Children , Books , Annette K.
POSTED: 2:46:00 PM |
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