Book Review: Death from the Skies!

Death from the Skies! was written by Phil Plait who is a very famous astronomer and writer. This guy is cool. He’s actually the author of Bad Astronomy, a book that debunks various misconceptions of space (i.e. the moon hoax, or sound in space). Really good book, and now he writes a blog for discover magazine, which you can follow here. On Google Reader I share his articles all the time (follow me), the guy is hilarious and informative all at the same time.

Anyway, THIS book is amazing. In Death from the Skies!, Plait writes all about the various ways the universe is trying to kill us. Maybe your first thought goes to an asteroid impact..yup that’s in there. What about something crazy like…I dunno…an alien civilization completely wiping out life in the galaxy. Yup that’s also there. Each chapter is dedicated to a different cosmic murderer and how its unique arsenal would bring about destruction on our little tiny planet.

At the beginning of each chapter, Plait writes a small passage from the eyes of some unsuspecting average person on earth during the cataclysmal events. Here he says what it would be like to see an asteroid hit earth, or what it would be like to observe a blackhole moving through our solar system. Then he dives deep into the science of exactly HOW that event would attack us and most likely kill us. Now, as the late great Douglas Adams once wrote, ‘DON’T PANIC.’ Plait’s years of experience of translating the technical mumbo-jumbo of science for the public serves him well, and in Death from the Skies! he doesn’t disappoint. He quite accurately describes each event in detail, but in a way that everyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a professional astronomer or a professional dog groomer, you’ll find this book accessible.

My personal favourite, is death by death of the universe. Probably the most interesting part of the book. Being a astronomer (in training) myself, things like supernovae and gamma ray bursts showering the earth with X-rays and Gamma rays were very interesting, but things I’ve heard of and studied before. What I haven’t really read about is theories on how the universe itself will die. It’s an amazing chapter to say the least.

In summary, great book. I would recommend to everyone. Even if you know lots about space, reading about how a supernova might destroy the Earth is always interesting. Enjoy!

Hubble on Steroids

On May 11 2009 NASA performed its 4th and final servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope. Today actually marks the 20th anniversary of Hubble Operations in space, and it is arguably had the biggest impact in astronomy over any other piece of equipment. Since it’s SO old, the 4 servicing missions were required to keep the instruments on board HST doing cutting edge science. The most recent mission kick started an old instrument that had been broken, and added a new instrument called the Wide Field Camera 3. Just to jog your memory, Hubble is responsible for the famous pillars of creation image taken from the Eagle Nebula (and that image was taken in 1995). That’s an impressive shot….and it was 1995.

Fast forward to 2010, and the new WFC3 does not disappoint. NASA just released some new images of the Carina Nebula that they are calling the ‘The Eagle Nebula on Steroids.’ I cannot believe the detail in this image. Doesn’t it feel like you’re sitting right beside the nebula as the gases and dust twist and turn together?
I know what you’re thinking. What did the Carina Nebula look like with the OLD camera? Well back in 2007, Hubble shot the same region with the Advanced Camera for Surveys, here’s the image:
Definitely worth the upgrade…

York Observatory and New Building Resurrection