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We have moved to Scienceblogs!

April 1, 2009 on 2:05 am | In Blog info | 163 Comments

To all of my fantastic readers, and you all are fantastic, I want to thank you for all of your support, your questions, your comments, and the information you’ve helped bring to the world during our time together here at!

Our new site is up and live over at Scienceblogs, and you can find us hereafter at:

Thanks for being such a wonderful part of the last 15 months! The archives will stay up here for anyone looking for any prior articles we’ve written and shared, and I will keep the threads open for comments (although I can’t promise I’ll respond in any sort of timely fashion). Finally, for your viewing pleasure on this fine April Fool’s Day, here’s my farewell video for Starts With A Bang at this site, and my premiere video for Starts With A Bang at scienceblogs!

And don’t forget to check back in a few months: there will be a book! (Eventually.)

It Begins…

March 30, 2009 on 1:22 pm | In Blog info, Evolution | 316 Comments

Well, it’s happening this week, folks! I’m going to make the move over to ScienceBlogs this week, and I will have a special good-bye video post this Wednesday.

In the meantime, to help you cope with your sadness, Ian O’Neill at AstroEngine has this week’s Carnival of Space, and I have an example of artificial selection for you, duck-style:

The ones who are good at navigating metal grates survive to adulthood; the others, not so much. Yikes.

I’ll Make Ya Famous!

March 12, 2009 on 11:17 am | In Blog info, Random Stuff | 261 Comments

Well, it was bound to happen. We’ve been around for just about 14 months now, and as of right now, we have 306 posts (including this one), 1,735 comments, and 271,834 pageviews. Not bad for something that started, legitimately, because I was simply interesting in telling you about these things — astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and the Universe — that I found too fascinating to keep to myself.

Things like planets and stars:

Like galaxies and clusters of galaxies:

and like dark matter, dark energy, and the effects of gravity.

Well, I’ve really enjoyed doing it so far, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading it! Because I have news for you. Ever hear of ScienceBlogs?

One of my favorite science blogs, The Intersection, lives there, as do many others, such as one about (mostly) quantum physics, one about science, society and politics, and a uniquely irate biologist. Well, guess who’s been invited to move over there?

That’s right, kids; someday soon, Starts With A Bang will be joining forces with Scienceblogs to help bring you all the stories you’re used to seeing here. But I need some help — I need a banner! I can make one myself, but I’m not nearly as artistic as many of you are. So, let’s have a banner-designing contest, and the winner will get their banner for the new Starts With A Bang displayed all over our new site! The only restrictions are that it must display the words “Starts With A Bang” somewhere, and it must be 756 x 95 pixels. The best I can do on my own is something like this:

But this is your chance to help out; send suggestions and submissions to me (address is on the Q & A Page), and I’ll let you know when the big switchover takes place!

Happy New Year(s)!

December 31, 2008 on 8:36 am | In Astronomy, Blog info | 14 Comments

It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve here in my city. The New Year means a lot of things to me, and probably to you, too. But what does it mean to an astronomer?

If you look at the Sun and Earth from outside, one year is when the Earth goes through one complete cycle of solstices and equinoxes. This means that the amount of sunlight the Earth gets goes through one complete cycle in a year. This is called a tropical year, and it’s how we build our calendar on Earth. This is also the amount of time it takes for the Sun’s path through the Earth’s sky to go through one complete cycle: rising to its maximum height (summer solstice), falling to its minimum height (winter solstice), and then beginning to rise again.

But there’s another way for scientists to measure a year, different than the way we do it on Earth. Since the Earth revolves around the Sun, we can measure the amount of time it takes the Earth to make one complete orbit, returning to the same position in the sky relative to the Sun. This is called a sidereal year, and this is more useful for measuring the positions of all the stars other than the Sun in the sky. Because the Earth revolves, rotates, and also precesses (below), a sidereal year and a tropical year are not exactly the same length.

What is precession? Gravity causes the Sun to pull on the Earth. But the “daylight” part of the Earth is always closer to the Sun than the “nighttime” part. Gravity is stronger when things are closer, so there’s more force on one side of the Earth than the other. This unbalanced force causes the Earth to “wobble” in its orbit, causing what’s known as the precession of the equinoxes. This also causes a sidereal year and a tropical year to be different. Not by a lot, mind you, but over the span of a little more than 20,000 years, we will have one “extra” tropical year for every sidereal year that we have, since Earth’s elliptical orbit around the Sun is precessing, too. What does that look like? Check it out:

If we wanted to report it in seconds, one tropical year (also known as “one year”) takes 31,556,925.2 seconds, while one sidereal year takes 31,558,149.8 seconds. This makes a sidereal year longer by 20 minutes and 24.6 seconds. This also means that in 25,769 sidereal years, we will experience 25,770 tropical years, and the equinoxes will have precessed a complete 360 degrees.

And finally, on a related note, I’d like to thank you for reading my website with me throughout the year. This was my very first year doing this, and I think it’s worked out well for me! I hope it has for you, too, and so I’m going to keep it up and keep writing for it next year, too. Since this started in January of 2008, we’ve gotten over 125,000 visits to the site, and seem to be getting a little over 20,000 per month at this point. I’ve screen-captured my visitors data and put it up below for you to see:

So thank you, and Happy New Year! Here’s wishing you good health, lots of happiness and overall, that you and your loved ones be physically, mentally, and intellectually well for 2009.

What it means to miss Academia

July 15, 2008 on 9:45 am | In Blog info, Random Stuff | 5 Comments

Although I don’t regularly write on Tuesdays or Thursdays anymore, I read this article that was posted by Rob Knop, a very bright an affable man, who recently resigned from academia after 17 years as an astronomer. The article is too good to not write about.

Rob goes into a lot of personal detail about his life, the achievements and disappointments that he’s had along the way, and gives a lot of insight into a world that few people outside of the field know much about. He talks about the pressures of obtaining funding, and the frustration of having your perceived success determined by things that are beyond your control.

And these are things that I’m thinking about now during my job search. Do I want to stay in academia? Would a position at a small, teaching college suit me? Would I be happier in government or industry instead?

And yet it isn’t being at a big-name research institute that Rob misses. (Although there are plenty of academics who covet just that.) It isn’t even the cutting-edge research. In his own words, this is what he really misses:

Most of all, though, I really miss the teaching and the interacting with students. This does not surprise me one bit; I expected this. I really liked the teaching. I really love the basics of Physics and Astronomy, and while research and pushing the frontiers was a love of mine, it paled compared to how much I loved re-exploring it and helping others discover it. I am sad, and wistful, that a couple of years ago when I was interviewing at small liberal-arts colleges, I didn’t get an offer from either Pomona or Gettysburg, both of which were places I would have loved to take a job. I’m sad that because of financial and family reasons I wasn’t able to take the offer I did get at St. John’s/St. Benedict’s. For, deep down inside, I still understand that my true calling is to be teaching physics and astronomy to motivated and interested students at the college level. Part of me fantasizes that one day Fisk University or Belmont University, both here in town, will call me up and ask me to come teach there, offering me tenure and a salary that will allow my wife and I to continue to live in the house we live in right now. (Go on, laugh; it’s just an idle dream.)

And this is one of the most difficult parts to accept; just like I do, Rob loves exploring, understanding, and helping others understand just what this Universe is, and how it works the way it does. There just isn’t enough demand to make that pay a reasonable salary to most of the people who are qualified to do just that. So Rob now works for Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life. I wonder how many of you have similar experiences/joys/frustrations with your own work? I certainly have.

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