March 31, 2008

Last Place

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but the Rangers are now in last place where I'm afraid that they will spend the majority if not the entirety of the season (of course, I am hoping otherwise). It's actually kind of nice to enter a season with incredibly low expectations, none of that false Spring Training hope. Even perennial Ranger fan/media types around here are talking in a very bleak tone about this season, and that suits me fine.

I was actually amazed to see them have enough plate discipline to drive up Bedard's pitch count to chase him early today. Of course, they didn't do much better against the bullpen, but my God, if this team can finally after decades learn the value of working the count and taking a fucking walk, it would be fun to watch. Millwood looked sharp, but let's see his numbers by June. I think if the Rangers fall back again, he'll go back to his don't-give-a-shit ways and start getting shelled regularly. More than one columnist around here has hinted darkly at Millwood's lack of work ethic last season, which is really a rare thing to be reported around here. Either Millwood made media enemies or he really was a legendary golfer/loafer.

Lots of people are high on Jason Botts, but everytime I saw him get playing time last year, he looked clueless in the outfield and badly overmatched at the plate (he can't play 1b and hit like he did last year). I'd rather see Shrek (Kevin Mench) out there more regularly along with more of Marlon Byrd, who always impressed me last season.

Posted by Observer at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

Will's Law

Wow, an idea that George Will came up with that I actually like. I would love to see this incorporated into law: If your company is receiving some kind of government subsidy, such as the oil companies or Bear Stearns or what have you, that the total compensation of any company executive is CAPPED at something like $100 or $150k, including options and other benefits.

I agree with Will that this is one thing that would definitely stop companies from asking for corporate welfare from Washington. Can we start calling "Bear Stearns" a "welfare queen in a Cadillac" yet?

Posted by Observer at 02:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2008


13-year-old Cody is a real big skateboard freak right now. Part of that is because ever since he started piling up failing grades in school, we have taken away his electronics privileges. Hell, the kid doesn't even have his iPod now because he took it to school against our advice and had it taken up until the end of the semester. The rule around the house is that you only get TV/game privileges if you are passing everything. The other two have been consistently passing all year except for one brief hiccup for the oldest in Spanish.

Anyway, part of being a skateboard kid is having skateboard shoes. Apparently, when I was growing up in tennis shoes, I wasn't supposed to be able to skateboard and go to skateboard parks and do tricks and all that stuff. Somehow, though, I managed the impossible. Cody is of the opinion that if he isn't wearing skateboard shoes, he simply cannot function. Ok, fine, I'm willing to pay about 40 bucks for shoes anytime the kids need them. If he wants 70 dollar skateboard shoes, he can pay the difference.

Problem is, he has no money. He spent his last 30 bucks a few months ago on his first pair, and he hasn't been able to save up any money since despite a generous weekly allowance. He keeps complaining that I won't buy him new shoes, and I tell him that if he wants new shoes that cost 70, he simply has to save up 30, and it's a deal. So he wore his shoes out about 4-6 weeks ago, and they've been held together by duct tape ever since, more or less. He refuses to wear the brand new athletic shoes I bought him (that even resemble the skate shoes) a month or two before we bought the skate shoes.

So he keeps trying to save up money, but he can't seem to do it. The other day, while skateboarding, he crashed into the van and broke the tail light. That's a $115 repair, and I'm sitting at the car dealership right now getting it fixed. Ooops, they just called and finished the repair, so more on this saga later. Good thing the dealership has internet.

Posted by Observer at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2008


Today, the faintest member of the zodiac, the constellation Cancer the Crab. According to Star Tales, Cancer is a minor character in the story of Hercules. The location of Cancer in the sky is such that in ancient times, the Sun was in Cancer on the date of the summer solstice. Hence, the line of latitude on Earth corresponding to the Sun's celestial latitude is known as the Tropic of Cancer. In modern times, the summer solstice location has moved into Taurus due to the Earth's precession.

Alpha Cancri is Acubens (from the Arabic for claw), but it isn't quite the brightest star in this constellation. Problem is, the handful of relatively bright stars in Cancer are all 4th magnitude or fainter, making this constellation invisible from even the outskirts of a lighted city. This is a hot binary star, actually a quadruple system, with another tight low mass pair orbiting at a great distance. Beta Cancri is Al Tarf, which translates to "the end" as it is at the end of one of the legs of the crab. This is an orange giant star, about 700 times the luminosity of our Sun and 50 times its diameter, but it is about 300 light years away and so very faint compared to the very similar star Aldebaran in Taurus which is only 60 light years away.

55 Cancri is a very faint sun-like star near the Northern end of the crab. What distinguishes it from the other stars is the presence of several planets in orbit, five in all, including one with a rather low (minimum) estimated mass of 11 Earth masses. That's a minimum because we don't know the inclination of the orbit so it could be a much more massive planet in a highly inclined orbit. Two other stars of mythological interest are found near the center of the Crab, bracketing "the manger" of stars known as the Beehive Cluster.

These stars are Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, which translate quite literally to the Northern and Southern Ass. They represent two donkeys that the Greek Gods Dionysius and Silenus rode into a battle between gods and giants. The giants were so startled by the sounds of the braying donkeys that they fled the battle, and so the gods honored the donkeys by putting them in an important place in the sky.

This brings us to the obvious place to start with deep sky objects in Cancer: Messier 44, an open galactic cluster known by many names, including the Beehive Cluster and Praesepe. The name Praesepe translates from the Latin for "manger" or "crib". This designation may come from the older term "stall" meant for the two donkey stars above and below it that I mentioned previously. Its true nature wasn't known until Galileo trained his telescope on this region of the sky and resolved this faint cloud into dozens of stars (we now know with deeper images and analysis that this cluster contains over 200 stars).

Praesepe is about 600 light years away, and a little less than a billion years old, and it shares both an age and proper motion with the Hyades cluster in the constellation Taurus. Though these clusters are widely separated (by about 500 light years), there is speculation that they are linked and perhaps formed from the same collapsing cloud at the same time.

About seven degrees due north of the Beehive is the remnant of a two or three galaxy collision known as NGC 2623. This faint object shows two clear nuclei (one elongated, so maybe it is two nuclei itself) and two sweeping tidal tails. It is about 70 million light years distant, so despite being a fairly bright starburst galaxy (as a result of the merger), it is extremely faint at 14th magnitude but quite a nice looking object for larger telescopes.

Also looking from the Beehive, if you follow a line about 10 degrees East of South for about eight degrees, you will run into the other Messier object in Cancer, M67. This is classified as an open galactic cluster, and as we've seen throughout the constellation series, most such clusters by an age of 1 billion years have been so disrupted by tidal forces within the disk of the galaxy that they are nearly unrecognizable as clusters. M67 sports an age of about 4 billion years! This cluster has roughly 500 stars (including nearly 200 white dwarf stellar remnants) and is located nearly 3000 light years away. How it has survived for so long remains a mystery.

Proceeding about 5 degrees Southeast from M67, we come to the final deep sky object I'll cover, the tightly wound spiral galaxy NGC 2775, about 20 million light years distant (at least, according to the redshift, though my linked source claims 60 million light years) and so much brighter than NGC 2623 by almost four magnitudes. For some reason, this galaxy has been something of a supernova factory, with five supernovae observed here within the past 30 years. In the image, you can also see a little cluster of galaxies much more distant. Such clusters literally blanket the sky at much fainter magnitudes, as the Hubble Deep Field showed.

Posted by Observer at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)

March 27, 2008

How the Machine Works

Bill in Portland Maine shows us how the Right Wing Noise Machine works:

It starts with an innocent sentence fragment plucked like a ripe tomato from a broader statement:

"For the first time, I have seen Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus in agreement."

[Click] The Rube Goldberg machine activates.

Someone sends a tip to Drudge, who catapults it with one of his little flashing sissy lights. Red State, Instapundit and Powerline howl: How DARE those traitorous liberals besmirch the good name of General Petraeus by comparing him to Osama bin Laden! Never mind the context, there are some things in this country that are just flat-out unacceptable. This is so typical of the Blame-America-First crowd and an insult to the troops! Sign the petition!!!

Michelle Malkin finds the statement so odious that she pulls her cheerleader costume out of mothballs and tears up her lawn doing a spastic loony dance.

Fox News picks it up. The screen crawl slithers by every three minutes:


The surrogates---O'Reilly, Morris, Hannity, Cavuto, Barnes, et al---swarm. "Shameless!" "Treason!" "They're helping the terrorists win!" they shout.

Rush Limbaugh, who doesn't really give a crap, goes on a multi-day tirade, knowing that the fracas will translate into more money for him.

Stories appear in Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times and Rupert Murdoch's New York Post: UNHINGED! Liberals Reignite "General Betray Us" Campaign In Attempt To Doom Surge!+

CNN and MSNBC, not wanting to miss out on the drama, pick up the story. Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs sob openly. Joe Lieberman claims Democrats are responsible for the deaths of all 4,001 American troops in Iraq and then, just before he plugs the GOP Happy Caribbean Fun Cruise hosted by Tom DeLay, calls for an end to the bipartisan bickering "that the Democrats started."

The cascade continues as The Washington Post and The New York Times report on the "story." Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack suggest the irresponsible statement has set back the training of the Iraqi forces by at least six months. The AP's Nedra Pickler provides balanced analysis by interviewing the founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Dick Cheney. Then the networks weigh in---the anchors reflecting the seriousness of the situation with their solemn tones and furrowed brows. Their eyes say it all: "Awful...just awful." Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom Watch unleashes a 'down' arrow: "Surge savior savaged---again!---by ax-grinding libs. Al Qaeda to send flowers to DNC?"

President Bush calls the statement "cowardly" and says the only way to make up for such heinous rhetoric is another $100 billion emergency supplemental for Iraq and retroactive immunity for all registered Republicans and their supporters.

And then the cherry is placed lovingly on top of the shit sundae as the House and Senate condemn the statement with official resolutions.

Just one inconvenient hitch: a Democrat didn’t say it. John McCain did.

Nothing to see here. Please move along.

Don't forget, though, that despite all of this, the traditional media is still ultra super liberal with Communist tendencies, and they'll stop at nothing to push the anti-war hippie socialist gay agenda every chance they get.

Posted by Observer at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2008

Lunar Tour

Every once in a while, I would like to take some time out from constellations to talk about what the Moon will be doing this month. As the Moon moves through the sky, it stays fairly close to the Ecliptic (the sun's apparent annual path on the sky) and so tends to move through various zodiacal constellations. Right now, the Moon is moving through Scorpio, and over the next couple of nights, it will occult several moderately bright stars in that constellation. At around 1am on Thu Mar 27, the waning crescent moon will just be rising above the Eastern horizon, right next to the globular cluster M4 (the closest globular cluster to Earth, at a distance of about 7000 light years) and very close to the brightest star in Scorpio, Antares. These occultations are of interest to professional astronomers because they provide a way to reveal the detailed structure of these stars as they quickly (but not too quickly) vanish behind the limb of the Moon.

On Friday March 28 in the evening, the Moon will be moving through the constellation Sagittarius, and it will eclipse the open cluster NGC 2775, in a region of the sky dense with stars near the direction toward the center of the Milky Way galaxy. About 36 hours later, just before sunrise on Sun Mar 30, the waning crescent Moon will have a close approach to Jupiter, about 6-7 degrees above and to the right of the Moon. Early in the morning on Wed Apr 2, the Moon will be moving through Capricorn and will pass within a degree of Neptune a couple of hours after midnight. New Moon will occur on Sat Apr 5, when the Moon passes within a few degrees of the Sun in the constellation Pisces, and just a day later, the Moon will pass very close to the very nice face on spiral galaxy Messier 74, also in Pisces. This will be very hard to observe, though, as when the Sun sets, the Moon will only be a few degrees above the horizon.

While in Pisces, the Moon will pass in quick succession the planets Uranus, Venus and Mercury, all found very close to the Sun in the sky at this time. After a quick pass through Aries, the (now waxing crescent) Moon moves into Taurus and plows right through the wonderful Pleiades cluster during the evening hours. During this time, the crescent moon will be faint enough that you should still be able to see the cluster, and you can see for yourself that even though the Pleiades looks very small on the sky, it is *still* bigger than the moon's angular diameter. In another few days, late in the evening of Fri Apr 12, the Moon will be in Gemini and approaching the planet Mars on the sky. Closest approach won't occur until just after the First Quarter moon sets at midnight.

On Sun Apr 13, the now gibbous Moon will be close to the heart of the constellation Cancer the Crab. It will actually occult the famous Beehive Cluster (also known as Praesepe or Messier 44) during daylight hours. Since the Beehive is so close to the Ecliptic, all of the planets pass through or close to this cluster on occasion, making it a well-known target for amateurs. Two days later, a few hours before sunrise and just before the Moon sets, if you look off toward the Western horizon at around 3-4 am on the morning of Tue Apr 15, you will see a very nice lineup of the Moon, the star Regulus (in Leo) and the planet Saturn as the Moon tries to repeat the show it put on for the recent lunar eclipse.

On the evening of Sat Apr 19, you will be able to find the full moon very close in the sky to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Remember from a couple of weeks ago how to find Spica using the handle stars of the Big Dipper? Follow the Arc to Arcturus, then speed on to Spica. A few days later, and we're back to a waning gibbous Moon within Scorpio, and we've completed a solar month's (29.5 days) tour through the constellations of the zodiac and close to all of the other planets (no surprise there, since all of the planet orbits, like the Moon's orbit, are fairly close to the plane of the ecliptic).

Posted by Observer at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2008


With all of the attention paid to Obama's reverend Wright over the past few weeks, I wondered how much attention had really been paid to the reverend Hagee (the one who thinks of the Catholic church as the Great Whore), whose endorsement was sought out by the McCain campaign. Here is the answer:

The New York Times’ Deborah Solomon chatted with notorious televangelist John Hagee this week for an interview that ran in today’s NYT Sunday magazine. Hagee, of course, is best known as a bigoted mega-church leader in Texas, whom John McCain embraced and campaigned with.

This exchange from the interview stood out for me.

Solomon: As a prominent evangelical pastor based in San Antonio, you were recently catapulted into national controversy when you endorsed Senator John McCain for president. Is it true that McCain actively sought your endorsement?

Hagee: It’s true that McCain’s campaign sought my endorsement.

Now, there’s some news value, I suppose, in Hagee’s acknowledgement, but that’s not the part that irks me.

Instead, it was the question. Solomon prefaced her question by noting that Hagee was “catapulted into national controversy.” I’m not necessarily blaming Solomon, but I don’t think that’s even remotely true. I wish Hagee had been “catapulted into national controversy,” but thanks to political reporters, including those at Solomon’s own paper, that didn’t happen.

Using Nexis and Google News, I went ahead and did another search this morning. How many of the nation’s largest daily newspapers ran stand-alone articles about McCain’s outreach to a bigoted and nutty televangelist?

Here’s the list:

Washington Post — Zero

New York Times — Zero

Los Angeles Times — Zero

Boston Globe — Zero

Chicago Tribune — Zero

USA Today — Zero

Wall Street Journal — Zero

Now, to be fair, in a couple of instances, some of these papers made brief reference to the flap in editorials or columns. More recently, a couple of the dailies ran huge stories about Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, and made brief reference therein to “questions” about McCain’s Hagee association.

But despite condemnations from the Speaker of the House, the chairman of the DNC, Catholic groups on the left, Catholic groups on the right, and Jewish groups, none of the major dailies ran a single article about the Republican presidential nominee cozying up to a bigoted megachurch preacher or the outrage it caused in some circles.

As such, Hagee wasn’t “catapulted into national controversy.” He should have been, but political reporters collectively decided to give him a pass, for reasons that are still unclear.

Time once again for a big "thanks" to the "ultra-liberal left-wing socialist" media. Or something.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

Angry Shareholders

Ok, this I don't get. Apparently, bankers are asking the Fed (that is, taxpayers) to pony up more money to buy Bear Stearns because "angry shareholders" want more money for their stock.

Uh, excuse me? It's nice to want things, and I agree that BS shareholders should be "angry", but being angry does not mean getting what you want. I don't want to pay for your stupidity if you owned a bunch of BS stock. Be angry all you want, but don't ask *ME* to placate you. I didn't get you into this mess.

I'm sure there's a lot more complexity here that I'm missing, but isn't the bottom line that taxpayers are being asked to cover the losses on risky investments? No thanks!

Posted by Observer at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2008

Double Click

Paul Krugman has a very good column (that you may have to login for, sorry) about the shadow banking system and our current economic mess. His main point is that long ago, the government agreed to bail out the banks if the banks would agree to us regulating the risks they took, but now a lot of the risk is in unregulated institutions that we are now bailing out, and do you think they'll accept new regulations in the current political climate? Or do you think they'll continue to try to privatize profits and socialize losses?

Anyway, a neat feature of the article and the Times now is that you can double click on any word in the article, and a little window opens up with a dictionary definition of the word.

Posted by Observer at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)


Now for another constellation wayyyy down near the Southern horizon in the Spring, right next to Pyxis. Again, though, this is the best (only) time of year it is visible during the evening. This is the constellation Antlia, the air pump (antlia pneumatica, formally). Air pump? Yes, this is one of a set of constellations created by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille to fill in blank areas of the sky, all of which are named after scientific instruments. Obviously, there is no mythology associated with it, and there are no exceptional stars here, just a few interesting deep sky objects.

Unfortunately, there are no bright star patterns anywhere near here, so the best direction I can give you is similar to what I gave for Pyxis. Follow the arc of the back of Canis Major from Sirius and through the tail of Wezen and Aludra. About 20 degrees East along the Southern horizon is Pyxis, and then another 25 degrees East of Alpha Pyxidis is Alpha Antliae, a (barely) 4th magnitude star. About 3-4 degrees due south of this star is a pair of galaxies we'll look at first.

NGC 3258 and NGC 3268 are a pair of faint but enormous elliptical galaxies that are at the heart of a nearby cluster of galaxies known as the Antlia cluster, the third nearest cluster to our Local Group behind the Virgo and Fornax clusters, about 32 million light years away (compare to Andromeda's distance of 2 million light years). There are 234 galaxies in this little region of the sky at last count, but only the two giant ellipticals are attainable through small telescopes.

About 2 degrees Southeast of this pair is the spiral galaxy NGC 3347, pictured here in a negative print, a spiral galaxy with rather extended arms with lots of clearly defined star formation regions. Moving about 6 degrees WSW from the Antlia cluster (or 10 degrees Southwest of Alpha Antliae), we have one of the two nicest objects here, the planetary nebula NGC 3132, the Eight-Burst Nebula. This nebula is half a light year in diameter and about 2000 light years away.

The final nice object in this region of the sky is found about 10 degrees WNW of Alpha Antliae, and this is the very nice spiral galaxy NGC 2997. If you follow that link, be sure to click on the deeper image that shows just how far the neutral gas extends beyond the visible border of the galaxy. For a much larger and prettier image of this galaxy, follow this link to see just how far you can trace the ghostly arms into the blackness of the surrounding night.

Posted by Observer at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2008


The constellation Pyxis is probably the Southernmost constellation I intend to cover. Constellations further south are at least partially or in some cases totally blocked by the horizon at all times of the year, but Pyxis is just above the Southern horizon in evenings during the Spring, and I want to be thorough. And even minor constellations have interesting objects in them to look at!

So... Pyxis represents the compass of a larger ship that was once the sprawling constellation Argo Navis but was divided into Pyxis (the compass), Carina (the keel), Puppis (the poop deck), and Vela (the sails). The top of the ship can be found by proceeding Southward around the horizon following the shallow arc of stars along the back of Canis Major. From Sirius to Wezen to Aludra, you follow this arc through Puppis about 20 degrees around the horizon until you are facing due South (in the Spring), and you will be looking at the 4th magnitude star Alpha Pyxidis, a hot B star that is dimmed somewhat by all of the gas and dust along our line of sight through the disk of the Milky Way.

Probably the most interesting star in this constellation is the variable star T Pyxidis, which has quite a story to tell. T Pyx is about 6000 light years away and is a cataclysmic variable (CV), a kind of star I actually did some research on and published about in graduate school. CV's are eclipsing binary systems in which a giant star is transferring its matter to a white dwarf companion, leading to a wildly varying light curve (hence the name), much greater in amplitude than a typical eclipsing binary. Every so often, the matter on the surface of the white dwarf will attain a high enough density and temperature that it will ignite (fuse), creating a burst of energy called a nova.

These repeat but not completely predictably since each eruption changes the parameters of the system slightly. T Pyx has gone off in 1890, 1902, 1920, 1944 and 1967, so in some sense we can say it is overdue to erupt by about 20 years. Astronomers expect that because the interval between outbursts is so long, we should be in store for a very bright outburst this time as more fuel has been able to build up on the white dwarf. This star was recently a target of the Hubble Space Telescope as astronomers were trying to understand the behavior of the shells of expelled material surrounding this star and figure out how to predict when the next blast would occur. That was 10 years ago, and still no blast!

Astronomers believe that such a nova eruption may be responsible for the biblical Star of Bethlehem phenomenon, a long story for another time, but T Pyx is likely too faint and in the wrong part of the sky to account for this legend, in my opinion.

There are a couple of deep sky objects here. First, a nice image of NGC 2613, a nearly edge-on spiral galaxy about 60 million light years away with a faint bar feature, very similar in size and type to our own Millky Way. This is found about 10 degrees due North of Alpha Pyx and 2 degrees West. There is also an open galactic cluster here known as NGC 2818, very low on the Southern horizon, about 8 degrees East of Alpha Pyx and 5 degrees South. Within it is a small but striking planetary nebula known as PN 261+8.1.

Posted by Observer at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2008

Early Easter

I think every astronomer is, at some level, a calendar nerd. After all, Astronomy is what we've used throughout history to tell the time and date. So it is fitting that Astroprof has an informative post explaining why Easter is so early this year and why the date moves around as it does.

In other church-related news, I've informed my pastor that just on the off chance I end up running for office someday, he is no longer allowed to say anything during his sermons that might be construed by anyone as possibly offensive or controversial. He promised in good humor that he would do his best.

I love how this stuff on Obama's pastor has appeared on wingnut radar the instant any of them might have started to feel uncomfortable about their Sacred Tax Dollars funding the bailout by rich white guys of rich white guys and for rich white guys. Here, wingnuts, look at this shiny over here and let's make sure you keep voting against your economic interests.

Posted by Observer at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)


The constellation Monoceros is the faintest large constellation in the sky, sandwiched between Canis Major, Canis Minor and Orion. The brightest stars in this constellation are about 4th magnitude, making this constellation invisible from any decent-sized city, but as the band of the Milky Way passes right through the middle, you can be sure there are plenty of neat deep sky objects in this region, including two of the most famous and photgraphed nebulae. Like Camelopardalis, this is a constellation that was squeezed into the map of the celestial sphere to help fill out all regions of the sky by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius.

Perhaps the most visually interesting of the three "brightest" stars in this constellation is Beta Mon, which is actually a close triple of three nearly identical stars. This triple system was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, and he praised its beauty very highly. While it doesn't really hold a candle to all of the beautiful, highly processed deep images we can get today, you have to remember that back then with poor quality telescopes that couldn't really make out much nebulosity in the sky, systems with multiple bright stars were the best thing going. Much of the emphasis in Astronomy at that time was discovering and recording the properties of binary and multiple star systems. The three stars in Beta Mon are all blue-white A stars, with two stars in a close orbit and the third looping around in a much more distant orbit. All three orbit very quickly and so throw off gaseous disks of hot material that is pervasive in this system.

Another star of note in this constellation is HR 2422, also known as Plaskett's Star, named after the astronomer who discovered it and studied its properties in 1922. Few stars are actually named after Astronomers, but those that are tend to be very faint and peculiar in some way. Astronomers wouldn't stand for a star like Rigel to be named Sagan's Star are anything like that. Names are reserved for peculiar stars that only dedicated amateurs or professionals would ever really look at. As you might imagine, Astronomers take a dim view of the whole business of selling star names to the public for a price.

Anyway, Plaskett's star is a close binary system consisting of two extremely massive and hot O stars in orbit around each other every two weeks or so. The separation is fairly close to the same separation as the Sun and Mercury, nearly 50 million miles apart. We don't know the masses precisely because the system is tilted far enough from our line of sight that we see no eclipses, so we have to guess at just how fast it is moving compared to its measureable Doppler shift. Our best guess is a combined mass in the neighborhood of 100 solar masses (!). This is easy to find, being just Northeast of the famous Rosette Nebula, and it is very likely associated with the open cluster of stars (NGC 2244) at the center of the Rosette, perhaps ejected from that region due to a gravitational interaction thousands of years ago. The distance is around 4500 light years.

For the deep sky objects in Monoceros, I'll start on the Eastern end and work west. Roughly at the location of the Unicorn's horn, about halfway between Procyon and Betelgeuse (and a few degrees North of this midpoint), we find a huge complex of gas, dust and forming stars in the region of the Cone Nebula and the Snowflake Cluster. The cone nebula shows the effect of an enormously powerful stellar wind clearing out a bubble of gas and dust except in one direction, where the wind is blocked by the smaller bubble of another forming star. So in the wake of that forming star, there is a cone-shaped dust cloud protected from the stellar winds, outlined on either side by a bright ionization front from less powerful surrounding starlight.

Here is a somewhat larger view of the region, showing the star S Mon also in the field of view, and this red image is a similar view but mainly emphasizing the Hydrogen emission from the region, which makes the details of the nearby Fox Fur nebula very visible. For a much closer look at the Fox Fur Nebula, see this image. Similar to the Cone Nebula, the Fox Fur nebula is a thick cloud of gas and dust being pushed around by a nearby bright star, and the cloud's edges are illuminated by surrounding stars and reflected starlight, making for a distinct and interesting shape.

For an even larger view of this region, see this image. Here, the Cone Nebula, S Mon and the Fox Fur Nebula are all over on the left edge, and you can also see some other nearby objects of interest in Monoceros. Among them is the old open cluster Trumpler 5, a cluster slowly breaking up due to gravitational interactions with surrounding objects in the galactic disk. Over on the left of the image is the bright reflection nebula (seen in a much larger image here) known as IC 2169, a cloud of gas and dust in the background reflecting much of the blue light from the bright cluster of newly formed stars in the foreground.

Also barely visible in the image is the ghostly comet-like object known as Hubble's Variable Nebula, also known as NGC 2661. This is a reflection nebula associated with the variable star R Mon. What's unusual about this nebula is that it changes its appearance on very short timescales, sometimes a matter of days or weeks. This is thought to be due to thick knots of dust that pass close to the illuminating star and cast shadows on the reflection nebula. I should mention a bit more about the two stars here while I'm thinking about it.

The name S Mon gives away the fact that this is a (slightly) variable star. Actually, two massive stars in relatively close orbit around each other at a distance of about 2500 light years, and they are the centerpiece of the enormous OB association of hot, young stars at the core of the huge cloud of gas and dust. Meanwhile, R Mon (which lights up Hubble's Variable Nebula) is a T Tauri star that also varies by a couple of magnitudes (which is a factor of about 10 in linear units). T Tauri stars are stars that are still in the process of forming and huge very powerful stellar winds. Like many T Tauri stars, R Mon has a dusty disk of gas and dust, perhaps a precursor to eventual planetary formation.

Next, the Rosette Nebula region in the constellation Monoceros. First, a nice image of the Rosette Nebula, a beautiful cloud of glowing Hydrogen gas lit up by a central cluster of massive, hot, young (if you consider four million years old "young", which astronomers do) stars. If only our eyes were sensitive enough, we would see that the glowing gas clouds here span an area of the night sky equivalent to five full moons. And the central bright region of the cloud, though spectacular, isn't where all of the star forming activity is found.

For that, you would need to slew your view a few degrees to the South, into the thickness of the background dust cloud. Deep within that cloud, little knots of gas and dust are swirling and collapsing and forming new stars. We can't see this optically, but the emission from such regions can be seen using radio telescopes. Radio waves are long enough that they don't get scattered by the cloud as they leave the star forming region, and so we look for very low energy emissions in the radio band from molecules such as Carbon Monoxide, which are extremely rare in interstellar space but are found very commonly in the densest parts of molecular clouds. Carbon Monoxide is a great tracer of ongoing star formation because it is a great tracer of the densest, coldest parts of the clouds which are close to collapsing.

This nebula measures about 100 light years across and is located at a distance of about 5000 light years. It is on the front edge of a giant molecular cloud, and you can see some of that cloud due to the light reflecting off of it from the bright cluster of stars at the center of the Rosette. Another view of this nebula emphasizes emission lines from Oxygen and Sulfur ions, which are found in the hottest parts of the clouds. Another closer image in a similar style reveals the details of thick dust clouds, many of which have had their rarefied outer layers stripped away, leaving behind only the thick, dense globule of a core that will eventually form a new star.

Going from the Cone Nebula region to the Rosette region and then continuing on by the same amount (about 5-6 degrees South, halfway to Beta Mon) leads you to the very nice reflection nebula NGC 2170. This is another set of very bright, newly formed stars reflecting their light off of a background molecular cloud, this one about half the distance compared to the Rosette. A very pretty picture.

Further south at the edge of this constellation, at about the center of a line connecting Sirius in Canis Major with Saiph in Orion, we find the Red Rectangle nebula. This odd pattern is formed by an old red giant star in the process of blowing off its outer layers to become a planetary nebula. The dusty disk surrounding the star has redirected this outflow into two broad conical jets, which when paired resemble a rectangle. The ladder-like rungs (seen here in this large closeup) in these cones are probably from periods of stronger outflow that happen occasionally in the unstable central star.

Now for the rest of the deep sky objects in Monoceros. Actually, this is only a smattering of the brighter and more interesting ones. There are a few dozen clusters I'm omitting just because we've seen so many similar ones already, and there aren't any that are all that spectacular here. The one cluster that does stand out is Messier 50, an open cluster found about 1/3 of the way along a line connecting Sirius in Canis Major with Procyon in Canis Minor.

This is a sparse open cluster, seen well in this image, about 3200 light years distant and 20 or so light years in diameter. Nearly 100 million years old and right in the thick of the galactic disk, this cluster is well on its way to breaking apart completely and is barely recognizable to the eye. About two degrees south of M50 is the spectacular Seagull Nebula (IC 2177), a wing-and-body shaped region of bright, excited Hydrogen gas topped by a slightly bluer head nebula surrounding a bright young star. A couple of dust lanes help define the body of the bird in deep images against a thick background of stars in the Milky Way's disk.

About 7-8 degrees due north from M 50, just a full moon's diameter to the SE of Delta Mon, we find a very nice planetary nebula known as NGC 2346 or the Butterfly Nebula (one of a few so named in the sky). At the center of this double-lobed nebula is a binary star system. One of the pair apparently engulfed the other, resulting in two stars with a common envelope. This caused the stars to emit rings of material followed by much more uniform outflow that was redirected a bit by the rings into the Butterfly shape we see. This nebula is about 2000 light years distant.

The final famous object in Monoceros is the variable star V838 Mon. In January 2002, this star emitted an incredibly bright flash and expanded greatly, becoming the brightest star in the entire galaxy for about a month before gently fading. At peak brightness, if your eyes could detect infrared light, you would've been able to see this star in the daytime thanks to all of the emitting dust particles! The light from the flash has been travelling outward from the star ever since, lighting up successive dusty shells that had been emitted by the star travelling outward for likely thousands of years much more slowly than the light wave. You can see the resulting effect in a time lapse movie here. The ring of light is now roughly double the angular diameter of Jupiter on the night sky.

It looks like the dusty shells around the star are rapidly expanding, but that's just an optical illusion. The dust is staying put. It's just the light wave expanding and lighting up successive dusty shells. So what caused this outburst, and are we likely to see it repeated in some other star? We still don't know, and we haven't really been able to find any dependable analogues in other galaxies. One theory is that this was a main sequence star, just a bit more massive and hot than the Sun, but when its core fuel ran out, it very quickly evolved to become a red supergiant, a process that normally takes thousands of years rather than a few months. This theory has fallen out of favor as better distance determinations indicate it is much further away (nearly 20,000 light years) than originally thought.

Or perhaps this was a strange nova, in which matter was dumped on to the surface of a white dwarf by a red giant companion star, and once the Hydrogen on the surface of the white dwarf got hot and dense enough, fusion ignited, causing the shell to puff out. Normally, such nova explosions are very predictable, but not this one. Why didn't the shell escape the system? Instead, it seems to have grown and cooled but then started shrinking again. Perhaps the surrounding dust (the result of a strong wind from the red giant companion) slowed the outflow? There are several other theories discussed here, and we're still not really sure which is right.

Posted by Observer at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2008


This old guy came to our door last night while I was bathing the two little ones. M*chelle answered, and I also came downstairs to see what was going on while Ashl*y watched the boys. It turns out it was one of our neighbors from up the street, here to warn us not to accept a deal that we had received in the mail.

See, in our area, mineral rights are a huge deal. Lots of drilling companies are trying to pay off residents to the tune of $10k-$20k per acre for the right to drill for natural gas under our neighborhood. Our neighborhood association is telling people not to accept individual deals but wait until all of us can gouge the drilling companies for the most money possible. Every once in a while, we get individual offers in the mail, and we're ignoring them until the neighborhood association contacts us, and this guy was just trying to make sure that we were standing firm.

That's all well and good, and we appreciate it, but then he made some comment about Obama's minister and didn't I care enough to protest him for whatever reason.

The hell?

I told him, "Why the hell should I care what Obama's minister said when it is nowhere near as offensive and demeaning as what other ministers say all the time?"

He comes back with, "Hey, did you know that Obama was a Muslim as a little kid?"

I said, "Oh, so your theory is that he's some kind of terrorist mole? We're going to elect him and he's going to turn over America to the terrorists behind our backs, is that it?"

He shakes his head, "Oh no no, nothing like that, I just think it is interesting."

I said, "Not that it matters, but the guy is a Christian, and this minister is the guy who married him and his wife, baptized his kid, got him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior, so I guess I don't see how you can have a problem with Obama's religion."

He said, "Well, maybe so, but I worry about that. You know, I used to be a Democrat, but then I outgrew it."

I rolled my eyes, "Good for you. I've been a Democrat my whole life, so I guess we can agree to disagree."

He said, "I just don't like my tax dollars being redistributed to a bunch of people who don't work or earn it."

I said, "Are you kidding me? Who the hell do you think is paying billions to bail out all those rich white guys at Bear Stearns? That's a hell of a lot more than it costs to feed some homeless kid a free lunch, you know."

He said, "Well, that may be so, I don't like that either."

I said, "But you only seem to get worked up when the government is handing out money to the poor, and you're missing the Republicans looting the treasury."

At this point, M*chelle gamely broke it up and started shutting the door on the guy, thanking him for coming by, etc. He said, "Well, I'm glad to talk to you. Just remember, it is important that we stick together on the drilling rights."

I said, "Definitely. As a Democrat, I'm a big believer in unions."

He said, "Unions?"

I said, "You bet. What you're doing is smart, it is collective bargaining, and it is something employees aren't really allowed to do much of anymore. Any time I get a chance, I'll take it."

He shook his head without really understanding my point, and we left it at that. Ah, red states.

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (3)

March 19, 2008


Stuff like this makes me wish Hillary could be president, just to give the finger to the disgusting corporate media press corps:

After spending months haranguing Hillary Clinton to release her schedule as First Lady -- based on high-minded demands that open government is important -- this is what ABC News "investigative reporter" Brian Ross did with the documents today:

Hillary Was in White House on "Stained Blue Dress" Day

Schedules Reviewed by ABC Show Hillary May Have Been in the White House When the Fateful Act Was Committed

Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened, according to records of her schedule released today by the National Archives. . .

Great job, ABC News. First rate investigative journalism. This was the first story released based on research of over 10,000 pages of documents, and it was released within a few hours of the press getting access to this stuff.

And you wonder why so many people believed Iraq had WMD's.

Or you wonder why so many people are fixated on this Rev. Wright sermon and Obama's link to him, with the story breaking on the same day as billions of dollars in taxpayer money was looted from the national treasury to bail out a bunch of rich white guys.

Jesus Christ.

Posted by Observer at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

Weekend Homes

Atrios points to this article about the aftershocks of the collapse of the Bear Stearns investment house. I found this part the most amusing:

There was talk Monday that with their life savings nearly depleted, some executives had moved quickly, putting their weekend homes on the market.

This is really tough for the rank and file employee there, but I find amusing the hardships being suffered by the executives who have to sell their weekend homes, and that's pretty much the extent of the consequences of their massive fuck up of everyone's lives. I'm sure the board of directors will be well taken care of in retirement, with multi-million dollar golden parachutes, and the rest of the employees' who are basically now staring at unemployment will be the subject of some Michael Moore movie 10 years from now that wingnuts will say is horribly biased.

Tom Toles has a good take on this:

Posted by Observer at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2008


If you haven't seen or read Obama's speech on race and politics today, it's a pretty good one. You know what's the most refreshing about it? He wrote it himself.

Could you imagine any of the other candidates pulling off such a speech? Or, oh my God, Bush? Ha!

Posted by Observer at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2008

Obama vs Clinton

Kos kind of crystallized some of my thoughts on supporting Obama over Clinton in the primaries, and he starts with a quote from a different blog

DKos has been defined as a meeting ground not for every Democrat, but for the kind that wants to change the party to be more grassroots oriented, adhere to a 50-state strategy, stop the war in Iraq, and blunt the influence of lobbyists, PACs and the neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). That’s the glue that has always held the DKos community together and made it so large and strong.

Given that candidate Clinton is a member of the DLC, voted to authorize the war, accepts federal lobbyist and PAC money, clearly thinks that a lot (if not most) states “don’t matter,” and epitomizes a 1990s style top-down form of doing politics, it’s no surprise that for all of 2007 Clinton never exceeded 11 percent support in the monthly Daily Kos users straw poll.

And it isn't just Iraq... Kos writes:

Clinton didn't just vote for the Iraq war and refuse to apologize for it, she voted to give Bush the same authority on Iran.

And if we want to talk about which party is the most grassroots-oriented, it's no contest. We've seen it in the caucuses, we've seen it in the netroots, and we saw it in the Iowa county convention this Saturday. The party's activists are busting their butts for Obama, while Clinton's campaign is counting on low-information Democratic voters selecting Clinton based on little more than name ID.

But I could deal with all of that, really, if Clinton was headed toward victory. I see this as a long-term movement, and I've always expected setbacks along the way. Clinton isn't the most horrible person in the world. She's actually quite nice, despite all her flaws, and would make a fine enough president.

If she was winning.

But she's not, and that's the rub.

First of all, the only path to victory for Clinton is via coup by super delegate.

She knows this. That's why there's all the talk about poaching pledged delegates and spinning uncertainty around Michigan and Florida, and laying the case for super delegates to discard the popular will and stage a coup.

Yet a coup by super delegate would sunder the party in civil war.

Clinton knows this, it's her only path to victory, and she doesn't care. She is willing -- nay, eager to split the party apart in her mad pursuit of power.

If the situations were reversed, and Obama was lagging in the delegates, popular vote, states won, money raised, and every other reasonable measure, then I'd feel the same way about Obama. (I pulled the plug early on Dean in 2004.) But that's not the case.

It is Clinton, with no reasonable chance of victory, who is fomenting civil war in order to overturn the will of the Democratic electorate. As such, as far as I'm concerned, she doesn't deserve "fairness" on this site. All sexist attacks will be dealt with -- those will never be acceptable. But otherwise, Clinton has set an inevitably divisive course and must be dealt with appropriately.

To reiterate, she cannot win without overturning the will of the national Democratic electorate and fomenting civil war, and she doesn't care.

That's why she has earned my enmity and that of so many others. That's why she is bleeding super delegates. That's why she's even bleeding her own caucus delegates (remember, she lost a delegate in Iowa on Saturday). That's why Keith Olbermann finally broke his neutrality. That's why Nancy Pelosi essentially cast her lot with Obama. That's why Democrats outside of the Beltway are hoping for the unifying Obama at the top of the ticket, and not a Clinton so divisive, she is actually working to split her own party.

Meanwhile, Clinton and her shrinking band of paranoid holdouts wail and scream about all those evil people who have "turned" on Clinton and are no longer "honest power brokers" or "respectable voices" or whatnot, wearing blinders to reality, talking about silly little "strikes" when in reality, Clinton is planning a far more drastic, destructive and dehabilitating civil war.

People like me have two choices -- look the other way while Clinton attempts to ignite her civil war, or fight back now, before we cross that dangerous line. Honestly, it wasn't a difficult choice. And it's clear, looking at where the super delegates, most bloggers, and people like Olbermann are lining up, that the mainstream of the progressive movement is making the same choice.

And the more super delegates see what is happening, and what Clinton has in store, the more imperative it is that they line up behind Obama and put an end to it before it's too late.

There's more to it for me than this, even. There's a reason the right wing blowhards on talk radio are asking people to vote for Clinton. They know they can rally the troops against Clinton in November and get a good Republican turnout. Against Obama, not only will the presidency not be all that close, but a lot of close districts will break Democratic thanks to the depressed turnout by unenthusiastic wingnuts.

The idea of an election in this country that is disappointing and depressing to the rabid wingnut crowd is very appealing to me. I also think that Obama, unlike what Bush claimed coming out of Texas, really does have a true track record of working with the opposition on common sense stuff. I can see him talking enough Republicans down off the ledge that perhaps we could restore some of the lost rights in the Bill of Rights. Maybe we could go back to setting an example for the rest of the world and truly winning the hearts and minds of the next generation of potential radicals, because I imagine the current generation is a lost cause around the world with the way we behaved.

I know if my wife or child or mother or father had been taken away by foreign troops for no good reason and tortured and/or humiliated at a place like Abu Ghraib, I can't imagine any other purpose in life after that but to make sure those responsible paid some sort of price. And I'd probably give up my life to do it, if necessary. The cycle of violence ignited by the Iraq War is only beginning, I fear, and we'll have an enormously sad legacy of destruction that rightly should be laid at the feet of the Boy King, who won't give a royal crap because he's trying to set a new personal record for his 10 mile bike ride.

Posted by Observer at 11:03 PM | Comments (4)

March 16, 2008

Nationalized Losses

What really sticks in my craw the most about the government bailing out big Wall Street investment banks is that I'm sure just about every one of the senior execs is a proud Republican, the kind who would arrogantly scoff at the "socialism" of Democrats, who want to tax the hell out of rich people like them and redistribute the income to the poor. That's a great attitude when you are making a profit (that's privatized and don't you dare tax them!), but things are fucked up, who is now getting the gigantic $200 billion government handout (paid for by people who actually do pay tax)? Talk about fucking welfare queens.

Greg Palast sees a conspiracy in the Spitzer scandal and all this, but I'm thinking if Spitzer can keep his pants zipped up, he's still free to harass all of the investment banks. I mean, I'm not surprised that a Republican administration brought all of its resources to bear to go after a Democrat, and I'm not surprised the traditional media didn't bat an eye toward an obviously politically motivated investigation of a Democrat. That's just par for the course nowadays.

The whole thing where Bush was firing federal prosecutors who DIDN'T sufficiently go after Democrats is all but forgotten now, isn't it? Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe that the ultra-super-duper liberal socialist Klinton-loving media would just DROP such a story that makes Republicans look so awful, but they have a habit of doing that.

I mean, it's a given that the media is super liberal, right? So the only conclusion I can reach is that somehow all of those editors and publishers (wait, they're almost all Republican, aren't they, but nevermind that now) out there have a case of collective amnesia about these kinds of things. Maybe it's a virus, some kind of brain virus! That's really the only way I can square the behavior of the traditional media with the absolute FACT that they are definitely without question chock full of liberal bias, right?

Posted by Observer at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2008


Scout Finch over at Daily Kos wonders why we are hearing so much about the sermons of Obama's minister all of a sudden. After all, Mike Huckabee was a candidate for 14 months, and we never heard any of his sermons. It would have been "inappropriate" to talk about that, for some reason. And what about Mitt Romney's religious guide? Since he was a Mormon, apparently, it wasn't okay to talk about anything that might have been said from the pulpit in Romney's church.

But Black Christians complaining about injustice in church? FRONT AND CENTER, baby. Front and center. As one of Randi's callers put it this week, black people have been paying first class and flying coach for a good long while now.

Posted by Observer at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2008

Time Flies

I can't believe Spring Break is over. :(

Posted by Observer at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2008


In the dark region of the sky between the twins of Gemini (Castor and Pollux) and the pointer stars of the Big Dipper (Dubhe and Merak), we find the constellation Lynx. This area of the sky was organized into a constellation by Johannes Hevelius, a Polish Astronomer. The name perhaps comes from the fact the most of the stars in it are so faint you would need the eyes of a Lynx to see them.

The brightest star in Lynx is 3rd magnitude Alpha Lyncis, which does not have a proper name. It is a nearly identical match for the only named star in the constellation, 4th magnitude Alsciaukat. The only real difference between them is that Alpha Lyncis is only about half the distance of Alsciaukat. Both are giant-class stars, a little cooler than our Sun and about 700 times more luminous and about twice as massive compared to our Sun. The only other moderately bright star of note is HR 3579, a double star only about 50 light years away consisting of two stars nearly identical to our own Sun.

There are a few deep sky objects of note here, and I'll start with the spiral galaxy NGC 2683, about a quarter of the way along a line connecting Alpha Lyncis with the bright star Pollux in Gemini. This edge-on galaxy is about eight times further from us than the great spiral in Andromeda. In the image, you can easily see the red-orange core of the galaxy compared to the blue spiral arms, and this difference is even more pronounced because the light from the core has to come to us through that disk of gas and dust.

Back in the direction of Alpha Lyncis, going about halfway back and then South a little bit is the faint but remarkable spiral galaxy NGC 2770. This rather faint galaxy is 90 million light years away, nearly 50 times more distant than Andromeda, and its claim to fame is that it has hosted three supernova events in the past ten years. Most spiral galaxies average about one per century. One of these supernovae appeared similar to a low energy Gamma-Ray Burster, a long story for another time.

Next up is an object within our own galaxy (sort of), the globular cluster known both as NGC 2419 and as the Intergalactic Wanderer. This cluster has an enormously high proper motion, and its large, elliptical orbit takes it so far from the center of the Milky Way galaxy that it takes about 3 billion years to complete one orbit. It gets further away from us than the Magellanic Clouds at times. Right now, this cluster is "only" about 300,000 light years away in a direction opposite that of the center of our galaxy (which is more toward the constellation Sagittarius), so it is pretty faint despite being the 4th brightest cluster (intrinsically) in the galaxy. You can find it about 7 degrees North of Castor.

Further North, about 2 degrees south of Muscida, the snout of the great bear of Ursa Major, we find the lenticular galaxy NGC 2549. This is a type of galaxy that bridges the gap between spiral and elliptical types, having some of the properties of both. Finally, over near the Western edge of Lynx, about 9 degrees North of Menkalinan in Auriga, we find the planetary nebula PK 164 +31.1. Not a very fancy name, this comes from a catalog of planetary nebulae compiled by the Astronomers Perek and Kohoutek. The numbers are indicative of the right ascension and declination of this object. Notice how thin the gas is in this nebulae. You can see distant background galaxies looking right through the nebula.

Posted by Observer at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)


Via The Sideshow comes a link to this excellent essay explaining the subprime mortgage bailout, including some wondering about how the traditional media is covering it.

Posted by Observer at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2008

Ursa Major

Known as the plough or the wagon in Western mythology, the Big Dipper is an asterism that is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major, the great bear. The seven stars (well, eight if you include both Mizar and Alcor) comprise the hindquarters and long tail of the big bear. The nose and legs are much fainter and tough to pick out (here is a good star chart).

In Greek mythology (from Ovid's book Metamorphoses), the bear is the Princess Callisto, who was a follower of Artemis, the goddess of hunting. Zeus trapped Callisto in the woods one day and had his way with her, and when she became pregnant, Artemis assumed Callisto was someone of poor character and kicked her out of the group. Callisto had a son, Arcas, and after this, Hera piled on by transforming Callisto into a bear, as if the whole thing were Callisto's fault.

For years, Callisto roamed the woods as a bear with a human mind, always on the run from hunters. One day, she encountered her son, Arcas, who didn't recognize her, but before Arcas could shoot her, Zeus transformed her into a heavenly creature. For Northern observers, the bear never sets, though she is low on the horizon in the evening during winter, presumably hibernating. In Spring, you can find Ursa Major in the evenings climbing up from the Northeastern horizon, presumably coming out of hibernation, and then during Fall evenings, the bear is headed downward toward the Northwestern horizon, going into hibernation.

The Big Dipper was also important during U. S. History in the 19th century. As slaves were instructed to runaway toward the North along such routes as the Underground Railroad, the knew which way to go by finding the "drinking gourd" in the sky, whose pointer stars (the two stars at the end of the bowl, Dubhe and Merak) lead the eye to Polaris, which marks true north. The Big Dipper's bowl can also be used to find several other stars in the sky, including Regulus, Castor, Betelgeuse and Capella following lines from Megrez, which connects the bowl and handle). If you instead follow the arc of the handle, that curve leads to Arcturus and further on to Spica.

Now for the stars in the Big Dipper portion of Ursa Major, starting with Alpha UMa, or Dubhe, which comes from the Arabic for bear. This isn't the brightest star in the constellation by just a little bit, but it definitely stands out from the other bright stars of the Dipper. The middle five stars of the Dipper are all similar stars at about the same distance from Earth (80 light years) and are thought to be from the same loose association of stars known as the Ursa Major moving group.

A "moving group" is basically a very loosely associated cluster. The stars aren't close enough together to be called a cluster, but they all move in the same general direction in space and seem to have other similarities (such as age and/or composition), and the Ursa Major moving group is the closest such association to the Earth. This is likely the remnant of an open cluster that formed about 300-500 million years ago and was subsequently pulled part by tidal forces within the disk of our galaxy.

Beta Aurigae (Menkalinan) is also a part of this group. Our Sun is on the outskirts of the group, but it is moving in a different direction and is also more than 10 times older than the average age of moving group stars. There is some debate over whether Sirius should be considered a member. It is about the right age, composition and is similar to the Dipper stars, and it is moving in the right direction on the sky, in parallel with the stars in the moving group, but it is pretty far from the center of the group, so it is hard to say for sure.

Anyway, Dubhe is a bit further than this moving group (120 light years approximately) and is a K-class giant star rather than a blue main sequence star. It is moving roughly in the opposite direction on the sky is the moving group, so Ursa Major will look very different in a few million years as a result of these divergent proper motions. Here is a nice animated gif showing the changes over the millennia.

The other of the two North Celestial Pole pointer stars is Merak, a star very similar to Sirius but much further away (80 light years instead of 8.7 ... recall that Sirius is in the nearest ten stars to the Earth). Rounding out the bowl, the other star at the base of the bowl of the dipper is Phad (or Phecda), from the Arabic for thigh. Similar to the other moving group stars, it is a hot, blue main sequence star roughly 80 light years distant. Unlike the others, it is a rapid rotator and has thrown off a bright disk of hot gas.

Moving to the junction of bowl and handle, we come to Delta UMa (Megrez), the faintest star in the Big Dipper asterism. Its name appropriately comes from the Arabic for root of the tail. Kaler mentions an age for Megrez of about 50 million years old, which would make it far younger than the other moving group members, so I wonder if that's a typo as I can't find any other reference at hand that estimates its age.

Moving up the handle, the next star is the brightest star in Ursa Major, Epsilon UMa (Alioth). As with many other constellations, the greek letter designations don't indicate brightness, but instead here just are in order from West to East for the brightest stars. This star ranks about 32nd in brightness in the entire sky. Like the others in the moving group, it is a hot blue A star, and a basic rule of Astronomers who study individual stars, there is no such thing as a "normal" A star. Alioth is no exception. It rotates about every 5 days, and is it does, its composition appears to change (we are just looking at different parts on the star's surface) due to the strong effect its magnetic field has on which elements are pushed by radiation from the inner parts of the envelope to the surface.

The 2nd star in the handle is the famous pair Mizar and Alcor, or "horse and rider". The proximity of these two stars in the sky is close enough (14 arcseconds) to be picked out if you have very good eyesight at a dark site, and it is quite nice to look at through a small telescope. There you can see that this is actually a double-double system, with each of the two bright visible stars having faint nearby orbiting companions. Because they rotate very slowly, it is easier for heavy elements to be pushed to the surface by radiation pressure (without being plunged back into the star's interior by turbulence or magnetic effects), so these stars have a lot of rarely seen heavy elements in their spectra. Burnham also notes that Mizar and Alcor is a perfect starting point for a star-hop to the famous spiral galaxy M101 which I will talk about a little later.

Finally, at the tip of the handle, we come to Eta UMa (Alkaid) whose name comes from the leader as this star leads the rest of the Dipper stars across the sky. Like Dubhe, this one doesn't belong to the moving group. It is much hotter and younger than the moving group stars, and it is moving in a different direction on the sky, helping to change the shape of the Dipper over time.

Three pairs of stars on the sky form three of the feet of Ursa Major. In Arabic culture, these three pairs south of the Dipper and right on the border with Leo Minor are known as the three leaps of the gazelle. The westernmost pair, marking the front foot, is Talitha Borealis (Iota UMa) and Talitha Australis (Kappa UMa). The middle pair is Tania Borealis and Tania Australis, representing the northern and southern stars, and the easternmost pair is Alula Borealis and Alula Australis. The star names actually go from west to east, with Alula meaning "first" in Arabic, Tania meaning "second" and Talitha meaning "third".

Talitha is an A-class star about 50 light years away, 1.7 solar masses and most of the way through the main sequence part of its lifetime. It has a close, faint companion about 5 AU away (roughly Jupiter's orbital distance from the Sun), and It is orbited very remotely by a close pair of M-dwarfs, taking about 800 years to go all the way around. The other of the pair is Kappa UMa, a close binary system consisting of two hot stars, both of which seem to be spinning rapidly and throwing off a mutual circumstellar disk that creates emission lines in the spectrum.

The next pair starts with Lambda UMa (Tania Borealis), a slow rotating hot blue A star. The other is Mu UMa (Tania Austalis), a red giant on the verge of igniting Helium fusion in its interior. The westernmost pair starts with Alula Borealis (Nu UMa), which is technically the first leap since the gazelles leap from west to east. Alula Borealis is a bit further along in its evolution compared to Tania Austalis, being a hotter K giant probably fusing heavier elements like Carbon and Oxygen in its core instead of Hydrogen or Helium. And Alula Australis (Xi UMa) is perhaps the most historically significant of the six, according to Kaler.

As William Herschel discovered, Alula is not only a visual double in the sky, it is the first such double that was discovered to be an orbiting binary system, and it was the first such system to have its orbit successfully predicted, which allowed the first successful determination of a stellar mass other than our own Sun. This system is two stars nearly identical to the Sun with an orbital period of about 60 years, and each of the two stars is itself orbited by a very low mass, closeby companion, making it at least a quadruple star system, and further observations reveal that there may be as many as five or six stars in this system.

There are also three rather dim stars in Ursa Major around which planets have been discovered. Kaler has more on each of the three systems, which are HR 4067, Pi-2 Ursa Majoris and the famous 47 Ursa Majoris, one of the first systems discovered with multiple planets. The two planets here are spaced from their star in a way somewhat similar to that of Jupiter and Saturn, though they are (like all planets discovered to date) much closer to their parent star, being only 2.1 and 3.7 AU away on average. This system is 46 light years away and has a central star very similar to our own Sun in mass, luminosity, size and composition. Could there be terrestrial planets here as well? Probably not because the big planets are so close in.

For the deep sky objects in Ursa Major, there are many, so I will start with some of the brightest and best known Messier Objects within Ursa Major. If you follow a line from Phad to Dubhe and again as far, you will run into a small group of bright galaxies including M81 and M82. M81 is a spectacular spiral galaxy about 12 million light years away from us. Since it is nearby galaxy so similar to our own, it has been closely studied.

Here is an image of the same galaxy in Ultraviolet light, which reveals more sharply the presence of hot, young stars populating the spiral arms of the galaxy. Notice in the image how sharp is the boundary between the core of the galaxy and the disk filled with young stars. This next image is an even deeper visible light image of M81 shows the extent of the disk a little more clearly and also reveals a lot of nebulosity along our line of sight to this galaxy from within our own disk. My favorite image of M81 is this incredibly deep and detailed image from Hubble. Click on the link and then click again on the image and scroll around for a truly breathtaking tour of a grand design spiral galaxy.

Very close by in the sky, a fraction of the degree to the North, is M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy. As the image shows, M82 has been disrupted tidally by nearby M81. This tidal disruption trigged not only changes in the structure of M82 but likely also sparked a lot of star formation in the galaxy. Perhaps this is responsible for the enormous combined stellar wind of thousands of hot, massive stars that is blowing filaments of Hydrogen gas out of the galaxy now.

A few degrees East of this pair is IC 2574, also known as Coddington's Nebula. It isn't a nebula but instead a galaxy and a member of the M81 group. Close examination of this galaxy's neutral Hydrogen reveals that it is sprinkled with enormous cavities, regions where the gas has apparently been cleared out. Since these regions are associated with active star formation (which also contributes to the very blue, irregular color distribution of the galaxy), we think this is due to many recent supernova explosions or perhaps the combined stellar wind of several young OB associations of stars.

Next up, a few degrees North of Alkaid at the tip of the handle of the Dipper is Messier 101, also known as the Pinwheel galaxy (often confused with the Triangulum galaxy). This enormous spiral is about 50 percent larger than our own (pretty big) Milky Way galaxy and be seen even more clearly in this higher resolution image from the Hubble Space Telescope. This was one of the Key Project galaxies in which we were looking for Cepheid variables since we had already seen supernovae go off in this galaxy within the past few decades. Here is another image with a wider, deeper field of view showing better the extent and asymmetry of the disk of M101, almost certainly due to a recent gravitational close encounter with one of its many small satellite galaxies. About 3000 individual H II regions have been detected on such photographs.

Next up is a pair of Messier objects together in the sky: M97 and M108, a couple of degrees southeast of Merak. M 97 is a planetary nebula known as the Owl Nebula as it resembles the round face of an owl with two circular faint spots that stand out like eyes against the bright background. This nebula is about 1500 light years away. We believe the appearance is that of a circular torus seen edge-on so that the two "holes" are either side of the torus.

The green color of the nebula in this image is common to many such planetary nebulae, and that's partly due to the filter and photographic mixing technique used. However, it is true that most of the light from planetaries comes in the form of emission lines, and by far the brightest emission line in the visible part of the spectrum is an emission line from doubly-ionized Oxygen. The history of this emission line is rather interesting, actually. When it was originally discovered, we didn't know what element corresponded to this line, so it was dubbed "nebulium" as though it were a new element only existing in nebulae.

Turns out that the reason we hadn't seen this line before is that it represents an atomic transition that isn't possible in the lab. You can put doubly-ionized Oxygen in a tube and measure its emission lines all day, and you'll never see the nebulium line. That's because the density of gas in our labs is much too high, but let me back up a minute.

Atoms can emit light in the form of spectral emission lines in two main ways. First, if the electron is excited somehow and moves to a high energy level in the atom, it will normally very quickly jump back down to a lower energy level, giving up energy in the form of an emission line photon. Sometimes, though, the atom is bumped by another particle, and the electron gains or loses energy that way, sometimes moving out of its energy level without absorbing or emitting a photon.

For this particular energy level of doubly-ionized Oxygen in question, it is known as a meta-stable state. That is, when an electron gets excited to this energy level somehow, it tends to stay there for a long time (many seconds, minutes, hours or even years instead of the more usual microseconds). If the atom is left alone long enough, then the electron will eventually drop down, emitting the "forbidden" line, but if the atom is in a high density gas, it will get bumped in a collision long before it has a chance to emit a photon on its own. Hence "forbidden lines" only occur in the low density environment of space, which is a vacuum literally billions of times better than anything we get in our labs on Earth.

So, back to the Messier objects: next to M97 in the sky (about one and a half full moon diameters away) but about 30,000 times further away is the spiral galaxy M 108, seen here in a pretty good close up image. This is a very dusty spiral with no clear features, and it is a member of a loose group of galaxies known as the Ursa Major group.

The final Messier object in Ursa Major is M 109, a very pretty barred spiral galaxy seen in better detail here right next to the bright star Phad, a part of the Big Dipper I mentioned earlier. Though a few degrees away from M108, this galaxy is also considered to be a member of the Ursa Major group, and there are several other smaller galaxies around it on the sky, though much fainter. Among them are the spiral galaxy NGC 3893 (with its nearby small companion NGC 3896), NGC 3953, a lovely tilted spiral with clearly defined arms, and the more face-on NGC 3982.

Now for the other galaxies in Ursa Major, starting at the Western end (near the nose) and working our way East. About 2-3 degrees southeast of Muscida, the star marking the nose of bear is the Helix Galaxy, NGC 2685. This odd spiral galaxy has clearly defined polar-oriented rings around its center, perpendicular to its disk, and this ring is likely the result of a galaxy merger in its recent past. In many of these galaxies, the stars and gas in the polar ring orbit the center of the galaxy faster than the material in the disk, which indicates that the dark matter halo of the galaxy is flattened in the polar ring plane.

Further southeast near Talitha is a tightly wound spiral, NGC 2841. Recently, the Chandra X-Ray observatory took a photo of this galaxy in X-rays revealing a surrounding galactic corona. Like the Sun's corona, this is hot gas streaming away as a galactic wind thanks to the outward-pushing pressure of all of the hot stars (and perhaps supernova explosions) in the disk. We think most galaxies have a similar corona. This galaxy is the largest of a small cluster of galaxies about 20 million light years away, ten times more distant than the nearest large spiral to our own, the Andromeda galaxy.

A few degrees West of the M81/M82 pair I talked about previously is NGC 2787, a barred lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies are basically spiral galaxies but without any obvious arms due to a lack of gas (and thus, a lack of a notable pattern of star formation to emphasize regions of different density as in true spirals). Galaxies like these consist of an older population of stars, more like ellipticals than spirals, but there haven't been any waves of star formation recently, and that's in part due to the relatively isolated nature of this galaxy. There are no nearby galaxies to spark star formation. Though this is close in the sky to M81 and M82, it isn't part of their group as it is twice as far away from us.

Moving closer to the Big Dipper, we find NGC 3359 about a degree West of Dubhe, the northernmost of the two pointer stars that leads the eye to Polaris. This is a barred spiral galaxy about 49 million light years away. Deep radio images of neutral Hydrogen shows that this galaxy has a small companion that has recently disrupted the disk and may have been the spur that formed the central bar in this galaxy (which we think is very young due to the stellar population there).

In the other direction, a couple of degrees south of Merak is a pair of galaxies that are pretty faint but nice to look at in deep images. NGC 3310 is a face-on spiral galaxy about the same distance as NGC 3359 (50 million light years) and part of a loose cluster at that distance. It is undergoing a massive burst of star formation thanks to a recent galaxy merger. Just a bit to the Northeast of this, also at the same distance, is NGC 3709, an edge-on spiral galaxy also shown in Hubble images to be giving off large arcs and bubbles of gas from its central regions, likely the result of either stellar winds or stellar explosions.

While talking about all of these galaxies in Ursa Major, I should at least mention my selection criteria: I'm trying to limit the ones I'm talking about to the ones that are fairly bright and can be seen with a typical amateur telescope from a dark site. So, the next galaxy I want to talk about is NGC 3184, located less than half a degree West of Tania Australis (the southernmost of the middle pair of stars marking the leaps of the gazelle). This galaxy is also very near HR 4067, one of the stars recently discovered in Ursa Major that has a planetary companion.

NGC 3184 is a face-on spiral that recently drew the attention of the Hubble Space Telescope thanks to a Type II supernova that occured there in 1999. In fact, the first spectrum of this supernova was taken by a very talented guy I worked with in graduate school by the name of Peter Garnavich, who is now at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This galaxy is somewhere between 25 and 40 million light years away, and sources I've seen quote different distances. How can they be off by so much?

Well, one major source of uncertainty is the interstellar material that is along our line of sight to the starlight in the galaxy, which is mainly in our own galaxy but also inside the target galaxy (especially if mergers are creating a lot of infall of gas and dust). It is very difficult to isolate this absorbing material and account for it perfectly, though we do have some tricks. For example, with certain kinds of supernovae, we know what the spectra should look like at maximum light. That is, we know how much light should appear at each wavelength, but interstellar gas and dust absorbs differently at different wavelengths, so by comparing a "standard" supernova spectrum with what we actually see, we can reverse engineer the properties of the material along our line of sight that are obscuring the galaxy.

Next, we move back closer to the pair of Messier objects we studied earlier just East of Merak, M97 and M108. Moving a couple of degrees further Southeast from these two objects, there is NGC 3631, a dim face-on spiral very similar to NGC 3184. This is an isolated spiral like NGC 2787 (the lenticular spiral) I mentioned earlier, so the spiral structure is very uniform and not disturbed much due to a lack of nearby galaxies to gravitationally interact with. I found a very nice analysis of the properties of this galaxy published on the web as the result of an undergraduate research project, and this is an impressive effort.

This effort is part of a nationwide program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). Astronomy departments (and other science departments, of course) submit a proposal to the NSF, explaining what faculty are available during the summer along with a list of resources available and suggested projects for undergraduates. If the proposal is accepted, then the NSF will financially support a summer research program that usually lasts around 6-8 weeks.

Undergraduates will then apply to various REU programs around the country, usually at schools they may be considering for graduate school, and once everyone finds a slot, the NSF financially supports the research program, and the students get a great experience working closely with faculty from another department during the summer. It is great for everyone involved, and I've seen a lot of really good research come out of these focused efforts, including peer-reviewed publications. It is a very cheap program from the point of view of the NSF, and the return on investment is significant.

A couple of degrees to the East from NGC 3631, the region just south of the bowl of the Big Dipper, we find the very interesting warped spiral galaxy known as NGC 3718. The odd extended shape of this galaxy is due to an interaction with a fainter nearby spiral galaxy, itself showing a strong ring structure. In the same image behind NGC 3718 is a much more distant group of five interacting galaxies, seen more closely here.

The final galaxies I want to look at are all on the Eastern edge of Ursa Major, near the border it shares with the small constellation Canes Venatici, about 7-8 degrees South from Phad in the Dipper. The galaxy trio is a set of spirals known as NGC 3938, NGC 4013 and NGC 4051. NGC 3938 is a face-on grand design spiral galaxy perhaps best known recently for hosting supernova 2005ay, discovered first by a dedicated amateur with a very nice home observatory and 16" telescope.

NGC 4013 is an edge-on spiral that drew the attention of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2001, perhaps because of the huge tidal stream passing through the galaxy, likely a remnant of a recent merger. About 55 million light years away, this is nearly a perfectly edge-on spiral similar to our Milky Way. The foreground star in the middle has led some observers to refer to this as the Diamond Ring Galaxy, as though we are seeing a diamond ring edge on with the foreground star in the center as the diamond. Though it looks pretty quiet in the optical image, looking at this galaxy's neutral Hydrogen radio emissions reveal a very warped disk and lots of activity. This is a perfect example of why Astronomers are so keen to look at objects in many different wavelengths, not just what we can see in visible light.

Finally, NGC 4051 is a tilted spiral with very well-defined arms and lots of bright star forming regions shining with the reddish light characteristic of H-II regions (ionized Hydrogen surrounding clusters of hot, young stars). This is a Seyfert galaxy, which means its nucleus is very bright in radio wavelengths and varies on rapid timescales. This galaxy is close enough to NGC 4013 that it may be the culprit responsible for the tidal stream passing through that galaxy. Astronomers have been closely monitoring the variations of the nucleus of NGC 4051 for several years as it has gone from a bright stage to a very quiescent mode, perhaps because the supermassive black hole at the center doesn't currently have anything in its vicinity to tear apart.

In closing, I should also mention another interesting field of view in Ursa Major: the Hubble Deep Field, one of the deepest observations ever made and with amazing resolution, the deep field is a panorama of about 1500 very distant galaxies, some of which are being seen from a distance of several billion light years, meaning the light left these objects when the Universe was young. Images like this help us understand how the Universe has evolved over time.

Posted by Observer at 04:01 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2008

That's My Boy

Star Wars was a big hit. Daniel asked at the end if R2 was going to be okay, and I showed him in the final scene where they fixed him up. He said, "Why did they fix him up?"

I said, "So he can help them in the next movie."

His eyes lit up, "There's a next movie!??!"

That's my boy. (sniff)

Posted by Observer at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2008

History Lesson

I was going to save it for him until he got to the age when I first saw it, but one of four-year-old Daniel's little friends at school has introduced Daniel to Star Wars toys. So now Daniel is asking all kinds of questions about Star Wars, and he wants some of the toys, etc.

I figure I'll strike while the iron is hot, and I offered to watch the DVD (starting with New Hope, of course) with him today. He got through the first hour of the movie, but then he was pretty tired and was ready to do the bedtime routine. He liked it and had lots of questions, but it is at a much higher level than, say, "Cars", so it will be a while before he really gets it.

Posted by Observer at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2008

Good Music

M*chelle and I got to go out tonight to see a live singer we both like a lot with some other people on the staff where she works. I was enjoying the music while she was chatting with her coworkers, but I wasn't drinking and getting rowdy or anything, just laying back, thumping my feet to the beat and enjoying a night out of the house.

One of her coworkers looked at me after a couple of hours and said, "You sure don't show a lot of emotion!" Of course, one of the reasons I wasn't laughing and talking too much is that we were right next to a speaker, and I just couldn't hear anything unless I really concentrated on it.

Anyway, I told her that I do show emotion during sex and Cowboys games.

Posted by Observer at 11:43 PM | Comments (6)

March 06, 2008


I can honestly say I have never experienced this kind of weather, but they're calling for it today.

Update: Here's a weird kinda creepy factoid for ya. 48 minutes after I posted this entry, I did a Google search on "Thundersleet", and this entry was in the top 10. Wow, they're fast.

Posted by Observer at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

March 04, 2008


I had every intention of voting in the caucus this evening after voting in the primary for Obama in the afternoon. I showed up at 7pm at a big church where two different precinct caucuses were going to occur in separate rooms. I was about 20th in line, and the precinct chair came out at about that time and announced the polls were closing so that the caucus could begin at 715. They closed the door and went inside to arrange everything. It was pretty cold outside at this point, but okay fine, we'll wait until 715.

By 715, there were 200 people in line all in all, and THEN about 50 people came pouring out of the church and crowded around the front of the line. These were all the volunteers who helped set up the caucus, I presume, so they certainly deserved a place at the front of the line, but now I'm number 70! They set up a table at the door so that everyone still had to wait in line outside rather than in the (fairly big) lobby, and by now there was a lot of grumbling with so many older people having to wait so long in the cold weather.

At about 725, the line was moving very slowly. They were signing people in and verifying that they had voted, etc. The Republican precinct chair poked his head out the door and asked for any Republicans to come to the front since their meeting was going to go ahead and start. About five old white guys snaked their way to the front (I use that verb purposefully, by the way) after the crowd politely parted to allow them in. Meanwhile, by about 735, I had been observing the line, and I realized that they were letting in an average of 2 people per minute, and I wasn't any closer to the door (thanks to the mob of volunteers) than I was at 7pm.

The line had gotten longer since 715, and I knew they weren't going to allow anyone to simply sign for their candidate preference and leave until the meeting was officially started, and THAT wasn't going to happen until everyone was signed in. I projected it would be at least 9pm before the caucus even began, and so I gave up and went to the store. If that many people are there, the incentive to vote is somewhat less since I'm less likely to make a difference. Plus I was really cold by then.

I went to the store, and by the time I drove back by at 815, there were still over 100 people waiting in line. I kept driving.

Posted by Observer at 08:59 PM | Comments (4)

March 03, 2008

Obama vs Paul

If you use StumbleUpon very much with your browser, you may have noticed over the past several months that if you put any kind of politics into your preferences, your browser is getting direction to Ron Paul sites all the time. The whole Ron Paul promotion thing has been a brilliant example of viral marketing. Everytime I would see a Ron Paul related web page, I would give it a "thumbs down" as in "don't show me anything like this again" and yet it kept popping up. I finally just removed politics from my preferences, it was so annoying.

And driving around the city, I see little blue Ron Paul signs everywhere, it seems. Plus Paul has raised a ton of money given his tiny level of electoral support. I find the whole Ron Paul campaign story very similar to Obama's campaign. Both are very good at raising money. Both have an enormous army of clever, committed volunteers who know how to virally get their message out there (whether it is pro-Paul, anti-McCain, pro-Obama or anti-Hillary). Both have a political message that polls say should resonate with a lot of voters.

So why does Paul's support never get out of the low single digits while it looks like Obama is on the verge of getting the nomination? Is it that a lot of people are quick to declare their libertarian tendencies to pollsters but then vote for big government at the polls? Am I overestimating the impact of all this viral campaigning (by which I mean lots of little things like a decorated car here and there, a campaign sign in an unusual place, a redirected web search instead of big things like TV and radio ads)? Obama seems to be doing both the viral stuff and the traditional blanket-the-airwaves stuff, but didn't Paul do this in the early states when people still thought he had a chance?

I also don't get some of the anti-Obama voters here. I know several people who are very keen to vote Republican but who hate the war and want it to end but think Obama is going to raise their taxes or something. Thing is, I don't think any of them are making over $200k per year, so these people will likely end up getting a tax CUT from Obama but they think any Democrat is bound to raise their taxes, I guess. Even abortion isn't really an issue in this election since McCain is pro-choice (right?), but it isn't clear to me if he's "pro-choice" but will appoint pro-life judges like Bush.

I haven't been to any political rallies in the area lately, though there have been opportunities, but I am sure thinking about attending the caucus tomorrow night. I have no idea how long it will last or what's involved, but I'm going to find out and see if it would be worth it to go. It sounds like an interesting experience.

Posted by Observer at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2008


They've decided to install the Bush Jr. Presidential Library in Dallas near poor SMU. I think it ought to be called the Libarry like the kids sometimes pronounce it. That would be fitting.

Anyway, the Chronicle of Higher Education asked its readers to submit ideas for the library design, and you can see the photos here. My favorite is the Cruciform design, especially the modified Statue of Liberty in the middle.

Posted by Observer at 03:08 PM | Comments (1)