The Musical Side of Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

Do you remember that probe we sent to Titan?  You know, the one that was the first ever to land on Saturn’s largest moon?  Well that was the Huygens probe and was part of the Cassini-Huygens mission.  I bring this up because it was named after Christiaan Huygens, a man that has contributed a huge amount to science:  early telescopic studies of the rings of Saturn, the invention of the pendulum clock, and the discovery of several interstellar nebulae and double stars to name a few.  But even if you are familiar with Christiaan Huygens you still may not know that he actually contributed quite a bit to the world of music as well.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Lets ring in the Year of the Horse.

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Chinese New Year is one of those floating holidays that seems to fall on a different day each year, why is this?

Throughout history, civilizations around the world have used celestial objects to track the passage of time. People used the movements of the Sun, Moon, or stars to define a calendar for their society to live by. Today the majority of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, or the Solar Year. Lunar calendars use the duration of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, or the Lunar Month. Lunisolar calendars use a combination of both. Although most countries around the world use the standard Gregorian calendar for official government purposes, citizens of these countries often use a Lunar or Lunisolar calendar to mark important social and religious festivals.

The modern Chinese calendar is known as the Han calendar, it is Lunisolar. Like other Lunisolar calendars, the Han calendar takes into account a Solar Year as well as a Lunar month. The Han calendar uses the tropical solar year, which uses the seasons (the solstices) as the reference for the passage of a year. The Chinese calendar references the Winter Solstice specifically.

The New Year is observed on the day of the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, and occasionally on the third new moon. For the majority of us who use the Gregorian calendar this often translates to the first new moon of the new year.

redenvelopesFollowing several days of preparation, at midnight last night the festivities for Chinese New Year kicked off. It is a time of renewal, wishes of good fortune, and paying respect to friends and family. The observation of the new year actually lasts for 15 additional days, each having their own symbolic rituals and customs. One of the most well known traditions is the gift of red envelopes to friends and family. These envelopes often contain money, in amounts that correspond to lucky numbers. They are usually presented to younger people, and sometimes they are ornately decorated.

So, why Year of the Horse? The Chinese Zodiac, like the western zodiac, is separated into twelve signs. Unlike the Western Zodiac that associates each sign with a segment of the Solar Year, the Chinese Zodiac associates each sign with a single year in a twelve year cycle. Follow the link above to learn more, it gets even more complex than that! Last year according to the Han calendar was the year of the Snake, before that the year of the Dragon. Once we reach the Gregorian year 2020 the year of the Rat, the cycle will begin again.

So go forth, wish you friends and neighbors peace and happiness, and ask your family members for red envelopes filled with money! The Year of the Horse has begun.

Remembering the Challenger Crew

This photo of the Challenger crew was taken on Jan. 9, 1986, just 19 days before the Challenger disaster. Left to right: 1st Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronaut Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Michael J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Image credit: NASA

On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts tragically died when Challenger exploded just after liftoff. It was NASA’s first in-flight disaster and it occurred not only as thousands of spectators watched from Kennedy Space Center but millions of teachers and students were also watching on live T.V. from their classrooms to see Christa McAuliffe, a civilian high school teacher from New Hampshire become NASA’s 1st teacher in space. Christa was scheduled to broadcast two live lessons from space to the nation’s school children just a few days later.
The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. It was determined that cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from working properly. This allowed hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle’s external fuel tank and the hardware attaching the booster to the shuttle. The right solid rocket booster then separated. The fuel tank broke apart causing the orbiter to be torn apart also. The launch had been postponed two days preceding the disaster due to expected storms preceding the cold front which brought unusually cold temperatures to central Florida.

The following words were left on a handwritten note in the briefcase of Space Shuttle Commander, Dick Scobee. It is from a passage from Vision of the Future by Ben Bova.
We have whole planets to explore. We have new worlds to build. We have a solar system to roam in. And if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out toward space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions of humans who remain on earth, just as the strivings of a handful of colonists in the new world totally changed the lives of everyone in Europe, Asia, and Africa.


That moment 28 years ago today when the seven Challenger astronauts reached out toward space is still ingrained in our memories.

challengerpatch

The Greatest Place To Ski In The Solar System

best place to ski in the soloar system

There’s been a lot of talk recently of the “polar vortex” that’s sweeping the nation and causing record low temperatures.  Well, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t the movies and we’re not in “The Day After Tomorrow.”  Before writing this I started looking up what someone would need in case of a post-apocalyptic winter scenario.  It was actually pretty dull: sleeping bags, hand warmers, extra clothing.  Thanks!  But then I started to think about how other planets in our very own Solar System are actually constantly in this state of extreme winter.  Sure, it’d be fun to visit for a couple of minutes just to say that you’ve been there but you probably wouldn’t want to set up shop for any extended period of time.  That being said, what if you could open some ski resort on one of these planets?  What would be the best place in the Solar System for the perfect ski resort?

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As Cold as on Mars

Burrr… Feeling the chill of this week’s arctic blast?  Much of the country is expecting historic, record breaking low temperatures.

These temperatures, unusual for us here on Earth, are normal for daytime on the planet Mars: minus 13-degrees Fahrenheit (-25 in Celsius). If you think that’s chilly, the Martian nighttime temperature drops precipitously to a minus 125-degrees F.

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Image captured by Viking 2 of frost on the Martian surface.

Baton Rouge is expecting a balmy 15 degree Fahrenheit for a low, so enjoy while it lasts.

Why Burning Wrapping Paper Could Be Dangerous: A Post-Christmas Special

burning wrapping paper

One of the best things about Christmas, of course, is finally getting to unwrap those presents under the tree – finally finding out what was in that big box.  “Oh, it’s a smaller box inside a bigger box.  Great, how clever.  I had no idea it was actually socks this whole time.  And here I am excited thinking it was that microwave I needed.  Thanks.”  Yes, opening presents is great fun, but what we’re left with is a big ole pile of wadded up wrapping paper. And once you finally tear that last crumpled up ball from the mouth of your dog (that’s been running around the house with it and shaking it all about) you might feel compelled to just toss it in the fireplace and be done with it.  Well, if you’re like me you’ve heard over and over that you shouldn’t burn your discarded Christmas wrapping paper.  But what’s the deal with that warning and why shouldn’t we just toss that holiday detritus into the fireplace?

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Remembering JFK

Today we remember President John F Kennedy, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. He challenged our nation to achieve one of its greatest accomplishments: landing people on the Moon safely. President Kennedy’s vision for innovation, paired with the bravery of the astronauts who made the journey and the ingenuity of the engineers who built the spacecraft, paved the way for decades of space exploration. He continues to inspire us today to strive for excellence, to lead, and to never stop reaching for the stars…

Comet ISON is Coming!

Comet ISON is Coming!

Get ready everyone! Comet ISON is approaching the Sun, and is expected to be visible in the pre-dawn sky as early as this weekend. Check back with us for all things Comet ISON: comet updates, photography tips, and more. Don’t forget to come visit LASM to view “Vagabonds of the Solar System: Comets Past and Present” exhibition opens November 19th!