Dreadnought by April Daniels

Oct. 19th, 2017 09:29 pm
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4/5. Danny is fifteen and trans and very, very closeted. She happens to be present for the death of a superhero, and when his mantle passes to her, it transitions her.

A lot of this is great. Though in the case of Danny’s deteriorating relationship with her parents, “great” also means scary and infuriating. See also: the greatest transphobic threat to Danny’s safety and happiness in this book is arguably from someone who is supposed to be on her side and who claims the banner of feminism, which is painfully spot on.

I kind of wish this wasn’t a superhero book though? Which is not relevant, I realize, since this book is really just what you’d get if you reimagined a Marvel superhero’s origin story to include transness and queerness then wrote it in prose. That’s not a bad thing! But I am 0% interested in the extended – seriously, lengthy – descriptions of all the punching and kicking nonsense. And only minimally interested in superhero tech. And only a touch more interested in the ethics of superpowers conversation. Been there, done that.

So I guess what I’m saying is that this is a great book from a purely representational perspective – yay straight-faced superhero origin story about a transgirl – but I am not interested in straight-faced superhero origin stories these days.

Randomly on a Thursday

Oct. 19th, 2017 05:49 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


intheairtonyc 2017-10-19

Two days ago Joe and I got on a plane and flew to New York City for a little bite of the Big Apple


sockatthemet 2017-10-19 meatthemet 2017-10-19 lookdownguggenheim 2017-10-19

He had work and me too, but we still had the time to make the most of it. We went to the park, and the Met, and the Guggenheim. (I have no idea why those pictures are blurry, they aren’t before I upload them but I don’t have time to figure it out.)


knitthroughguggenheim 2017-10-19

I knit all of those places because I’m me.  Nobody minded.  As a matter of fact I wasn’t even the only knitter at the Met wandering around with a sock in hand.  (I think it was a sock.)

4. They were on their way to Rhinebeck, which I am not.

5. I know. I’m bummed about it too, but this year I had a conflict, and I’ll be at Knit East.  It will be the first time in more than a decade that I won’t be with my usual crew, but duty calls, and Knit East is awesome, and there will be a whole bunch of amazing knitters there too. Life is long.  Next year will be Rhinebeck, with my wool as my witness.

6. The only problem remains that I usually buy a years worth of soap there, so I’m going to need a solution. (Makes note to self, arranging cross-border soap mule.)


headed home 2017-10-19

I’m on my way home now, with a quick turnaround to St. John in the morning. I’m literally putting down one suitcase, sleeping, and picking up one I pre-packed before I left.


closed 2017-10-19

I almost went to a yarn store in NYC, but it was closed for a class. (One knitting teacher to another – I’d never interrupt your class. Not for anything.)


peas 2017-10-19

I ate at Dirt Candy. It was amazing. I had a tiny grilled pea taco. (And a lot of other stuff too.)

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Are thoughts of Halloween creeping up on you? It means Classic Recs is coming too!

A month from now at midnight GMT on October 28 (6 PM EST in the U.S. on Oct 27) we’ll be holding our 11th annual Halloween celebration through all the time zones until midnight November 1. This means five days for you to bring your all-time favorite recs of fics, vids, graphics, anything and everything fandom has produced in all the Whedon fandoms! All time periods before 2017 are eligible for posting and, as always, crossover content is A-OK, so get those lists ready!

We also want to alert anyone already familiar with us that following the movement of many people to Dreamwidth, either primarily or exclusively, we are encouraging posts to the [community profile] buffyversetop5 account here. So we hope to see names old and new here soon! Let us know if you have any questions.

Buffyverse Top 5 Classic Recs Angel Cast

A massive, violent star blooms

Oct. 5th, 2017 06:16 pm
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Posted by Phil Plait

Even before I was a professional astronomer, I had a fascination with over-the-top astronomical objects. Black holes, supernovae, colliding galaxies… the bigger the bang, the better.

And that’s why I love Wolf-Rayet stars.

These are monsters, from a dozen to several dozen times the mass of the Sun. The mass of the star is the key factor in how luminous it is; the amount of energy a normal star emits increases faster than the cube of the mass. That’s a steep relation. A normal star with ten times the Sun’s mass is 5,000 times brighter than the Sun, and one with 20 times the mass can be 50,000 times as energetic!

But that’s for normal stars. Wolf-Rayet stars (or WR stars for short) are massive, but they’re also evolved. That means that they’ve run out of hydrogen in their cores, and they’re now fusing helium into carbon, or carbon into oxygen. This produces a prodigious amount of energy, far more than normal stars do. WR stars can put out hundreds of thousands or even millions of times the energy the Sun does.

WR 124 is one such star, about 11,000 light years from Earth. I’m rather glad it’s that far away, because it blows out well over 100,000 times the energy the Sun does; if you swapped out the Sun for WR 124, our entire planet would be burned to a crisp.

Like many WR stars, WR 124 is surrounded by a huge nebula called M1-67, a gas cloud roughly 6 light years across. That’s 60 trillion kilometers, a vast distance. Despite that, the fierce light from WR 124 blasts through the gas, energizing it, and causing it to glow (literally) like a neon sign.

The huge nebula M1-67 around the Wolf-Rayet star WR124. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA / Judy Schmidt

The huge nebula M1-67 around the Wolf-Rayet star WR124. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA / Judy Schmidt

It looks like a flower, doesn’t it? That gas used to be a part of the star! Its outer layers, actually, which got blown off in a wind, like a super-solar wind, when WR 124 ran out of hydrogen fuel in its core, having converted it all into helium (and energy). The core contracted, got very hot, and the outer layers responded by absorbing some of that energy and blowing off the star. The actual process is pretty complicated, but it’s likely this wind blew for some thousands of years. Then a faster but less-dense wind of particles got blown off the star, which caught up with and slammed into the previous wind.

This collision can cause all kinds of wonderful and fantastic shapes to be constructed in the gas. In the case of the nebula M1-67, it created all those little bow waves and streamers and knots you can see throughout the cloud. Measurements of the nebula expansion show that the bulk of it (from the initial wind) is moving at about 40 kilometers per second — that’s fast enough to cross the continental U.S. in two minutes. Given its size, that means the nebula is probably something like 20,000 years old.

Mind you, some of the clumps you see in it are being slammed by the faster wind, and are moving at well over 100 km/sec. This is causing turbulence and chaos inside the nebula. That much is obvious from the image.

It’s funny; I remember when Hubble first observed this nebula back in 1998. The image they released was pretty cool, for the time. But looking at it with modern eyes, it’s not quite as spectacular:

The original release image of M1-67. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

The original release image of M1-67. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Again, mind you, when this was released it was a big deal. Hubble had only been up eight years, and for four of those it was taking fuzzy images due to the mirror being the wrong shape. Astronauts went up and swapped out cameras, replacing them with ones designed to counter the out-of-focus mirror, and the images we got back were hugely improved. This was one of them.

What I find funny is that the image I presented first is actually the same data. The difference is that now we have software and techniques that are way better at processing the data, cleaning it up, and presenting it in an appealing way. The first one above was done by Judy Schmidt, who is a whiz at taking Hubble images and turning them into masterpieces of art and beauty. (Note: The missing part of the image in the 1998 version is due to the layout of the detectors in that Hubble camera; data existed in that part of the image, but it’s not displayed. In her version, Schmidt filled in that space using that data to literally present a more complete picture.)

This is of some interest to me. There are a lot of Hubble images — a lot of space images from many different observatories and space probes — that are free and just sitting in archives. What treasures are out there, even ones we’ve seen before, but without the benefit of modern processing techniques? What spectacular observations of spectacular objects are still waiting for someone to present them to the world?

We’re at an amazing point in astronomical history when there are more people with more access to more data than ever before. I certainly hope — I know — that we will be seeing ever more images like M1-67, and our understanding and appreciation of the Universe will grow from them.


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The huge nebula M1-67 around the Wolf-Rayet star WR124. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA / Judy Schmidt
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[personal profile] china_shop
I finished Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch. It was good, but I'm not sure these books are quite my genre -- I want less focus on complicated cases and just a touch more on interpersonal relationships and the process of learning magic. Maybe I should just read the fanfic? Anyway, my TV died over the weekend, so now the boy and I are spending our evenings listening to the audiobook of Midnight Riot, the first Rivers of London book, which is wryly and excellently performed by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who does all the accents and makes me wish they'd stripped out the unnecessary speech tags.

Currently... I still have Cary Elwes waiting for me, but first I'm catching up on fanfic (primarily Les Mis E/R, and Star Wars Finn/Poe) and various internet posts that've been accumulating on my Kindle.

I've watched four episodes of Chicago Typewriter, and I'm soooo confuuuuused. Is it past-lives or time travel? Or a mix of both? Is Yoo a manifestation of the spirit of the typewriter (in which case, am I shipping Han Se Joo/the typewriter o.O)? And did they only name Yoo that so they could use that Platters song "Only You (and You Alone)" in the soundtrack -- hilariously, I might add? What is going onnnn? (Please don't tell me!)

Also, it's a little painful watching him struggle with writer's block, when I too am in a slump. I keep shouting advice at him that I am not taking myself. ;-P

I also watched the 2-episode time-travel/undercover-as-a-eunuch drama, Splash Splash Love, about a high school student who runs away from her SAT exams and jumps through a puddle into drought-stricken Jeoseon, where her identity is immediately mistaken because apparently "high school senior" is a homophone for "eunuch" in Korean. It was cute but felt like a school play compared to Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, by which I mean they didn't manage to sell me on the world-building, and the relationships felt very rushed. And the age difference between the pairing bothered me. And (on an extremely shallow note) the actors weren't as pretty.

J and I have given up on My Girl (I'll finish it on my own) and switched to Master's Sun instead, which is a re-watch for me. Ghosts! Humour! Complicated backstories! Oh, my!

Mystery Queen and Chief Kim are both on hold this week.

Other TV
My TV turned into a radio over the weekend, so our Parks & Recreation re-watch has stalled (though we did watch the Halloween episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine last night on my teeny laptop). Since I failed to buy a replacement over the weekend, I decided to explore the possibility of having my TV repaired after all and yesterday drove half an hour up the motorway and into Lower Hutt to the repair place.

I realise that to many of you, half an hour's drive sounds like nothing, but Wellington is very compact, and when I gave the repair guy my address, he said, "You're a long way from home." Heh.

Anyway, we have the rest of Parks and The Expanse s2 on DVD waiting for us, and Pru comes over to watch dramas with me once a week, so I'm going to have to resolve the issue somehow. I'd rather not watch stuff on my desktop, because it would involve reconfiguring my living room.

Ha ha ha ha ha. *sigh*

Korean study
I had my first language exchange over the weekend. We talked for over two hours, in a mix of Korean and English, and we're meeting again tomorrow. I'm a little concerned that we want different things, but I guess we'll see how we go.

I've also downloaded Duolingo, now they offer Korean, and I'm working my way through that. It's fun and addictive (game-ification!), but I'm not sure I'm learning a great deal. I need to knuckle down and actually memorise some vocab.

And my classes start up again this evening.

The guy who used to fix my computer finally emailed me back (\o/) and said he's super busy atm, so I'm hanging in here, waiting until his time frees up enough that he can look at it. Which is 100% better than not having a plan.

...is sunny and warming up. I have some errands to run, and I think I'm going to bike out and have lunch with the boy. And then, of course, Kclass.

Ceres harvests a series of names

Oct. 15th, 2017 01:27 am
[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

I remember a time when objects in the solar system were things an astronomer studied because they were far away.

But then something remarkable happened: We built spaceships. Distant points of light became places, things we could visit. And then as we sent more and more sophisticated equipment to them, they became worlds. Diverse, complex, endlessly surprising. Places planetary scientists, and not just astronomers, could study. Places we could discover, places we could explore, places we could map.

And then another remarkable thing happened: We had to names the features on those maps.

From the ground, even close-by objects like Mars are fuzzy, and a few dozen landmarks could be seen. Naming wasn’t too hard.

But then, with space probes, we could see features with incredible resolution. We went from seeing almost nothing to seeing almost everything. And with that came the naming of names.

It becomes a sort of rite of passage for a celestial body to go from something indistinct to something where we need dozens or hundreds of names for its surface features. I’m not much for arbitrary ceremony, but when this need becomes reality, so too, somehow, does the object in question. It is no longer an astronomical object, but, well, a place.

And Ceres is now in that pantheon. Over the past year or so, the International Astronomical Union — the official keeper of astronomical catalogs, names, and such — bestowed upon this object names for its surface features. 25 more such names were recently approved by the IAU, suggestions from the team running the Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres since March 2015. The map of Ceres is now bursting with named features:

An Atlas of Ceres, using images from the Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

An Atlas of Ceres, using images from the Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Ceres itself, discovered on the first day of the 19th century (January 1, 1801*), was named after the Roman goddess of the harvest, and so that has been kept as a theme for its surface: Craters are named after harvest deities from different cultures, while other features (mountains, cracks, cliffs, and so on) are named after harvest festivals from around the Earth.

When I look at this map, I truly feel awe. Ceres is a protoplanet, an object smaller than a true planet but different than the rubble we call asteroids; Ceres was well on its way to becoming a planet before it stopped growing billions of years ago. It orbits the Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, never getting closer than about 250 million kilometers from Earth.

This is the highest-resolution image of Ceres from Earth, taken using Hubble Space Telescope in 2003/2004.

This is the highest-resolution image of Ceres from Earth, taken using Hubble Space Telescope in 2003/2004. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park), and M. Mutchler and Z. Levay (STScI)

Being only 950 kilometers in diameter, that means that even in big telescopes, Ceres is small. The best Hubble could do was get a blurry image of it; this one here was taken when Ceres was closest to Earth and therefore about as large as it can appear, and you can see it’s not terribly detailed (and even then astronomers had to do some clever image processing to get it to be as resolved as it is; with this camera Ceres is normally no better than about 20 pixels wide).

You can see some features on it, like a bright spot, and some patchy regions. But that’s about it.

Then we sent the Dawn spacecraft there. It had spent a little over a year orbiting the asteroid belt’s other protoplanet, Vesta, before venturing to Ceres. And this little fuzzy light in the sky became a world, a place of rock and briny ice and surprises and rugged, fierce beauty.

A place that needed names. And now it has them. Well over a hundred … and that’s only for features down to a few kilometers across. There are thousands upon thousands of craters and other landmarks that need names too. I wonder how that will be done? Maybe — like galaxies and stars, which became too numerous to name once our telescopes got better — we’ll just use numbers, coordinates, to designate them rather than name them. That’ll almost certainly be necessary, if unromantic.

Perhaps one day, humans will live on Ceres, exploring it, mining it, making it their home. If and when they do (and I lean toward when), they’ll personalize this little world.

I wonder, too. In the history of our planet, a lot of cultures explored as conquerors, renaming places that had had names by the natives sometimes for many thousands of years (and this is the least of the explorers’ sins). In America as well as other countries, this sort of brutality is finally being widely recognized for what it is, and efforts are being made to do better.

When we go to these other worlds, there won’t be natives there to disenfranchise or enslave, no names to erase and rewrite. But now, as we do map these worlds, the names given recognize cultures from around our own blue-green world. I think that’s a step in the right direction, and one I hope future explorers build upon.

*Yes, it was. Fight me.


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Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Confusing Malaise" - originally published 10/16/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

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[personal profile] china_shop
Three movies on my DVD shelves that you probably haven't heard of.

Love and Other Catastrophes (1996) - here's the trailer, but it's actually much more female-focused and f/f-friendly than the trailer suggests. Wikipedia's description starts:
The story revolves around University of Melbourne film studies students and roommates Mia (Frances O'Connor) and Alice (Alice Garner), each of whom is experiencing various upheavals. Mia and Alice have just moved into a trendy apartment but are in desperate need of a housemate. Mia's girlfriend Danni (Radha Mitchell) is keen to move in, but Mia fears commitment.
This was Emma-Kate Croghan's first film out of film school at Melbourne University, and it has all the energy and indomitableness of a debut, plus an excellent cast.

Jalla! Jalla! (2000) - trailer (which I can only find dubbed into Italian, wtf?). This is the low-budget film of my heart.1

Wikipedia's plot outline:
Roro (Fares Fares) and Måns (Torkel Petersson), who are best friends, work at the park management and get to do all the shit jobs - clean up duck ponds and pick up dog poop. Roro's Swedish girlfriend Lisa (Tuva Novotny) wants to be introduced to his family but he refuses for a long time because of his Lebanese family traditions. When Roro finally decides to introduce Lisa to his family, he walks into the apartment full of relatives who are planning a marriage with the Lebanese girl Yasmine (Laleh Pourkarim).
I ship Roro/Lisa, but also Roro/Måns, and I keep wanting to make a slash vid for it but haven't been able to find the right song. (Måns' storyline includes erectile dysfunction; at one point he makes Roro go into a sex shop and buy him a cock pump.)

The film is inventive and fun, and has oodles of driving energy and charm. Roro's family (played by the director's real family) is great, and it's all just really adorable.

Housebound (2014) - trailer. This is a brilliant local comedy horror movie directed by Gerard Johnstone (and it's another directorial debut, ha!). It has 97% on rottentomatoes. It's about a petty thief who's sentenced to six months' home detention in her mother's haunted house, and it's full of twists and creepy turns and hilarity and jumpscares. Tonally, it's along the lines of Shaun of the Dead and its ilk.

1 At post-get/together brunch, we each listed off the top of our heads five films that define us. Mine were:
  • Out of Africa
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Jalla! Jalla!
  • Big Hero 6
  • Unconditional Love (AKA Who Killed Victor Fox)
I need to belatedly add:
  • Desperately Seeking Susan
  • Footloose

Fibre in your diet

Oct. 17th, 2017 08:01 pm
[syndicated profile] yarn_harlot_feed

Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Socktober is still a thing over here. I had a brief dalliance with the beginnings of a shawl at Knit City, but it didn’t quite take hold, though it might have stood a chance but for Megan. My mum loved clothes shopping and did heaps of it for all of us, so I was trying to be a good grandmother, and asked her what Elliot needed. She answered that he could use a sleeper or two, and that she likes the ones with feet. I went shopping, and had trouble finding footed ones that would fit him. (Being of average weight for his age but of a rather diminutive stature, our wee lad is a bit of a square.) I bought the one footed one I could find, and two that didn’t have feet, and forked them over to Meg. When I did, she mentioned that the reason she likes the footed ones is because his little feet get so cold at night and then she said maybe he needed more booties or socks or something like that and I felt a feeling that must be exactly like the way sharks feel when they pour the buckets of chum in the water.

I went the knitter equivalent of bananas. It was all I could think of. Babies are enough to set me off, but the thought of a cold baby who could only be saved by knitting? Lunatic. I was a lunatic with wool. My grandson had cold feet and I was unstoppable. Hours later:

littleblueonestoo 2017-10-17 greenalldone 2017-10-17

One pair with ribbed cuffs and a stockinette foot, and another pair where I kept the ribbing going on the top of the sock, and gave way to stockinette on only the bottom. (No pattern, though you can find lots on Ravelry if you look – wait, I did it for you. These ones by Kate Atherley look perfect.) The good news is that not only are his feet warm, they fit just fine:

greensockson 2017-10-17

Maybe a little big, but he’s growing fast, and they are apparently delicious.

greenoneisgoodtoo 2017-10-17 delicioussocks 2017-10-17

The green ones especially.

Holly Poly

Oct. 16th, 2017 10:14 pm
settiai: (Numinous World -- settiai)
[personal profile] settiai
Whoever nominated all of the Numinous World relationships for Holly Poly, I love you. ♥

(If it's not someone reading this, I'm going to be very surprised. Impressed, but surprised.)
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[personal profile] china_shop
This was my weekend (in no particular order):
  1. fed chickens in a hailstorm
  2. discovered my tv has died1
  3. failed to make the necessary decisions to buy a new tv
  4. saw ducklings, kaka, toutouwhai (native robin) and tuatara at the Karori Sanctuary
  5. started listening to the first Rivers of London audiobook
  6. started reading an excellent Les Mis fic
  7. had my first language exchange (in person, for 2hr20)
  8. only watched 1 hour of Kdrama
1 I have sound but no picture; it's only 4 yrs old; I am cranky about the mayfly lifespan of electronic goods these days.

ION, [profile] jamethiel_bane is doing a "post every day" meme, and I thought I'd do my own version, using her prompts, but maybe adapting some to suit me, and probably being far more erratic.

1. What do you prefer to be called by folks reading the entry? Who named you that and why? Where did it come from?

My fandom name is china shop, AKA china AKA Ms Shop. Even offline, in fannish circles I go by china.

It originates from an Ani DiFranco lyric (from the song "You Had Time"), via my pre-fandom blog, which was titled "you are a china shop, I am a bull". In 2007 I wrote on LJ:
Pre-fandom I was a different person online, and while I'm no less me now, well, livejournal is a slightly uncomfortable stage (in the performance sense) for me. The "push" of my entries appearing in your friends' list, as opposed to the "pull" of someone seeking them out. If I'm collected together, I'm more likely to cohere, but in general I suspect I'm a couple of tiles in a mosaic.

I first chose this name as a disclaimer -- you are a china shop, i am a bull -- and then accidentally claimed the fragile part as my identity. Possibly prescient.

The first paragraph of which seems adorably quaint now, in the face of tumblr and reblogging and posts running wild.

Anyway, yes, I am china. I named myself. I like it.

제 팬덤 이름은 차이나인데 진짜 세상에서도 잰 사람와 이야기하면 저는 차이나이라고 합니다. 아니 디 프랑코의 노래에게서 제 이름이 왔는데 "너는 도예를 파는 가게인데 나는 황소예요"라고 합니다. 도예를 파는 가게는 차이나 쇼프입니다.
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Posted by Phil Plait

Long, long ago, a pair of neutron stars were on the brink of a cataclysm.

Formed from massive stars billions of years earlier, these two supremely dense objects had been dancing around each other since the Universe was young. As they did, they slowly leaked away energy in the form of gravitational waves, ripples in the very fabric of space and time. Slowly, oh so slowly, they edged closer, revolving faster bit by bit as their mutual orbit cinched tighter.

The waves they emitted were a whisper at first, barely affecting space around them. But, over the eons, the whisper grew, until the loss of energy was too much. In the final few milliseconds, whirling around each other at a substantial fraction of the speed of light, the whisper of gravitational waves turned into a shout, then a roar.

At that moment, the mutual and ferocious gravity of the two neutron stars grew overwhelming: They literally ripped each other apart. At the center of the maelstrom the gravity was so intense the material crashed inward, and the gravitational waves emitted reached a fever pitch. The material was under such force that they tore a hole in space and time: A black hole was born ... and the shriek of gravitational waves was its birth cry.

As that chaos around the newly formed black hole began to organize itself, a phenomenally complex witch’s brew of forces also focused twin blasts of energy up and down from the chaos, huge pulses of light that screamed away into the blackness of space.

Artwork showing the moment of the neutron star collision, with beams of energy shooting out and gravitational waves shaking ripples in the space-time continuum. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

Artwork showing the moment of the neutron star collision, with beams of energy shooting out and gravitational waves shaking ripples in the space-time continuum. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet


The ripples in space from the gravitational waves moved outward, followed closely behind by the fierce beams of light. They traveled for 130 million years before reaching Earth. Dimmed by the length of their journey, the waves passed through our planet, stretching it ever so slightly. A mere two seconds later the light from the catastrophe descended on our planet as well.

The flashes of energy from the neutron star merger, sent across the Universe before T. rex strode the Earth, reached the instruments of astronomers on and above the Earth ... and signaled not just the birth of a black hole, but also of a new kind of astronomy.

As you might expect, this is very big news. Astronomers have been waiting a very long time to see exactly this sort of event.

A neutron star is the ultra dense remnant of the core of a massive star after the outer layers explode in a supernova. If two massive stars orbit each other, both can become neutron stars. After billions of years they spiral together and merge, creating a catastrophic explosion called a gamma-ray burst. Tremendous beams of energy are blasted away from the poles, focused by the ridiculously powerful magnetic fields of the two stars.

This video shows computer models of the neutron stars merging, and how their magnetic fields coalesce to form those beams.


If you’ve been paying attention to astronomy news, you may know that four gravitational wave events have been positively detected by the Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO. These are caused by the mergers of two enormous black holes; as they spiral in together, they shake the space-time continuum, creating ripples in it that expand away a bit like waves on a pond when you toss a heavy rock in. These literally stretch and compress space, but by the time these waves reach us, they are extremely low amplitude and take incredibly precise measurements to see. LIGO is designed to detect them.

The first such event was detected in 2015. Three more have been seen, the last one in August 2017 when LIGO was joined by another facility, Virgo, in Europe. Together, their sensitivity was increased, allowing them to detect even fainter gravitational waves.

The hope for quite some time has been that these enhanced observatories would be able to detect neutron star mergers as well, which are lower-energy than black hole collisions, and therefore more difficult to detect.

That hope became reality at 12:41 UTC on August 17, 2017 (just three days after the last black hole detection). A faint signal was received at the detectors at that moment, matching the profile of a neutron star/neutron star collision. The astronomers dubbed it GW170817: a gravitational wave event seen on 2017 August 17. It was the first time the gravitational waves from such an event had ever been detected!

But what makes this even more exciting is that the Fermi gamma-ray telescope orbiting high above the Earth also detected a weak flash of gamma rays just two seconds later. Fermi has instruments on it designed to look for gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the soul-crushingly powerful explosions emitted when black holes are born. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, sent out in a fierce blast at the formation moment of a new black hole, and we’ve been detecting them from exploding stars and merging neutrons stars for decades now. The burst just seen, GRB 120817A, is one of hundreds already seen, and in fact a rather weak one at that.

But the faintness of the burst belies the extraordinary nature of the event: This is the very first time a GRB has been detected along with the gravitational waves from the black hole formation!

This is incredibly important. The direction to the source of gravitational waves is extremely hard to pin down using LIGO/Virgo, but Fermi’s detection of the gamma rays narrowed the location in the sky with far higher precision.

The Very Large Telescope was used to spot GW170817 in NGC 4993; it’s the dot just above and to the left of the galaxy’s core. Credit: ESO/A.J. Levan, N.R. Tanvir

The Very Large Telescope was used to spot GW170817 in NGC 4993; it’s the dot just above and to the left of the galaxy’s core. Credit: ESO/A.J. Levan, N.R. Tanvir


And that’s where this gets better still: Astronomers around the world were immediately notified, and within hours they were scrambling to search the targeted spot in the sky. Images taken using the Henrietta Swopes 1-meter telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile were compared to ones taken earlier of the same region, and after looking at only nine images they hit paydirt: A new point of light located very near the center of the galaxy NGC 4993, an old but luminous galaxy 130 million light-years away.

That unassuming dot had vast import. For the first time, astronomers had found the visible afterglow of a neutron star merger that had also been detected by gravitational waves.

As an astronomer I can tell you that the nature of this is nothing short of a breakthrough. With the afterglow detected, a huge amount of data becomes available. The distance to the galaxy means we know how much energy was emitted. The rate at which it faded proved it not just a typical supernova, an exploding star; those fade over weeks and months, where this one dropped like a rock in mere days.

The Dark Energy Camera captured GW170817 mere hours after the event, then again two weeks later, by which time it had faded to invisibility. Credit: M. Soares-Santos, D. E. Holz, J. Annis

The Dark Energy Camera captured GW170817 mere hours after the event, then again two weeks later, by which time it had faded to invisibility. Credit: M. Soares-Santos, D. E. Holz, J. Annis


The material blasted outward from the explosion could be examined. It consists of two components, one thinly spread and moving very rapidly — fully a third the speed of light! — and a thicker, slower one, moving outward at a more leisurely, but still staggering, 1/10th light speed.

As more telescopes observed the event, more was learned. Radio waves and X-rays emitted showed that the beams of matter and energy emitted by the explosion were aimed slightly away from us, probably by about 30°. As that material slammed into matter inside the host galaxy it slowed and puffed outward; the beams widened, spreading their aim, and we on Earth so very far away caught the edges of them. That’s why the gamma-ray burst was faint, even though this object was very close by in a cosmic sense relative to most GRBs; we only saw the edge of the blast. The energy received was only about a thousandth as bright as other GRBs like it elsewhere; had the beams been aimed directly at us this would have been a phenomenally bright event (to be clear, I mean bright to an astronomer; it still would’ve taken a telescope to detect it).

rtwork depicting the moment of collision between two neutron stars. The resulting explosion is… quite large. Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.

rtwork depicting the moment of collision between two neutron stars. The resulting explosion is… quite large. Credit: Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital, Inc.


And this gets better yet. Astronomers took spectra of the afterglow, breaking the light up into individual colors. This allows a lot of information to be gleaned about the source. What they found is that the way the material glowed and faded was consistent with the creation of what we call r-process elements: The explosion was so powerful that lighter elements were able to rapidly capture neutrons ricocheting around inside the blast wave, performing stellar alchemy and changing their atomic structure into heavier elements. Which elements? Ones like gold and platinum.

Are you wearing gold jewelry? Probably some of the parts of the computer on which you’re reading this article use gold and/or platinum to operate. Until now, we weren’t exactly sure how those elements were created in the Universe; it was thought they were formed in normal supernova explosions, but the physics was saying they must be created somewhere else. Now we know where.

Do you see? These elements were created in the heart of the catastrophic merger of two massive neutron stars billions of years ago somewhere in our own galaxy, a tremendous but brief explosion that left behind a black hole and scattered those precious elements into space. They seeded a cloud of gas and dust, which itself collapsed to form the Sun, the planets ... and Earth. 4.56 billion years later, we mined those materials from our planet, admired them, used them to adorn ourselves, and created machines that allowed us to understand how those elements formed in the first place.

The Universe has created the conditions in which it can study itself. That’s what this newest burst means.

Some people ask me why I love astronomy so much. I find this question amusing. How can you not?


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Autumn Experience (tm) risotto

Oct. 16th, 2017 10:06 am
highlyeccentric: Demon's Covenant - Kitchen!fail - I saw you put rice in the toaster (Demon's Covenant - kitchen!fail)
[personal profile] highlyeccentric posting in [community profile] omnomnom
I made this last night and it was an Experience.

Dietary and accessibility notes )

What you need and what you do with it )

Makes 3-4 servings

PostSecret in Nebraska Last Week

Oct. 14th, 2017 11:33 pm
[syndicated profile] post_secret_feed

Posted by Frank


Hi Frank,

We met at your Nebraska PostSecret Live! event last night.  I’m the woman who drove down from Minnesota and who told my secret to everyone about why that was so significant to me.

Firstly, I want to thank you so much for everything. Your acknowledgement 
and validation of my struggle means more to me than you can ever know. I have never felt anything like that in my life. My heart is overflowing with love for everyone I met there.


Like you talked about, we often keep secrets from ourselves, and I think in the end the real secret was I couldn’t forgive myself. There is still a ways to go, but realizing this I can let go a bit and start to heal. I know I will never gain back what was lost completely. But like I said in my secret, I am gaining back a piece of what was lost. Right now that’s honestly more than I thought I’d ever 


PS. Oh, and you managed to pull off my hat quite nicely.


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