Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Archive for September, 2011

Cool Photo #2: A Satisfying Blend of Natural and Artificial Light

(Part of an ongoing, occasional series of posts.)

Apparently a German observatory was testing out a new laser guide star system, to be installed at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, when a thunderstorm blew in. A photographer captured the laser beam appearing to melt into the lightning bolt — it almost looks as if humans are attacking nature and nature is striking back.

I’m not sure if I would have permission to reprint this photo, so I’ll just point you to the relevant post on the New Scientist website. It’s worth seeing.

The laser-and-lightning combo also reminds me of an upside-down “beam tree.” What’s a beam tree, you ask? I promise it will be the subject of a “Cool Photo” post in the future!

The plagues of August are over

August has been a whirlwind month — I burned out a crucial part of the automatic transmission of my car, requiring major repairs and scuttling a camping trip I had been planning. Then we got a rare East Coast earthquake, followed by a glancing blow from a storm named Irene.

Fortunately, the brick walls of my condo building weren’t cracked, the lights have come back on, and I got my wheels back from the transmission shop (a small-but-expert business operating since 1968). And we have turned the calendar page into September.

Lately I’ve been working on two feature articles for Optics & Photonics News, and if you’re an OSA member, you’ll be able to read them soon. The October issue will contain my article titled “Light in Flight: Optical Applications in Civilian Aviation.” The article that’s tentatively scheduled for November will have a more “spacey” theme  — I shall divulge the topic as the publication time approaches.

In other news, I now have a Facebook page that’s devoted to interesting topics in science. Most are things forwarded from other Facebook pages, but still, reposting them there is faster than switching over to WordPress. Here is the link:

Patricia Daukantas, Science Writer/Editor

If I can get 25 people to “Like” me on Facebook, I can customize the URL for the page, I believe. Anyway, please do check it out! I’ve got some optics news up there, and everything else from helium-poor stars to Ned Kelly’s bones.

Additional note about the East Coast earthquake

One of the most knowledgeable writers about last month’s earthquake — which I felt while sitting at my desk a few miles northeast of Washington, D.C. — has been Callan Bentley, a geologist who blogs for the AGU. Check out this entry for an interesting blend of hard science and personal experience.

Back in March, I visited the town of Mineral, Va., to attend an event at Louisa County Middle School. I remember Mineral as a small town, way off the interstate, so when I heard where the temblor’s epicenter was, I instantly recognized the location. I can’t seem to find a permanent link to the video of the Louisa County High School ceilings falling down (shown on CNN recently), but if I recall correctly, the middle school is right next to the high school complex. Even though I was only with an organization that was renting space in the middle school for a day, I feel a certain connection with the people of Louisa County.