Field of Science

Comet ISON in the Sky

Comet ISON photograph by Damian Peach.There is a new object in the sky. Comet ISON is an icy wanderer making its first and probably last last trip into the solar system from its previous home in the Oort cloud. It will graze by the Sun brilliantly and then depart. As it approaches the inner solar system, it is now inside the orbit of Earth, astronomers have been watching its outbursts of ice and volatile materials which then reflect sunlight and make the comet very bright. It is just visible to the naked eye according to some reports now.  Comet ISON has increased in brightness many times over in the last few days.

We don't know how bright it will get. Astronomers generally just don't know as much about comets as we would like. The comet has undergone outbursts of brightening and dimming, while generally tending to get brighter as it enters in to the inner solar system ISON may become entirely disrupted or get brighter and brighter - the comet of the century. The reason for all this uncertainty is that comets and this object in particular are not well studied. But also it is that comets are not dense rocks, but rather they are loose aggregations of dust, rubble, and ices. Tidal forces and heating of the ices can literally unbind entire comets. I haven't been able to see it for myself yet, it hasn't been quite visible because it rises so late I think.  Currently, if you want to see comet ISON from North America look east right before dawn as it passes Mercury. Read the rest of my post on comet ISON over at Common Observer...

Common Observer, uncommon observations

common observer, uncommon observationscommon observer, an online venue of science, art, philosophy, and culture
I have a new online project and venue that I have launched! Common Observer is a collaborative online venue of science, art, philosophy, and culture. The tagline is "Common Observer, uncommon observations." The idea is that we must reason as if we are the most common observer, but that doesn't preclude uncommon observations. An uncommon observation is something that challenges our human condition of common observation. A poem, a theorem, a dance, an equation, a painting, a story, a novel, or a theoretical truth may all be uncommon observations about the world we inhabit.

Yet fear not, I will still post on The Astronomist, in particular I will cross post any original scientific content I create. The reason for this shift of focus is at least two fold. First, it is hard to find time to generate original thoughtful content while finishing a PhD so Common Observer will have more aggregated content. Second, while so many people love astronomy, I feel a broader forum of wider interests will better grip reader's attention, as well as my own attention.

I hope that Common Observer can be a successful collaborative project. In order to realize that goal I am currently searching for culture, art, philosophy, or poetry contributors. So please check out the new project, share it with friends and colleagues, or contact me if you have inclinations to collaborate. Follow Common Observer on twitter, subscribe to the RSS, or just visit the site often. Thanks for the continued support.