Thursday, May 24, 2012

Iowa City High Brobotics

Today the last meeting of the Lego robotics "Brobotics" club at my school. It has been an amazing year filled with amazing people, so I thought I'd commemorate all we've done with a post.

Most of our team

We competed in Ames, Iowa winning both 5th and 4th places, a massive improvement from last year. In fact, everything this year has been an improvement. We've gone from about 5 members to nearly 18, we had so many members that we took two teams to the competition. We had much more time to work and we even managed to win the Prometheus Awards held by the Technology Association of Iowa for our participation in the HyperStream program. 
 We won an X-Box and Kinect

 Like good engineers we fooled around a lot and built some pretty cool things, supposedly in preparation for the competition.

 This bladed top spins when run across the ground

 This is a remote controlled motorcycle we built

video
The bike actually works

 As a part of a community service project we did, we got the great pleasure of visiting our local elementary school and getting the younger children there excited about engineering and all the possibilities that they'll have as they move up through their education. I sincerely hope that we had a lasting impact on them.
 We went to Hoover Elementary

 We told them all about what our club does

 Then we let them play around with our kits

This is just a small taste of our antics, and as good as this year has been, next year can only get better. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Eridanus Supervoid

Eridanus is a constellation with interesting properties of its own, however, an anomaly within the constellation is what I want to talk about. Being close to ten billion light years away, this anomaly is rightfully called the "Eridanus Supervoid" and it is as cool as its name would suggest.
Eridanus constellation

The Eridanus supervoid is a void, a complete absence of matter, or more specifically, and absence of galaxies. Because of how matter coalesced and dispersed in the early days of the universe, there are many voids around today between galaxies and galactic clusters, but the Eridanus supervoid is unique because of its massive size. This supervoid happens to be around one billion light years across. It's massive. In 2007 it was deemed the largest void, and it still holds that title.

Because it is so phenomenally large, a few crazy ideas have been thrown around about the origin and nature of this supervoid, on of the more notable being that it was created by quantum entanglement between our galaxy and another. Now, I won't say that I believe such theories, but it's still an intriguing idea.
Another theory states that the Eridanus supervoid, and other supervoids like it are created by super massive black holes. These black holes would have to have the mass of many galaxies, I've even heard the phrase "universe-in-mass" being thrown about. I find this theory even harder to swallow, but I can't say that I wouldn't be excited to find out it's actually true.
It is possible that the supervoid is actually a massive black hole.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse: 5/20/12

On Sunday there was a solar eclipse visible in the United States and around the world. I hope all of you managed to get a look at it, I know I did.
This was the first time in my life that I actually witnessed a solar eclipse for my self, and while amazing, it wasn't nearly as spectacular here in Iowa as it was elsewhere in the world. I still took pictures though.
The best picture of the solar eclipse that I could get through eclipse glasses.

 Sun without eclipse glasses

In Iowa City, the eclipse was partial, so it was still extremely bright and getting a quality photo was difficult. Others did a far better job than I.
Eclipse over Yokohama near Tokyo. Taken by Koji Sasahara.

Eclipse over Gardnerville, Nevada. Taken by Cathleen Allison.

 Eclipse over Irving, Texas. Taken by Tony Gutierrez.

In comparison, my pictures are mediocre at best. All in all though, I'm glad I got the chance to be a part of this.

With any partial eclipse, there is still too much light getting in from the sun to make it safe to look at directly, so inventive measures must be taken in order to even get a glimpse of the event. In pictures like the one from Texas, the sun has already begun to set, which means that there is enough atmosphere between the sun and the observer to allow pictures to be taken. Like the picture from Nevada, it is also possible to view the eclipse through a storm cloud without injury, but how can we view the eclipse if we aren't fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time? It's actually fairly easy, you can buy special glasses, or use the "pinhole" technique.
There exist special "eclipse glasses" that are heavily tinted to allow the user to safely view the sun. Normal sunglasses aren't strong enough to keep an observer safe, in fact, very few things are. Even minimal exposure to intense sunlight can cause permanent blindness. Because of this, eclipse glasses are so opaque that the only thing you can see through them is the sun.
One of the few safe ways to directly view the sun.

The other common technique for viewing solar eclipses is indirect. It is called the "pinhole" technique. Basically, you can look at the sun through an extremely small hole because not enough light will get through to obscure the image or cause any damage. Usually pictures are taken through something called a pinhole lens that uses this method, the pinholes are often too small for humans to see through. If we aren't taking a picture of the sun, then light can be shown through the pinhole onto a piece of paper to get a "shadow" of the eclipse.
 What a pinhole eclipse "shadow" can look like.

 What it the pinhole shadow looked like when I tried it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Great Attractor

Somewhere between 150 and 250 light years from our galaxy exists a fascinating phenomenon known as "the Great Attractor". Sadly, however, there isn't much to tell about it, for we still don't know much about it.
Map of our local super clusters

It turns out that our galaxy, along with several local galaxy clusters, are all accelerating towards some central point in the direction of the constellations Hydra and Centaurus which has been dubbed "the Great Attractor" at about 600 km/s. The mass necessary for such a pull would have to be something on the order of 10s to 1000s of milky way galaxies, or ~1016 solar masses. As massive as this anomaly would have to be, you'd think we'd know more about it, but it happens to be past the Zone of Avoidance, an area that is obscured by the Milky Way galaxy. From what we can see, it looks like most of the mass of the Great Attractor is found in a cluster of galaxies called Abell 3627. The relatively recent Clusters in the Zone of Avoidance (CIZA) project suggests that the Great Attractor is only 1/10 of the mass pulling us.
Milky Way

 Abell 3627