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Mike Brown
6,678 followers
6,678 followers
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The Science of the Solar System, my new course on +Coursera is now read for sign up! The class opens March 31st, but you can check out the preview video, complete with bad jokes, at https://www.coursera.org/course/solarsystem

The class is at a higher level than a typical "Physics for Poets" college class (in planetary science, we call these "Moons for Goons" classes) and will use the tools of science to explore some exciting topics in our solar system and other planetary systems. That said, if you're worried that you're not quite up to the science, there will still be plenty that you can get out of the class. So come give it a try. If you sign up now it is completely free. Well, ok, tomorrow too. And the next day. And every day.

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Sometimes weird results in science just creep up on you. I've been pondering ice and rock in the outer solar system for nearly a decade, trying to figure out how it all comes together to form the largest objects like Eris and Pluto and Haumea, and many of the things just didn't quite fit. Finally I found the perfect object to measure that I figured would definitively answer all of my questions and.... well, read here

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Here's the write up on our first steps at making a radio telescope this summer. Much progress, but plenty to keep us busy through the summer!

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Lilah and I decided to convert the dish network antenna on our house into something useful. A radio Telescope.
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Radio Telescope Construction
20 Photos - View album

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Oh, hey, Europa paper is out. Europa. Salt. Telescopes. What more could you want? Read the blog posts (all 3 parts. finally). And read the paper.

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All right, I still haven't quite gotten the hang of all of this G+ stuff. But, I submit, for your entertainment, a story of salt, ice, and radiation. All really far away.

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Endeavour flies over Pasadena
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Raining again

One of the things we're always on the look out for (at least when we're at a telescope) is a big storm on Titan. With Keck it's pretty easy. In about 20 minutes we can swing around, take some images, and instantly know what is going on. The answer for today is: not much different. We're peering over the top of the north pole these days (I marked it with a red dot in the picture on the left), and most of what you see in the image on the left is simply known surface features on Titan (known means we keep seeing them, not that we really know what they are). The picture on the right uses a different wavelength that only sees through to the clouds. You can barely see some hazy stuff all over the north pole, and, marked with little green arrows, a single cloud streak near the limb.

We've been seeing these streaky little northern clouds ever since the north pole come out of polar winter. Presumably these are related to the lakes at the north pole (you can read my paper all about it: http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/papers/ps/lakecloud.pdf though the explanation proposed may or may not be correct). Keeping track of their location and frequency is teaching us much about the methane cycle on Titan and its relation to the lakes, clouds, rain, and circulation in general. Which is fun, I think.

(also, you should compare to the pictures we took last month: https://plus.google.com/u/0/107708461227061246788/posts/2yjbKrZMGzv )
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The main reason we're firing lasers out the barrel of the Keck telescope tonight is to use them to help correct the turbulence of the earth's atmosphere so we can get nice crisp pictures. A good example is the one here. It is the asteroid Huenna and its satellite (no name :( ) Huenna, on the left, is bright enough that you can still see the effects of the earth's turbulent atmosphere; all of those little blobs and streaks are things that the instrument and laser try to correct but can't. Nonetheless, the correction is good enough that you can see the tiny little dot of the satellite on the right.

We're watching the pair because other astronomers have hypothesized that the orbit of the satellite might be changing due to a subtle effect from the sun that's never been directly observed. We can't tell from a single observation, but over the next few months repeated imaging will tell the story.

The satellite is about 1 arcsecond away, which is about how big the fuzzy blob of the asteroid would look if we weren't using the laser to correct things.
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On March 28th, if you are standing at the NASA IRTF (clever acronym: Infrared Telescope Facility), the sun sets precisely between the two Keck telescopes. Coincidence? Or intentional? Keckhendge.
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