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Mike Brown
Attended Princeton University
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Mike Brown

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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.
The Science of the Solar System is a free online class taught by of California Institute of Technology
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Mike Brown

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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!
When we moved into our house more than 7 years ago now the old owners left their Dish Network satellite TV dish attached to the roof. A few months later we got a sternly worded letter from the Disk Network demanding that we send them the dish back. With my detailed knowledge of the intricacies ...
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What? This is fantastic! Gosh, I want to make one too...maybe you could come over and build one for me when you are done? I'll buy the beer!
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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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Will let my daughter (your mega-fan) read the blog post this evening.  Glad you're back on g+!  I've just added you to my subscribe circle.
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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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Super interesting. Do you think it is likely we'll get a probe to land on Europa sometime in this half-century?
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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 rain on Titain is mainly on the ....(you answer)
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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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amazing
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I just read today about a contest sponsored by Hubble Space Telescope to search the HST archives for pretty pictures, process them, and share with the world. I love this idea. Hubble has taken thousands of images which have been scientifically analyzed and looked at but have probably never been looked at by anyone. Sometimes, like in the case here, the images were not even really part of the science, just side product of acquiring the actual scientific data. So much of the universe is sitting inside the Hubble archives waiting to be discovered; this is an excellent way to encourage everyone to go take a peek.

Check it out here:
http://www.spacetelescope.org/projects/hiddentreasures

When the contest was announced I immediately thought of the picture below of Comet Hyakutake that we took 16 years ago (sigh). We needed to find the nucleus to perform spectroscopy, so we had to take a picture, but, boy-oh-boy, what a pictures. With no processing at all (and a good computer screen) you can see what is buried in there. Jets that look like garden sprinklers. Maybe chunks of the nucleus down the narrow ion tail. Who knows?

Someone should really do a good job and process those data the way they deserve to be processed. Really. Someone should. Maybe you?

Here's how. Go to the Hubble archive:

http://archive.stsci.edu/hst/search.php

Find the box called "proposal ID" and enter 6736. You can look at all of the data you want, but the three images labeled "WF3" for aperature are the good ones, I think. Download the data.

The data come in "FITS" format, familiar to astronomers. Space.com recommends "FITS Liberator" to important it.

Hyakutake, you might remember, was one of the most spectacular comets of the last couple of decades. What made it extra special was that it came particularly close to the earth. These HST images -- which have never really been seen anywhere -- are probably some of the best up-close comet images taken by anything other than a spacecraft flying by one. Someone take a look. Might be fun. And show me the results.
HST images of comet Hyakutake. The sun is toward the upper right, the comet tail is visible to the lower left. If you have a good image display you can see several interesting things. First, there are...
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Navigating through the hubble images makes my brain melt.
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Mike Brown

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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
It didn't snow much in northern Alabama where I grew up, so, when I went to college further north, I was at a serious disadvantage when the first blizzard came through and everyone streamed out of the dorms to engage in an all night snowball fight. After my first rounds of fusillades ended up ...
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You probably don't recall, but back in 2009 or 2010, I emailed you asking questions about Haumea/Santaclaus's current shape and the May 1st 2010 occlusion.  I was wondering if you were also aware of theories pertaining to a supernova purported to occur around BC 12,000 regarding the Vela star and the possibility that part of this supernova might have been an extrasolar incursion, as you told me was most likely what caused Haumea to be its current shape.  I'm still drafting some science fiction related to this information and was wondering if you could shed any further light on it.  There is geological and archeological evidence used by the author of the source I researched regarding Vela; and I came across other evidence of the same nature that adds to his argument (like a Discovery channel bit on how a geological stratification in Scotland seems to be a match for a rift in Pennsylvania dated at BC 10,000), but I'm not clear on the likelihood of a supernova fragment of Vela interacting with our system around BC 10,000 as the author purports.  Thanks in advance for any attention you can give this.
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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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Hello Dearest,
 
I am Miss Lillian, tall, fair,and a very good looking  young girl that loves travelling and dancing, that loves to be loved, kindly permit my 
contacting you through this medium I am compelled to contact you via this medium for so that we can be friends i will like you to reply to me through my mail

lillianxxxxxxx@yahoo.com
 
THANKS 
Miss Lillian
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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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are all stares in a galaxy?
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The Keck 2 telescope is sitting at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level on top of Mauna Kea, waiting for the sun to go down. In a couple of hours we'll open up the big shutters, turn the cameras and telescopes towards some of our favorite objects in the Kuiper belt, and fire lasers up into the sky. At no time, however, will I ever set foot in Hawaii.

These days, almost no astronomers set foot on the summit of Mauna Kea to observe at Keck. Most observations are done from much closer to sea level in the little town of Waimea, where the Keck headquarters are located. The control room at Keck HQ mimics much of what you would find up at the mountain, with consoles everywhere, fast computer connections to the summit, and, best of all, a nearly seamless video link to talk to the telescope operator up top. You can sometimes forget that you're not really there, except for the fact that, closer to sea level, you feel much much better, sleep much better, and can get delicious Hawaiian poke at the KTA grocery store next door. You lose out on the chance to step outside and get a feel for the weather conditions, but, increasingly, there is so much information available about the weather and the sky and meteorological conditions, that stepping outside is rarely necessary.

Once you take the big step of leaving the summit for Waimea, it's not a big step to consider not even being in Hawaii. A few years ago, trying to get good enough video and data connections from the mainland to Hawaii was iffy -- it would work most of the time but not all of time. "Iffy" is unacceptable when you're using a telescope that is said to be worth about $1/second of operation. These days things seem much better. So here I am, in a little remote control room in the astronomy building on the Caltech campus, waiting for the sun to go down in Hawaii.

If things go well -- and I expect them to -- we will forget that we are in Pasadena and feel in our heads like we're in Waimea, where we'll forget we're in Waimea and feel in our heads like we're on the summit of Mauna Kea.

And, of course, we'll be posting pictures as they arrive. Stay tuned.
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+Daniel Birchall hmmm; i DID feel that way lasy night.....
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Have him in circles
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Work
Occupation
Astronomer.
Basic Information
Gender
Male
Story
Introduction
Mike Brown is known to some as the Richard and Barbara Professor of Planetary Astronomy at Caltech, to others as @plutokiller, and to one as simply Dad.
Bragging rights
I killed Pluto, but, to be fair, it had it coming.
Education
  • Princeton University
    Physics, 1987
  • University of California, Berkeley
    Astronomy, 1994