2000 Archived content.
Go to current The Astronomy Cafe website at:


In the late 1990's and early 2000's this was the website for Dr. Sten Odenwald's The Astronomy Cafe. When the site's domain registration expired the site disappeared from the web. The new owners of the site have recreated an edited version of the very iteration of the The Astronomy Cafe with archived content from circa 2001, as well as from other outside sources.
Dr. Sten Odenwald's current The Astronomy Cafe website is a far cry from this one and check pout our pages on NOTHING. Enjoy the nostalgic look back.

If you inadvertently ended up here while searching for The Astronomy Cafe, go to its current website at: http://sten.astronomycafe.net/the-astronomy-cafe/ 
Read more about Dr. Sten Odenwald's point-of-view on matters of space, space travel, general science and consciousness.


TRAVEL BACK with us to the 2000 iteration of The Astronomy Cafe.

"The web site for the astronomically disadvantaged"

Do you have lots of questions about space that you can't seem to get answers to? Well...you've come to the right place!! Sit down, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and have a look around. The Ask the Astronomer Archive has 3001 FAQs to choose from, and there are essays about a career in astronomy, Big Bang cosmology, and many other HOT topics in astronomy. You can also visit "Ask the Space Scientist" if you have more questions!


The book.
Ask the Astronomer. 
Ask the Space Scientist
A Career Guide. 
Astronomy Articles.
Big Bang Cosmology.
The infrared universe.

Image of Galaxy

Inside a research paper.
Web resources.
Links to the Cafe.
Career Survey.
Space Movies
Space Sounds



Graphic illustration Ask the Astronomer

Ask the Astronomer

Conducted by Dr. Sten Odenwald

Questions received so far: 3001

Do you have a question about astronomy and space science? You've come to the right place. At this site I have an archive of 3001 questions that visitors have sent me since August 1995. Have a look through this archive to see if I have already answered your question.

As of April 2000, I have begun the process of updating many of the answers, including the addition of color images where appropriate. Have a look at my progress by viewing the files labeled with the flag.

I am continuing to answer some questions at a new site which I have developed for the NASA IMAGE Satellite Project at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The site where you will find your new questions is the Ask the Space Scientist area. Please put the words 'Astronomy Cafe' in the subject field of your email.

The itss.raytheon.com web site was developed by Dr. Sten Odenwald, an astrophysicist working with Raytheon ITSS at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. It contains a collection of his articles published in Sky and Telescope magazine, and in Astronomy magazine. The essays are written in a semi-popular style and highlight some areas of Big Bang cosmology that are particularly facinating. All of these essays appearing are copyrighted by the magazines in which they were originally published. These essays may be found in Sky and Telescope and in Astronomy magazines, and are reprinted here by permission. There is also an archive of questions related to Big Bang Theory and the early universe, and a variety of questions related to the expansion of space and other miscellaneous questions.


My side: When the time came for me to move my father into an assisted living facility near my home in Bel Air, Maryland, he insisted that I pack all of his astronomy books by Dr. Sten Odenwald. My father taught English for middle school kids at a private school in Maryland. But his real passion was astronomy and space science. Growing up he and I would set up the portable telescope, known as a Dobsonian telescope, that we had built. Later he bought a CELESTRON NEXSTAR 8SE computerized telescope from Walmart. With its full 8 inches of aperture, the 8SE reveals details in even the faintest celestial objects. We could clearly observe Cassini’s Division in Saturn’s rings, the cloud bands on Jupiter, and the Great Red Spot. Beyond the solar system, our 8SE will show you hundreds of pinpoint stars in the Hercules Globular Cluster, the spiral arms of the Whirlpool Galaxy, and more. When he discovered The Astronomy Cafe website in the early 2000's he was just thrilled. As I packed up his belongings for his move into The Hart Heritage Assisted Living facilities in Maryland, I took some time looking at the well worn pages of The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star, and Patterns in the Void. I also packed his CELESTRON NEXSTAR 8SE. As long as his eyesight lasts I am sure he will be out there on the grounds of his new senior living residence checking out the night sky. And on rainy, cloudy days he can get onto his computer and reread from the archives of Sten's Space Blog at the current http://sten.astronomycafe.net/ website.



Cosmology and What Happened Before the Big Bang!

The Big Bang universe image

One of the universal questions about our universe has to do with what existed prior to the big bang. This, of course assumes that the big bang was the start of the universe. If we accept that, then we have to consider idea that there was nothing prior to the big bang and this places a huge significance on not only the big bang, but also on the notion of "nothing". So it makes sense for this site to spend some time pondering how everything could have come into existence in once instant - and how it all came from nothing.

Why our understanding of "nothing" is actually relevant to this discussion:

Coming to terms with the concept that the universe originated from nothing requires us to delve into some deeper aspects of physics and cosmology, while also developing an altered interpretation of what nothingness truly is.

In the usual understanding, nothingness is thought of as an emptiness without any physical substances, energy, space or moments in time. But in the realm of quantum mechanics, this meaning is inadequate. Even in supposed empty space, quantum field theory states that it is not actually void but instead populated by quantum fields which form the basis of particles. Within this zero energy state, particles and their counterparts can unexpectedly appear and then disappear again- an occurrence known as quantum variation.

Therefore, some scientists believe the Big Bang may have been triggered by a quantum variation in an existing quantum void. This suggests that the cosmos did not emerge from absolute nothingness in the classical sense, but rather a quantum vacuum—a nothing which is filled with opportunity.

The idea of nothing gets more complicated when bringing gravity into the equation. As per General Relativity, gravitational pull is capable of curving both space and time. It follows that if we have a sufficient amount of gravitational force, it could potentially create a universe. But how can we acquire negative energy? Quantum mechanics stipulates that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle can lead to the transient formation of particle-antiparticle pairs, as long as they are quickly eliminated. This suggests that the universe may originate from nothing, though in this condition, nothing is a state of temporary imbalance enabled by quantum physics.

It should also be mentioned that possibly time had not existed until the Big Bang, according to some cosmic models. If that is correct, then inquiring what came before the Big Bang may be a meaningless inquiry—like asking what is north of the North Pole. This implies that it could be more exact to state that the cosmos came into existence from a state in which classic concepts of before and after do not hold true.

Comprehending these theories requires accepting counterintuitive ideas and a reassessment of our basic intuitions about reality. Nevertheless, it is paramount to remember that these theories are still conjectural. The exact details of the nothingness which potentially fueled the origin of the cosmos, as well as the processes that could have caused the Big Bang, are still being investigated.

In conclusion, this examination of the concept of "nothing" is highly informative. It touches on questions concerning origin, agency, and causality that are pertinent to understanding the universe, encouraging us to reconsider our existing beliefs. Moreover, it demonstrates the incredible potential of the quantum realm and its possible role in the genesis of all known existence. This examination exemplifies the beauty of scientific inquiry—turning abstract philosophical questions into concrete scientific hypotheses that can be empirically tested and debated.


If you are interested in learning more about various aspects of the Big Bang theory that have to do with the conditions in the universe just 'before' and just after the Big Bang.

Beyond the Big Bang (Astronomy, May 1987)
The Planck Era (Astronomy, March 1984)

If you want to learn more about how physicists and astronomers are beginning to view the concept of a vacuum.

The Decay of the False Vacuum (Astronomy, November 1983)
Does Space Have More Than 3 Dimensions?( Astronomy, November 1984)
Space-Time : The Final Frontier ( Sky and Telescope, February 1996)

If you want to learn more about the so-called cosmological constant introduced originally by Albert Einstein as a 'fudge factor' to make the universe non- expanding.
The Cosmological Constant : Einstein's Fudge Factor (Sky and Telescope, April 1991)

Here are two essays about what it means for the universe to expand, and how many educators and text book authors continue to get it wrong
The Cosmological Redshift Explained (Sky and Telescope, February 1993)
The Big Bang was NOT a Fireworks Display!! (Washington Post newspaper, 'Horizon' Section, May 14, 1997)

purple dot buttonOops! I sure got these answers wrong!

purple dot buttonQuestions about the May 5, 2000 Grand Conjunction!

purple dot buttonQuestions about Hale Bopp!

purple dot buttonTop 25 questions from the first 2200 received.

purple dot buttonThe 25 least popular questions.

purple dot buttonOther web sites that answer questions.

My Three Books | Dr. Sten Odenwald

1998..The Astronomy Cafe
2001..The 23rd Cycle
2002..Patterns in the Void

The Astronomy Cafe

The Astronomer Cafe book-hardcover

Errata is a compilation of typos and errors that have been found so far, and Updates is a list of new results that have modified some of the answers published in the book. They will be included in future publications of this book!

2020 FYI: Back to Astronomy Cafe Paperback – October 14, 2003 available on Amazon in hardcover for $24.99

2020 FYI: The Astronomy Cafe: 365 Questions and Answers from "Ask the Astronomer" ("Scientific American" Library) 1st Edition available on Amazon in hardcover and soft cover.

The Astronomer Cafe paperback

How fast does gravity travel? When will the sun go nova? Who invented the light year? Will we ever travel to the stars? These are just some of the unusual and popular questions NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald answers in Back to the Astronomy Café, based on his award-winning website "for the astronomically disadvantaged." Since his acclaimed earlier book The Astronomy Café published in 1998, the space community has been turned on its head with entirely new discoveries: ion propulsion, dark matter, gravity and magnetic reversals, the Cosmic Dark Ages, and over 100 new planets. In the all-new Back to the Astronomy Café, Odenwald answers the latest and most-asked questions relating to these recent discoveries. His highly personal and authoritative style makes understanding the cosmos less intimidating, exciting, and fun.Since he opened his website "The Astronomy Café" in 1995, Odenwald has answered over 50,000 e-mailed questions. His individual answers have been downloaded over 7.5 million times, making him the most sought-after "answer man" for astronomy in human history.


Many book stores have only carried the book during May, 1998 with a limited stock of 2-3 books on the shelves. Once sold, you will need to 'Special Order' the book.

  • "Is there an asteroid that will hit the Earth in the near future?"
  • "If you could survive a trip into a black hole, what would you see?"
  • "What existed in space prior to the Big Bang?"
  • "What is Time?"
  • "Will travel at light speed ever be possible?"
  • "Is there a center to the Universe?"

These are just some of the hundreds of questions professional astronomer Sten Odenwald answers in The Astronomy Cafe. Based on the "Ask the Astronomer" section of the author's award-winning web site-The Astronomy Cafe-this book presents 365 of the most popular questions asked by real people about all things astronomical.

Organized around topics such as "The Sun," "The Origin of the Universe," "The Solar System," "Telescopes and Star Gazing," "Special and General Relativity," and "Strange Sightings," The Astronomy Cafe enables readers to quickly find a question similar to theirs and get an answer-without having to wade through long, technical essays. Or they can read through entire chapters, as successive questions and answers create a flow of related images and ideas about one particular topic. In addition to questions, The Astronomy Cafe also contains a collection of useful tables, on-line resources, a glossary, and a full index to the questions asked in the book.

Completely up-to-date and accurate, The Astronomy Cafe is the perfect resource for anyone that's ever looked up into the night sky and wondered. . . .

Here's what book reviewers have said about it!

Astronomy magazine, January 1999, page 112, Tracy Staedter:

"The book is an easy read - practically a snack compared to that novel you're probably reading. You can browse through The Astronomy Cafe and hand pick the tastiest morsels. And then go back for seconds. Some of the dishes you might savor are, How thick are Saturn's rings?...ANother appetizer is, is the expansion of the universe slowing down? Odenwald is well equipped to answer these questions. he has 20 years of astronomical research experience and science education.

The Bookwatch, August 1998 page 8:

"Sten Odenwald's, Astronomy Cafe provides a real winner: 365 questions and answers from Ask the Astronomer, which are organized around topics and which encourages skimming and browsing for quick easy answers. The usual astronomy guide is weighty; this is conducive to quick answers and casual reading"

New Scientist, August 1, 1998 page 43, Marcus Chown:

"The Astronomy Cafe is an enlightening and entertaining book. Dip in at random or use it to find out everything you've ever wanted to know about astronomy and space, but were afraid to ask...I like Odenwald's willingness to admit defeat. Why did nature produce a big bang? "We simply don't know", he confesses.

Nature, July 30, 1998 page 438, Jay M. Pasachoff:

"...His answers are clear and accurate...It is a wonderful site for non- specialists. It is wonderful that the US space agency NASA has helped to support it for a while....I even learned a few things from Odenwald's book, notably that I have substantially fewer than five billion years of life on Earth to look forward to. Odenwald explains how expected changes in the Sun's output may lead to extinction of life here in only 300 million years or so."

The Bloomsbury Review, July/August 1998, Cristian Salazar:

"...This is a phenomenal achievement for a single astronomer, and an act of outstanding charity ( Where does he find time to answer all of these questions?)...While there are books that cover this information in far more detail, The Astronomy Cafe benefits from Odenwald's concise writing and sense of humor and layperson's writing style...Odenwald is not above fielding questions about UFOs or other bizarre celestial phenomena; in fact, he is downright professional and evenhanded with his answers...This is a laudable public service and one of the most exciting and educational ways that the Internet can be used."

Bookviews, June 1998, Alan Caruba:

"...With all the movies about asteroids hitting the Earth and new discoveries happening, you can be the smartest person at the party after reading this book."

Bas Bleu, Inc Bookseller-by-post (1-800-433-1155), September, 1998:

"Astrophysicist Sten Odenwald spares you the long, technical essays and delivers the unadulterated, fascinating facts. Over 300 astronomical questions posed to Odenwald at his "Astronomy Cafe" web site are answered in this endlessly browsable book - an inquisitive stargazer's delight"



Sten Odenwald has over 20 years of experience in astronomical research and science education, specializing in cosmology and black holes. In addition to publishing more than 50 popular and scientific articles, he has designed and continues to operate his award-winning web site The Astonomy Cafe, which can be found at http://www2.ari.net/home/odenwald/cafe.html.


"I've fallen in love with your site. You are a saint for maintaining it. And I can tell you have a good time by the way you answer the questions." -Bizy Kubala, Earth and Sky Radio Program

"Dr. Odenwald sums up his site 'for the astronomically disadvantaged' brilliantly. . . . Provides great information in a very amateur-friendly manner." -World Wide Web Bible

"For the astronomically disadvantaged, this site has all sorts of friendly materials. An ideal place to point a young person for a science project." -YAHOO! Unplugged

"You've put together a very nice resource, and I send folks your way whenever I can." -John Keefe, Science Editor for Discovery Channel Online

"I managed to get onto your homepage. I am impressed. You have put a lot of effort into it. It is certainly a sure-fire and reliable way to publish!" -George Smoot, NASA COBE Project

6 x 9 1/4
ISBN 0-7167-3278-5
$14.95, PAPER
MAY, 1998


he 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star

The 23rd Cycle: Learning to Live with a Stormy Star

A book by Dr. Sten Odenwald

On March 13, 1989, the entire Quebec power grid collapsed, automatic garage doors in California suburbs began to open and close without apparent reason, and microchip production came to a halt in the Northeast; in space, communications satellites had to be manually repointed after flipping upside down, and pressure readings on hydrogen tank supplies on board the Space Shuttle Discovery peaked, causing NASA to consider aborting the mission. What was the cause of all these seemingly disparate events? Sten Odenwald gives convincing evidence of the mischievous—and potentially catastrophic—power of solar storms and the far-reaching effects of the coming "big one" brewing in the sun and estimated to culminate in the twenty-third cycle in the year 2001 and beyond. When the sun undergoes its cyclic "solar maximum," a time when fierce solar flares and storms erupt, fantastic auroras will be seen around the world. But the breathtaking spectacles will herald a potentially disastrous chain of events that merit greater preparation than Y2K. Is anyone listening?

The 23rd Cycle traces the previously untold history of solar storms and the ways in which they were perceived by astronomers—and even occasionally covered up by satellite companies. Punctuated with an insert containing dramatic color images showing the erupting sun, the book also includes a history of the record of auroral sightings, accounts of communications blackouts from the twentieth century, a list of industries sensitive to solar storms, and information about radiation and health issues.



Patterns in the Void Book title

Patterns in the Void

A new book by Dr. Sten Odenwald

What, is space?

On the face of it, this sounds like a perfectly silly question. "Space by itself is nothing at all!" To prove it, just take a cubic yard of air and remove all the atoms from it. You are left with a cubic yard of absolutely nothing. This seems a perfectly sensible conclusion, but it is wrong. As we leave the 20th century behind, we enter a new era in which old ideas are finally vanquished in favor of the new physics which has been bolstered by the outcomes of experimental research for over 100 years. These experiments now tell us that, rather than a yawning nothingness, the vacuum is filled to the brim with invisible activity and particles whose fleeting existence control virtually everything that we see around us. In the vacuum we come fact to face with the power source that animates the world, and literally prevents Reality from collapsing into nothingness. The vacuum is the origin of space, time, mass, energy and even the universe itself.

This book will trace the fascinating story of how the concepts of space, vacuum and Void, have become in recent decades an almost incomprehensibly alien landscape in which the rest of existence is embedded. We will also see that, in the end, the Void ranks as one of the greatest enigmas that physical science has yet to confront. Within it is written both the miraculous story of our origins and the bitter-sweet intimations of our destiny.

Columbia University Press.

Publication date ca March 2002

FYI 2020: Still available on Amazon in hardcover for $13.18

Patterns in the Void examines the great dark matter and dark regions that pervade the universe, from elementary particles to the immense areas of “vacuum” that make up most of deep space, and everything that is – or is not. Like the void itself, the book ranges in temporal and spatial scales - from our human world, down to the molecular and subatomic world, and up into the farthest reaches of the expanding universe. Building upon the great theories that broke through physics and biophysics in the twentieth century, Patterns in the Void weaves the human element into understanding modern science, telling stories of ancient sacrifices, paranormal experiences, purported alien abductions, and more – all part of the human dilemma to make sense about the vast unknown.

The Astronomer Cafe  Book Hardcover


Banner for the Astronomy Cafe

CD-ROM Offer

During 1997, I designed a CD-ROM which contains the entire Astronomy Cafe web site, plus LOTS of other goodies including 40 sound files, 50 MPEG movies and animations, and over 300 unusual astronomical images. There are also an additional 1600 questions and answers from my Ask the Space Scientist site which I have been operating at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center since April 1997 with even more unusual and intriguing questions from both children and adults.

The cost of the Astronomy Cafe CD-ROM is $25.00 plus postage.

Why should you buy this CDROM when you can visit the web sites for free?

Because there is no way I can put 300 images, 50 movies and 30 sound files on the web, and these files are truly spectacular. Many parents worry about their children having unlimited access to the web. This CDROM provides your student with a tremendous resource for studying astronomy, and designing science fair projects, without the worry of ending up on some inappropriate web site.



Dr. Stan Odenwald's Resume

Dr. Stan Odenwald


I received my Ph.D in astronomy from Harvard University in 1982 and since then I have been employed at the Space Sciences Division of the Naval Research Laboratory (1982-1990), BDM International (1991-1992) , the Applied Research Corporation (1993-1996), and most recently Raytheon (1996-2000+); all located in the greater Washington, D.C. area. My dream, as for many young astronomers, was to get a tenured position in astronomy at some college or university, but that option never materialized for me after applying to over 50 institutions and in some cases being one of 700 to apply for the same position. I have since turned my creative energies in public education toward writing articles for magazines such as "Astronomy" and "Sky and Telescope." My most recent article 'Solar Storms: The hidden menace,' appeared in the March 2000 issue of "Sky and Telescope." I have also authored two books: "The Astronomy Cafe," which came out in May 1998 and "The 23rd Cycle: Learning to live with a stormy star," which will be out in December 2000. I am also working on a third book "The Accidental Vacuum," which will be published sometime in 2001. You may find my award-winning web site The Astronomy Cafe a fun place to visit for more about a career in astronomy, plus my 3001-question FAQ archive on space and astronomy from A to Z. I received the NASA 'Excellence in Outreach' award in 1999 from the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Currently, I am the Education and Public Outreach Manager for the IMAGE satellite project. We have developed a lot of material for teachers and students at our IMAGE education web site. I will be working closely with the IMAGE team scientists to help us all understand why the magnetosphere is so important, and how the information we gain from this satellite will help scientists understand how the Sun affects our environment in space. I am also involved with the NASA Office of Space Science 'Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum' where I develop new NASA resources in solar-terrestrial science education, and help NASA work with teachers at national conventions and workshops across the country. I also continue to be an active astronomer. My latest paper 'Clustering of the Diffuse Infrared Light From the COBE DIRBE Maps' was published in the "Astrophysical Journal," January 1, 2000. This was an exciting bit of research, that unfortunately taught me quite a bit about the ugly side of my profession; a lesson I did not need to learn at the age of 47.

Recently I was interviewed for an electronic magazine and here are the questions I was asked and my replies:

So, why is your job so interesting?

Because I study the universe! I get up each morning, and come home for dinner, but for 40 hours every week I get to think about and study some small corner of the universe. And in my mind, I am transported a million light years outside my body.

Were you always interested in this line of work?

Yes, except for some bouts with dinosaurs and chemistry before the age of 10. Since then, everything I have taken up as a hobby has been in support of astronomy as my passion. Science fiction reading, electronics, writing, photography. About the last one, I still have a habit of setting my camera focus at infinity when taking family photos. Even as a Boy Scout, it was only the means for me as an urbanite to escape into the country to see the night sky in all its glory.

Who or what is your inspiration?

My inspiration is the entire physical universe, and the wonderment of how well the forces and matter all stir together in just the right balances to make stars, planets and life possible. And that it all follows simple, comprehensible patterns and laws which you can uncover and understand IF you simply bother to take the time to study them. Non-scientists do not do this, and that is why the physical world often seems so ad hoc and mysterious to them. So far as human inspiration is concerned, I do not have a single person or scientist that I consciously try to emulate as a heroic figure. The mistake we make in this society is to insist that children HAVE to have hero figures to look up to, rather than follow their own hearts and minds.

How do you see the 90's work ethic crunching your lifestyle?

My work is more intense. With enormous amounts of information being dumped online into public archives every month, you sometimes 'seize up' as 10 different ideas go through your head about what to investigate next. But you only have 5 working days to prioritize and extract meaning from it all. Most pf the new astronomical data you hear about is stuff I never get the chance to look at professionally. Too much to do, too little time .

What is the next mountain you hope to climb?

Olympus Mons on Mars.

How is your job changing? What will it be like 10 years from now?

I now get to spend more time in public education. Since getting out of graduate school 15 years ago, and never getting an offer to teach as a 'day job', all of my education works has been in writing popular articles and doing adult education courses. Now, I have finally found a way to make education a big part of my day job as a 'contractor'. 10 years from now, I expect I will be doing about the same as what I am doing now, but worrying less about loosing my job in a year. As a contract astronomer for 15 years, this temporary way of living has become so entrenched in how I do science and how I think about my career, that it has been impossible to think of long term research projects, or plan my professional life over more than 2-3 years. I think this is slowly changing.

How has the Internet affected your profession?

I have been on the Internet for over 10 years. Most of this time was using email and FTP, but the single biggest change has been in the explosion of professional resources now available such as data archives. Now that NASA is committed to putting real data on line immediately after the satellite/space craft get it, every astronomer has nearly instant access to new data. This has increased the pace of research enormously, and for many of us, we no longer need to worry about not getting observing proposals accepted to get our own data. We can often use what is already on line to do some of our research. As for education, it is now a whole new ball game since we have decided that the Internet is now the new godsend for educating our children. I hope this new experiment works, because we are sure investing lots of money into it so that every poor urban school has a spiffy, expensive, high tech link to the web.

What'ss your favorite web site and why?

I view the entire WWW as a single web site, but the Babylon V Lurkers Area is my favorite 'room'. I love the series, the actors and actresses, and the story line...one of the finest pieces of science fiction I have 'read' in a very long time.

If your job were a song, what would it be?

Well...each decade seems to have its own in my book. In the 1960's it was Spanky and Our Gang's 'I'd Like to get to know you' when I was a kid trying to fit in. In the 1970's it was Cool and the Gang's 'Summer Madness' or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Reminiscing while I was in college and graduate school. There are lots of others. The 1980's is a big jumble of favorites, but I have not paid any attention to Rock and Role since 1988 or so.

What's your professional culture like? Work habits?

Pretty bleak and gloomy by most people's assessment. It is a solitary job. You work mostly alone in an office with a computer terminal. You have occasional hallway chats with people on the same floor, and once a week you MIGHT all get together for a 'bag lunch' to hear someone give a 30 minute talk about some topic. A few times a year you go to national meetings or to observatories. Meetings can be fun because you get to meet old friends from grad school, or new collaborators. Observatory trips are terribly exciting and usually the high point of your year as you make the actual discoveries you will then investigate back at the office for the next year or more. We all dress very casual; jeans, sneakers, shorts, and other fashion elements depending on your age and status. I know of no astronomers except those over 60, that wear suits and ties. We set our own office hours, we come in and leave when we please, but usually work more than 40 hours a week even with this schedule, except if we have families. I never work a minute longer than 40 hours because my family life is more important to me than my professional life. The 'culture' itself...well...there are 6500 astronomers in this country. They come from the cohort of the brightest students you ever met in your math and science classes in high school and college. Still, with few exceptions, astronomers are far from being nerds. They are highly talented, many are amateur musicians, but there are so few of us that we have almost no sense of being a part of a larger group like lawyers or engineers. This makes for professional isolation and the profound feeling of being an autonomous individual, going it alone, but having one hell of a fun time with your studies.

Why do you do what you do, and how do you see it affecting the greater world?

I am compelled to do what I do...teaching and research...by a profound sense of wonderment about the physical world. It is a childlike wonderment that I have managed to shield in this area from the cynicism of adolescence and adulthood that is so rampant in today's society. We are all children at heart, and for scientists and astronomers, we get to hang onto the pure wonderment and enthusiasm of childhood a lot longer than in many other professions. It is the battery that drives us to ask 'silly questions' and to make momentous discoveries from time to time, because as adults we also know how to go about finding answers to the questions that are still posed by the child within us.

What I do affects the world by letting meaning and light shine a little more brightly and deeper into the recesses of our ignorance. Humans have many prejudices, and most do not have the time or inclination to understand how the physical world operates. My profession is that collective aspect of society that is assigned to search for answers to questions that most people do not have the time or capacity to answer. In finding answers and uncovering new questions, I help to make our world a more comfortable and less mysterious and frightening place to live and raise a family.


Galaxy Eye

Movies and Animations from
NASA and Elsewhere

Here is a collection of my favorite movies and animations of planets, stars, galaxies and other astronomical things which have been obtained from public-domain government ( NASA ) web sites. Unless otherwise noted as AVI files, these are all MPEG-type movie files. You must be careful to understand the differences between 'data loops', 'animations' and 'simulations'.

DATA LOOPS...are actual images linked together into a time-ordered movie. They represent real data and the real world with only minor image enhancements as required by the scientists.

ANIMATIONS...are movies that are completely created by artists and visualizers and use little or no data at all, except that the storyline and scenes may have beed designed to represent what we think we understand about a process.

SIMULATIONS..are computer-generated movies in which the input is real data from direct observations, with the sequence of movie images created from a physical model such as 'Newtons Law of Gravity operating on matter' or other principles that we firmly understand. Although not as rooted in fact as direct DATA LOOPS, they are of greater fidelity than ANIMATIONS because they use physical laws in a model rather than human imagination as the basis for the reconstruction.

Space Activities by Humans

  1. Space Station Tour 1 Animated fly around of a computer model of the Space Station.Courtesy NASA. (URL=station.nasa.gov/gallery/video)
  2. Space Station Tour 2 Animated fly around of the Russian component to the Space Station.Courtesy NASA. (URL=station.nasa.gov/gallery/video)
  3. Antenna inflation in space in May, 1996 the Space Shuttle STS-77 deployed an inflatable antenna. This sequence shows its inflation. Courtesy NASA. (URL=station.nasa.gov/gallery/video)
  4. Antenna over Grand Canyon The Spartan inflatable antenna is shown in space, passing above the Grand Canyon as the Earth rotates. Courtesy NASA. (URL=station.nasa.gov/gallery/video)

The Sun

  1. SOHO-LASCO solar image Shows the sun ejecting a cloud of plasma, a comet being destroyed, and the Milky Way in the background Courtesy SOHO/LASCO consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA amd NASA.
  2. SOHO-LASCO mass ejection from the sun A mass ejection event on April 7, 1997 seen by this satellite Courtesy SOHO/LASCO consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA amd NASA.
  3. SOHO-EIT solar disk Rotating solar disk viewed by the light from ionized iron atoms Courtesy SOHO/EIT consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA amd NASA.
  4. Yohkoh solar disk Rotating solar disk seen in the light of X-rays from the Yohkoh satellite on November 18, 1997. The Yohkoh mission of ISAS, Japan. The X-ray telescope was prepared by Lockheed PAlo Alto Research Labs, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo with support from NASA and ISAS
  5. Yohkoh solar eclipse A movie of the October 24, 1996 eclipse of the sun by the moon as seen in X-ray light! The Yohkoh mission of ISAS, Japan. The X-ray telescope was prepared by Lockheed PAlo Alto Research Labs, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo with support from NASA and ISAS
  6. X-rays and white light A comparison of how the sun looks in X-ray and visible light showing how sunspots and X-ray regions are related on a rotating sun. The Yohkoh mission of ISAS, Japan. The X-ray telescope was prepared by Lockheed PAlo Alto Research Labs, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo with support from NASA and ISAS
  7. Solar Eclipse from Space The GOES-7 weather satellite shot this sequence that shows the shadow of the solar eclipse tracking across the face of the earth! Courtesy NASA, GOES-7 Satellite project

The Planets

  1. Magellan Venus The NASA Magellan spacecraft produced a detailed radar map of the surface of Venus, and this is a movie showing the un-veiled planet. Courtesy the NASA Magellan Project
  2. Rotating Earth The Metosat-3 satellite shot a spectacular full day rotation of the earth.
  3. Water vapor in the atmosphere GOES-8 and GMS satellite data from November 17 to 20, 1997 showing actual changes in earth's atmospheric water vapor. Courtesy the NASA GOES-8 and the Japanese GMS satellite projects
  4. Rotating Moon The Clementine spacecraft produced this movie of the rotating Moon showing its front and back sides. Courtesy the United States Department of Defence
  5. Lunar Flyby Movie produced by the Clementine spacecraft during its survey of the moon showing surface detail. Courtesy the United States Department of Defence
  6. Mars polar ice cap Hubble Space Telescope and computer composite images showing seasonal change Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  7. Rotating Mars Hubble Space Telescope composite of many individual images Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  8. The martian satellite Phobos Rotating surface of this satellite assembled from fly-by data by Ralph Turner.
  9. Galileo Jupiter/Io Flyby An animation of the spacecraft flying by Io and Jupiter based on images taken of Io and Jupiter by the Voyager program. Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  10. (AVI) Rotating Jupiter. Data from the Voyager spacecraft flyby showing atmospheric detail.Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  11. (AVI) Jupiter Red Spot. Data from the Voyager spacecraft showing how the gases circulate around the Red Spot over the course of several hours.Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  12. Io Plasma Torus Computer model of the Io sodium plasma torus and its relationship to Jupiter. Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  13. Io Surface features on Jupiter's active satellite Io assembled from Voyager images. Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  14. Europa's surface ice comet impact animation. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  15. Galileo flyby of Europa Animated with images from Voyager. Courtesy the NASA Galileo Project.
  16. Galileo flight over Ganymede (AVI) Animated with images from Voyager. Courtesy the NASA Galileo Project.
  17. Shoemaker-Levi 9 Jupiter impact Computer animation showing damage to jovian clouds from impacts. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  18. Saturn Ring Spokes (AVI) showing the changing patterns in dark dust clouds electromagnetically suspended over the rings.Courtesy NASA Voyager Project
  19. Saturn Storm Hubble Space Telescope image loop. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  20. Titan Features in the atmosphere of Saturn's giant satellite Titan as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  21. Neptune Rotation Hubble Space Telescope image loop of real data. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  22. Pluto The Hubble Space Telescope mapped the surface of Pluto and this rotating movie was produced from the data. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  23. Pluto - the Sequel Another rendering of the Hubble Space Telescope Pluto data. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  24. Fireball! This video is of the famous Peakskill Fireball which was seen by many people along the eastern seabord of the United States, and parts of it impacted a car parked on a street in Peakskill, Connecticut.
  25. Halleys Comet Actual data obtained by the Giotto spacecraft flyby of this famous comet showing its potato-shaped nucleus.
  26. Hale-Bopp nucleus Animation showing rotation and gas ejection bursts. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  27. Asteroid Vesta Hubble Space Telescope images in a loop. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  28. Computer rendering of asteroid Toutatis Based on data collected by Galileo spacecraft Courtesy the NASA Galileo Project.

The universe

  1. Supernova 1987A Animation showing ring orientations. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  2. Black hole eating gas Animation showing gas flows. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  3. Beta Pictoris Computer animation of warped circumstellar disk and effect of a planet on the disk. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  4. The Orion Nebula Animated flight into nebula using Hubble Space Telescope image zoom-ins. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  5. Quasar flare-up Animation showing the core of a galaxy becoming a quasar. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  6. Galaxy formation Computer simulation of gravitational merging of fragments. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.
  7. Colliding Galaxies A computer simulation of a flat disk-type galaxy colliding with a dwarf galaxy. the dwarf galaxy cannot be seen, but its gravitational influences trigger the production of spiral arms in the gas-rich disk. Courtesy the Electronic University Project.
  8. Hubble Deep Field Zoom-in to sky area near Ursa Major showing where the field was located. Courtesy the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy under contract to NASA. Original videos may be found at URL=http://www.stsci.edu.

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