Daily Archives: July 18, 2012

Cosmic Events

An exoplanet smaller than the Earth may have been identified in some far away solar system.

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have detected what they believe is a planet two-thirds the size of Earth. The exoplanet candidate, called UCF-1.01, is located a mere 33 light-years away, making it possibly the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet.

Exoplanets circle stars beyond our sun. Only a handful smaller than Earth have been found so far. Spitzer has performed transit studies on known exoplanets, but UCF-1.01 is the first ever identified with the space telescope, pointing to a possible role for Spitzer in helping discover potentially habitable, terrestrial-sized worlds.

“We have found strong evidence for a very small, very hot and very near planet with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope,” said Kevin Stevenson from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Stevenson is lead author of the paper, which has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal. “Identifying nearby small planets such as UCF-1.01 may one day lead to their characterization using future instruments.”

Details here.

Meanwhile, closer to home: Cassini has seen lightning on Saturn. That in itself is not that unusual, but this lightning was spotted on the sunlight side of the planet. That’s a first:

Saturn was playing the lightning storm blues. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured images of last year’s storm on Saturn, the largest storm seen up-close at the planet, with bluish spots in the middle of swirling clouds. Those bluish spots indicate flashes of lightning and mark the first time scientists have detected lightning in visible wavelengths on the side of Saturn illuminated by the sun.

“We didn’t think we’d see lightning on Saturn’s day side – only its night side,” said Ulyana Dyudina, a Cassini imaging team associate based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The fact that Cassini was able to detect the lightning means that it was very intense.”

More detail, pictures, here.

The Linux Command Line

I just got a copy of The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction. I read one review of it a while back which was quite positive, suggesting that the book was both really useful and really not boring. Here’s the description from the publisher:

You’ve experienced the shiny, point-and-click surface of your Linux computer—now dive below and explore its depths with the power of the command line.

The Linux Command Line by William Shotts. No Starch Press. Image from the publisher.
The Linux Command Line takes you from your very first terminal keystrokes to writing full programs in Bash, the most popular Linux shell. Along the way you’ll learn the timeless skills handed down by generations of gray-bearded, mouse-shunning gurus: file navigation, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more.

In addition to that practical knowledge, author William Shotts reveals the philosophy behind these tools and the rich heritage that your desktop Linux machine has inherited from Unix supercomputers of yore.

As you make your way through the book’s short, easily-digestible chapters, you’ll learn how to:

  • Create and delete files, directories, and symlinks
  • Administer your system, including networking, package installation, and process management
  • Use standard input and output, redirection, and pipelines
  • Edit files with Vi, the world’s most popular text editor
  • Write shell scripts to automate common or boring tasks
  • Slice and dice text files with cut, paste, grep, patch, and sed

Once you overcome your initial “shell shock,” you’ll find that the command line is a natural and expressive way to communicate with your computer. Just don’t be surprised if your mouse starts to gather dust.

I will be reporting back on this later, but it looks good so far.

What was the oldest Olympic sport?

The Olympics are old. The first ancient Greek Olympic game may have been held in 776 BC in the Greek city of Olympia. Almost 1,200 years later, when Greece was being Christianized, Theodosius I decided that the Olympics would not be played any more, so the last games of the original series was probably in 394 AD. These games had their own origin myth, and according to that myth, the first event was a race between two gods.

Apparently, the first actual (as in non-mythical) game was a race among women to decide who would be the Priestess for the goddess Hera. Later, a race was added for men to see who would become the consort for the local priestess. So, the earliest Olympics included foot races and the prize was sometimes one’s role in a sexual liaison. This, I assume, is where the phrase “racy” comes form. Continue reading What was the oldest Olympic sport?