January 20, 2020

15.05.10: A Speedy Binary.

Think that new Ducati in your garage is fast? Let me introduce you to HM Cancri. An unassuming +21 magnitude binary in the constellation Cancer, HM Cancri is comprised of two white dwarfs locked in a tight embrace. In fact, this binary system has the shortest orbital period known, handily knocking down distant contender V407 Vulpeculae with its “stately” 9.5 minute orbit. The facts are dizzying; the pair weigh in at 0.5 and 0.25 solar masses respectively, are about 24,000 miles apart (think geosynchronous orbit!) and revolve around each other in 5.4 minutes, about the time you hopefully spend glancing over this blog before returning to Facebook.  Get your calculators out; this makes orbital velocity for the pair an impressive 230 miles per second! Discovered in 1999, Observations using the Keck telescope have upheld HM Cancri’s record holding status by analyzing opposing spectral shifts of ionized helium as the two stars whirl about. This rules out other candidates such as a single neutron star.  Such a system must have had a very unique history, perhaps starting as a pair of Sun-like stars that later spiraled in. Will the two merge one day? Conservation of angular momentum cannot fully explain what we see as the system is speeding up; perhaps more accreting matter is present than we currently account for. The pair are approaching each other by about two feet per day, and of course, relativity comes into play in such an extreme system. Clearly, something interesting is occurring in this system. HM Cancri is also a strong x-ray source, and should generate copious amounts of gravity waves, especially in the event of a merger. Said waves may be within the realm of Advanced LIGO, due to come online in 2014, or LISA, ESA’s proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. HM Cancri lies about 16,000 light years distant, and may be the strongest source of gravity waves in our galaxy.

08.10.09:Enhance Your Online Schooling Experience with Polldaddy.

Looking for the next big thing online? Tired of tweeting and mindless quizzes on Facebook? Let me introduce you to hidden tool to do your bidding. Trust me, today’s news post does tie in with astronomy! After all, its my soap box, right? A couple years ago, I started my quest for an online Bachelor of Science teaching degree with Western Governors’ University. One of the very first papers I wrote had me conduct a survey. Like so many before me, I disseminated the survey the “old-media” way. I built a word doc, e-mailed it to everyone in my address book, and tediously collected the data into a spread sheet. The response was very under whelming, and the process was time consuming. Most people tend to get buried in their e-mail, and if your in-box is like mine, its simply a clearing house where things get sorted, maybe occasionally read. No, I’m not going to plug the latest Iphone email app or recommend you outsource your email wading-through to Bangladesh. The new online secret I have to reveal to you is Polldaddy. Set up is simple, and within minutes you to can have a custom built, professional looking survey. Polldaddy is one of those things that I use more than I ever thought I would, both in school and in blogging. In fact, we have a running survey on our site, and its a great way to engage your audience. Recently, I had to conduct a genetics survey for school. In the olden days, this would’ve meant constructing a survey, then calling folks, a proposition that would’ve taken all day. With Polldaddy, I had a survey built and on its way to hundreds of eyeballs via Twitter, Facebook, and ye ole Email within the hour. I just had to sit back and watch the responses roll in. All answers were anonymous, so we couldn’t reveal any potentially sensitive information even if we had wanted to. (Scenario: I’m blood type O, and my Mom answers she’s blood type AB…. hey, it happened to Moses too…) In 24 hours, I had 50 responses. The report it arranged was neat, tidy, and ready for school use. In fact, a Twitter linked Polldaddy app would be a powerful tool. Just build your Poll, and it is automatically spread to your Twitter contacts, which spreads to Facebook, which spreads to…well, you get the picture. In short, Polldaddy is a cool school hack I’ve found that any starving student can appreciate. And the baseline sign up is our favorite price; free! Bloggers will also enjoy it as a way to jazz up their home page and engage their audience. Hey, its more productive than taking “Which washed up 80′s hair band singer are you” quizzes on Facebook!