Tag Archives: science

Kepler 452b

So this is sort of a recycled post, in the sense that I talked about it back in April of 2013. But it’s worth revisiting in light of last month’s announcement of Kepler 452b. For those unaware, the planet is a little bit larger than Earth, but is believed to be a potentially rocky planet like Earth that orbits a star very similar to our Sun in a very similar orbit.

Kepler 452b

Kepler 452b

Credit for the piece still goes to Jonathan Corum.

Your Average Daily Sunshine

(Hint, it’s not me.)

I was talking with someone the other day about how I dislike warm weather. Give me nice, cool, crisp weather any day of the week. And also how I am okay without sunshine—a cool, misty, grey day is lovely. Much of weather, of course, is determined by sunlight, energy, hitting the Earth. Well, just a few weeks ago the Washington Post published a piece looking at daily sunlight. At the end of the piece it has a nice small multiple graphic too.

Average daily sunlight

Average daily sunlight

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.

Water Level on Lake Michigan

Today’s a little piece for those of you who follow me from the Chicago area. It turns out that in the last 30 months, the water level of Lake Michigan has risen three feet. Despite what some people think, Lake Michigan is not an ocean—I have overheard conversations in my neighbourhood about people who went “swimming in the ocean today” and want to show them a map that points out the Atlantic is almost a thousand miles away—and is not under the same threat as the coast via melting icecaps. The Great Lakes are instead impacted by other regional and cyclical patterns, e.g. El Niño. This article by the Chicago Tribune makes use of this small but clear line chart in its discussion of those very factors.

Water levels for Lakes Michigan and Huron

Water levels for Lakes Michigan and Huron

Credit for the piece goes to the Chicago Tribune’s graphics department.

How We’re Talking to New Horizons

So New Horizons is long since gone from Pluto. But it will still take 16 months to send back all the photographs and science. Why so long? Because so far away. 3 billion miles away. Put another way, light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth as it travels at, well, the speed of light. Radio signals that travel at the speed of light take 4.5 hours to reach Earth from Pluto. So imagine trying to send large data files that far away at a download speed less than that of a 56k modem, for those of you old enough to remember such a thing.

But what receives these radio signals? NASA’s Deep Space Network of antennae that allow NASA to communicate with spacecraft and such things that are in, wait for it, deep space. These antennae are scattered throughout the world, but in this screenshot taken Monday, you can see just what the antennae at the various complexes are doing. Here, we see New Horizons (NHPC) just prior to its flypast communicating with the large antenna at the Madrid complex. The lack of signal lines indicates that it is preparing to setup, takedown, or is tracking the spacecraft.

From early Monday night

From early Monday night

As a fun aside, I left the tab open in the browser and a few hours later came back to find the Deep Space Network sending signals to the Mars rover Opportunity (MER1), the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CHDR), and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) amongst others.

Opportunity is still chugging along on Mars

Opportunity is still chugging along on Mars

Credit for the piece goes to the NASA graphics department.

Your Guide to the Solar System

As New Horizons will soon begin sending back photographs of Pluto, Charon, and the other moons, I figured it would be a good to share a Wall Street Journal piece that looks at the other photographed bodies of the system.

Field Guide to the Solar System

Field Guide to the Solar System

Credit for the piece goes to Jon Keegan, Chris Canipe, and Alberto Cervantes.

New Horizon’s Flypast

A little after 07.30 EDT, New Horizons began its race past Pluto, what your author grew up learning as the ninth planet in the Solar System—the last planet to be explored. I recall thinking that when it launched back in 2006 I had no idea what I would be doing nine years later. Or at least I think I thought that. It launched nine years ago, almost a third of my life. Regardless, I was definitely one of those upset with the decision to downgrade Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Anyway, a decade on, there New Horizons is. By the time this post goes live, she will be barreling away towards the Kuiper Belt while transmitting her photographs and science data.

This piece from the New York Times looks at what happened earlier today in, for Americans, the wee hours of the morning.

What New Horizons is doing

What New Horizons is doing

Credit for the piece goes to Jonathan Corum.

Putting Tatooine to Shame

While the title sounds science-fiction-y, it is true. Star Wars has a famous scenece where a landscape is shown with a binary star system in the sky. But we now know of a quintuple-star system that has two separate sets of binary stars. This BBC article takes a look at how the system is structured.

Two binary star systems

Two binary star systems

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

New Horizons

So this is generally a more serious post than usual for a Friday. Because, it is about New Horizons, the probe we launched almost a decade ago to explore Pluto, which at that point was still technically a planet. Anyway, the Washington Post has a nice illustration detailing the various sensors and orbits and trajectories. But what gets it a Friday post? Its sense of scale.

You always need a sense of scale

You always need a sense of scale

Credit for the piece goes to Richard Johnson.

Failing to Whack the Mole

The story and data behind today’s graphic are worth telling. But, the execution leaves me feeling a bit empty. The piece kicks off a new series called Data Points from National Geographic. But, here in this piece we are looking for clear communication of data. So what do we get? Circles. Circles within circles within circles. My problem?

The overview view

The overview view

Well you can see from the first screenshot that we are missing the gap space, i.e. the space between the container circle and the data circle. The gap makes the container look larger than it really is. Granted, area is not a great way of comparing data points, but that aside, something like a tree map would probably be more accurate and still allow for the nesting that occurs, see below.

A nested view looking at snakes

A nested view looking at snakes

The overall display includes nice ancillary data about top importers and exporters along with how the animals in question are used. Some animals even have trade notes that offer more context on how particular animals are used.

On the plus side, the piece’s title is great: Space Monkeys and Tiger Wine. I mean, how can you not read that? While they missed lots of the moles popping out of circles on this one, they did nail the title.

Credit for the piece goes to Katilin Yarnall and Fathom Information Design.

Aquifers Around the World

It has rained quite a bit in the south the last couple of days, thanks to tropical weather systems. But, as some new data from NASA shows us, the world is running out of water. That is largely because we drain large underground water systems called aquifers faster than the natural environment replenishes them. The Washington Post has a small interactive map that looks at the world’s largest aquifers and respective trend towards either being recharged or drained.

Aquifers are being drained around the world

Aquifers are being drained around the world

Credit for the piece goes to Todd Frankel.