Science Fiction

The Future

As a science fiction aficionado, I’ve always been intrigued by speculating about the future. No one has ever got it completely right, but some writers have given us glimpses of what is possible. That future might be bleak or awesome, filled with technological wonders or a desolate, post-apocalyptic disaster. For me, that’s what makes science fiction so fun to read. Depending on your tastes, you can look forward to the coming years with anticipation, or dread the spinning hands of the clock as they mark the passage of the moments we know toward some dimly perceived Armageddon. The reality of those predictions is that they’re never quite right. Some aspects of both the positive and negative appear when the present inevitably collides with the future, and we walk the middle ground, never progressing as fast or far as the futurists would like, and never falling into some form of ultimate…

Analytics, Earth Sciences

Earthquake Analytics

I’ve been experimenting with various ways to present data in this blog, mainly using static screen shots of graphs. But over the weekend, I started exploring interactive options. In particular, there is a very capable tool out there called Tableau that provides a way to publish analytic graphics to the web, using their publicly available server to process the data. It has quite a lot of flexibility. The analyses below are my first foray into this endeavor. I also updated my earlier post on the Kepler telescope results to make it more interactive as well. All data is from the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake database. This first visualization shows the world-wide distribution of earthquakes from January 1, 1973 to October 14, 2011 from magnitude 4.9 to the maximum recorded of 9.1. The tectonic plate boundaries are easily visible. You can change the magnitude and year sliders to limit the data…

Astronomy

Earth as an Asteroid Target

Good news regarding the likelihood of getting hit by an asteroid: the estimated count of those bodies that cross Earth’s orbit has gone down. Although the probability that any one rock might hit us has always been very low, the calculation shrunk even further after data from the WISE spacecraft (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) was analyzed. The number shrunk by almost half (35,000 to 19,500). Finding small objects (less than about a mile across) is challenging because they’re not very bright to begin with, and past surveys have relied on visible light to see them. WISE uses heat (infrared radiation) emitted from the object, which doesn’t depend on how reflective the surface is. Since asteroid surface brightness varies across a wide range, it was difficult to determine how big each of them was (observations could be bright because the asteroid was large, or because it had a very high surface…