Nerd Alert: Astronomy Stuff!

EB8689A0-C6DC-4EFC-B0A4-5EFD204B5DC9Okay…it’s time to really get my nerd on. For those of you frightened by forays into the darker, scarier reaches of nerd-dom, now might be a good time to look away…

What’s got me all geeked-up, you ask? Direct imaging of planetary systems.

And, no, I don’t mean our damned system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cool-as-hell pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto to which we have been treated lately, but they don’t get me well-and-truly going. Not the way “pictures” of other star systems do.

Think about it: should I get all hot and bothered about an uber-detailed picture of Jupiter’s storms…or by one that shows a gas giant orbiting another star? That’s like arguing about which is better, The Phantom Menace or Empire Strikes Back. I mean, c’mon now…let’s be real here.

2EC55F4B-A197-4162-850E-ACE87FB8A55CWith all that said, imaging of what the professional astrogeeks call “extrasolar” systems is hard. I mean, REALLY hard. We can’t truly do it in visible light because, well, stars are kinda bright. There have been some cool successes, however, including one of a planet roughly twice the mass of Jupiter orbiting a brown dwarf (which I’m adding here).  Take a look at this picture before you check out the ones below to…well…get yourself used to what this kind of stuff looks like.

Visible light is a problem, but other wavelengths…other wavelengths are a different story. We still have trouble picking out planets, but very smart people are working very hard to do this. And even the “crappy” pictures are pretty damned cool.

This is more of a photo post than a normal one, but…crap…the pictures are freaking awesome…

1) A bunch of baby pictures of newly forming planetary systems…more specifically, the dust clouds around young stars where planet formation is taking place.  The cleared “lanes” and spaces you can see are where planets have already come together:

SPHERE images a zoo of dusty discs around young stars

2) And some “adult” pictures…well, at least as close as we can come:

3) And, lest you criticize the “bad” pictures above, just remember that we are talking about hundreds of light-years for most of them.  Heck, just getting good pictures in our own damned backyard is tough: below is what Pluto and Charon look like to Hubble, versus what we finally saw when we got a “close-up” from the New Horizons probe.  Not to repeat myself, but this stuff is hard:

A61913E4-6C5E-4A71-A793-447316A3A83C

I See Your Pokémon, And Raise You A D&D Character

Okay, dammit…I give in.

After running off on an uncontrolled Tolkien-tangent last Friday, I decided that I’ve talked about my epic nerdism often enough, maybe it’s time to illustrate.

So, well, a nerd-list. My nerd-list, anyway – a few of the things that I usually keep behind closed doors (no, not those things, dammit!):

What am I reading right now? An Echo of Things to Come – Book 2 of the Licanius trilogy by James Islington. A new fantasy writer out there, I’m impressed by his first effort. Plus, he describes Feist and Jordan as his inspirations…all he has to do is add Zelazny and Eddings and he spans the treasured fantasy reading of my own formative years.

Bonus reading: From The Dreadnought to Scapa Flow by Arthur Marder. Volume III, if you’re wondering. Remember: I did warn you that I was a naval history addict.

Not so bad, so far…but we’re just starting down the dark path…

Manga: yes, I read manga. No, I’m not an otaku…I think. Anyway, I’m currently reading No.6 by Hinoki Kino (an adaption of the Japanese “light novel” series of the same name by Atsuko Asano). I love the themes, and the tone…and, yes, Shion and Rat have had their influence on dockside. As a note, my Japanese has degraded enough that I have to read manga in English nowadays (I still watch anime in Japanese, however).

Speaking of which…anime: I just finished watching Noragami (waiting to read the manga, though, until I finish No.6). I’m currently trying to decide whether I want to start the huge Fullmetal Alchemist saga, or go into D.Gray Man first. Decisions, decisions…

Video games: *sigh* oh, dear…video games. Nowhere does my nerdism have more power than in games. I love games…of all stripes. My first love are RPGs, but strategy and simulations have a place in my heart, too. Currently, I’m splitting my time between Dragons’ Dogma: Dark Arisen and the remastered version of one of my favorite series, ever: Kingdom Hearts. Oh, my, do I love me some Kingdom Hearts. No, really – I love that series, but even I could never really understand the damned convoluted (insane?) storyline until I finally read all of the manga.

Nope, not a nerd at all.

And, oh yeah, my mega-bonus-nerdism of the day: the D&D character I was playing up in Yellowstone. A high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard who hit on everything (and anything) that moved. The only magic item he had that mattered was a special cup that instantly sobered him up so he could just start drinking again…

Another (related) bonus: The Adventure Zone. You absolutely cannot go wrong with a podcast involving three adult brothers playing D&D with their father! It is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever listened to. Do yourself a favor, and go check it out on iTunes (or whatever podcast app/source you happen to use)…no, really, go check it out.

Alright, so there really is a point to this post: being a nerd is okay. I spent the better part of my life trying to hide the kind of stuff that I loved, and that was a serious mistake*. If they’re nerds, let your kids – and your friends – be who they are. Let ’em revel in it…they’ll be happier, in the end, and so will you.

*You know what finally broke me out of the shadows? Playing an MMORPG with a small group of current and former NHL players. Hockey is (err, sadly, WAS) my life, and the funny incongruity behind going all uber-nerd with a group of world-class athletes cracked me up…and set my inner nerd free.