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Tuesday, December 30, 2014


(Part 1/2 is here)
(The Podcast)

in Eng?ish

"There's a storm, in a bottle of light. The light shouts something that nobody can hear, and cries, for a reason nobody can understand. And its cry becomes a wind, of sparkles. That nobody can feel. The sparkles devour their gods, and build up a fight, made of shivers, and of a river of foam. Then comes the waterfall's laugh, that cracks the bottle. And the storm breathes [by @p300p1]" and the alien-'he/she/it' whose name is Santa Bernard snorts wondering why a recipe for the space-eggnog had to be so damn cryptic before realizing that
happy new year_by sciencemug
Santa Bernard vs the eggnog (by sciencemug)

that was not a recipe for the space-eggnog [indeed it was the one for Gramash, a sort of... Oh forget it, it's too odd&alien to even try to render it into human terms. But it's tasty!] and that he/she/it needed to buy a new pair of lenses and/or to drastically reduce the amount of space-eggnog knocked back per time unit. And while Santa B ponders about all these things, here it comes the first kinda chirp [kinda] from the dozen little creatures, the 'jellies', which are waking up from their little starry nap.
Santa Bernard- Well, well, well, look who's back...
The jellies kinda yawn and stretch [kinda]
SB- So, my chubby little pumpkins of cosmology, are you ready to hear the rest of the story?
js- Uh uh.
SB- Good. Where were
we at? Ah yes, yes! Spacecraft-Kepler was checking 100,000 stars to find the perfect Xmas planet ball to put on the Cosmic Xmas Tree as its ultimate and most precious decoration. Right?
Jellies now are almost completely awake and one of them, Penelope, says- Yes Santa Bernard, and Kepler was using the winking/“transit method” to find the planets and it was living around its grandpa-Mr. Sol-The Sun, and away form its grandma-Earth and its mama-NASA and it had plenty of siblings and cousins that had already put a looot of Xmas planet balls and galactic lights and stuff on the Xmas Tree of the universe...
SB- Exactly right Penelope, very well!

-Thank you- kinda giggled Penelope [kinda]
SB- So Kepler grew older checking the sky, and it worked very hard on its quest. During the first five years of its life Kepler found hundreds of extra-grandpa-Sol planets and spotted thousands of possible ones [974 confirmed exoplanets and 4175 candidates] and it proudly called them the "Kepler Object of Interests (KOIs)". But Kepler felt that none of the KOIs was the one. None of them, in spite of their beauty and uniqueness, was special enough to be the ultimate decoration for the Cosmic Xmas Tree.
js- So what Kepler did, Santa B?
SB- Oh, it simply kept peeping, jellies. It kept peeping with its photometer till one star caught its attention. It was a very old star, about ten billion years [11+/-2] of nuclear reactions
that old star had seen and done. Its name was KOI-183, and it was more or less 2300 light years away from Kepler's grandma-Earth. Kepler liked KOI-183, 'cause it looked alot like grandpa-Sol. KOI-183 was indeed a G4 dwarf with an effective temperature, Te(eff), of about 5300 °C (the Sun's one was of about 5500 °C) and a mass about 0.85 times and a radius about 0.94 times the ones of Mr. grandpa-Sol.
So Kepler kept an eye on KOI-183 constantly, for four long years [13 May 2009 to 11 May 2013]
js- Oooooohhh!
SB- Yes my space-time monkeys, and it saw KOI-183's winking!
js- Yeeeeeahh...

by sciencemug
by sciencemug
[Kepler spacecraft's image is adapted from a Public Domain image by sciencemug (source:] 

SB- And by that winking Kepler learnt that KOI-183 had a candidate planet in orbit around it, the KOI-183b (aka KOI-183.01) wannabe planet.
But Kepler needed to be super sure about this one, because what it got on this candidate planet seemed to be really mesmerizing. So Kepler called for help.
-Who, Santa B, who did Kepler call?- the jellies yell all at once
SB- Well jellies, Kepler asked a favour to the "Nordic Optical
Telescope (NOT) of Roque de los Muchachos Observatory", one of the many eyes human beings had built for the otherwise blind grandmother-Earth.
js- Nor... Nordi...
SB- Let's call it MuchO-eye, ok?
Ooooook!- the jellies say in choir, but Penelope, who's still doubtful, asks- Santa Bernard, what did grandma-Earth's MuchO-eye do for Kepler?
SB- It used one of its parts, the FIbre-fed ´Echelle Spectrograph (FIES) to watch KOI-183.
Pe- Spectralgraph?
SB- Spectrograph, Penelope. It's a tool, a tool which analyzes the light coming from an object by separating it into its component frequencies.
So, thanks to its FIES-spectrograph,
MuchO-eye could study for months [June-September 2013] the winking light coming from KOI-183. And you know what?
js- Whaaaaaat?
SB- MuchO confirmed that KOI-183b was indeed a real planet.
js- Yipppeeeeeeee!
SB- And when Kepler and MuchO-eye put together what they learnt about KOI-183b, well, they confirmed the scope of its marvel. KOI-183b was a coreless planet, like one of the gas giants, Jupiter, existing in grandpa-Mr. Sol's garden, the Solar System. KOI-183b had a mass of about 0.6 times that of Jupiter, a radious slightly bigger (about 1.2 times the one of Jupiter) and its density was about a half of Jupiter's.
But do you want to know what really was the astonishing, breathtaking issue about KOI-183b, the characteristic that made it so so precious to Kepler's eyes and made it the chosen one to be the ultimate Xmas planet ball for the CXT?
js- Yeeeeeeeees!
SB- Well, KOI-183b had an albedo of 0.035 [+/- 0.014] a ridiculously low albedo, an albedo that was one of the lowest ever found for a gas giant!
js- Hurraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! 
SB- And this, my dear fluffy theories of mbranes and strings, it's the story of how spacecraft Kepler found KOI-183b, the 'Ridiculously Low Albedo Ball', the most sacred, precious, the ultimate decoration-planet for our Cosmic Xmas Tree! 

KOI-183b snapshot_by sciencemug
KOI-183b snapshot (by sciencemug)

The jellies start kinda jumping [kinda] around all excited and joyful clapping their kinda hands [kinda], all of them but one, Solomon, who looks terribly sad instead.
SB- What is it Solomon, why are you so upset?
So- Because Kepler is still out there in the space, alone, and now that it has found what it was looking for it will feel purposeless [yep, space alien kids know words, big ones, ones that Earth-bound smartphoned kids can barely google for] and lonely and lost...
SB- Oh no no, Solomon, no. It's true that Kepler faced harsh times after the events I told you*, in fact it broke one of its most important pieces and therefore couldn't stare at its beloved Cygnus-Lyra piece of sky anymore...
-See, I was right, it is in pain!- Solomon stammers with its eye full of tears [yeah, tears are something humans and aliens, and blogs too, have in common. Those and armits (and therefore the need for effective deodorants).]
SB- It has been, yes
Solomon, for a while. But now it's fine, I promise you.
Solomon kinda sniffs [kinda] and stops crying while the other jellies stop jumping and dancing to listen too
SB- Mom-NASA fixed it, and now Kepler is very happy, on its brand new mission, K2, looking for wonders and- Santa Bernard ends in a whisper looking the jellies with their little pretty serene kinda snouts [kinda] attentively pointed toward him/her/it- as mama-NASA diary says- "enabling observations of scientifically important objects across a wide range of galactic latitudes in both the northern and southern skies [of grandma Earth]..."


*"The Ridiculously Low Albedo Ball Cosmic Xmas Tree Story" told by Santa Bernard is inspired by the "KOI-183b: a half-Jupiter mass planet transiting a very old solar-like star" account of adventure written by nineteen human beings (the first of whom was called Davide Gandolfini) in a book of tales of human epic entitled ""
2021 update: wanna see cool exoplantes. Click here?

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Happy b-day Kepler!_by sciencemug
Happy b-day Kepler! (by sciencemug)
[Johannes Kepler's portrait is adapted from a Public Domain image by sciencemug (source:]
[Kepler spacecraft's image is adapted from a Public Domain image by sciencemug (source:]

Johannes Kepler, the first astrophysicist aaand the guy the main character of "A Cosmic Xmas Tale" is named after.
Happy birthday JK!

Thursday, December 25, 2014


(Part 2/2 is here)
(The podcast)

in Eng?ish

Stardate 4223.13: the sky's pitch black, the universe is even more ancient, the sidereal cold's famished. A shy glow on a bare thirsty spot of land tries to fight darkness. It's helped by its allies, the strange sounds coming from a dozen creatures. There's a bigger one, name's Santa Bernard, emitting lower notes. In front of him/her/it, the rest of 'em, kinda cooing [kinda], crouched down in a semicircle.
Santa Bernard and the jellies_by sciencemug
Santa Bernard and the jellies (by sciencemug)

Santa Bernard- Well jellies [pet name for alien 'kids' which are the human equivalent of a mix of a mutant squid, a bag of dirty socks and a fatter version of a crimson Shrek seriously addicted to napalm] this is the story of how the Cosmic Xmas Tree was finally decorated with its most precious ornament, the 'Ridiculously Low Albedo Ball'.
The jellies kinda
make [kinda] a loud- Oooohhh... - and then- Santa Bernard?
SB- Yes?
js- What does albedo mean?
SB- Well, little bunch of atoms and quantum stuff, when light hits a celestial body, be it a planet, a comet or an
Emily Ratajkowski, a fraction of that light's reflected by that body. The albedo is the ratio of the reflected light to the hitting (incident) light. The lower the albedo, the darker the celestial body. Gotcha?
js- YEEEES!-
SB- Good. Now...
One of the jellies, Bob, rises one of its... extremities[?] and- Santa Bernard...
SB- Yes Bob?
Bo- What's an
Emily Ratajkowski?
SB- It's both a hot celestial body of a distant galaxy and a universal measure unit for a 1 to 14 aH (Astral Hottness) scale, where 1ER means a
Sacha Baron Cohen in a tiny tiny micro-bikini (and before you ask, the answer is: a nasty nasty thing) and 14ERs mean, well, Emily Ratajkowski. Ok? Can I start telling the story now?
Jellies kinda nod [kinda]

SB- Good, listen up then. Once upon a time, in a planet far far away, a baby spacecraft was born from its mama-NASA. The baby probe name was Kepler and Kepler at its birth weighed 1052.4 kilograms [yup, aliens are smart, hence they use the SI] and was about 2.7 meters in diameter and 4.7 meters high. Besides, thanks to its 10.2 square meters wide panels, Kepler could feed on what its grandad (the star of that system, Mr. Sol AKA the Sun) was giving it: a slice of the electromagnetic radiation cake.
Kepler was a solitary kid-probe, indeed it left [March 6, 2009] grandma planet-Earth (with its mama-NASA's blessing) at its birth, and went to live around Mr. grandpa Sol. I mean, literally around the Sun: Kepler was loitering in a Sol-centered orbit and its year was 371 days long.
One of the jellies kinda squeal
[kinda]- Santa Bernard, wasn't Kelper scared to be all alone?
- Kepler Charlotte, its name was Kepler - Santa Bernard answers the question with what can be considered an alien grin (or the manifestation of a slight stroke in association with a violent rash caused by an almost lethal exposition to a gamma ray burst and/or a "Lord of the Ring" marathon) on what can be considered an alien face (or a battlefield where nightmares of endless generations of seriously deranged werewolves fought a raging war against cholesterol and silver bullets budding from a parallel universe where they were garlic coated square donuts) - and no dear, our little spacecraft wasn't scared to be all alone out in the space, on the contrary, it was very happy like that. And I'll tell you why.

Since ever, Xmas had been the happiest part of the years for Kepler, of its own and of its grandma-Earth's. Therefore Kepler's deeper and most secret desire had always been to find the ultimate piece of ornament for the Cosmic Xmas Tree, the ultimate space Xmas ball. And Kepler needed to be alone, in a quiet place, to better concentrate for its mission. Because this mission was a very very, very difficult one, since our kid-probe had to face the competition of the other members of its extended family of human made space objects. 

kepler and grandpa sun_by sciencemug
Kepler and grandpa by sciencemug

And they were so many. And so good at their jobs...
There was his big brother, for a start, the beloved Hubble telescope (or was it a cousin, Kepler wasn't quite sure since Hubble had gotten space-DNA straight from both mama-NASA and aunt-ESA) which had collected the stunning lights for the CXT in the shapes of nebulae and galaxies since nineteen years before Kepler's birth. His bro Cassini-Huygens (or cousin, again, Kepler didn't know for sure since C-H got spacecraft-genes straight from mama-NASA, aunt-ESA and aunt-ASI) had spent ten years providing wonderful silvery rings and Saturn and Saturn's moons balls to the CXT. The dead sibling Galileo, may it rest in peace, had passed away six years before Kepler's birth, but only after a fourteen years long life during which it had decorated the CXT with amazing Jupiter reddish-orange balls and even provided fireworks made out of a comet crash onto the giant planet-ball. And, then, the other brother, spacecraft Messenger, that for more than a decade had been an authentic maker of Mercury balls. Another young sibling, Curiosity, in just two years had dug all the martian stylish red dust that was usually spread on the CXT to embellish it. Not to mention the heroic cousin, Rosetta (aunt-ESA's most famous daughter) and its son Philae: after a ten years trip and a three years hibernation/coma, they had just catched the SHOOTING STAR* to put on top of the Cosmic Xmas Tree!
Ah, definitely, so many of them. And so so good at their jobs. And just think, these ones were only a fraction of Kepler's family.
Jellies look saddened- Poor Kepler, it's not going to make it, it won't find the perfect ornamental ball for the Xmas tree of the universe before the others- they kinda whine [kinda] all together
SB- Well, my sweet collection of nuclear forces and probabilities, Kepler thought otherwise. It was a very driven kid-spacecraft and it knew it would have found the perfect space Xmas ball if it had kept following its machine-soul, its programming, and looking for exoplanets...
js- Whaaaat?
SB- Planets outside Kepler's grandpa's garden, the Solar System. Kepler searched for these extrasolar planets peeping
the Cygnus-Lyra region, a piece of Kepler's grandma-Earth's northern sky stuffed with stars and therefore potential planets. And therefore potential perfect CXT's balls. Kepler couldn't help but staring at that spot of the universe, observing 100,000 stars at the same time, stars that were from few to thousands of light years far away. It did it constantly, restlessly, stubbornly, since its birth. And Kepler chose to live in a specific solitary orbit around Mr. Sol not only to easily concentrate, but also because it had so gained a clean view of its adored chunk of cosmos. In that orbit, in fact, nothing (neither Mr. Sol, nor grandmother Earth or great aunt Moon) could hinder Kepler observation. Not even for a microsecond.
Jellies cheer up a bit now and get closer to Santa B. But one of them, Solomon, is a bit hesitant, and SB notices it
SB- What's up buddy?- asks with a whistle-like sound
So- I don't get it, Santa B. You said Kepler was looking for planets, but you also said that it was observing stars... How could it find planets by staring at the stars?
SB- Aaah, this is a very good question pal. Excellent! - Solomon kinda blush [kinda] - I'll let you hear the answer directly from a page of mother-NASA's diary: "[Kepler] simultaneously measures the variations in the brightness of more than 100,000 stars every 30 minutes, searching for the tiny "winks" in light output that happen when a planet passes in front of its star."
Before you ask, Solomon and jellies, Kepler could perceive and quantify those tiny winks thanks to its only inner organ-instrument, the photometer (or light meter). But let's go back to mom-NASA's diary: "The effect [of the winks] lasts from about an hour to about half a day, depending on the planet’s orbit and the type of star [...]  [and Kepler is born] to detect these [winks, these] changes in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front of it, or “transits the star.” This is called the “transit method” of finding planets".
Got it? 

SB- Good, little loaves of hadrons. Now it's nap time.
js- Noooooooo, we want to hear the rest of the story
, please Santa Bernard!

SB- Shush shush. Time to rest...

Merry Xmas from Santa Bernard and sciencemug
Merry Xmas from Santa Bernard and sciencemug
*Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko