Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

The Planck spacecraft has delivered quite a payload of preliminary data on the origins of our Universe, and now the European Space Agency (ESA) is letting us catch a glimpse of Planck’s bounty. Named for German physicist and Nobel laureate Max Planck, the ESA launched Planck in May 2009 from the Guiana Space Centre. The spacecraft settled into a stable orbit along Earth’s nightside in a few months later. Earth’s nightside is an ideal spot for space-bound observatories: permanently shielded from the sun, spacecraft have an unobstructed view of the visible cosmos.

At the end of last summer, Planck began its ambitious mission: a survey of the entire sky. But Planck’s mission isn’t a simple pictorial survey (we’ve done that before). Planck was launched to survey the sky for wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that we can’t see. Microwaves and very far infrared have longer wavelengths than visible light (see figure below), and Planck is capturing those wavelengths in its survey of the visible Universe.

It took the Planck spacecraft a little over six months to complete its first microwave and very far infrared survey of the sky, and made use of instruments designed and built by both the ESA and NASA. The embedded videos below illustrated how Planck completed this survey.

The fruits of Planck’s labor are shown below, in the spacecraft’s first microwave and very far infrared image of the sky:


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To earn my Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology, I must spend several years conducting research under the watchful eye of my advisor, and make an original contribution to the realm of science. These contributions will most likely be in the form of publications in scientific journals, though I haven’t gotten to that point yet. The subject I chose to study for my Ph.D. is a small fish. Specifically, I study how these fish decide whether to be male or female, and how that sex-determining process evolved. And I conduct these studies at a cancer research facility.

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I spit my coffee out this morning1 when I heard this delightful story on NPR. Since I study sex determination, I’m a bit biased here. But, it’s great to see such an amazing field of biology get such great news coverage. On a side note, Blanche Capel, the Duke University researcher they consult for this story, is a refreshing blend of gifted scientist and gifted communicator. Enjoy her comments near the end of the segment.

Here’s a link to hear the story. It’s definitely worth your time!

“Half-Rooster/Half-Hen Helps Unlock Sex Mystery”

1I spit my coffee out because a story on vertebrate sex determination was the last thing I ever expected to hear on NPR, not because I was disgusted or anything.

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