11 Comments

Finally I offer some pictures in response to Alison. (I’m procrastinating, avoiding washing last night’s dishes for a little longer… C’mon now, don’t look at me like that. It’s Sunday.)

Alison challenged me last Friday week to put up a stunning science picture to beat her offering. Trouble is, what she offered to way too good to beat! It has everything you want. Self-explanatory, dramatic with great detail.

I searched for ages, and found it’s one thing to stumble onto these and another to go looking for them… then thought ’Stuff this, I’m going to put up something old and classical instead.’

Pale blue dot - the earth from 6.1 billion kilometres (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Pale blue dot - the earth from 6.1 billion kilometres (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

The image to the left is so classic even it’s title is famous, Pale Blue Dot.

Legend – I’d write story, but it’s passed into legend by now – is that famous science communicator and astronomer Carl Sagan asked if those running the Voyager space mission would turn a craft around once it had completed it’s main mission, point the camera back at the earth, and take a shot.

The tiny blue dot about two-thirds down the bright band in the right part of the image is the earth from 6.1 billion kilometres.

It is a little abstract in some ways, but it shows the earth as this tiny mote in the vastness of space, and that’s only our tiny corner of space.

The Voyager craft were something that impressed the hell out of me as kid, swinging by all those planets. I remember the National Geographic stories with their photographs.

They’re still out there. Late July this year Voyager 2 had logged 12,000 continuous days of operation and it still sending back data (at 160 bits/second), used, for example to report the presence of strong magnetic field just outside the solar system.

Today you can follow their progress on twitter. As I write the Voyager 2 twitter feed reports

I am currently 12 hrs 58 mins 22 secs of light-travel time from Earth

Given a speed of light of approximately 299792 km/second, that’s very roughly 14 billion kilometres from earth. My head is doing rendition of the line ’It’s a Long Way to Tipperary …’

If that isn’t impressive enough, it’s travelled 21 billion kilometres to get there.

Mitotic chromosomes (via: The Pavellas Perspective)

Mitotic chromosomes (via: The Pavellas Perspective)

The second image, to the right, probably makes me a fuddy-duddy, but I like it for being a humble image of chromosomes.

I’m interested (among far too many other things) in the higher-order structure of chromosomes and how that relates to how genes are controlled.

This electron micrograph hides the complex detail; I like it’s peaceful simplicity, and how it shows chromosomes to be three-dimensional, rather than the flat cartoon sketches too often used in textbooks.

OK, OK. Now I’ll go and wash the dishes. Sigh.

Footnotes

I considered structure of protein complexes, some of which are truly stunning. Maybe I’ll do that some other time. The trouble is that these really want the story explaining them. There are also some excellent models of larger complexes of molecules. (I posted a model of the cytoplasm some time ago; see the first link, below.)

The source of the second image reminds me that I never did write about cochlear implants as I meant to almost a year ago now. (Sigh.)

I did also write some thoughts on the ‘miracles’ of the new Catholic saints, but the two really don’t sit together well!


Science on Code for life:

Friday picture: molecular modelling of the cytoplasm

The roots of bioinformatics

Loops to tie a knot in proteins?

Coiling bacterial DNA

Temperature-induced hearing loss

I remember because my DNA was methylated