About my Blog

As an astronomy teacher, variable star observer and host for public nights at the observatory, I have a variety of interesting experiences.  What good are experiences if your don’t share them?

My students are a wonderful source of insight and entertainment. My colleagues are constantly challenging me to be better.   And the stars are calling my name.

The name of my blog comes from Chet Raymo, a former professor of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College. In his book Skeptics and True Believers, Raymo paints a metaphor of science as an island of the sea of mystery.  The power of this metaphor, according to Raymo, comes from the facts that 1)  the universe is effectively infinite, and 2) our brains are finite.

You can read more from Raymo at his blog (now ended and archived) “Science Musings.”

About the Header Image:  M66 (NGC 3727) is a galaxy discovered by Mechain before 1780.  M66 is 6.6 Mega-parsecs (about 21.5 million Light Years) from us.  M 66 exhibits great dust lanes and spiral arms.  To be found in the constellation Leo, M 66 is part of a group of interacting galaxies known as the Leo Trio. 

11 thoughts on “About my Blog

  1. Hello Mr. Hands, I was watching your periscope where you said we could leave questions on your blog. I hope I am doing so in the right place. I did try to ask the question on your periscope, but I’m not sure you got the gist of what I was asking.

    I’ve been reading up on the Drake equation and yes, while I understand it wasn’t initially meant to calculate an actual number, but rather steer us towards criteria for further research, I am trying to wrap my head around the math.

    I am looking at the original version of the equation stated as: N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

    Now, R* is not the total number of stars in the galaxy but rather the rate of star formation, expressed as the number of stars formed per year.

    If we want the formula to spit out a value of the number of civilisations present in the galaxy at the present time (N), we would have to multiply R* by a value of time. I would think that R* x age of the galaxy would return the total number of stars in the galaxy, and this would be the starting point for the multiplication of all the other fractions that follow in the rest of the equation.

    However, R* is not multiplied by the age of the galaxy to give the total number of stars. The only variable of time that it is multiplied by is L which is the length of time a civilisation tends to broadcasts signals for, until it becomes radio-silent.

    It seems to me that something is missing here. Are we only looking at civilisations that originated during the past L years?

    Am I making any errors in my reasoning or overlooking something? Please help!



      1. Michael, I’ve noticed that when looking at a planet with my unaided eyes, it does not twinkle. Even though stars are much larger than planets, stars are also further way, so they appear as points of light. As that stream of photons come through Earth’s atmosphere, it gets blown around a little by our wind, making the star appear to twinkle. Planets present a disk to our eyes, and even though that light also gets blown around a bit, there’s mostly overlap with the light reflecting off the rest of the disk. That makes planets appear to not twinkle.



      2. Hi, Michael. Thanks for the question.

        Our atmosphere makes the star light twinkle. The light basically moves in a straight line toward Earth (unless it gets close to a massive object.) . When the light enters our atmosphere, the movement of our air moves the light around, so to us it appears to twinkle.

        Keep looking up!



    1. Reiad,
      Thanks for the comments and questions. I seem to remember that R* in the Drake Equation is the rate of star formation of the appropriate spectral class stars, per year. Types O, B, A are probably too massive to live long enough. Types K and M have those flares and accompanying radiation that will make life very difficult.

      But even the F and G stars eventually die off, so we can’t keep them in our equation forever.

      Does this help?

      Thanks again.



  2. Reiad,

    Thanks for your question. You are going deeper into this math than I have and I thank-you for inviting me in on the ride. Let’s figure it out together.

    In your 5th paragraph you write “we would have to multiply R* by a value of time.” Why do we have to? Isn’t time already included in that R represents the number per year? Does that “per year” do it?

    Let m know what you think.



    1. Dennis, Thank you for answering the ‘do photons have mass’ question during your 8/22 scope. Gravitational lensing has been confusing me for some time and still does if I’m honest. Clearly a photon doesn’t have mass because if it did it wouldn’t achieve the speed of light but if it doesn’t then why is it bending? So the answer lies in spacetime. Now I just need to understand spacetime!!
      I asked this question during your 8/3 scope (43:40) after you referred to the article about light bending in your mag. but someone else give me the wrong answer so I gave up. Luckily ‘Mike’ asked the question again and you responded.
      Thank you again for taking the time to share your knowledge. I look forward to all your scopes, even if only on replay!
      Kind Regards
      Kevin Etheridge


  3. Hello Mr. Hands
    I recently sent you an email to your High Point University email and I was wondering if you have received it. It is in regards to a request for you to possibility give a presentation to my astronomy club. I really enjoy your Periscope talks and I think others would like to hear you speak about Astronomy. Thank you for your time.



  4. Hello Dennis, my name is Jason and Im in the International Space Settlement Design Competition that is hosted in Kennedy Space Center. I live in Australia and me and my team have just won the nationals for designing a settlement designed to remove space debris. It would be really nice to talk to you about some possible scenarios before I enter this competition, where I will compete against over 7 countries.


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