A Note About a Christmas Comic
December 19, 2011 - Monday
I have a quick issue I want to discuss, which I hope you'll take the time to read. About a year ago, this comic of mine was first posted. It's probably one of the best received things I've ever drawn. But its success has also resulted in many people altering it for their own purposes, erasing my URL and replacing it with their own, and ruining what I think was originally a positive statement.
My use of the Peanuts characters, in a comic that I drew and wrote myself, is allowed as a parody. But when people grab my art, change a few words, and label it as their own, it amounts to theft. Of course people are free to make their own parodies, but they should use their own art and writing. I could attempt to police these copies, but ultimately this is impossible to do on the internet, especially once images start spreading on social sites like Facebook. But I believe there is one factor strongly in my favor in this matter: my amazing group of readers. So even if I cannot eliminate these other copies, together we can drown them out by spreading a superior message.
Please help me by sharing this comic anyway you can. Post it to your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook page, or even email it to friends and family. In keeping with the spirit of the season, for every 500 page views the comic gets between now and the end of the year, I will donate $1 to Doctors Without Borders. Thank you for your continued support!
Science News for the Week, Dec 10-16
December 17, 2011 - Saturday
• Two groups working at the Large Hadron Collider released their results this week, seeing evidence for the elusive Higgs boson near a mass of 126 GeV (126 times the mass of the proton). This is only a 3 sigma-ish result, or about 99.7% certainty. But most physicists like a 5 sigma result (or 99.9999%) before claiming a detection. It will take more data to reach this level of certainty (which will presumably happen next spring and summer). You can listen to more about this result on today's Science Friday.
• Two papers were released this week following up on the supernova of a generation that occurred back in August. This is a Type Ia supernova, the same type that is used to measure the expansion of the Universe and infer its acceleration (potentially due to dark energy), a discovery for which the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded this year. Even though we think these explosions are due to the thermonuclear explosion of a white dwarf, there is still much we don't understand about these events, so everyone is excited that this nearby supernova will teach us a lot. In the first paper, astronomers report on data just 11 hours after the explosion. This early emission is sensitive to the radius of the star that exploded, which indeed confirms that it is small and consistent with a white dwarf (the first ever direct constraint of this kind). In the second paper, astronomers look at the site of the supernova before it went off with the Hubble Telescope. They actually found nothing at this location, which means that the progenitor was relatively dim. From this we can conclude that the white dwarf that exploded couldn't have been gaining matter from a large, bright, red-giant star. So now we know for certain that the white dwarf must either gain mass from a smaller star, kind of like our Sun, or another white dwarf.
• My favorite news is the amazing discovery of a cloud of gas, about 3 times the mass of the Earth, that is quickly falling toward the four million solar mass black hole at the center of our Galaxy. You can see in the picture below the changing position of the gas, from red to green to blue, getting closer to the black hole (which is at the cross). The gas will reach closest approach in 2013, when it will most likely be tidally ripped apart, form a disk, and then accrete onto the black hole, producing a bright X-ray source. This is an incredible and unprecedented opportunity to learn about how black holes feed, so I expect we will be hearing a lot more about this in the coming years. Also check out this movie describing the discovery in more detail.
• Finally, I feel like I would be amiss if I didn't mention that Christopher Hitchens has passed away. Many other people who knew him better than myself are saying more eloquent things about his amazing life than I can (here and here and here). So instead I'll simply point you to two great comics by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Cyanide & Happiness, as well as these words from Zach Weiner.
Science News for the Week, Dec 3-9
December 10, 2011 - Saturday
Science news is back? Well, at least for this week.
• Kepler, NASA's planet hunting space observatory, made an exciting discovery. It found a planet 600 light years away, which is 2.4 times the radius of the Earth, in a 290 day orbit, and going around a star slightly less massive (and thus less bright) than our Sun. This puts the planet in the "habitable zone," or, in other words, at just the right distance for liquid water to exist on its surface. And by the way, Kepler has now found 2,326 planet candidates. These will have to be followed up to be confirmed, but it is becoming clear that our Universe is teeming with planets.
• Physicists everywhere are abuzz that the discovery of the Higgs particle will soon be announced. The Higgs is predicted by the Standard Model to be the particle that gives other particles mass. Even though the Standard Model has been incredibly successful, a detection of the Higgs particle is still missing. Previous results have ruled out a lot of parameter space for its mass, but it appears that it may be around 120 GeV (the mass of a proton is 1 GeV). Two experiments working at the LHC will announce their results on Tuesday. If they have found the Higgs, it would clearly be an amazing intellectual achievement. But personally, I think it could be much more interesting if they were to announce that they haven't found it. Then it would at least be some sort of indication of physics beyond the Standard Model, which we know should be there, but do not have any experimental evidence for at this point.
• Astronomers announced that they have found the two biggest black holes ever, with masses 10 and 20 billion times the mass of our Sun. These black holes are off course not seen directly, but from the influence of their gravity on the stars around them. Black holes have long been observed at the time when the Universe was only a couple billion years old from matter falling into them (known as quasars), so these new black holes represent the quasars' present-day counterparts. Perhaps most interestingly, the masses of these black holes do not follow the same relationship that other galaxies have between the mass of their central black holes and their central bulge of stars. This might indicate something unique about how these massive black holes were fed mass and grown to their present sizes.
• Researchers at UC San Diego have been shedding new light on rainbows with numerical simulations. The work was initially motivated by how hard it was to simulate realistic looking rainbows for movies and video games. It appears that one of their big results is that the shape of raindrops plays a big role. Raindrops become very non-spherical as they're falling, especially when they are large (as is shown here). In the picture below you can see how well they are able to simulate rainbows by comparing the region within the square (which is simulated) to the rest of the picture (which is a photograph). Who would have thought that we still have so much to learn about rainbows?
December 5, 2011 - Monday
Okay, I guess I'm a little slow on the whole Black-Friday/Cyber-Monday thing, but better late than never, right? Anyway, details about sales this week and shipping deadlines are below. Also, I've added three new shirts and lots of other color and apparel options, so please check them out in the store.
• Until December 9th, use the code SPIFFY2011 to get $5 off orders of two or more shirts. Also, you can use the code SHIPFREEUS to get free US shipping on shirt orders over $50.
• Until December 9th, the evolution poster is 20% off.
• Until December 9th, all original artwork is $20 off. Just use the "buy original art" links below the comics.
• Since my shirts are printed and fulfilled by Spreadshirt, they have slightly different shipping deadlines from myself. You can see all the details about shipping dates here.
• Finally, I've started getting some great pics of people wearing my shirts for my shop, so check them out in the links at the top of the store. If you've bought a shirt in the past, you can save $5 on your next shirt purchase by sending me a pic (see more details here). Please note that you cannot use this discount in conjunction with the above holiday sale.
Save 30% on Calendars
November 28, 2011 - Monday
I just wanted to give you a heads up that if you enter the code CYBERMONDAY at checkout, you can get 30% off either of my two calendars. This deal only lasts for 24 hours, so act now if you're interested!
November Shirt Deals
November 17, 2011 - Thursday
Sorry all the blog posts have been product related lately, but I guess it's getting to be that time of year. I have two deals that will last until November 24th. You can get 5 products for the price of 4 by using the code XMAS5FOR4 when checking out. Or use the code BUY3SHIP to buy any 3 products and save up to $9.50 on shipping. Don't forget you can keep up to date with any current or upcoming deals on the discounts page.