There's big news for sun worshippers - not the greased-up kind who lay broiling on a hot beach all day long in bikinis and reflective panels, but those with a deep interest in the sun itself, its solar features, and the nature of its structure.
The news is this: The Institute for Solar Physics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has just taken pictures of the sun using its solar telescope, which boasts a lens a full meter in diameter. According to one report with the headline, “Swedish Solar Telescope Bursts Dream Barrier,” the resolution with such a large lens “would allow the bottom line of eye-test charts to be read from a distance of 3 kilometers.” Put another way, the resolution is 1,200 times better than normal eyesight (20/20 vision).
The results are the sharpest and most detailed images ever captured of the sun, which is about 109 times the diameter of Earth. Best of all for amateur astronomers and scientists, the images can be seen - and enlarged - in all their blazing, rapturous fury on the Internet.
Blown up to full screen size, the most dramatic images (with colors added for aesthetic reasons and for improved contrast) alternately look like the flames of eternal hell and a dazzling field of sunflowers painted by the great Vincent Van Gogh.
The solar telescope, located atop an extinct volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma, was opened in March of this year. In addition to the immense size of the lens, the telescope is constructed in such a way that all the air has been pumped out of its tube, minimizing problems from turbulent air that blurs images taken by lesser telescopes.
A mirror in the path of light changes shape about 1,000 times a second to counteract atmospheric disturbances.
Part of the scientific significance of these new images - which incidentally were published in the Nov. 14 issue of Nature magazine - is that they show heretofore unknown narrow dark cores in the highly magnetic sunspots, the nature of which are still unknown. But the ability to study the images in such detail could help scientists understand the impact of sunspots on solar weather and the function of telecommunications and satellites.
The Web site also offers visitors a chance to see a color movie of the images using the free Quicktime player. I couldn't get it to work over several tries on my computer, but maybe you'll have better luck.
Smoking Gun update
In the seven months since we last peeked into TheSmokingGun.com, not much has changed. The site still offers up viewable public documents concerning celebrities and other public figures who ran afoul of the law, and still dishes up a large assortment of outrageous contract riders issued to producers by entertainers who demand certain backstage perks as part of their agreement to perform.
There is one new section, however: A rogue's gallery of police mugshots showing various actors, actresses, sports celebrities, musicians, gangsters, and other recognizable names who for various reasons have found themselves in police custody, getting their pictures taken sans makeup, professional lighting, and fancy clothes.
These “impromptu photo shoots,” as the site gleefully calls the mugshots, feature people in eight categories. Under “Sports,” for example, you'll find the likes of Jennifer Capriati, Darryl Strawberry, Dennis Rodman, and Allen Iverson. In “Hollywood” there's Yasmine Bleeth, Kim Delaney, Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman), Matthew McConaughey, and Hugh Grant. “Music” boasts Marilyn Manson, Kid Rock, and Bobby Brown; “Icons” has Ozzy Osbourne, Jesse Jackson, John Gotti, and Frank Sinatra, and heading the Smoking Gun “Faves” list is Noelle Bush, daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Two members of the gallery are worth singling out, if only to decide which of them was suffering the worst hair day in front of the camera: Nick Nolte, who looks like he was struck by lightning, and former Ohio congressman James Traficant, whose wig resembles a small dead animal.
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