Off the Hook Astronomy

Crochet, knitting, astronomy & life in general.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ripples in Space-time from the Beginning of the Universe

The big news all over my Facebook feed (because obviously that's how I get news) Monday morning was all about what might possibly be one of the biggest discoveries about the Big Bang since the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the faint glow of light left over from the Big Bang, was inadvertently discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1964. The Southern Pole microwave telescope BICEP2, which stands for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2, measured a small signal in the CMB providing the first evidence for Cosmic Inflation.


Image Credit: BICEP2 Collaboration, NSF, Steffen Richter (Harvard)

Inflation was a theory first introduced by Alan Guth in 1980 that was designed to explain why the Universe appeared so uniform in all directions. Without Inflation, because widely-separated regions would have been moving away from each other faster than the speed of light, and so were not yet in causal contact, the Universe would not have had enough time to reach the temperature equilibrium we see evidence of in the CMB today. The solution was to have a period of rapid expansion in the first few fractions of a second after the Big Bang. Thus, a small region of space which was able to reach an equilibrium expanded extremely quickly to become an enormous volume that wasn't causally connected anymore, but that had achieved uniformity. The slight differences in temperature which we observe in the CMB would therefore have originated as quantum fluctuations magnified by the inflationary process.


Image Credit: BICEP2 Collaboration, NSF

Although Inflation solves the problem of the uniformity of the Universe, until recently it had no observational evidence to back it up. BICEP2 was able to provide this evidence in the form of tiny twisting fluctuations in the polarization of the CMB, that is, the preference of light to vibrate in one direction over the other, called B-Modes (see the top-right corner of the first image in this post). This polarization signal, which appear as faint spiral patterns on the CMB, is a result of ripples in space-time, called gravitational waves, created in the earliest moments of the Universe. Gravitational waves cause space itself to get squeezed and pulled apart very slightly, and this would manifest itself by twisting the polarization of the light coming from the Big Bang.

With an amazing discovery like this, it's tempting to make grand proclamations about how we now know how the Universe began, but unfortunately, we still don't understand the mechanism which caused Inflation. On top of this, only one team has made measurements of these B-Modes in the CMB, and it is wise to wait for confirmation from other experiments before getting too excited. One such experiment is called Spider, a balloon-borne experiment lead by Barth Netterfield at the University of Toronto in collaboration with teams from Caltech, Princeton, Stanford, and others. It was meant to fly this past December in Antarctica and make its own measurements of the CMB polarization, but because of issues at NASA, the experiment is delayed until next winter. Hopefully, it will then be able to confirm the results obtained by BICEP2.


Image Credit: Spider Collaboration, B.P. Crill et al.

You can learn more about this recent discovery by checking out these articles by the New York Times (with an excellent infographic about Inflation), Scientific American, and Space Ref, or by reading the original release from the BICEP2 team.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Things for weddings

It certainly must be said that at some point in your mid-to-late twenties, all of your friends will get married. This summer was certainly a testament to that (as was last summer) as I was invited to, and attended, four weddings. Fortunately, they were fairly spread out over the late summer and fall, so it wasn't overly overwhelming, and I've gotta say that each one was really a blast! And of course, because I am a crafter extraordinaire, for each one I had to come up with some sort of handmade component to each gift.

The first of the season was my cousin's. It was a gorgeous day in early August, the wedding was at a lovely golf resort in the countryside of Ontario, the ceremony was heartwarming, the reception was loads of fun (ohmygosh the food!), and I took no pictures because I forgot to bring my camera. I did, however, remember to take pictures of the absolutely adorable tea cozy which I made as a wedding gift.


I used the Fairy Cake Tea Cozy pattern by Frankie Brown, and used a scottish yarn (the blue) and some icelandic lopi (the beige and purple) which were both given me as a vacation souvenirs. (I think it's an excellent habit to get people to bring you back yarn from the exotic places they visit!) The pattern was super simple and fun to make, and those buttons are frickin' adorable. The tea cozy was given with that cute little yellow teapot inside, and I also included a sampling of fancy teas.

Two weeks later was my friend Nic's wedding. As it turns out three (THREE!) of the lovely ladies from my knitting group (we're famous on the internet) got married this season. Nic's was the first, and it was absolutely lovely. I, again of course, forgot to bring my camera, but I've stolen (totally without permission) this picture which Lynn's camera took of four of us in the tree house (TREE HOUSE!) at the wedding reception. I have in my hands what's left of the spoils from the ice cream bar (FRICKIN' ICE CREAM BAR!!!).


For Nic, I knit some wine bottle cozies to go with the LCBO gift card I gave her and her new hubby.


The pattern is Winecozy by Jennifer Carter and I used various soft and sparkly leftover bits of yarn. I'm an especially big fan of the adorable hearts on the black and purple one. The pattern itself is quite ingenious. I love the way the picked up tube thing makes the bottom quite stable. The only change I made was to knit in the round instead of flat.

Wedding #3 belonged to my knitting pal Erin. She had so much handmade goodness included in her special day! Probably most impressive (and not just because I helped), was the hand knit bridal and bridesmaids bouquets. All us knitter types in the group (and the token crocheter) helped a bit with that one, each of us making a couple of flowers. This picture is stolen from Erin's blog.


For her, I decided to try my hand at sewing and put together these napkins with nice folded edges and aluminum wire napkin rings:


The final wedding of the season was Lynn's in October. It was a Nerdstravaganza! And I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The programs were set up like a fantasy story and illustrated by the groom, each table had their own nerdy location (we were sitting at Aperture Labs), and they had custom-made LEGO figurines as party favours. Here's mine:


And our table:


And, for good measure, the happy couple:


I made an appropriately nerdy gift as well, a Doctor Who trivet!


It was made with some of my Mom's leftover lopi, and I used the chart from tricksyknitter called Whovian.

So that's it for weddings for a while, I hope!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Quinoa Salad with Cranberries and Red Pepper

Here's another recipe from the fitness blog.


Quinoa is awesome. It's full of fibre and protein and it's absolutely delicious. Bonus: it's also easier to cook than brown rice. A friend of mine turned me back on to quinoa recently. I'd had it before as a kid, but I hadn't eaten it since I moved away from home, mostly because I hadn't realized how easy it was to make. So I've been making all kinds of quinoa salads lately.

I used this this recipe as a jumping off point, and it is by far my favourite quinoa dish so far. It's kind of like a pilaf, I guess. I changed the original recipe enough that I think it merits a retyping here (keep in mind a lot of it is copied and pasted from the original).

Ingredients (main salad):
  • 1 c. dry quinoa
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 red pepper, chopped
  • 4 c. baby spinach
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin seeds, toasted

Ingredients (dressing):
(NOTE: This wasn't actually included in the original recipe, but some kind soul put it in the comments. It turned out that I didn't have any yogurt or any of the spices at the time, so I made do with what was in the pantry. Experimentation is fun!)
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp dried onion
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

1. Toast quinoa in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until it becomes aromatic and begins to crackle, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a fine sieve and rinse thoroughly.
2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Add cranberries and the quinoa; continue cooking, stirring often, until the quinoa has dried out and turned light golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add water and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet at medium heat, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes. Put them in a bowl to cool.
4. Also meanwhile, make dressing by mixing all the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Transfer the quinoa to a medium bowl and toss with half the dressing. Add in the pepper and pumpkin seeds. Let cool for 10 minutes.
5. Just before serving, toss spinach with the remaining 1/3 cup dressing in a large bowl. Divide the spinach among 4 plates. Mound the quinoa salad on the spinach and eat!

This makes 4 servings. Per serving, there are 383 calories, 47 g of carbs, 19 g of fat, 8 g of protein, and 5 g of fibre.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yummy Tuna Patties

This is a recipe I originally posted in my fitness blog several months ago, but since not many people have access to it, I thought I'd republish it here! As some of you may know, I've been on a real health kick of late. I've lost about 50 lb in about a year and a half (most of which I had gained during grad school), I've started running long distances (I'm doing a 10k race this Sunday!), and in general I've been trying to improve my diet. Part of this has been to drastically increase the amount of protein I've been eating since I'm a real carb addict.


I find that the easiest way to get enough protein in my diet (not that I really get enough protein) is to have a can of tuna once in a while. I have been known to eat it straight out of the can when I'm feeling particularly lazy, but let's face it: tuna on its own is pretty damn boring. For a while I was mixing it with low fat greek yogurt (instead of mayonnaise), a few nuts, maybe some herbs or cut up veggies. I haven't bought greek yogurt in a while, however, so today I decided to mix it up with some stuff I had lying around the kitchen. Thus were born these super tasty tuna patties.

Ingredients
  • 1 can tuna (I used Gold Seal Chunk Light Tuna in broth)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp instant oats
  • 2 tbsp whole spelt flour
  • 1 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro
  • small amount of fat for frying pan (I used a bit of non-stick cooking spray)

Mix everything in a bowl with a fork until it's well-blended. Heat up a frying pan to medium heat and add a small amount of fat for cooking (a couple of sprays of non-stick cooking spray in my case). Form the tuna mixture into patties with your hands and gently place them in the frying pan. I was able to make three approximately 3-inch patties. Cook for 5 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.

I've been told they keep, though I can't attest to that because I just wolf mine down right away. I topped them with a few tablespoons of cottage cheese, but low fat greek yogurt is also nice as would be a multitude of other toppings, I'm sure. Here's the nutritional breakdown for all three patties:

Calories: 277kcal
Carbs: 15g
Fat: 9g
Protein: 36g

Enjoy!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Catching up on 8 months worth of knitting projects: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this catching-up-on-my-knitting instalment! We begin with some projects I knit purely for myself, 'cause really, I'm the one who appreciates my knitted gifts the most. As before, I'm linking to my Ravelry project page for each project in case you want more details.



Clockwise from the top left, we have some stripy legwarmers knit in Knitpicks Chroma, a super-soft Koolhaas knit in Berroco Flicker, some fingerless mitts knit from various leftovers, my Morning Dew sweater knit in Lanificio di Milano Mohacril (vintage), a super-awesome dice bag in Cascade Heritage (because I'm really cool now and play Dungeons & Dragons), and a wonderfully soft and warm hooded scarf knit in Diamond Luxury Collection Baby Alpaca Glimmer.

The yarns for most of these projects were wonderfully luxurious to work with. The Berroco Flicker, for example, I was at first attracted to because of the shininess, but then when I touched it, it was so soft that I couldn't put it down and it just had to come home with me. I think a similar situation happened with the Diamond Luxury Collection Baby Alpaca Glimmer (now that's a mouthful). The Knitpicks Chroma isn't quite as soft as baby alpaca, but it was still lovely to work with and the resulting legwarmers are super soft and warm. Boy are we lucky to live at a time when so many awesome yarns are available!

And now, some baby things!



Starting in the left corner and going clockwise, we have some baby socks in Patons Kroy 3-ply (discontinued), a cute baby cardigan in various scrap sock yarns, and a baby surprise jacket, swirly hat, and baby socks in what I think is Punta Merisock Hand Paint (it was a gift yarn, so I can't be sure). The three items knit in the Merisock went to my friend Ellie, who's due to have a baby any second now, the multi-coloured cardigan went to my friends Shanna & Gordon and their lovely little girl Beatrice, and the pale blue socks will likely go to my sister-in-law's baby. I love knitting baby things! They're so cute!

Now, I did say last time that I would also talk about wedding knitting, but perhaps I'll save that for a future post because there's still one more wedding to go to this season and I have plans to knit something up for that too.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Catching up on 8 months worth of knitting projects: Part 1

I know that one post won't properly sum up all the knitting I've done since Christmas time, but I'll attempt at least to give you a rough overview in this two-part blog post. Using my rudimentary photoshop skills, I'll try to sort of group projects into themes. I've included links to my Ravelry projects pages for each of these in case you want more information.

The first theme is socks! I love knitting socks, and I love wearing hand-knit socks. They're great portable travel projects and can be as complicated or as simple as you like. And nothing is as warm and squishy as a hand-knit sock hugging your toes.



Clockwise from the top left, we have my Twisted Mockery socks knit in a mystery gifted yarn, my Nutkins knit in Austermann Step, my Johanna socks knit in Jojoland Melody Superwash, my Turtle Toes socks knit in Turtlepurl Yarns Striped Turtle Toes, and my Double Helix socks knit in Cascade Heritage and Fiber Charmer Chris Sock.

I'm always a fan of interesting heel construction, and with the Double Helix pattern, I was able to try an innovative spiral heel which turned out beautifully. On top of that, the Twisted Mockery socks provided me with the opportunity to knit my first heel flap! Can you believe I'd never knit one before? I can't say it's my favourite, but at least I've expanded my horizons. I'm always in the market for cool new sock yarns too, and the Turtle Toes socks are knit with my favourite sock yarn concept to date. You might have noticed that the stripes on the socks match up perfectly, and that wasn't an accident. The yarn came in two skeins that were dyed together so that the colours would show up at exactly the same place! What they can do with science these days, let me tell you...

The next theme is stuff I've been knitting for others!



Again clockwise from the top left, we have Evenstar gloves I knit for Ellie in madelinetosh dk, Evenstar gloves I knit for Daphne in Araucania Nature Wool left over from my Luxe Cable sweater, a toque I knit for Yeddi in various leftover yarns, a super cool dice bag I knit for Miranda in a mystery leftover sock yarn, and a catnip-filled hamburger I crocheted for Nick's kitty out of random scraps.

You probably noticed that I've knit the Evenstar pattern twice in the above picture, and let me tell you, I'd gladly knit it up again! The cables are just so addictive in that pattern, and the result is just stunning. The first pair I knit in the madelinetosh was so amazing (that yarn is worth every penny) I was immediately hooked. This was actually the third time I'd knit that toque pattern as well, and I had knit a dice bag for myself before I knit this one for Miranda. I used to hate knitting the same pattern twice, but I guess I've now found a collection of patterns that I can fall back on when I want to knit a certain type of gift.

And next up we have patterns I've test-knit for the Happy Seamstress. Joanna has been very prolific over the last few months, and I've been lucky enough to get first dibs at knitting them up!



Clockwise from top left, we have sushi I knit from a kit Joanna had given me, the Cafe Tank which I knit from Knitpicks Galileo, and my bright pink Bat Hat which I knit from Bernat Roving. The latter was part of my Halloween costume. I was a pink cat woman type thing.

By the way, Joanna is having her patterns featured as part of the Independent Designer Program on Knitpicks, so you should definitely check that out!

There's more, of course... Next time I'll talk about baby gifts, stuff I've knit for myself, and wedding presents. Hopefully that will cover almost everything!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Domaine Chambord

A blog post, you say? What is this madness?! I thought surely this blog had gone the way of the dinosaurs!

Yes, yes... It's been 8 months since my last confession... err... blog post, but I'm happy to say I'm back! I managed to get a PhD, run a 10k race, go to a bunch of weddings, and knit a lot of baby clothes in that time, and I'm sure I'll get to all of it in the next few blog posts. (Yes, I promise I won't just post once and leave you hanging.)

I'd like to begin again more or less where I left off. Over the Christmas holidays, my mom took me and my cousin to a lovely little farm and yarn shop called Domaine Chambord, located in the small town of Moe's River in the municipality of Compton in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.



It was an icy day in December, but the owner, Kathy, was more than happy to show us around to pet the animals. They had sheep, of course, both Shetland and Jacob...



And lively alpacas...



And funny-looking ducks...



And llamas, and cashmere goats!



They even had a cute little guy who (I think) is a cross between a llama and an alpaca. He was extremely friendly and kept making funny little noises at us.



After seeing the adorable animals, we headed towards the yarn shop. It wasn't very large, but there was plenty of yarn spun from the fibre of the animals we had just visited.



Each skein had on its label a picture of the animal that yarn had come from, which was a nice touch.



Mom couldn't resist fondling the cashmere (and I think she ended up taking some home with her).



And I had a hard time resisting jumping straight into this big basket of alpaca fibre...



At Domaine Chambord, they also sell some knitted products: a few hand-knit scarves as well as knitted socks made with these amazing antique knitting machines they have lining one whole wall of the shop.



They all appear to be in working order, and if you go to their Facebook page, you can see a bunch of pictures of the sock-making in action. I found it fascinating, and I hope to be able to visit Domaine Chambord again!