The Detritus of Travel

The Detritus of Travel

As a professional person, I have both the pain and pleasure of getting to travel semi-regularly. There are professional conferences to attend, public talks to be given, business meetings in far off cities, and sometimes there are just vacations to see friends and family. Tonight I’m getting ready to fly to Boston to attend a meeting at the AAVSO. As I’m packing, I’m going through all my bag’s pockets trying to find things to remove to lighten by load. Its amazing the things we travel with. My “never leave home with out” stash of dayquil and nightquil fills one pocket, and a stash of pens fills another. I keep finding the dead batteries I refused to throw out, and have carried home from hither and yon to recycle. There are business cards I’ve collected and flash drives and CDs littered with backups of talks and copies off presentations. As I empty my bag, I seem to be building the skeleton of a conference past as I prepare for a conference future. There is a lot that you can learn from the garbage of a person. My clutter of not-needed-now cables, connectors and cameras screams, “Watch out, this one just might record your image, your voice, your data,” while the scraps of paper portray a pack rat not quite organized enough to record everything in my digital address book.

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The Sky *was* Falling

On Monday, March 26, a Chilean flight to New Zealand was almost struck by falling bits of space something. The pilot of the flight noted he could see burning up materials both in front and behind the flight. (Information obtained from numerous news sources). Some reports attributed the falling carnage to a Progress M-58 burning up through the atmosphere as it returned from the International Space Station, or at least insinuated as much. In fact, there had been an alert that such a re-entry would be occurring. According to US space officials, however, at the time of the incident the Progress was still attached to the ISS, and no set of calculations can make a Progress be in two places at once. The US Space Surveillance Network had no reports of other re-entering space junk. With all known space junk ruled out, it looks like that airplane was almost almost hit by an asteroid.

That silly little kid in me wishes I had been on that airplane. They could actually hear the fragments burning up.

Should I worry about meteors when I fly? Nope. And doing stats can be fun.

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A Few Caveats regarding Day Length

I have to admit I have spring fever. I seem to have moved to a part of the country where the seasons actually follow the solstices and equinoxes, and politely divide themselves into 4 fairly equal parts. My crocuses are blooming, shorts are starting to appear on some of the more robust males on campus, the Canadian geese have paired off (which is actually very freaky), and tonight the Sun crosses the equinox at 7 minutes after midnight in Greenwich (that’s GMT-0). The Sun, when it rises over Edwardsville and campus tomorrow, will be hanging out over the Northern Hemisphere.

When I teach about equinoxes and solstices in class, the observant student may notice a slight discrepancies between what is taught and what they find in their newspaper. For instance, I’ll say that on the Equinox, the Sun rises exactly in the East and sets exactly in the West (totally true). I’ll say the Sun passes directly over the Equator at the Equinox (also, totally true). And, I’ll say the day and the night are equal on the Equinox (kinda sorta true). What I don’t do is define sunrise and sunset, and this is where that last “kinda sorta, huh?” moment comes into play.

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Honesty in Observing:
The Crab Nebula & an 8.2-m telescope

Honesty in Observing:The Crab Nebula & an 8.2-m telescope

The Crab Nebula as seen by SubaruAs I’ve mentioned before, press releases that don’t really contain science are one of my pet peeves. That said, one such press release came across my inbox this morning and made me giggle happily. The image was of the Crab Nebula (above left: credit: NAOJ); a nearby supernova remnant formed in 1054. The telescope in question was Subaru; an 8.2-m telescope in Hawaii operated by Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Science. Subaru isn’t a facility that buries reporters in press releases. This pretty picture was just press release #4 for 2007, and the other three were solid new results (as were all the non-instrument or education related releases of 2006). So why did this non-science press release from such a respectable press office make me giggle?

Here is a quote from Toru Yamada, one of the observing team’s members: “We just wanted to look at something beautiful.”

I love honestly.

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Fun with Mnemonics

Fun with Mnemonics

The Solar SystemIn Astronomy we have two terrible patterns of words to try and remember. One is the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (image left, credit: NASA). The other is the spectral types of stars: O, B, A, F, G, K, M. For both these patterns we have unsatisfying mnemonics. This week I am assigning my students to please come up with a new one for spectral types (and they can submit them in the comments here as well as in their HW if they want to share).

As well as getting their ideas, I thought I’d ask what you, my often silent non-student readers, think are useful ways to remember the planets and stars. So, in the comments, give me a sentence to remember you and the stars and planets by!

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