The Big Bang and the Universe’s Big Future

From September 10-14, I’ll be working with the Davidson Institute’s Young Scholars program to put on an online colloquium titled, “The Big Bang and the Universe’s Big Future.” Abstract: Astronomers, on a CSI-style mission, have followed the clues to find the culprit behind the formation of the universe. Going by the alias, “Big Bang,” the perpetrator behind the highest energy event ever imagined left behind a series of clues about his identity. In this colloquium, students will study 3 lines of evidence that prove the Big Bang formed the universe. Based on their profile of the “Big Bang,” students will explore what the Universe’s ultimate fate may...

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An Amazing and Expanding Universe in Motion

From August 7-11, I’ll be working with the Davidson Institute’s Young Scholars program to put on an online colloquium titled, “An Amazing and Expanding Universe in Motion.”

Abstract: Looking for something entirely different? Take a tour through our ever changing universe that is (loosely) guided by Monty Python’s “The Galaxy” song. In this colloquium, students will explore the cosmic history of our planet, how we are evolving and revolving though space, and where we and our galaxy are headed in the future. Basic geometry and algebra will be used to understand the math a physics behind our planet’s position in time and space, and to understand why the numbers that apply to England don’t apply to Ecuador!

Not familiar with the song? Check out this rated [PG] google video.

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An academic life punctuated with bullets

An academic life punctuated with bullets

Every university seeks to convince parents (and itself) that it is a safe place where learning and personal development are fostered in a protective yet stimulating environment. This is part of the myth of the Ivory Tower: we form the intellectual fortress where the knowledge-wealth of a society is stored, and intellectual returns roll in at double-digit rates as papers are published and student sponges absorb the words of the marble and bronze professors we’ve placed on pedestals.

In truth, universities are just places that strive to be more, but often struggle to make their dreams reality. As places run by humans and often open to the public, they aren’t as secure as we may desire. While the majority of crimes are related to random strangers entering campus to thieve, and peep, and sometime grope and rape, the most tragic crimes we see are the ones perpetrated by the students and staff who become broken as they try to run the academic gauntlet.

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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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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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