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I’m currently in Kansas City attending the MARAC at the Linda Hall Library enjoying talks on astronomy given by astronomers from all around the area. Last year I spoke in St Charles, MO at the exact same meeting, but last year I discussed IYA. This year I’ll be talking about both what’s it like to communicate astronomy in real time, and also about the Galaxy Zoo project.

This is a really comfortable conference on many levels. Many of the talks are being given by young astronomers (graduate students) and the audience is a rich mix of amatuer astronomers, professional astronomers from all types of universities (from major research schools to community colleges), professional science communicators (like the great Martin Ratcliffe), and students of all ages. There are only about 50 people, and most are local and no each other. We are in a pleasant room with plesant company observing science. AND I found a squishy sofa next to a power outlit to sit on. Really, what more could I ask for?

Talks are flying fast a furious and are presently addressing the area of stellar atmospheres. The last talk was written on Carbon stars and what can we learned by looking out what they look like spatially an over time. He described how these stars seem to fluctuate over time and reminded us that lots of carbon comes from dust being churned up an spit out of elderly red stars (Asymtopic Giant Branch Stars) that are in the process of dieing. There was something about the speakers talk that reminded me of sluffing off skin cells, and that really wasn’t an image I wanted. Aren’t you glad I shared that with you? Thing is – carbon does come from what’s left behind as elderly stars as they loose their outer layers. Mira, the poster child for AGB stars, actually looks like a comet when viewed in the ultraviolet because it is leaving behind so much of itself as it flys through space. Being made of the remnants of supernovae is kind of sexy. But Carbon – the building block of life – is really the snail trail through space of a red giant that is falling apart. Okay – analogy beaten until dead.

And now we’re on to discussing how close in Giant Planets (Hot Jupiters), effect their parent stars. If the parent star is at all non-spherical (and they do tend to bulge because of rotation), the planet can exert enough torque on the bulge to effect the rotation and precession of the star!

(The talks are only 10 minutes long! Eek!)

And now Hubble! Steve Hawley, who was an astronaut, is going over HST. I didn’t remember the original HST plan was to bring the telescope back to Earth every three years and service it. On May 12, the 5th (but called 4th) servicing mission of the HST should launch. The mission launched in 1990! This means there should have been at least 1 more servicing mission than we’ve had time (at least because the first (0th) servicing mission wasn’t part of the plan, but we launched HST with vision problems). If the next mission launches okay, HST will be good to go for a number of years, with new batteries, gryos, and even a new Control Unit. (And since I have a really cool project I get to do *only* if HST’s ACS camera works again, I really really hope things launch and work. And no, I can’t tell you about the project 🙂 ) ACS is the 7th priority (planned for day 3 of 5), below WFC-3, batteries, STIS and Fine Guidance System. Astronauts, fly well, fly safe, repair quickly, and please give us back our telescope in wonderfully working order.

In case STS-125 fails (HST repair mision with Atlantis), they will launch Endeavour as STS-400. I love the number (Error 400 = Bad request).

We are going to break, and I’m going to post and get cookies.

There are certain meetings / star parties I love. This is one. Texas Star Party is another (selfish plug alert: Anyone want to invite me to go next year?) I’m really looking forward to going to NEAF in a couple of weeks. Small meetings of diverse groups of astronomy lovers are simply a good thing.