Launch Pad, Day Six, Mike Brotherton Leaves Us with a Lecture

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We spent the morning playing with images in an astronomy program that you can download for free if you, also, would like to spend your morning playing with images — SAOImage DS9.

Books:

Is Anyone Out There? by Frank Drake and Dava Sobel
The Space Environment: Implications for Spaceship Design by Alan C. Tribble

Distance measurements to other galaxies:

a) Cepheid method: using period/luminosity relationship for classical Cepheids. This is what’s classically done, but it’s hard to do outside the local group of galaxies.
b) More recently, we’ve been able to categorize Type Ia supernovae (collapse of accreting white dwarves in binary systems) to get distances to much more distant galaxies, but these don’t let you calculate within galaxies well.

These are standard candle methods. If you know the brightness of a standard candle, then you can calculate the distance. [Read more...]

Launch Pad, Day Five Catch-up, Kevin Grazier on Extrasolar Planets

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When we talked about planetary formation, we said Jovial planets were far out.

But when we started looking around the universe, the first planets we found were Jovial planets near stars. They’re called hot Jupiters. They’re puzzling. We don’t exactly know why they happen.

Currently our detection techniques are wildly biased toward big planets, and planets close to stars. As we improve our detection criteria, we are able to look for smaller, further planets.

[Read more...]

Launch Pad, Day Five, Mike Brotherton on resources about exoplanets

This is one of the fastest changing fields, so you can’t stay up to date from text books.

Mike’s online resources on exoplanets, including videos and video lectures

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There’s also a website with a list of all the different kinds of planets we’ve found, including (but not limited to) earth-like planets.

There are two more links Mike likes for cataloging planets and their properties:

exoplanets.org, basic catalog information, and sortable.

Also, the Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia.

A text book will be out of date in a couple years, but these websites will stay up to date.

Also, there’s Lynette Cook’s space art of extrasolar planets. We see artist renderings because the way we detect the planets is with eclipses and little wiggles, which are great news stories, but hard to visualize.

Launch Pad, Day Four (posted late), Kevin R. Grazier on Science in Science Fiction

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Man, I didn’t realize how long these were. I pasted the last one into word to check something and it was and a half pages long.

The back of the envelope calculation–scribbling down approximations in an equation and working it out to see if your guessed answer puts you in the right general range of where you should be. He cites an example from Battlestar Gallactica where he did some rough math to check to see whether someone would survive a hole being blasted into her ship. We’re working out the math, I guess, but the point is more that this kind of rough calculation can serve the purposes of fiction where we don’t really need specific numbers to see if something we want to do is possible. [Read more...]

Launch Pad, Day Four: Mike Brotherton, More on Stars…

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Stephanie came up to me after the last lecture, and we discussed cultural construction of p-prim a little more. I feel more comfortable with her conclusions now; she says she is looking at how often the research pops up in different settings, and is aware of the fact that many scientists in her field (and others) have a tendency to forget that things need to be seen cross-culturally before they can be diagnosed as human traits. At any rate, she says, these things certainly seem to be true in our culture–which I absolutely agree with. (My hesitation relates to wondering how many of these things are shaped by human culture very, very early on in infancy. Most cultures may shape people in similar ways, but that doesn’t make the results innately human as long as there are exceptions. I don’t have a problem with the idea that there are innate human tendencies, or p-prims, or anything like that, but I feel that there is a tendency to declare things innate without substantial enough proof, and thus I approach most claims with skepticism. It’s just things like, if you have to teach kids not to touch the stove–which I hear parents complaining they do–then how do we accept that kids automatically know that heat sources are hottest at their centers? I picked a more exotic example in class, but they abound here.)

Now, stars! Mike Brotherton on stars again.

We want to take a step into the physics that provides stars with the pressure to resist gravitational collapse: the fusion processes in cores of stars, and how understanding them is fundamental to understanding stellar evolution. [Read more...]

Launch Pad Day Four, Stephanie Slater on If Galileo Had Known Cognitive Psychology, They Wouldn’t Have Locked Him Up

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Galileo was a typical astronomer/physicist who believed that if you just give people the facts, they’ll believe you. He had great facts and a beautiful story. What Galileo did as we know is that he made some observations using the telescope, and was the first one to write down his observations “loudly,” and he said that instead of there just being 3000 stars that you can see with your naked eye, there are more than you can imagine. It’s hard to imagine this being disturbing, but to the people of his era, it disturbed the world order. He also wrote down that the moon had blotches on it, and so did the sun, and Saturn was misshapen instead of round, and Venus was orbiting the sun, and Jupiter has moons. These all challenged the conception of what was in the heavens. (Galileo’s finger is in Florence as a relic, interestingly.)

Telling someone facts no matter how true they are doesn’t mean they will believe or understand you. Cognitive psych might have helped him avoid trouble. [Read more...]

Launch Pad Day Four, Catch-up Post: Genevieve Valentine Writes about Jim Verley on Science Education

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Yesterday, I went home to sleep for a bit during the last lecture of the day. The perpetually chic and brilliant author Genevienve Valentine was kind enough to take notes in my stead. (She’s available in blog form, and twitter form, and is blogging some about Launch Pad at Tor.com, in addition to her usual movie reviews.) Thanks, Genevieve!

The discussion I missed looks pretty cool, actually. I particularly like Marjorie Liu‘s thinking about social issues and Kelly Barnhill‘s consideration of issues in the educational process itself. [Read more...]

Launch Pad, Day Three: Placeholder

I have a bad cold and checked out of the day’s final lecture from Jim Verley on science education, STEM fields, and science fiction. Genevieve Valentine kindly wrote up some notes which I’ll put online as time permits.

I wanted to make sure to rest up because tonight the class is heading up to see the WIRO telescope, which is the same size as Hubble, and which has everyone excited.