Launch Pad

Launch Pad, Day Three: Kevin R. Grazier on Space Environment

Rachel Swirsky • July 14th, 2010 • Launch Pad

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Note: The schedule had Kevin’s lecture today swapped with his lecture yesterday. Today is really space environment. Yesterday was actually gravity, newton, kepler, orbits.

Mass in space:

There is no mas sin space, outside of planets and stars, etcetera. That’s why it’s called space.

Though strictly speaking, that’s not true (more…)

Launch Pad, Day Three: Mike Brotherton on Everything You Wanted to Know About Stars…

Rachel Swirsky • July 14th, 2010 • Launch Pad

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Stars are the bread and butter of astronomers. They’re the building blocks of galaxies. They’re well-understood in the basics these days. You can go into the details, starting with the understanding that they’re burning balls of gas, and we move from there to a detailed understanding of their chemical structure, lifespans, how they’re born, how they die. There are some areas that are still active areas of research, but I’m going to go into a lot of stuff about stars today. I can’t cover everything, but I’ll cover probably as much as you can handle. (more…)

Launch Pad Day Two Catchup-Post, Spectroscopy and Goggles on the Roof

Rachel Swirsky • July 14th, 2010 • Launch Pad

Yesterday, we did two activities that were not conducive to laptop-taking and note-producing. One was a lab with Jim Verley on spectroscopy in which he gave us spectroscopes and had us look at argon, helium, hydrogen, and a few other elements, so that we could see how they broke down into color spectrums. Some were easier to see than others–neon, for instance, looked like a rainbow. Argon was very hard to see; the element itself glowed purple, but the vague hint of a purple line it sent out was hard to spot.

Jim Verley said something in the lab that I thought was fairly profound, and which a few people mentioned this morning at breakfast that they thought was profound, too: “Astronomers have learned everything they know with a single medium–light.”

That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. All we have is light–from the ultraviolet to the radio wave–and yet we’ve been able to learn so much from that simple tool. (more…)

Launch Pad, Day Two: Kevin R. Grazier on Space Environment

Rachel Swirsky • July 14th, 2010 • Launch Pad

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If there’s one thing you learn in astronomy that’s fundamental, it’s energy. We’re going to learn about energy and about orbits which are dependent on the energy of what they’re orbiting. When we talk about the science in science fiction, we’ll hearken back to this because energy explains a lot.

An example: on BSG we used bullets in our vipers instead of lasers. People thought it was low tech, but it’s harder to get a lot of energy in a laser than a big hunk of lead. With a laser, today, it’s almost impossible to get as much energy in target with a weaponry as we routinely get with our air-to-air guns since Vietnam. When you understand the concept of energy, you realize that wasn’t a bad choice.


Launch Pad, Day Two: Mike Brotherton on the Electromagnetic Spectrum, Light, Instruments, Telescopes

Rachel Swirsky • July 13th, 2010 • Launch Pad

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Ian Randal Strock was curious about how far away we’d have to be from the sun before it started to appear to be a point rather than a disk. To answer the question, first we have to look at how humans see distant objects: (more…)

Launch Pad, Day Two: Origins of the Moon

Rachel Swirsky • July 13th, 2010 • Launch Pad

To check out all the Launch Pad posts so far, visit this link.

In response to a question from Ian Randal Strock, Mike Brotherton sent us this youtube video on the Origins of the Moon:

YouTube Preview Image

Last night, when Kevin R. Grazier’s lecture on the solar system and the cassini probe lasted three hours, an extra hour more than scheduled, Carrie Vaughn noted, “Back when I was in second grade, in the astronomy text book I loved so much, that whole lecture could only have lasted fifteen minutes. That’s how much more we know now.”

Which is pretty cool.

Launch Pad, Day One: Kevin R. Grazier on Solar System/Cassini

Rachel Swirsky • July 12th, 2010 • Launch Pad

How many solar systems are there in the galaxy? One. One star is called sol. There is one solar system. It is a proper noun and should be capitalized. Solar System.

It starts with an exploding star. Stars of very large size live by the credo “live fast, die young, live a good-looking black hole.” A supernova can outshine the sum total of all other stars in its galaxy. (more…)

Launch Pad, Day One: Jim Verley on The Seasons, the Moon, and the Misconceived

Rachel Swirsky • July 12th, 2010 • Launch Pad

Mike Brotherton points out that he’s put together an online astronomy resource list for writers. “If you want to get the same kinds of things I would get, when I’m doing research, they’re online, you just have to know how to find and access them.” He also points out that many of the slides he uses in his lectures are available as powerpoints on his site. He’s also posted a summary of last year’s launchpad, along with some youtube videos of lectures from the class.

Next, Jim Verley is giving a lecture on Seasons and Lunar Phases, Public Misconceptions (more…)

Launch Pad, Day One, Mike Brotherton Lectures: SCALES OF THE UNIVERSE

Rachel Swirsky • July 12th, 2010 • Launch Pad

When we were hearing this lecture, we got to see slides illustrating it. I don’t have the slides for you, but author David J. Williams found this website: which gives you similar images so you can follow along. (Click on the images to see larger versions of them and more information.) (more…)

Launch Pad Day One, Who We Are and Why We’re Here

Rachel Swirsky • July 12th, 2010 • Launch Pad

It turns out that liveblogging generates a lot of material! So I’m going to split up each day into several entries.

First our instructors gave us their perspectives on the workshop.

Mike Brotherton: “I’m not going to be able to teach the world astronomy. But I can teach you people, in a week. Either give you a step up from what you learned in college, or some of you may not have a lot of math and science background, but we can give you a place to start, contacts, places to get information and feedback. All of you are getting audiences. You may be reaching hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Robert Sawyer, who was here a year ago, had a TV show. We’re hoping to bring more information to the public through the work you guys do, writing science articles, writing, teaching, editing. I don’t expect all of you to go writing far-future or near-future science fiction with lots of astronomy. Some of you will. This will hopefully help it be more accurate, or inspire it. Fiction, science articles, get out there. People may stop reading text books, but they still learn. People will sometimes remember what they read from entertainment stories even more than they remember things from educational contexts.” (Quotes this length will be approximate, not literal transcriptions.)