I had a dream that Hank Green reblogged one my posts to tell me I was wrong. And it was still awesome.
Teaching a Course!
I submitted a proposal a few months ago to teach an intersession course at JHU. It’s supposed to be a pretty condensed 2 week course that undergrads can sign up for. I heard a few days ago that my course has been approved! Naturally now I’m terrified about putting together my first course, particularly in this very busy time of the year. Geronimo?
The course name is Imaging in Astronomy. The philosophy behind the course, thanks to a really great professor I had early in grad school, is that the physics behind taking an image is always the same. But every sub-niche of astronomy has their own terminology, their own historical context, their own technology based on practical considerations. They all speak a different language that describes the same phenomena. Sometimes, you get the experts talking to each other across sub-disciplines and it’s like the Tower of Babel.
My course will be a very brief overview of the physics of imaging— where the diffraction limit comes from. I’ll talk about the physics of detecting a signal, like how our eyes detect light (intensity) compared to how a radio antenna picks up your favorite station (field). I’ll spend about 2/3 of the class covering the practical and physical circumstances that make each sub-field appear so different. The material in our eyes that responds to light between 400 and 700 nanometers cannot ‘see’ a radio signal — why?
I’m excited (and terrified) because I don’t know a whole lot about, for instance, x-ray optics and imaging. In putting together the course, I’ll have to teach myself quite a bit. I just hope I can get a good discussion going!
Travels in San Diego
The real title should probably be a little more like “My First SPIE Conference.” But I suppose it’s tough not to enjoy a bit of travel at the end of my summer tacked onto some “professional” activities. Please find a way to forgive me.
Now I know it’s Already November - needless to say I’ve been behind on updating. This summer’s SPIE (optics and photons society) conference was held in San Diego and I went off to speak the good word about my work and what I’d been up to over the past year. In my free time I caught some sun and checked out the city.
While beaches and sunshine were fabulous, the main event for me was unveiling some recent work I’d done relating to the Gemini Planet Imager and James Webb Space Telescope. The Gemini Planet Imager is the next big bad instrument for finding planets from the surface of our own humble space rock, peering through our vapor-thick atmosphere. The instrument had been sitting through tests for the last couple years as both the physical instrument and the data software were being developed. Just a few weeks ago it shipped down to Cerro Pachon, Chile:
It has since been mounted onto the telescope! First light is this month, meaning that the instrument will take its first images of the sky. They will use these first few runs to see how the instrument is performing on the sky and do additional calibrations.
The James Webb Space Telescope has a ways to go, but is making its own progress. By being in space it will not have to wrestle with the atmosphere and will be able to see clearer infrared signals. And because it’s always pointed away from the sun it can observe continuously! No pesky “day time.”
It was a great conference and I had a wonderful time. I got to meet a lot of really clever folks and pioneers of the field, as well as a bunch of other grad students like me. And hanging around San Diego was not bad either. :P
(Bike path along the water)
Nuclear Power Necessary to Slow Warming
Some of the world’s top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won’t be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they’re asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one way to cut fossil fuel pollution.
Four scientists who have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change sent letters to leading environmental groups and politicians around the world. The letter, an advance copy of which was given to The Associated Press, urges a crucial discussion on the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/11/nuclear-power-necessary-slow-warming
That’s the percentage of working scientists and engineers who are black men and women, according to a recent study by the NSF. This week, educators and scientists are meeting at Stanford to talk about African-Americans in the tech world.
"Why do you get so worked up about representation in science?"
**Edit: I just realized because I finally watched it that you have to start the video at four minutes!!
To hear a bit more and see some other photos, here’s a video of our return to Ignite Baltimore to talk about how we’ve done with the project.
To be honest I haven’t watched it because I’ve terrified of hearing my own voice.
The Planetarium Project (Bringing the Skies to Baltimore)
And after a long silence, she returns… It’s been a busy summer!
So given that we’ve had a full-scale planetarium sitting in the lobby of the physics department up until last weekend, I think it’s time to talk a little more about our most recent grad-outreach undertaking.
We were sponsored by Ignite Baltimore through their “Ignition Grant” to build a portable planetarium for a Baltimore City 5th grade class. This Thursday we get to let them know how we’ve done at the 13th Ignite Baltimore, which is a TED-style talk series held twice a year.
So here we are! Prototype planetarium built! Late winter we will deliver a slightly small, slightly more portable version of this nifty thing to an amazing school, and set up some planetarium shows.
I’d say the project has been a success, and we can’t wait to bring it all to the students. I’m sure more lengthy posts about the project are on the horizon. It’s going to be a great year for science in the community!
DIY planetarium instructions: http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/ExperienceIt/ExperienceIt.aspx?Page=Dome
World Wide Telescope Software: http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/
Ignite Baltimore: http://www.ignitebaltimore.com/
There’s Crazy Stuff Going On Out There in the Solar System!
I meant to talk about this a way way long time ago, but kept putting it off. In fact I put it off so long that I had to go back and read up on some of the neat details that made me want to blog about this in the first place! It seems like my real life research just gets in the way of my tumblr research… Anyways I heard this talk several many weeks (months) ago about Jupiter’s Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. This talk was given by Dr. Melissa McGrath, Galilean moon enthusiast and all-around interesting lady.
Let’s go through just some of the cool things to know about these moons:
Io - Heeeyooo, Io!
If Spock had to pick a favorite Galilean moon it would definitely be Io, due to its extreme VULCANISM …er… I mean…. volcanism.
Io is the closest to Jupiter of the Galilean moons, and so has a very strong influence on the material in the whole system. Io’s extreme activity coupled with its sulphur and oxygen filled atmosphere interact with Jupiter’s own magnetosphere. In a gesture of pure awesomeness, these interactions produce a torus of plasma around Jupiter, that continually bombards Io redepositing these materials, feeding the cycle. Some of the material spreads out into the farther moons as well.
This image that I took from NASA’s Cassini gallery shows the magnetosphere around Jupiter. Notice the outline of a torus around the planet, caused from the extreme activity on Io, constantly feeding this plasma ring and being re-bombarded.
Europa - Get Your Visa Ready
A lot of people have set their sites on Europa in the search for extraterrestrial life. When most people talk about life on other planet, the key is often liquid water. It works for us here on Earth; moreover every living organism requires liquid water.
This Jovian moon could be harboring a liquid water ocean beneath the surface. Europa has water ice on its surface and could conceivably have enough heating due to its orbit around Jupiter and its own internal processes.
There is also molecular Oxygen on Europa. The same type of high energy particles buzzing around Io are thought to knock into Europa’s water ice and release this molecular Oxygen, then dominating the atmosphere. Of course, there’s a ton more cool stuff about Europa. You could write papers upon papers on it (and many people have); I encourage further reading!
Ganymede - Go Big or Go… to Any Other Moon…
Yeah, so Ganymede is Jupiter’s largest moon and also the largest moon in our solar system. For some perspective Ganymede is larger than Mercury. (If you’re wondering, ALL of the Jovian moons are larger than Pluto, our beloved dwarf planet).
The picture above shows two images of Ganymede (overlaid in the 3rd panel). The far left image combines three separate wavelengths from an infrared spectrometer that are mapping water ice. The blue corresponds to clearer water regions, the brown to contaminated ones. The middle panel is a high resolution image, showing the scarred surface. Together they make an interesting map of Ganymede’s composition.
One of the really cool things about Ganymede is that it has its own internal magnetic field.
Ganymede has an metal core (so does Earth). How do we know? We can get a sense of the an object’s density by examining its orbit and size. These parameters combined with other clues about Ganymede— its geological features, magnetic field, and gravity field— give us an idea of what the satellite looks like on the inside. As if to stress its likeness to a “real planet,” Ganymede even gets its own auroras!
Callisto - The Ancient One
Dr. McGrath joked that Callisto is the “boring one” because it seemed so before taking a closer look. Callisto isn’t boring… it’s just kind of old. And by that I mean the features are old. For such an ancient surface, Callisto sure seems to be in its teenage years from all the craters we see (yuck yuck yuck).
The cratered surface records a long history of bombardments, including an awesomely named impact structure, “Valhalla.” Callisto has some of the largest impact asteroid/comet features in the solar system.
My VERY brief overview of the Galilean moons hardly do them justice, but I was just itching to share. All in all, Jupiter’s moons make up some very cool places to study— largely, I think, because they live in extreme environments of high energy particles, massive Jovian magnetic fields, and are companions to a giant totally kickass planet besides.