Monday, October 22, 2018

October 19th - Vacation guide to the Solar System

Have you planned your next vacation yet? For those of you interested in winter sports, the onset of November means you can finally start hitting the slopes at the variety of ski resorts within the US! But, why not kick things up a notch? Want to get bigger air so you can practice back-to-back frontside 1080s and rival the likes of Chloe Kim? Then head on out to Pluto!

If you're not a big fan of snow, fear not! Jana Grcevich, our speaker on Friday, stepped us through the top 10 vacation spots within the Solar System. From taking in the breathtaking views of Saturn's haxagonal cloud pattern around its north pole to taking a leisurely blimp ride through the upper atmosphere of Venus; there is bound to be something everyone would enjoy! As Jana explained, we are at the dawn of a space tourism revolution, and although there are plenty of hurdles to overcome (such as how to protect ourselves from the lethal radiation doses we would be exposed to on such trips), it's fun to daydream about touring the Solar System one day.

"But I want to go right now!" Yeah, I hear ya! Fortunately Jana gave a couple of options we could all pursue starting now! The Intergalactic Travel Bureau, a group that Jana is a part of, has put out a virtual reality app that allows smartphone users to embark on "space vacations". So go get yourself a cardboard VR viewer, download the app, and start exploring! Alternatively, Jana briefly talked about a book she and Olivia Koski co-authored: "Vacation Guide to the Solar System", a fun book for readers of all ages.

After the talk, Jana answered many fun questions from the audience and had awesome Solar System post cards to pass out. The audience then headed up to the roof for some star gazing but were instead greeted with mostly cloudy skies. Nevertheless, views from atop the roof are always a nice treat!

-- Jorge Cortes (graduate student)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

October 5th - Slooh your way to the stars

What's in an acronym? Paige Godfrey, Slooh's research director, gave us an overview of the services offered by this online observatory. As of today, Slooh provides access to six telescopes. The majority, 5, are located in the Canary Islands. These include their largest instrument with an aperture of 0.5 meters (20 inch). Another telescope in Chile gives access to the many interesting objects located in the southern sky, and a solar scope equipped with a narrow band H-alpha filter allows observations of the solar chromosphere. By locating their observatories under some of the darkest skies, they facilitate access to high quality observations to individuals who would live in areas that suffer from light pollution (all cities).

Individuals can access the data obtained by the cameras attached to Slooh's telescopes. Paige showed some examples of work done by members of their community, from processed images, mosaics and gifs, to discoveries of new comets. Since the processing of astronomical data can have a rather steep learning curve, they're developing materials to make it easy for anyone to get started.

Paige explained how these resources allow schools to incorporate observational astronomy into their curriculum, and they're launching a specific program, AstroLab, with the support of the National Science Foundation.

As an illustrative example of how Astronomy can help answer some of the most fundamental questions we've asked ourselves through history, Paige introduced the use of Drake's equation, a way to quantify the number of communicating civilizations in a given volume, and applied it to the set of stars visible in a typical image taken with one of Slooh's telescopes. Turns out vulcanians may be out there for real!

-- Jose Zorrilla (graduate student)