Thursday, July 27, 2017

In the desert working on LSST

This may seem like old news to some of you now, but earlier this year I moved across the world, back to the USA to the sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona to start the next phase of my career: Head of Education and Public Outreach (EPO) for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).  

If you haven't heard of this amazing new telescope being built in Chile right now, here's an intro video I'm proud to have produced:

To find out more about the EPO program itself, you can watch the video below or see slides from a recent talk I gave.

Ida Luna and I are surviving our first desert summer and monsoon season - it's beautiful and dramatic and I can't wait to see what happens next!

new home :)

huge blooming cactus

blue skies

powerful sunsets

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cosmic Vertigo

I'm pleased to announce the LAUNCH of my new space podcast, Cosmic Vertigo, made with co-host Alan Duffy and our amazing producer Joel Werner.

"Do you ever feel dizzy when you think about the incomprehensible scale of space? We call that feeling Cosmic Vertigo. Welcome to a head-spinning conversation between two friends who study the sky for a living."

Rest state: Alan and I cracking up (Photo: ABC/Radio National)
The three of us had a lot of fun creating this series, and I'm in awe of Joel's editing and production genius.
Dream Team: Alan Duffy, Joel Werner, and yours truly (Photo: ABC/Radio National)
The first two episodes are now LIVE with a new one released every two weeks.... so GO LISTEN and COMMENT and SUBSCRIBE wherever you get your podcasts!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Conferencing in Colombia with a Baby

With three month old Ida Luna in tow, I attended an International Astronomical Union conference on Communicating Astronomy with the Public in Medellin, Colombia in May 2016.
[note: VIDEO of my full talk below]

Giving a keynote astronomy talk in Colombia wearing 3 month old Ida Luna
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give an invited keynote talk to an important audience, despite still being on maternity leave.  It was a tight timeline to get all of her official documents processed for the trip, but everything came together and we made it!

Embarking on our three major flights from Sydney, Australia to Medellin, Colombia
Ida slept through most of our three (15 hr + 4 hr + 4 hr) flights, which was a huge relief.  I, on the other hand, did not sleep very much.  So when we arrived at the hotel at almost midnight, I was incredibly exhausted, while she was mostly awake.  It was a looooong night, but I did get some sleep, and woke to this incredible view!

Beautiful views of Medellin, Colombia
Ida looked very confused in the morning as she looked around the room, but she is a baby who's ready for adventure!  (thankfully....)

At the conference, I was not sure how welcoming people would be about me bringing my infant along, but I made sure the organisers knew that she would be with me well in advance.  Some participants certainly gave us the side eye at the beginning, but Ida was SO GOOD!  She only really cried when a sudden burst of applause startled her, so I tried to get her out of the room when I thought a talk was close to ending.

Ida Luna telling me what she thinks about the first talk she attended.
I quickly realised that most people were thrilled to have a tiny participant join the proceedings! People offered to hold her and help me, and many people shared their personal stories, describing challenges of getting to conferences due to having children, that I never would have heard without having my tiny person present.  Many people, mostly women, struggle dealing with these issues, and it's done quietly, behind the scenes, without anyone knowing the additional strain they go through just to be present at an event like this.

Ida sleeping peacefully through a session, just before applause woke her with a start!
There were certainly challenges of having her with me, compounded without having a support person along.  I wasn't able to do the post-conference day events or socialising, which I was sad to miss, and my fatigue grew with each day.  I didn't make it to as many sessions as I would have without Ida with me, but many people were eager to hold her and insist I go to talks.  It took me a day to warm up to strangers carrying her away from me, but I grew to know and trust them and Ida quickly loved the attention!

Unsure at first, Ida decided to win them over with her grins.
There were many fascinating discussion sessions, including one on how best to present astronomy to audiences outside major cities.  At the beginning of one breakout session, I was the only woman in the room... and I was breastfeeding in the back.  After a while, Ida started to get restless, so I made sure I contributed my thoughts to the group before we went out into the hallway.

Pedro Russo discusses the benefits of the Open Science Centre (we're in the back)
The conference organised to have all talks live-streamed online (view HERE).  The quality is fantastic and I would suggest that if an organisation goes through the effort to live-stream, set up a separate room at the venue to show the videos as well.   This would be beneficial for my situation, so a noisy baby doesn't disturb other participants, but also in case people show up late and don't was to disrupt by entering the room, or if someone is waiting for a phone call, etc.

Giving my keynote talk at #CAP2016 while wearing Ida Luna
My talk was on Day 4, by which time Ida Luna had acquired a huge fan following :)  I was fully ready to hand her over to the queue of people who offered to take her, but she fell asleep in the carrier and seemed perfectly content to stay there.  So I wore her while I gave my 30 minute keynote presentation!

In my talk, Fostering Creative Collaboration: Hack Days, Social Media, I shared my personal experience with science communication, beginning 10 years ago (!!!) when I started this blog.  I discussed different platforms for science communication and developing the communication strategy for the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO).   Then I talked at length about the benefits of and tips for holding a Hack Day, a free-form day of hands-on creation and collaboration.  Hack Days bring together astronomers, educators, science communicators, and media officers to develop new ideas, technical or artistic projects, based around networked technologies and the web.

Watch the whole talk HERE (nice screenshot, eh?!):

NOTE: dotAstronomy 8 takes place this week.  Follow #dotastro on twitter to keep up.  The Hack Day is on Wednesday, 22nd June 2016.

You can also read a summary of my talk in as it happened on twitter via storify HERE (A lot is in spanish, but some english too).

While I probably explored Medellin less than any new city I've visited, Ida Luna and I did manage to get out a little.  We saw Pueblito Paisa, a traditional colonial style tourist village on the top of Nutibara Hill.
My little cachetona at Pueblito Paisa
And she LOVED the aquarium on the Parque Explora campus near the Planetarium Medellin.  I asked someone to take a photo of us and she kept turning her head back to watch the fish behind us!

Ida enjoyed watching the colorful fish swim around at the aquarium.
And of course I tried some tasty local dishes.  A soup eaten with fresh banana?  HEAVEN!

Ajiaco, a traditional Colombian dish.
Overall, we survived our first conference experience.  It was probably easier with her at 3 months than it will be any other time over the next few years, especially when she she starts moving around on her own.  It was still challenging though.  I would certainly recommend taking a support person if planning to attend a conference with a baby, but it is possible without one.

A HUGE thank you to the Local Organising Committee and staff at Parque Explora for all the support and help.  It was a great experience thanks to your help.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider

During one of our recent walks around the neighborhood, a nice old man stopped Ida and I for a chat. When I mentioned her name, he instantly started singing a lovely melody "Ida, sweet as apple cider..." which I had never heard before.  I asked him about it and he claimed it was just one of those old-timey songs he liked, "you know, one that a barbershop quartet would sing!"

So of course I looked it up when we returned home and learned it immediately.  She even dances when I play it for her :) Music time is my favourite part of our days!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Introducing Ida Luna

While this blog has been quiet over the last few months, my home certainly hasn't been, thanks to welcoming to the world my little girl: Ida Luna! 

She was born in February 2016, and started with a healthy amount of skepticism :)  here she is with her grandma on day 2: 

I'm not sure about this world, grandma, but i sure like your singing!
and a few weeks later, she's still got it!

she's a content little baby and we're enjoying this new life together.

this is our major mode of transportation.  both of us LOVE the Yoli & Otis carrier! 

her expressions are endlessly cute and varied!

to be honest, i'm really enjoying time off work.  i'm doing some fun side projects (stay tuned!) that are keeping my mind entertained, but overall, it's a nice break from the pressures of academia and media. 

Mama and Ida Luna at 7 weeks

Thursday, February 11, 2016

the gravity of new life

the rumour is that the LIGO project has detected a significant signal of gravitational waves originating from two distant black holes orbiting each other and merging together!

a big press release from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 10:30 AM US EST).  you can WATCH the news of the project update HERE.

so what are gravitational waves?  PhD Comics explains them very well in this video:

and if you're curious about how we detect these amazingly weak gravitational waves?  check out this post by Markus Pössel.

in other major life events... i'm 40 weeks along and ready to meet my tiny baby ANY TIME NOW!  very exciting :)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Five things we know about the universe that will make you feel very small

Here is an article I contributed to ABC Science, originally posted here.

Five things we know about the universe that will make you feel very small.

One thing we know about the universe is that it's really big. Another is that thinking about it and trying to understand it will make your brain hurt.

Astronomer Amanda Bauer takes us through her top five mind-expanding things we know (or don't know) about the universe.

1. There is no edge of the universe
PHOTO: Full-sky map of the oldest light in the universe (NASA/WMAP Science Team)
There is one edge we know of - our horizon, which is the limit of how far we can see.

Imagine sailing on a boat on the ocean and seeing a horizon in the distance, past which you know there is more Earth, but you just can't see it. We've measured the universe to be flat (as opposed to curved like Earth or saddle-shaped), but our horizon exists because of the finite speed of light.

Beyond that visible horizon, we think the universe just keeps going in the same way - forever.

We have no reason to believe there is an edge. But we also have no way of measuring this infinity because we physically cannot see it.

2. Dark matter and dark energy make up 95 per cent of the universe

PHOTO: A composite image showing the galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56, better known as the bullet cluster. Gravitational lensing was used to locate the dark matter (shown as blue patches) in these two colliding galaxies. The pink colour shows gas blown apart by the collision. (NASA/Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

Only 5 per cent of the universe is made of ordinary material like planets, stars, cars, and coffee. This "normal matter" is made mostly of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Another 24 per cent is an exotic material that interacts through gravity, but produces no light, making it invisible to us. We call this "dark matter".

While dark matter only interacts with normal matter very weakly, particle physicists have plausible candidates for what dark matter is.

Hopefully particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider will provide more insight for scientists very soon.

That brings us to the final 71 per cent of the stuff in the universe, which is a truly bizarre type of matter. Perhaps it's not matter at all, but a property of the universe itself. We call this mysterious stuff "dark energy".

What we do know is that dark energy has a gravitationally repulsive effect that is causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. But we don't understand how this acceleration is happening.

3. There is no centre of the universe

PHOTO: In a way, we're all at the centre of our own universe. (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
The universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

But the Big Bang should not be imagined as a normal explosion in space. Rather, the Big Bang is an explosion of space itself, so that every point in space expands equally away from every other point in space. There is no centre to the expansion.

From our galaxy we measure that all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther the galaxy, the faster away it is moving.

The interesting thing is that if you zoomed off to any other galaxy in the universe, you would measure the exact same effect - all other galaxies would be moving away from you.

In this way, you could argue that you are the centre of the universe. But then, so is everyone else.

4. Far-away galaxies offer a glimpse into the past

PHOTO: At 3 million light years from Earth, the Triangulum galaxy is even further away than Andromeda, so gives us a glimpse even further back in time. (NASA)
When we look at distant galaxies, we are actually looking at a snapshot of the past.

Some galaxies are located so far away their light takes billions of years to reach us, even travelling at the speed of light. The images we collect through our telescopes tell us what the galaxies looked like billions of years ago, when the light left the galaxy.

Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. It floats at a distance of 2.5 million light-years, so the views we capture of Andromeda show us what it looked liked 2.5 million years ago. And that's the closest spiral galaxy.

The farthest galaxy we have detected is 13 billion light years away. This means we are looking at galaxy light as it was only 2 billion years after the Big Bang.

We will never capture light from the future though, only the distant past.

5. The future will be dominated by black holes

PHOTO: Pretty much all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their centre. This one, a spiral galaxy known as NGC 4258, also has two unusual spiral arms that glow in X-ray, shown in purple. (ASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI/NSF/NRAO/VLA)
We are currently in the Stelliferous Era - meaning the universe has a lot of stars. This era began a few hundred million years after the Big Bang when the very first stars formed.

Now, almost 13.7 billion years later, new stars continue to form, although the number of new stars forming each year is dropping.

Eventually, new stars will stop forming and all stars will slowly burn out. But in that very distant future, supermassive black holes will still thrive.

It's believed that nearly every galaxy in the universe has a supermassive black hole at its centre, which means that eventually hundreds of billions of supermassive black holes will be spread throughout our ever-expanding universe.

Over trillions and trillions and trillions, and many more trillions, of years these black holes will slowly evaporate through Hawking Radiation.

The leftover elementary particles will be left to zoom through a vast, cold space with nothing much around to bump into.

Sounds very empty.

Monday, January 18, 2016

in conversation with neil degrasse tyson

here are some video highlights from neil degrasse tyson's tour around australia last year.

i hosted the melbourne and brisbane shows while the sydney and canberra stops were hosted by derek muller (veritasium).

and a few of my favourite photos from the events:

Tamara Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and me in Brisbane

sharing a pre-show moment during sound check

Sunday, January 17, 2016

All 5 bright planets up in the morning sky!

all of you early risers may have noticed the lovely line of bright planets across the sky in the morning hours before sunrise lately.  definitely get out and have a look between jan 20th and feb 20th for a spectacular view, no matter where on earth you live!

you'll need to be able to see low on the horizon to spot mercury until early february or so, but you can do it if you have an unobstructed view!

this alignment of the planets has not occurred for over ten years. it's rare because all the planets have to be on the same side of the sun in their orbits.  while venus, mars, jupiter, and saturn have been in the morning sky all year, mercury is just getting ready to transition from being visible in our evening sky to being visible in the morning sky.  hopefully the visualisation below makes that clear.

via The Conversation
so... get out early and LOOK UP!