Thursday, October 31, 2013

this is our sun, our star.

this is our sun, our star.   this is what it does.

over 5 days last week, our sun spun and spewed out coronal mass ejections (no, this is not a dirty space news post!), sending waves of solar particles out into space, through our solar system.  the video was produced by NASA Goddard and shows solar flares and coronal mass ejections from Oct 23-28th.  the images were taken by NASA's solar dynamics observatory and the ESA/NASA solar and heliospheric observatory.

i particularly like how at 1:45 they show just how far out the solar particles are flung - notice the tiny little sun in the centre for scale!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Do I Study Physics?

xiangjun shi beautifully explains her passion for studying physics in this animated short.  i completely agree!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

comet ISON

when discovered late in 2012, many sources pointed out the potential for comet c/2012 s1 (ISON) to be incredibly bright after it passes around the sun and near the earth late this year!

so far, ISON has not disappointed several photographers around the world!

Comet ISON 27 Oct 2013 (Credit: Damian Peach)

Comet ISON 26 Oct 2013 (Credit: Mike Broussard)

when will we be able to see comet ISON with our eyes alone?  it will be visible from the southern hemisphere throughout november, but close to the eastern horizon.  here is an illustration from nick lomb showing visibility from sydney, australia.

Comet ISON and Mars as viewed from Sydney, Australia.  
ISON 1 shows the position of the comet on 1st November 2013
(Credit: Nick Lomb)

the mystery of comet ISON is that we cannot predict exactly how bright it will get because it may be hugely disrupted or even destroyed when it passes around the sun on 28th november.

this video from NASA gives an idea of just how close to the sun comet ISON will pass!  all comets have such elongated orbits, where they zoom in very close to the sun and then shoot way out to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

we'll just have to wait and see what happens to comet ISON when it grazes past the sun.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

astronaut halloween

the thing i always like about halloween in north america is the inventiveness of costumes - you can dress up as anything from inanimate objects to characters to puns. anything goes and the more clever the better!

that's why this 4 year is wearing the best costume i've seen so far this year!  welcome home, commander chris hadfield :)

image spotted via twitter
not bad, eh?

Hadfield immediatey after a successful return to earth

Thursday, October 24, 2013

high above siding spring observatory

this video shows incredible and unique birds-eye views of siding spring observatory!  the beginning displays images of obvious damage from the bushfires that swept through in january, and evidence of natural regrowth.  then it really starts to get fun around the 1:05.

the video was filmed and produced by uwe stiens around the open day event at SSO.  he went around the area with a remotely controlled drone and a GoPro camera attached to it.  cool idea and great resulting footage!  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

dirty space news: self-eclipsing

last month at the dotAstronomy 5 conference in boston, someone pointed out to me the existence of  that's right.  how had i not heard of this before?!?

for this installment of dirty space news, we explore one of the elusive female components of the universe.  do you see it?

finally - some female DSN!  (Credit: Scotty Degenhardt)
this graph was created by amateur astronomer scotty degenhardt and shows how light from jupiter's moon, Io, changes over time.  Io's orbital path around jupiter holds a puffed ring of dusty material. this graph shows Io "self-eclipsing," which happens when its atmosphere blocks light scattered from its own torus, producing the attractive curve shown above.

how not to "deal with it"

i read an interesting article by alice bell describing everyday sexual harassment in science, was surprised by how much it affected me, and then proceeded to vent much more than i expected to on twitter!  

so with this post i will tell a personal story of sexual harassment in my professional life, then offer tactics for how one might deal with such incidents, while giving a hint of how twitter conversations work. 

in the article, bell acknowledges the existence of a "hidden support" system for victims and potential targets of sexual harassment.  She describes "the threads of informal conversation where female academics share experiences or warn each other off" from working with particular individuals who are known to harass or bully.   

i initially responded on twitter with...

and when asked, 

i responded.  

i chose to work with this man during my first semester as a PhD student. once the collaboration began, i quickly recognized that i felt uncomfortable in his presence. his eyes wandered inappropriately. he made comments that i politely tried to ignore. and holy crap the creepy-as-possible winks!  i found myself covering myself with sweaters and scarves when going to meetings with him.

i discussed the situation with fellow PhD students.  they all acknowledged that his behaviour was not normal and said "i'm sorry. that sucks."  the students "supported" me, but no one suggested i (or we collectively) go to a higher authority about the issue.  

our unspoken belief was that his behaviour was SO OBVIOUS that the faculty must have known about it and this had all happened before.  it was up to me/us to figure out how to deal with it

the department head did not seem like a friendly fellow open to discussion, or even willing to remember my name for that matter. there were exactly THREE women in the department of 50 faculty and ALL those women were married to men in the department.  

the students felt like my only allies. i dealt. i avoided him.  it felt like what i was supposed to do.  i moved on with my studies.

was there a human resources (HR) representative i could/should have talked to?  i have no idea.   in the office setting of a normal business this would be the first option.  but in a university?  i wouldnt have known who to go to, even if i wasnt worried about being a brand new student up against the influential force of a senior faculty member, who i assumed was historically supported in his behaviours by other staff.  

do other university groups discuss practical steps for dealing with harassment?  i'm asking.

ten years later...

i'm surprised now by the emotion that has come out of me during the last couple months, after hearing the news of this asshole's "dismissal," and reflecting on what i put up with 10 years ago.  in addition to regular old imposter syndrome, i had to deal with all this crap when many of the other students simply did not.

of course sexual harassment is not limited to science, and i've experienced it in other situations in my life, but i found it most debilitating in my professional life, where i was trying as a naive junior person to gain credibility and respect for my work. 

reflecting on my lack of participation in the recent online discussion surrounding sexual harassment, i stated

 and i was reminded that:

thank you, niall.

so i asked twitter:

popular suggestions include naming and shaming the main problem characters and generally talking about harassment so it's a more visible and acknowledged issue.  many responses remind me that the issue transcends gender, as most people likely have such a shit-list of bullies, or know of people with the reputation for being harassers, bullies and/or misogynists.   so what do we do about it?

to individuals, i say:

  • get a mentor, immediately.  preferably have one mentor, male or female, within the department that you work, and at least one other who is completely external.  NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE BENEFIT OF MENTORS!  they are your much-needed allies.
  • sexual harassment is never ok and you do not deserve to deal with it.
  • tell the person that he/she is making you feel uncomfortable.  this is not easy.  the person might not be aware of the effect of his/her behaviour and needs to hear.  in many cases, there is not one big thing identifiable as "oh, that's harassment!" but a culmination of little things over time that strip away confidence, perspective and happiness.
  • if you will talk to someone about the situation and/or ask them to talk to the harasser, write down a list of incidents with dates and descriptions.  save email exchanges.  empower yourself with details. 
  • find a higher level HR department of your university/institute where you can file a complaint, especially if you feel you have no allies in your group.   
  • hire assassins.

but we have to be honest - it's not just the harassed and bullied who are going to change the global working atmosphere.   it will take all types of people participating in change and identifying even subtle behaviours in themselves and others.    so here are a few useful resources to read and share.

  • what we teach men.   (this article is fantastic!  "The goal of understanding male-female relations in the workplace should not be to “stay out of trouble.” It should be to see each other as fully human, fully autonomous, and important collaborators and assets to do the work we’re assembled to do.")

i am working on some ideas to benefit the astronomy culture, but please tell me, what are your ideas?!? let's make improvements happen!

UPDATE: discussion this post has raised reminds me that we did try to go through internal department systems for filing complaints.  these efforts were continually thwarted by lack of specific evidence (i never experienced an single "incident" but there was an obvious pattern of inappropriate behaviour over many decades) or, more systematically, by staff members who were not willing to raise a fuss or who were purposely acting to protect this man from any repercussions for his actions.  this is an issue that needs discussion as well - how to deal with internal "protectors" who can ultimately become bullies against anyone that wants to speak up?  

Monday, October 21, 2013

stephen hawking's big ideas

wondering what all those big ideas that stephen hawking has come up with?   here's a nice animated video explanation from the guardian.

Friday, October 18, 2013

scenes from mauna kea

here is a compilation of gorgeous timelapse sequences taken on top of mauna kea in hawaii by sean goebel.   the telescopes, stars and clouds look lovely, but my favourite scenes show the lasers shooting into the sky for adaptive optics work.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

pluto, the previous planet - live!

a couple weeks ago fred watson and i dusted off our musical collaboration and performed a live version of "pluto, the previous planet!"

the only video recording was from a phone in the back of the room, but enough of you requested to see and listen to the "performance" that i put together this video - i hope you enjoy!

the audience of 400 was in coonabarabran that evening for "science in the pub," where nobel laureate brian schmidt, prof matthew colless and prof ken freeman discussed dark matter, dark energy, and the concept of "reality." ("three astronomers walk into a pub...").

(L to R) Matthew Colless, Ken Freeman, Brian Schmidt, Fred Watson

but they were stuck listening to our song near the end ;)

Fred Watson and I finishing "Pluto, the Previous Planet" (Photo Credit: Helen Sim)

some of you might recall the official video for "pluto, the previous planet" was produced as a hack day project at dotAstronomy 3 a couple years ago. that video can still be seen at and the full story of the song's conception and video's production can be found HERE.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

on the news!

just before the starfest weekend at siding spring observatory, channel 7 sunrise national news morning program sent their weather team to site to feature all the great views of the recovering landscape and cutting edge astronomical technology.

this video shows all the footage from siding spring, condensed into a 12 minute collection.   can you spot edwina's major faux pas?  she apologised afterwards, sort of, but we all screamed off-camera when we heard her say it!

also, i dont remember feeling so short standing next to her!   she had heels on her shoes, but seriously, i look small.  remind me to wear some higher shoes next time!

fun stuff!

Sunrise news crew and several AAO staff

Monday, October 14, 2013

adventures in flatland

the best part of this flatland-inspired comic by abstruse goose is the hidden alternative text for the image, which i'll reveal after you read it.

sometimes i think i'm surrounded by idiots everywhere.  then i remind myself that that's exactly what an idiot would think.

the alternative text: "sometimes i think i'm surrounded by idiots everywhere.  then i remind myself that that's exactly what an idiot would think."

in case youre interested in some accessible science reading, i highly recommend going through the short novel, Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. by edwin abbott abbott (yes, that's abbott-squared). it was written in 1884, includes adorable illustrations and describes "the journeys of A. Square, a resident of Flatland, and his adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions). A. Square also entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions; a revolutionary idea for which he is banished from Spaceland."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

5 fun science experiments for kids

need something to entertain some young people?   this is a fun video showing 5 simple science experiments that can be done at home!

i'll admit, i watched the video all the way through, and unfortunately, i was not with any young humans.  it's fun!

via orbiting frog.

Friday, October 11, 2013

the symphony of life

we often speak of life as a journey with some distinct destination or goal at the end.  i like the alternative view proposed by alan watts and animated in the video below.

instead of viewed as a "pilgrimage" with something at the end, life is best appreciated as a symphony, with crescendos and retreats, build ups and disappointments, different movements sparking a range of emotions - the total effect changing all the time and built from an ensemble of characters working together along the way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

the hi(gg)story

a well-known prize just went to Peter Higgs and Fran├žois Englert for "the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."

i remember where i was last year when the 5 sigma detection of the higgs boson was announced: with a group of other physicists, enjoying the higgsteria (and cringing at the comic sans).

you can read about ALL the twists and turns of the hi(gg)story in a nice article by matt strassler, or you can watch the series done by brady and the sixty symbols crew.

for instance, you can learn what would happen if you put your hand inside the large hadron collider:

and of course, learn about the two experiments using the large hadron collider (LHC) that discovered the higgs boson!



Monday, October 7, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

live from siding spring observatory

i'm up at siding spring observatory this week for many events during the upcoming StarFest weekend extravaganza!  this morning, the australian national news program, channel 7 sunrise, broadcast their show from different parts around the observatory!   i featured in a couple segments, talking about the science we can do with our 4 meter AAT telescope and showing some pretty pictures on computers in the control room.

you can watch one quick segment HERE (at least for the next month or so).

overall, it was a very fun experience, but the super early wake up call was not my favourite part of the day!
sunrise over siding spring observatory

here is sam, a PhD student who was up all night observing, talking about the exciting new SAMI instrument and its capabilities.

sam showing off SAMI and the AAT to edwina bartholemew
we did a few scenes outside with the view, a few inside the dome with the big telescope and inside the control room. can you spot the gag that came right at the end of the scene ;) 

behind-the-scenes from the news spot this morning
i found it fascinating to watch the small news crew smoothly organize every scene setup and shot.  they were in control.  an impressive operation!

several AAO staff with the channel 7 sunrise weather team
this is my first trip to siding spring since the fires in january.  its springtime and regrowth is happening all over!   its nice to see.

springtime flourishes at siding spring observatory

the sunrise view from the top of siding spring