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I was browsing through the many press releases I get each day and found this one to share. Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona will be offering a live feed of the Deep Impact on the internet. Read on for details.
June 30, 2005
KITT PEAK VISITOR CENTER TO PROVIDE LIVE IMAGES OF COMET IMPACT
How can you watch the planned first-of-its-kind collision between a comet and a spacecraft from Earth this weekend, even if your night skies do not allow a direct view?
The Visitor Center at Kitt Peak National Observatory plans to offer a live feed of the encounter between NASA's Deep Impact mission and Comet Tempel 1 starting this Sunday night (local time), running about an hour before the planned 10:52 p.m. PDT impact though about 45 minutes afterward. The feed will consist of still images of the distant comet, and a frequently updated movie assembled from the individual frames. Each frame will consist of a 30-second exposure taken with an electronic CCD imager attached to the 20-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope in the Kitt Peak Visitor Center observatory.
The comet feed from Kitt Peak will be available on the Internet here.
"Weather and technical gremlins permitting, we intend to post an image about every 45 seconds, and to update the digital movie every few minutes," said Douglas Isbell, assistant director for public affairs and educational outreach for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ, the parent organization of Kitt Peak National Observatory. "This rate of imagery should match up well with the predicted gradual change in the brightness of the comet's surrounding cloud of dust and gas."
The live feed will be generated by synchronized computer teamwork between Kitt Peak Public Outreach Lead Observer Adam Block and NOAO Web Designer Mark Newhouse.
The main Deep Impact spacecraft will witness the effects of the collision between the comet and a copper-laden impactor probe released earlier from the spacecraft from as close as 310 miles, but ground-based telescopes are considerably farther away. "Unfortunately, with the comet being 83 million miles from Earth, its nucleus is essentially a bright single point in the image, so we won't have the ability to see the fresh crater that Deep Impact is expected to gouge out of the comet."
As with most major ground-based astronomical observatories, including NOAO's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, all of the major National Science Foundation research telescopes on Kitt Peak are observing comet Tempel 1 for several nights before and after the planned Deep Impact event. By the night of July 8, Kitt Peak National Observatory telescopes will have been used for 43 nights in 2005 in support of scientific analysis of the planned comet impact.
Speaking of exercisin' the ol' B.S. detector, I have a question. Why is it that space missions seem to draw the whack jobs out of the woodwork? There's a guy suing NASA over the upcoming Deep Impact mission because he claims that he owns it and NASA didn't ask permission to ram a spacecraft into it. A woman in Russia (an astrologer) claims that the impact will mess up her cosmic emanations or vibes or some such rubbish.
I often wonder just exactly who failed these people? Their teachers? Their parents? The system? That would be a convenient excuse to explain why some people just cannot figure out that science is science and rubbish is rubbish, and that no matter how lovely the rubbish looks, how nice it smells, how delicious it is, it's still rubbish. A friend of mine calls it Intellectual P*rnography and explains its appeal this way:"you know it's naughty, you know it really doesn't reflect real life, yet you read it anyway."
Still, there ARE always people ascribing ownership of comets, or rewriting the laws of physics to suit their favorite religious belief, or coming up with new laws of physics based on alien invasions. They sincerely believe (or more likely are motivated by the prospects of reaping vast sums of money for idiocy) that what they believe about comets and asteroids and NASA missions is "science" or "scientific thought" when it's really just ignorance, hucksterism, and chutzpah. Yet, their ideas are all part of the "crossroads of ideas" we live in. They serve as fine examples of illogic and unscientific methods. It's up to us to learn which ideas merit serious consideration and which ones are best left to idiots who show us how silly they are when they are ignorant.
I'm sitting here in Munich's airport waiting for my flight back to the U.S. and thinking about the wonderful time I've had this past week at the European Southern Observatory's sponsored meeting "Communicating Astronomy With the Public." It brought together 120 or so scientists, writers, animators, and others to discuss how science communication in our discipline of astronomy is going, how it can be improved, and what some future trends are going to be.
Rather than try to summarize all the really great stuff, I'm going to send you to the website for the meeting, which has video captures of all our presentations (I talked about planetariums and their role in communicating astronomy), plus copies of most of the powerpoint presentations given in the meeting. You can see the program with links to the talks, video sessions, and powerpoints at the CAP programme page.
I found the meeting to be really helpful, had a chance to get together with many old friends, and some of my clients; as well, it was fun to meet some new folks and swap ideas!
I just got the Nth spam message this week telling me how it exciting it is that I can now "officially" name a star for my dad for Father's Day. Not only am I NOT excited about it, I'm pretty tired of watching these companies preying on people's gullibility about how stars are named. There are several who advertise, using all kinds of careful language that implies you can name a star for a loved one, without actually coming right out and saying that the star names they're charging you for will NOT EVER be used by astronomers. You have to ask yourself, "If it's so easy to name a star that some company can convince people to pay THEM for the privilege of doing so, then why can't I just go out and name a star myself without paying them?"
The truth is — you can. Here's how: go out some night and pick out a star and name it for your loved one. Then, go over to an office supply star and find one of those fancy certificates and fill it in with your loved one's name and some great language that says you love them more than the moon and stars and to prove it, you've reserved a star in the sky that only you and they will know about. While you're at it, go over to the bookstore and get a star chart book like those I've reviewed here—like NightWatch or Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars or The Stars: A New Way to See Them. Armed with your star book and your certificate, take your loved one out on a clear night, and show them the star you selected for them, and together learn about it. You'll be way ahead of the game, you will have spent less money, and you'll still have the same love and gratitude you would have had if you'd bought something from one of the many star-naming companies that have built a thriving cottage industry on selling you something you can do for yourself without their "help."
I should point out that some museums and planetariums will sell you a star off their domes for purposes of fund-raising. It's a clever fundraising technique and they are generally very honest about the fact that you're essentially getting a star on the dome as a kind of unique "donor plaque." Those ARE NOT the kinds of "star naming" sales I'm talking about here.
Read all this, and if you still want to go ahead and buy a star name from some company, at least you'll be informed that what you're buying is a novelty, with no official standing in the world of astronomy.
Or, try it my way, and give the gift of a star from your heart, without the middleman.
We go to a number of planetarium conferences every year, and like most folks who work in the planetarium business selling things to other colleagues, we get hit up for "donations" to help support the costs of conferences. Frequently we're given a choice of ways to donate money, and they're given cute names like "Nova" sponsors or "supernova" sponsors. Recently we've been seeing the term "Hypernova" for a sponsor who gives some huge amount of money (like around $5,000 or $10,000). I guess these are perceived as hierarchies, much as silver, gold, and platinum are used commonly to describe credit cards with higher and higher amounts.
It's not quite the same kind of hierarchy as stellar explosions though. While a nova might be perceived as the "weakest" of the mighty outbursts that flow from stars, and a supernova is a strong one, with a hypernova being a really strong one, these terms really refer to distinctly different types of stellar explosions.
According to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory online dictionary of astronomy terms, a nova is a star that abruptly increases in brightness by a factor of a million. A nova is caused in a binary star system where hydrogen-rich material is transferred to the surface of a white dwarf until sufficient material and temperatures exist to kindle explosive nuclear fusion.
Skip down to supernova, and you get this: an extremely violent explosion of a star many times more massive than our Sun. During this explosion, the star may become as bright as all the other stars in a galaxy combined, and in which a great deal of matter is thrown off into space at high velocity and high energy. The remnant of these massive stars collapse into either a neutron star or a black hole.
There isn't a definition for hypernova yet, because astronomers are still trying to figure out the precise conditions that would lead us to call a super-supernova explosion a "hypernova."
Which brings me to a very cool announcement this week from a consortium of researchers in Europe, the U.S. and Japan, linking hypernovas to gamma-ray bursts. Here's the scoop, as told by the National Observatory of Japan's Subaru Telescope:
An international research team, led by astronomers from the University of Tokyo, Hiroshima University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, used the Subaru telescope to obtain the spectrum of SN2003jd, a hypernova unaccompanied by a gamma-ray burst, and found the first evidence that it is a jet-like explosion viewed off-axis. Hypernovae are hyper-energetic Supernovae that are often associated with gamma-ray bursts. This result provides clear and firm evidence that all Hypernovae may be associated with gamma-ray bursts, but that gamma-ray bursts are observable only when jets produced by the hypernova explosion point towards Earth.
There's more information at their web site, explaining the rationale behind the research.
All that being said, I find it amusing that a donor giving massive amounts of money is named after a stellar phenomenon that is so energetic, but yet is also can be so destructive and mysterious.
I spent much of yesterday on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. As usual, on a crowded flight, it's impossible NOT to hear conversations when people are trying to yell over aircraft noise. Before I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and tried to catch a quick catnap, I heard the following from the seats behind me:
Person 1: "I was reading about this Intelligent Design stuff in the New Yorker. It seems like a pretty solid theory but they won't let it be taught in the classrooms and that's not right."
Person 2: "It's not science though."
Person 1: "Why not?"
Person 2: "There's no scientific evidence to back it up. I was reading this article in the paper. Even the people who are pushing it don't agree on some of the things they want the public to know."
The conversation went on for a while, morphing into a discussion of current politics in the United States. I put my headphones on and went to sleep. But the whole thing got me to thinking that perhaps what we really need in our science classrooms is more emphasis on critical thinking, of helping students (and maybe society in general) develop better B.S. detectors.
There's a difference between theory and hypothesis, but to hear proponents of such ideas as Intelligent Design and Creationists tell it, the two words mean the same. This is because both camps have put forth hypotheses about the origin of everything in the universe. Fine. In science, when we have a hypothesis, we then devise tests that provide data to either prove or disprove the hypothesis. Now let's do some tests to prove or disprove those hypotheses. Otherwise, conflating "hypothesis" with "theory" is NOT critical thinking, nor is it intellectually honest.
Of the two, the word "hypothesis" fits the ideas that the IDers and Creationists want to teach. But they are NOT theories, specifically because there is no data to support the central tenet of each set of hypotheses: i.e., that there's some creator out there flinging universes together on some timeline known only to itself.
I'm of two minds about whether this stuff should be taught in schools. Perhaps it should. But I don't think it has a place in the science classroom for two reasons: there's not enough time to teach honest, true science, let alone wasting time on hypotheses that have more to do with religion and culture; and two, we don't teach science in comparative religion and other such classes.
On the other hand, a good, honest, dispassionate application of the scientific method to these hypotheses is exactly what science does best. So, therein lies the central dilemma.
No matter where this stuff is taught, it should all be subjected to the same rigid tests that true science and critical thought require. To do otherwise is to admit intellectual laziness. And such an admission in the name of a religion or belief system does little FOR such beliefs and systems, other than to set their adherents up as less than intellectually honest in their intentions, something that I (brought up in a religious family I was) was taught would be a waste of the intelligence and reasoning faculties we were born with.
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