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Space Shuttle Endeavour visits Austin, Part Deux

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On September 20, the Space Shuttle Endeavour did a fly-over of Austin and I caught a really cool photo of it with the UT Tower. You can see my original blog post about it here.



Shuttle #Endeavour flying next to the UT Tower #spottheshuttle#austintwitpic.com/awk6ky— Lara Eakins (@LaraEakins) September 20, 2012

The weird thing was that for the next few months, after the initial rush of the first few days, I still saw a trickle of retweets, views, and comments.

Then, I got a tweet from someone at Twitter saying that they would like to use the tweet/photo as part of an official Twitter project. I was intrigued, but figured it would show up somewhere buried in a 2012 wrap-up. Well, I was partially correct, it was in a 2012 wrap-up, but buried it certainly wasn't! Imagine my surprise when it showed up here:

Only on Twitter

And here:



And here:



And in the video itself:


(Below the Curiosity rover and next to Barack and Michelle Obama. Seriously?!?!)

And here's the whole video:



And one…

2012 was a pretty amazing year

I knew going in that 2012 was going to be a pretty busy year for me, and it was! Personally the highlights were the AAS meeting in January, successfully pulling off the very popular public viewing of the Venus transit in June, and seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September (more about that later...). But in the broader world, there was some pretty incredible stuff this year. There were also some sad good-byes and heartbreaking tragedies, and I know it was a rough year for some of my friends and acquaintances, but I want to focus on the good things.

Humans literally went to the extremes - James Cameron solo dived to the deepest part of the Earth's oceans, while Felix Baumgartner jumped from a balloon in the stratosphere. And we got to see both occur live on our computers.

Physicists have probably discovered the Higgs boson, one of the key points of modern Standard Model of physics. (I'll refrain from grousing about how it could have been discovered 15 years sooner and here…

Well... we're still here

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Do I get to say "I told you so" now?

I haven't blogged about it much (if at all?) but I have occasionally ranted on Twitter about the questions, usually in phone calls, that I've been getting for YEARS about the so-called Mayan apocalypse coming on December 21, 2012.

I think the first calls started coming around 2006 after one of the many programs that have since been repeated endlessly the on cable channels first aired. I remember in particular a dad who was concerned about his 11 or 12-year-old son who was getting depressed after watching some of these programs. After talking for a while with the dad, I could suss out that there were other family issues (a divorce or separation in particular) and this was probably feeding an already stressful situation. My main recommendation then, after assuring him that the stuff in those programs were mostly nonsense, was to have his son talk with a school counselor. I think I talked with him a couple of times, but I don't …

McDonald Observatory and West Texas 2012

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I traveled out to McDonald Observatory for work back in July and I'm just now getting around to posting the photos! This was the first time I'd been out in 5 years, and the first time since I had ventured into playing with HDR photography (more about that here, with my first HDR photo) so I figured I would have fun taking photos in what little spare time I had. That's the one thing about going out there for the board meetings - it's pretty much two days of travel and two days of being really busy! And to top it off, I managed to catch a cold shortly before leaving, so I was fighting the fatigue from that the whole time too. But it is always nice to get out to the dark skies and mountains of west Texas!

The area is recovering well from the horrible fires of 2011 and had even had a little rain in the week before I was there, so things greened up a little. The weather was great while I was there, and as usual, I was caught off-guard by how chilly it can get after dark, e…

A few thoughts on college education

Since I'm trying to get back in to blogging and writing more, I thought this would be a good place to jot down a few rambling thoughts I had today - mostly so I would have a place to refer back to it in the future!

(Anyone who stumbles across this and actually reads it - keep in mind that I've never taken an education class and am not very familiar with pedagogy and that most of the education I've done is in the informal outreach setting.)

One of our professors is planning to implement a "flipped classroom" approach for his introductory astronomy class next semester and part of my job will be helping him put together the materials. One of the "evangelists" of the technique in our college gave a seminar about it today and I tagged along to learn a few things - although I was hoping they might get a little more into the technology (which is what I wil mainly be doing). Still, I found it to be an interesting discussion of teaching and learning in the mode…

Space Shuttle Endeavour visits Austin

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The shuttle Endeavour left Florida on its way to Los Angeles where it will be housed at the California Science Center and on the way it has made a few stops and flybys. It stopped over in Houston last night and I knew that a re-fueling stop in El Paso was on the schedule, so I was hoping that it would make a fly over Austin as well. And it turned out that they had scheduled a low pass over the Capitol, which I knew we'd be able to see really well from my office building on the UT campus. So (even though I was up on the telescope last night) I decided to come in early and try to get a picture. Funny enough, the ones I got of it over the Capitol and city weren't all that great, but as it flew past the UT Tower, I got this shot:



(Click over to Flickr for the larger version)

I posted it to Twitter and copied the tweet to a couple of local news organizations, thinking they might want to use it for online galleries. But of course, as things often do on the internet, it took off and …

A summer to say goodbye to heroes

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Although I think both Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong shied away from the label 'hero' both were heroes to me.



I had the great pleasure of meeting Sally Ride when she gave a talk at UT a few years ago. She was a great inspiration to me and many other young girls who at some point dreamed of being an astronaut. After leaving NASA she founded Sally Ride Science which is dedicated to getting young people interested in science, a mission very close to my heart!



Sadly I never had a chance to meet or even see Neil Armstrong in person, but I have seen many artifacts of his astronaut career over the years. And pretty much every time I look at the moon I stop and think - people have walked there!

In that vein, I loved the final paragraph of the statement from the Armstrong family:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smil…

Transit of Venus

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Now that I've had time to recover a little, I thought I would write up my experience organizing and running the public viewing of the June 5, 2012 Transit of Venus event.

Based on my experiences with the "Mars Close Approach" event in 2003, I knew going in that it would almost certainly be a very busy day and prepared for it. The transit of Venus happens in pairs 8 years apart every 100+ years and after the one in 2012 the next chance would be December 2117. Who knows what advances in medical science will do to increase our longevity over the next 100 years, but regardless, the majority of us won't be around to see the next transit of Venus. Since the one in 2004 wasn't visible in Austin, this was basically my only chance to see it with my own eyes. And pretty much ever since the 2004 transit, the 2012 one had been on my long-term horizon as something to plan for at work.

As we got closer to the day, I was contacted by the local amateur astronomy club, the Austi…

Sherwood Forest Faire 2012

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I've posted my photos from last weekend's trip to the Sherwood Forest Faire over on Flickr. I didn't get quite as many good photos from the joust this year since the area where I took up close photos last year (and got a face full of dust) was very muddy this year. No complaints though, we need the rain. I also managed, on a mostly cloudy day in a space mostly covered by trees, to get a little sunburned. Quite a talent!

See the photos here

Thunderstorm from summer 1998

While I was going through some old video transfers at work, I found the one I did of a video I shot at Enchanted Rock State Park back in 1998. I was out there to give a talk about meteor showers during special events they were having to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Texas Parks and Wildlife. I didn't get any video of the meteor shower, but I did get these shots of a nearby thunderstorm before sunset (things did clear up nicely for the meteor shower itself). The quality isn't great, but it was a fun test of the process and I was able to make a 20x version so you can see some of the movement of the storm.





Historical Astronomy exhibit at the HRC

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Heliocentric diagram from Nicolaus Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus"

I mentioned in a previous post that I went over to the Harry Ransom Center on the Friday at the end of the AAS meeting to see the small exhibit of astronomy texts and items that they had set up for the week. I had already seen several of the items (and I really wish they had brought out the Tycho with the etching of the coats of arms of his ancestors - including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) but it was neat to see them again. There were also a few items from the Herschel collection that I don't think I've seen before. And this was just a small fraction of the stuff they had out for the International Year of Astronomy exhibit back in 2009.

You can see the full set on Flickr here

AAS Day 5

The final day - and it was a busy one!

It's kind of ironic that the one day I was actually able to make the 8:30 a.m. talk was the final day of the conference. I guess part of it was that I skipped the apparently epic party the night before. :)

I'm glad that I was able to make it to the talk since it was one that was about something that I think about a lot "The Evolving Context for Science and Society", presented by Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Interestingly, before Leshner, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Tx) spoke for a few minutes (he wasn't on the program and came over at the last minute from a nearby function). I wish I had a recorder with me since I would like to be able to quote some of the stuff he said so I "un-spin" the politics from it. Also, I would to have had a chance to ask him why, if he is the science fan and champion he claims to be, he authored a bill that would have bro…

AAS Day 4

I had the best of intentions to get to Robert Kirshner's talk on "Exploding Stars and the Accelerating Universe" (an interesting topic to begin with, but I also know he's a good speaker) but I had to get gas and money before going in to the convention center so I didn't make it in time. The work he discussed is the research that led to the discovery of "Dark Energy" and was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. I knew that was research that would eventually be awarded a Nobel but what I wasn't sure of was how they were going to choose *who* to award given the large number of people who contributed to the discovery (a lot of projects are done by research teams). In the end it was awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam G. Riess as team leaders. Hopefully someday I'll be seeing some of my co-workers getting that prize after figuring out what dark energy actually is with HETDEX!

I didn't have volunteer duty in the morning so …

AAS Day 3

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I started off the day a little late (again) but had a chance to get a few photos of friends at posters before heading to my first session.


Drs. Mary Kay Hemenway and Chris Sneden and the SOFIA Teachers with their research poster.

I designed the poster above, so I had to get a photo of the authors with it!

The first session I worked was also one that I was interested in anyway - "Professional Ethics in Astronomy: An Ongoing Dialogue". One of the panelists was a professor at my university many years ago, but I'm pretty sure he didn't remember me. The discussion was very interesting and it makes me really glad that I don't have to deal with a lot of the issues that some of my colleagues do! I wish I had taken more detailed notes on the actual talks and resulting questions and conversations but my laptop battery was low. Anyone interested in the topic should check out the Sigma Xi ethics publications. Unfortunately the session that is probably most related to my own …

AAS - Day 2

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This was the first full day of the meeting after the previous night's opening reception (which I decided not to attend). I skipped the 8:00 a.m. welcoming address and 8:30 a.m. invited session this day in favor of a few extra minutes of sleep.

My first volunteer session was on "Exciting Astrophysics: Supernovae, Relativistic Astrophysics, and Other Results I" and it was my first introduction to the system they have devised for getting the talks into all of the rooms from the central "speaker ready room". The idea is to have all of the speakers pre-load their talks in one central location and they are then piped to the appropriate room that is already set up with a laptop and projector (I was pleased to see all of the machines were Macs - both in the ready room and meeting rooms!) There were a few hiccups in that first session, but the a/v staff were able to get it ironed out before we were scheduled to start. Having run the a/v for MANY astronomy meetings, I w…

AAS 219 - Day 1

Before I get too far away from the actual event, I thought I would write up my experiences at this year's AAS meeting, the first I had fully attended since the late 1990s.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting returned to Austin earlier this month and I was able to volunteer for free registration. Because I fall in to a weird gray area in the astronomy profession (undergraduate degree and 15+ years employment in the field, but no PhD) I haven't been a member of the organization and even with membership the meeting costs are high. (They now have an educational affiliate membership category that I qualify for and I'm planning to join under it soon.) So working at the meeting seemed the best way to get a chance to attend. The trade-off is, of course, that I would have to work some sessions that I might not really be interested in and might miss some that I was. But given the way these conferences are scheduled it's pretty hard for everyone to get to everything t…

Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored

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I went over to the Harry Ransom Center last week to see a small display of historical astronomy texts (more on that later) and finally also saw their larger exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored shortly before it closed.

The exhibition focussed on the years between the world wars and the various organizations and methods that were employed to "to rid the country of offensive literature". I often find it hard to believe that things like this happened in our nation's history, but then I remember that during this same period, alcohol was banned by Constitutional amendment.

It seems that the rise of fascism, the outbreak of WWII and public Nazi book burnings took the wind out of the sails of organizations who had previously advocated doing the same thing in the United States. I loved this poster with a quote by President Roosevelt condemning book burning:



Of course, banning and/or challenging books, particularly in schools (e.g. this previous post), is still with …

Stop SOPA and PIPA!

I decided not to blackout any of my blogs or sites today mainly out of laziness (and fear that I'd totally screw something up) but I support those who did. I wrote my congressional representatives and I hope those of you in the US will do the same. I also want to take issue with those who claim that people who are against SOPA and PIPA are by default FOR piracy. Of course that is not the case, it's a false dichotomy. They (and I) are for reasonable IP protections that don't break the internet and prop up old business models that don't want to be dragged into the 21st century.

BTW, Lamar Smith (R-Tx), author of SOPA, was at the American Astronomical Society meeting last week and spoke for about 10 minutes before the "Science and Society" talk. Unfortunately he didn't take questions, but I was sorely tempted to yell out while he was trying to tell us how much of a nerd he was "Then why did you write a bill that could break the internet??".

If you …

My First Creation Debate

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As I was migrating everything back to this site from the science and skepticism one that I'm shutting down, I came across a few draft posts that I had never finished and published. This is one of a creation/evolution debate that I attended in April 2009. Thankfully I have notes that I typed up close to the event, so hopefully not too much is misremembered.



Well, my first live and in person creation debate, since I've watched them through the internet before. Unfortunately I didn't get around to typing up my notes until more than a month after the actual debate, so some of my recollections might be a little fuzzy now. Head over to Skeptiblog for Michael Shermer's write-up. (One small correction that I would make to Shermer's write-up is that the arena is primarily used for volleyball, not basketball... but that doesn't really have any relevance to the debate!)

My first reaction was to be a little surprised at the turnout. I know some people were organized church…

Importing posts from old blog

Apologies to anyone who follows this site with an RSS reader - you're going to get bombarded with a bunch of old posts I'm importing from my science blog that I'm merging in to (back in to, technically) this one.