Wednesday, March 13, 2013
JWST and NASA at SXSW
Northrop Grumman and NASA brought the full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope to the annual craziness in Austin that is South By Southwest. (For the record, I twitch uncontrollably when people abbreviate it to "South By" - if for no other reason in that it breaks the reference to North By Northwest, one of my favorite movies!) Working with one of our professors, they asked for volunteers to come down and help talk about the telscope and work at some of the tables in the NASA Experience tent, so I was down there for a while on Friday and all day Sunday. At the last minute I decided to throw my DSLR and my little travel tripod into my backpack since I knew that they were lighting the model up colorfully at night and that I had to get some photos. And I'm glad I did since I'm really happy with the way the photos turned out! Click on the photo at the top to go to the full Flickr set.
I had a great time talking about the telescope for the first part of the day even if I did manage to sunburn the top of my head. I was a little surprised that a few people asked if the model was the actual telescope, although I think everyone who asked that prefaced it with "I don't think it is, but I have to ask...". At one of the tables in the tent there were parts of the actual materials of the telescope, mostly the left over ends of things that were cut for the structure. I played with the parts a little on Friday and they are quite light, but that isn't too surprising given that it will have to be launched in to space.
I spent the afternoon working at the table with the infrared camera (the JWST will be an infrared telescope), which was a lot of fun. Kids in particular had a blast sticking their hands into the bucket of ice water and seeing how it looked on the camera. The most interesting visitor was a man with a medical condition that caused poor circulation in two of his fingers on one hand and the difference was quite easily visible.
And at the end of the day, the JWST folks made a successful attempt for an official Guinness World Record for Largest Astronomy Lesson. (The Guinness people are often at SXSW for a variety of interesting attempts at official records.) I stayed to watch that, but took off as soon as it was over since a day of sun, wind, talking, and allergies caught up to me!