Collections and Connections

28 04 2010

My mother has recently informed me that some of my Aunt Kit’s friends who are school teachers have really made an impact on the fight against light pollution. Huzzah to you Aunt Kit and Huzzah to all of the school teachers!

From what I have heard my Aunt Kit saw my repeated posts on facebook about Globe at Night and she decided to share it with some of her friends who are teachers. These teachers pulled out all the stops and got their classes involved! This is what Globe at Night is all about.

We are a collection of people and each of us has a connection. I know this person and they know someone over there that also knows this person and this person. We are all working towards a better and brighter future. Or I suppose I should say in this case, a darker future and brighter stars. These collections and these connections make us powerful. When we put our minds to it we can do whatever we want.

I randomly bumped into Dr. Connie Walker at the American Astronomical Society meeting. She decided to give me a card about Globe at Night. I thought it was neat and told her about how I was about to go to Chile to work with Dr. Malcolm Smith and he was also interested in fighting light pollution. She knows him! I’m about to meet him. She informs me, “Keep in touch!” and I affirm that I will. I fly to Chile. I start my job and I tell Malcolm about Connie. One email and Connie assures me that I can help out as much as I want! I’m all for it! Facebook is the first option. Messages to friends and groups to start. “I want you all to know about this neat program I found, Globe at Night!” The response is phenomenal. It spreads and spreads. People from Italy and Chile and the USA. People from all over. Then my dear Aunt shares the idea with her friends. They respond and they do something about it. During the week of Globe at Night these teachers took their kids out to the fields and they look up at the sky in hopes of spotting Orion. They contributed. Through all of these events we have been connected to fight for something we believe in.

Each year the numbers of participation in Globe at Night has risen, and this year has been the largest.

2006: 3,990 observations

2007: 8,490 observations

2008: 6,838 observations

2009: 15,300 observations

2010: 17,805 observations

That is an accomplishment, and one of those dots represents you.

So thank you to everyone who used their connections to spread the news to their collections of friends. With this we can make a difference. And thank you to my Aunt Kit and all of the teachers that got their kids involved!



19 04 2010

I have not posted in quite some time due to an excess of craziness in my life. You see, the last month or so I have been zooming around Chile, trekking in the wilderness of Patagonia, finding myself magically back in the United States after falling asleep without realizing it, and then experiencing a pleasant onslaught of family for the holiday. Now, I have returned to school after three weeks of being back in the United States. The funny thing is not having classes. I am sure that I have barely begun to feel the strangeness of this fact. My three lovely roommates are all graduating this year. Two of them have already defended their honors theses and the third is defending on Thursday of this week. Then they have to finish classes and then is the approach of finals. I have promised to cook for them. It is the least that I can do. Plus, I love cooking…sometimes. The zucchini bread I made this afternoon turned out divine! I think I must have added just the perfect amount of cinnamon.

However, I will have a lot to do. This is the reason I came back! I’m picking up my research on the crystallization of pulsating white dwarf stars and preparing myself for an exciting summer of traveling and events. Next year will be my turn to defend my thesis, which will be written on one little white dwarf star nicknamed ‘Lucy’. So, on Monday, you can find me at the computer typing furiously away and discovering the secrets of this shining beauty in the sky. That is, of course, after I remember the password to my work computer, woops.

Aw, the beloved thesis. I am very excited about it, actually. My sophomore year a very good friend of mine was preparing to graduate. I spent many a happy evening propped on her couch watching cult classics while she lay in front of the tv, on the floor, with piles of books surrounding her. Now she is in graduate school studying Chaos theory in English literature. I consider her one of my top role models.

Now to the point of my writing tonight. I have returned. I hope to supply you with many interesting things to read about and keep you updated on the battle for dark skies. As a side note: I just want to say that I am so excited about having two summers right in a row!

Now, for an interesting picture I saw!

I saw this picture at this website:

It is from NASA’s Image of the Day gallery and I just thought it was so nifty! It was taken in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station. Wouldn’t it be the neatest thing to go to the work in the morning and float there?

Perhaps tomorrow morning when I go to start up work on my thesis again I can float there. It’s just across the street from my apartment! Not far at all.


17 03 2010

I am sitting on a swing in La Serena, Chile. And I find it kind of funny that as GLOBE at Night closes for the year my time working at CTIO as an undergraduate research student also closes.

GLOBE at Night has been so successful this year with more than 10,000 observations (I’ll have to get back to you on the final number!). I can’t help but be thrilled and awed at the amount of dedication and participation that this shows. And also knowing that some of those observations are my own, somewhere in the mix of those “more than 10,000” I have contributed.

In the same moment my respect for GLOBE at Night and all of the participants is reflected in my respect for the 8 students I worked side-by-side with this Chilean summer.

It has been an adventure. There were many days of staring at my computer screen and growling when my code didn’t work, and then jumping up and down in the office when it did. It has always been a blessing in these moments to look to my left and right and to see the same situation. I imagine that this situation occurs often in Astronomy, and any profession, for that matter.

As I write this, my friend Eduardo is sitting in the grass to my left under the shade of a tree I do not know the species of, because it is Chilean and there are many things here I don’t understand, but it is beautiful. He is practicing his final presentation which he will give in approximately 15 minutes. I am sure that he is nervous because English is not his first language, but after living with 7 USA students for 10 weeks I think he’s got it down. I am sure his presentation will be great, and I can’t wait to stand up and walk with him to the lecture hall.

And now the observation part of GLOBE at Night is finished, for this year. The results will be calculated and used to fight light pollution. Good job to you all!

Together we Observe

9 03 2010

As I am sure many of you have recently seen there was a massive earthquake in Chile. Since I currently live in Chile I have seen a small amount of the chaos, even though the area I am in was not largely affected by it. At the time I was on a trip to visit the observatory at Paranal (unfortunately we didn’t make it, however, the earthquake interrupted our visit) which is far far away from where the epicenter of the earthquake was. Apparently, it was a 2 where we were. I did not feel it.

However, there is one thing that I would like to emphasis in this blog.

Even through all of this I have been extremely impressed with and proud of the people of Chile. This was a major disaster and the people of this country have teamed together and risen to the challenge to help one another and help their country.

An image from "Chile, Three Days Later"

And through all of this I have been even more impressed by the fact that Chileans are still participating in GLOBE at Night. Through all of the craziness, all of the pain and sorrow, these people have risen up to the challenge to help one another and still they have found the time and determination to support GLOBE at Night.

This is the time that we are to observe. Now get out there and join the world.

How can a Man Sell the Milky Way?

23 02 2010

I have just finished reading a book about Bart Bok.

Bart Bok

The book is called, The Man Who Sold the Milky Way: A Biography of Bart Bok. My mentor, for the research I am doing here at CTIO, recommended it to me. He knew Bart Bok while Bok was still alive and I have received a number of exciting and interesting anecdotes from my mentor because of this.

He was truly an amazing astronomer, and so was his wife Priscilla.

This book caught my attention one day while I was sitting in my mentor’s office discussing the Unified Model with him. Out of the corner of my eye I picked up some lime green and orange. Anyone who knows me well could tell you about how I just love bright colors! So my eyes were immediately drawn to the cover of this book. Seeing my distracted attention my mentor smiled and handed the book to me. And then began the first anecdote of Bart Bok, his bushy eyebrows, and deep voice.

The book was immediately intriguing. The title just catches your interest and forces you to begin reading! What do they mean, “The man who sold the Milky Way”? I must find out! So, I did! And I read the book.

It was extremely entertaining and I could not believe that I had not previously learned of such an influential man in Astronomy!

Of course, I cannot tell you very much about the book because that would be taking all the fun out of reading it! But what I will tell you are these things:

  • Bart and Priscilla were really neat people.
  • They affected many people’s lives, in and out of Astronomy.
  • You cannot buy the Milky Way from a Bart Bok Foundation. 😉
  • Magpies are really neat as well.
  • This book makes me want to live in the Eta Carinae Region so that I can meet Priscilla!
  • The last sentence of the book is my favorite.

Now you have to go read the book to find out what I mean by these statements! What would the world be without the beautiful Milky Way streaking across our skies? It is men and women like the Bok’s that really made the world realize the importance of studying and understanding our own galaxy.

Taken by Stephane Guisard for The World at Night (TWAN) Movement.

This is a picture taken outside of Paranal where the Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located. I will be visiting this place on Thursday! Very excited. For more information on this photo see the website:

The Ancient Tales

17 02 2010

There was once a time where every person across the world could look up and see the dark band of glowing clouds streaked across the sky that is our Milky Way Galaxy. It was not just a part of the sky that these people looked at every night. They knew instinctively that it was a part of their world. They knew that it was a part of where they came from.

For this reason, the stories of the constellations came about and became engraved as a portion of our culture lasting throughout the ages. The twinkling and mysterious objects above us needed an explanation and a way to better relate them to our everyday lives. These stories were part of a number of societies in early times, ranging all the way from the Aztec’s llama in the dark and dusty parts of the Milky Way seen in the Southern Hemisphere to the Greeks who saw Orion which is still one of the widest known constellations today. (The first picture below is one I took at the Mamalluca Public Observatory during new moon outside of Vicuña, Chile. If you look carefully you can see the dark constellation of the Llama. There is the llama’s “eye” at the top right in a dark patch. Then you can follow its neck down into its body and below that are the legs)

There are many different versions of the story of Orion so I highly recommend you investigate it for yourself. My favorite version is an oral tale that was told to me about the great love between Orion and the goddess Artemis. It all began with the goddess-huntress, Artemis, when she fell in love with her most trusted companion, the hunter Orion. However, Artemis was supposed to be the wild huntress untouched by man. For this reason, as she grew closer and closer to Orion Apollo took over as the protective big brother. He created the giant scorpion, Scorpius, and set it on Orion. No matter what Orion tried he could not kill the creature and in a last attempt to save his life he dove into the sea and tried to escape the monster. It followed him into the ocean and Apollo took the opportunity to question Artemis’ prowess with a bow. He challenged her by saying that he did not believe she could hit the tiny speck far below the Mount Olympus. As any sister would do when challenged by her older brother, she stood up for herself, shot perfectly, and killed her first and only love. For this reason she placed him in the sky, but as a reminder, Apollo also place Scorpius behind Orion to forever chase him as a warning to others that dared to infringe upon Artemis’ purity.

The constellation Orion has remained one of the most widely known constellations and his story has been passed on throughout time in many different forms. It has become a part of our culture and continues to be recognized by many people no matter the Astronomy background they may have.

(The picture below is one I took during full moon, this time at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, to the left top is an upside down Orion, due to the fact that I am in the Southern Hemisphere)

After many years and scientific advances these constellations have become more than just stories in the sky. They have transformed into helpful locaters and have become scientifically important.Since Orion is such an easy constellation to pick out it has made this transformation from more than just an interesting story into a pointer and identification piece for nearly every person that has admired the night sky. This constellation should be especially important to you because the GLOBE at Night program focuses its study around this constellation.

On March 3rd – 16th you will be given the opportunity to join the scientific application of this constellation by finding this handsome constellation and determining which magnitude chart fits your night sky. See this website for more detailed information about how to do all of this:

The main idea is that there are 8 comparisons you can look at to determine which picture matches your sky. Here is one of these from the website

If you see a sky that is similar to this picture (the magnitude 7 chart) then it means that the faintest stars you can see at your location are of magnitude 7. It ends up being rather simple and all you have to do is enjoy the night sky, and compare what you are seeing with the supplied charts of the mighty hunter Orion.

So, remember when the time comes that the stars you are admiring and fighting for have had a magical transformation from early times into modern day. Yet, their stories and what might even be considered “personalities” have remained intact and been carried throughout the ages. Now is your opportunity to help with their transformation into more than just beautiful stories, and give them the ability to fight for their right to continue to shine down on us.

Another picture I took. This time from the top of Cerro Pachon at CTIO. This is the rising of the Galactic center, a bit of the Zodiacal lights, and just the tiniest hint of the rising sun.


2 02 2010