Astronomical Sketching – Education in action
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Moon sketches

Three early lunar sketches - Pencil on white 110 gsm Cartridge paper - Deirdre Kelleghan Ireland. Click into the image to see details.

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it 'creative observation.' Creative viewing.”  - William S Burroughs

I like this quote from Burroughs, it is a fit in many ways for the not widely practiced activity of astronomical sketching. Not that the objects concerned do not exist, but that rather they are perhaps unknown to or go unnoticed by many people . Lots and lots of people in the world go about their lives without noticing detail. Only by being still and observing do we gather appreciation for the planet that surrounds us and our place in the universe.

Drawing something like the moon is a progressive journey of learning by observing and recording features as best one can. Creativity may play a part in the choice of materials used to produce a drawing or the way in which those materials are used. For me observing and the drawing that results has to strive to be accurate and totally honest. Sometimes I see things while observing that my head thinks are really odd or out-of-place. Drawing these noticeable features exactly as I see them is foremost, therefore the more odd or surreal the view the more I am keen to capture it on paper. Any change in a comets coma or a crater shadow interests me. A twisting filament or leaping prominence brings full attention. Being observant in this way has many benefits when drawing objects such as comets over time. Comets can be very challenging but they are always great teachers if you find one and follow its path across the night sky.

When you make an effort to be accurate in drawing your chances of learning something increases greatly . However if you say to yourself "I am no good at drawing " that is an excuse to not to try. Whatever drawing you produce is your effort, for your learning journey. It matters not if your drawing is good or bad, the learning occurs in the action of trying. It occurs in the action of pulling your telescope view through the tube onto the page in your hand.

Imagine going through life without ever noticing the features on the moon, or even being aware of the fact that our sun is a star. Space is always "out there" for most people, when in fact we live in space every day of or lives. During public outreach moon viewings I have often noticed that most people cannot point to the moon and name even one feature.

What if moon knowledge was part of the school curriculum? Just the basics, like the names of the near side maria and the recognition of lunar phases. Most seven-year olds I meet can name at least six species of dinosaur in Latin ergo they should have no problem remembering Mare Tranquillitatis (Latin for the Sea of Tranquillity) or Mare Crisium (The Sea of Crisis) Considering that the Moon is with us for all of our lives, it is so integrated into our Earths and therefore our existence. It should follow therefore that lunar education is built into the primary school curriculum globally.

When I was in primary school not a day went by without drawing time. We had little black paper copies with tissue in-between the pages to protect our chalk drawings. When I was in second level almost every subject involved drawing. In biology class we drew the heart, the lungs ,amoeba ,meristematic regions et cetera . During geography we drew the meandering life of rivers, learnt about glaciers, corrie lakes and volcanoes through drawing. In Physics and Chemistry we drew our experiments. We notated every drawing , it was visual learning in action and I remember every nuance many decades later. In today's school classroom  drawing is not as important, it is however a very useful tool for education and lifelong learning.

My very first telescope was given to me at Christmas 1969 just months after the very influential  moon landing. It was a small 50mm scope on a plastic tripod . I observed the moon, Jupiter and M42 with it but never drew anything. Next many years later came another 50mm on a wooden tripod, it had a longer focal length and more eyepieces. Still not drawing but enjoyed comets and the increased detail it afforded me.

The first drawings I ever did of the moon were through a small EXT 70 mm telescope. It had the advantage of lunar tracking which kept the target in the objective for the duration of the sketch . First I would sketch the moon then later I notated it to learn details new to me and important for future drawings. I used the free software Virtual Moon Atlas which is really comprehensive and extremely versatile to identify features. The drawings above are 95 mm in diameter sketched like all my work through the lens at the time.

From the Cabinet of Physics: A Vocabulary in Iron
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A family of fascinating mechanisms appears in today's double-barreled video from the Cabinet of Physics. Each illustrates a clever method of transforming rotational motion in direction or speed.

Some students of Tuscany would become technicians who operated, maintained, and repaired the machinery of the Industrial Age. Others would become engineers who might design factory equipment, steamships, drawbridges, or locomotives. They observed these "kinematic models" to become familiar with the many mechanisms—some common, some exotic—in use within contemporary machines. In a sense, they were learning a kind of iron vocabulary. A designer could reach into this collection of ingenious mechanisms for a solution to a problem. Or, having studied such a great variety of mechanisms, an inventor might have the insight necessary to devise a new one, adding a new "word" to the language of machinery.

In the first video, my favorite is the pair of quadrilateral gears appearing at 1 minute 22 seconds. A square gear! And a cloverleaf!

A student of astronomy, viewing the elliptical gears at 1 minute 4 seconds, may be reminded of the planetary orbits Johannes Kepler described, moving around the Sun slowly, then quickly, then slowly, then quickly again, in a mesmerizing fashion.

In the second video, I particularly admire the mangle wheel seen at 1 minute 55 seconds. It's an ingenious way to reverse the direction of a wheel on each cycle.

I have remarked before that we often see curators in these Fondazione demonstrations turning handles. Today is another abundant example. The Cabinet of Physics seems to contain more cranks than a convention of the Flat Earth Society…

The Foundation for Science and Technics, or Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica, of Florence, Italy, has made available many videos exploring the Cabinet of Physics, a large collection of antique scientific demonstration instruments.  The Foundation's homepage may be found here, and its Youtube channel, florencefst, here.

Jupiter Looms as Juno Approaches July 4th Arrival
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Juno's view of Jupiter on June 30, 2016. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

Juno's view of Jupiter on June 30, 2016. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

The Juno spacecraft has been in the gravitational embrace of the planet Jupiter for a month now, and is quickly approaching the moment it will ignite its thrusters, and enter into orbit over Jupiter's poles.

Juno beginning breaking burn to go into Jupiter orbit on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

Juno beginning breaking burn to go into Jupiter orbit on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley

Juno may have some very interesting things to see, if aurorae spied by the Hubble Space Telescope in recent weeks continue to swirl around Jupiter's north pole.

Released on June 30, 2016, this image shows aurora on Jupiter;s north poles taken in far-ultraviolet. Images were taken on April 21, 2014, May 19, 2016 and June 2, 2016. Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Released on June 30, 2016, this image shows aurora on Jupiter;s north poles taken in far-ultraviolet. Images were taken on April 21, 2014, May 19, 2016 and June 2, 2016. Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Follow Juno on July 4 -- Orbit Insertion Day:
Noon EDT -- Pre-orbit insertion briefing at JPL
10:30 p.m. EDT -- Orbit insertion and NASA TV commentary begin
1:00 a.m. EDT on July 5 -- Post-orbit insertion briefing at JPL

Watch all of these events online, at:
http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv
http://www.ustream.tv/nasa
http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2

Learn more about the Juno: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno

Across the Universe: Teaching new stars
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2012

It would be hard to credit a philosopher who had never read Plato, or an expert in literature who was unfamiliar with Sappho or Homer. Every mathematician has learned Euclid’s geometry at some time (usually very early) in their studies; every artist has, at some point, encountered Praxiteles. Yet a science course that spent a significant chunk of its curriculum on Aristotle’s physics would raise eyebrows, to say the least.

Jettisoning the wisdom of antiquity is a characteristic trait that differentiates science from other fields. (And of course it’s one obvious illustration of how Scripture is never a science text.) But if everything we learn from astronomy will inevitably be superseded by later work, then why do we even bother learning the current stuff?

Fr. Angelo Secchi SJ was the first person to classify stars by their spectra... a novel idea scorned by many of his contemporaries. This plate is from his c.1870 book.

Fr. Angelo Secchi SJ was the first person to classify stars by their spectra... a novel idea scorned by many of his contemporaries. This plate is from his 1877 book on stars.

I’ve had students ask me that; and I was wondering it myself, attending the biennial Vatican Observatory Summer School being held in 2012 at our headquarters in Castel Gandolfo... along with 25 university students from 23 nations, Asia to the Americas. We hold these schools roughly every two years (that was our 13th) to give young astronomers an in-depth exploration of some particularly important aspect of modern astrophysics. Its topic was the science of stellar clusters, with an international faculty under the direction of Douglas Heggie of the University of Edinburgh. The schools eventually produce the next generation of brilliant astronomers; two alumni, Nate Bastian and Mark Gieles, were instructors at this one.

Clusters in gas clouds are the birthplaces of new stars. (But not all stars are born in clusters, I have learned.) The cluster stars spread into the galaxy when the gas clouds dissipate. (But new numerical models show it’s not quite that simple.)

While these lectures were convincing me that everything I thought I knew about stellar clusters was woefully naive, perhaps the most jolting lesson came from a guest lecture by Ileana Chinnici, a historian of astronomy at Palermo Observatory. Speaking on Angelo Secchi, a nineteenth century Jesuit priest who pioneered stellar spectroscopy, she put his work in the context of his contemporary astronomers who were skeptical of the very motivations behind his new-fangled “astrophysics”.

To them, astronomy meant measuring star positions, not futile attempts to determine the actual physics operating on those stars themselves. “Astronomy determines the motion of heavenly bodies… everything else is not properly of astronomical interest,” wrote Friedrich Bessel in 1832. A generation later, Otto von Struve intoned, “Astrophysical investigations are far from the standard of scientific accuracy… God forbid that astronomy should be carried away by this fascination with novelty!”

Yet we now know that this dichotomy is false. Bessel’s math and Struve’s observations let us calculate not just how the stars move but the masses that control their motions. Combined with using star colors (Secchi’s spectroscopy) to determine the chemistry of those stars, today we can model how those cluster of stars formed and evolved in time. Globular clusters, for example, date from the origins of the universe and let us trace how things have changed since the Big Bang – a way of thinking about space and time that would have boggled Struve and Bessel – and Secchi, for that matter. The irony is that so many great astronomers of the 19th century were afraid of this novelty. But such novelty is the lifeblood of science.

It’s not that their old science was wrong; but it was incomplete. And we wind up using new terminology and new tools to express what Bessel (and indeed Aristotle) were trying to say. In the process, we can discover elements of their work that they themselves didn’t realize, and couldn’t have in their time. That’s no different from reading Sappho with modern feminist sensibilities, or studying Plato in light of how his ideas shaped 2000 years of subsequent thought.

This month we just completed our 15th summer school...

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Some elements are more equal than others
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We know that stars are the factories that gave the universe the elements of the periodic table. Well, this is not entirely true, but nearly so.

In fact, nearly 13 billion years ago our very hot universe was already cooling down enough to allow electrons to recombine onto protons to make the first hydrogen atoms. These elements are said to have an atomic number of one. In addition to this element which wins the prize for being the first recognizable element in the universe, also helium atoms with an atomic number of two, and trace amounts of lithium and beryllium recombine from the cooling gas.

The first stars in the universe were made mostly of hydrogen, similar to all stars today. The first stars were also responsible for creating elements other than beryllium, same as all stars today.

These element-making factories require extremely high temperatures and pressures in excess of 100 million degrees which can only be found deep in the core of a star. On the topic of making a multitude of elements, the bigger the star the better. In the ideal example of a star much more massive than the Sun, the other elements are made by the combining of two or more helium nuclei. Each time a new helium nucleus grabs another helium nucleus, the atomic number increases by two.

In this way, elements with even numbered atomic numbers like carbon, oxygen, and silicon are expected to be more common today than elements with odd numbered atomic numbers. This theoretical expectation can be tested by measuring the relative amounts of the chemical elements in the Sun and other nearby stars. When observational astronomers go out and make such tests, their findings agree with this expectation.

Although indirect, this agreement is interesting because it is the only way we have to test our knowledge of the activities that take place in 100 million degree environments!

NASA Tests Solid Rocket Boosters for its Space Launch System
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NASA tested a Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) for the world's most powerful rocket: the Space Launch System (SLS) on the morning of June 28, 2016. This was the second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK's test facilities in Promontory, Utah, and the last full-scale test of the SRB before the first uncrewed SLS test flight in 2018. This flight will include NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and will mark a key milestone in NASA's future plans for operations beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and voyages and Mars

The booster was tested at 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the low end of its accepted propellant temperature range. After ignition, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The test lasted for two-minutes, and provided NASA with data on 82 qualification objectives needed for flight certification.

Space Launch System's Solid Rocket Booster

Space Launch System Solid Rocket Booster. Credit: NASA

Space Launch System compared to the Space Shuttle, and Saturn V. Credit: NASA (Edited by Bob Trembley)

Space Launch System compared to the Space Shuttle, and Saturn V. Credit: NASA (Edited by Bob Trembley)

Solid Rocket Booster Details
Length: 177 feet
Diameter: 12 feet
Weight: 1.6 million pounds each
Propellant: polybutadiene acrylonitrile (PBAN)
Thrust: 3.6 million pounds each
Operational time: 126 seconds
Rendering of the Orion Spacecraft by Mac Rebisz

Rendering of the Orion Spacecraft by Mac Rebisz

The second and final qualification motor (QM-2) test for the Space Launch System’s booster is seen, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems test facilities in Promontory, Utah. During the Space Launch System flight the boosters will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth, the first step on NASA’s Journey to Mars. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The second and final qualification motor (QM-2) test for the Space Launch System’s booster is seen, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems test facilities in Promontory, Utah. During the Space Launch System flight the boosters will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth, the first step on NASA’s Journey to Mars. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SLS Homepage: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html
Orion Spacecraft Homepage: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/orion/index.html

It’s a Round, Round World
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Earlier this year, Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on Comedy Central to respond to rapper B.o.B, who had just claimed that the Earth is flat. Here is the text of Tyson’s monologue, addressed to B.o.B:

The Earth looks flat because (1) you’re not far enough away, at your size (2) your size isn’t large enough, relative to Earth, to notice any curvature at all. It’s a fundamental fact of calculus and non-Euclidean geometry: small sections of large curved surfaces will always look flat to little creatures that crawl upon it.

But this whole thing is just a symptom of a larger problem. There’s a growing anti-intellectual strain in this country that may be the beginning of the end of our informed democracy. Of course, in a free society, you can and should think whatever you want. If you want to think the world is flat, go right ahead. But if you think the world is flat, and you have influence over others—as would successful rappers, or even presidential candidates—then being wrong becomes being harmful to the health, the wealth and the security of our citizenry.

Discovery and exploration got us out of the caves, and each generation benefits from what previous generations have learned. Isaac Newton, my man, said, “If I have seen farther than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.” So that’s right, B.o.B, when you stand on the shoulders of those who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the Earth isn’t [expletive deleted] flat.

This was covered by many media outlets, including Fox, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Politifact, NPR, The New York Times, Space.com, The LA Times, and The Daily Mail. B.o.B remained unconvinced. His response to Tyson was, among other things, that “they” would write Tyson a fat check for his part in The Conspiracy to Hide Earth’s Flatness.

B.o.B and Neil deGrasse Tyson

B.o.B and Neil deGrasse Tyson

And should B.o.B have been convinced?* Tyson’s words to B.o.B were, Earth is big, you are small, and so you can’t tell that Earth is curved; but if you stand on the shoulders of those who came before—if you know science, in other words—you can see far enough to realize the Earth is not flat. The L.A. Times wrote, “Usually, when a prominent scientist steps forward to set the record straight, that’s the end of the conversation.” But that should not be the end of the conversation. Science is not about prominent figures stepping forward to set the record straight. Tyson did not provide B.o.B with a reason to believe the Earth is round, but rather stated why a round Earth looks flat.

But Tyson could have, and should have, stated the reasons Earth looks, in fact, obviously round. That growing anti-intellectual strain Tyson mentioned—science denial, science rejection, the war on science—is a real problem. It is worth the time of all of us in the scientific community to address it through reason, so that it can’t be answered by “‘they’ wrote you a check”.

GrandForks-Victoria-DistanceSo how could Tyson have demonstrated the obvious roundness of Earth to B.o.B, using reason, observation, and measurement? Like this:

B.o.B, let’s make a little cross-country trip—from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Victoria, Texas. Victoria lies due south of Grand Forks. So that you don’t have to take the word of me or of any scientist, let’s make this trip by bicycle. That’s because we are going to need to measure the distance from Grand Forks to Victoria. And so you don’t have to accept anything on my authority, you can outfit your bike with a precision odometer you personally calibrated to ensure that it measures distance correctly. We will follow the most direct route, even taking walking paths if need be. We will discount the mileage of any side trips. This trip will take us a month, but when we get done, unless Google is way off, your odometer is going to tell you that the distance from Grand Forks to Victoria is about 1400 miles.

But before we leave Grand Forks, we will do two things. First, we will observe where the star Sirius is when it is due south in the sky. And unless the Stellarium planetarium software is way off, we are going to find that Sirius is about 26 degrees above the southern horizon, as seen from Grand Forks. Second, we will observe the sun setting in Grand Forks.

Flat-GrandForks

Above, position of Sirius when due south in the sky as seen from Grand Forks. Below, the sunset as seen from Grand Forks. All images produced using Stellarium.

When we get to Victoria, we will do the same two things: observe where Sirius is when due south in the sky (unless Stellarium is way off, we are going to find that Sirius is about 44 degrees above the southern horizon, as seen from Victoria); observe the sun setting in Victoria.

Above, position of Sirius when due south in the sky as seen from Victoria. Below, the sunset as seen from Victoria. Images produced using Stellarium. For purposes of comparison, the same western horizon has been used for both Grand Forks and Victoria.

Above, position of Sirius when due south in the sky as seen from Victoria. Below, the sunset as seen from Victoria. Images produced using Stellarium. For purposes of comparison, the same western horizon has been used for both Grand Forks and Victoria.

V-composite

Now let’s see what all this would mean were the world flat. We won’t use any calculus or fancy geometry—we’ll just use a ruler and a protractor and make a careful scale drawing, where 1 centimeter = 100 miles. Like this:

flatearth-sirius-bright2There you have a flat Earth, with 1400 miles (14 cm) between Grand Forks and Victoria, and with Sirius at a 26 degree angle as seen from Grand Forks and at a 44 degree angle from Victoria. Look where that puts Sirius—19 cm, or 1900 miles, above and south of Victoria. So is that star less than 2000 miles away? Is it much closer to Victoria than New York is to L.A? Could we knock Sirius out of the sky with a modest ICBM?

Moreover, take a close look at the sky from Victoria. See how, not only is Sirius higher, but there is another bright star visible—Canopus. Canopus is 8 degrees above the horizon as seen from Victoria.

Flat-Victoria-Canopus

Well, if Canopus is about as far from Victoria as is Sirius, then it must be about 5 degrees above the horizon as seen from Grand Forks. But in fact Canopus is not visible at all from Grand Forks. But if Earth is flat, Canopus must be 5 degrees above the horizon there. Not to mention that Canopus must only be about 250 miles above the ground down in Mexico—and, being so close overhead, it should look pretty bright there. Take a flight to Mexico and see. Or just ask anyone you know from Mexico if they have a second sun down there.

Earth is obviously round. That’s why you can’t see Canopus in Grand Forks—because the curvature of Earth’s surface gets in the way. That is why the angle at which the sun sets is shallower in Grand Forks than in Victoria—because you travelled around the curvature of Earth as you went south. Were the Earth flat the sun would set at the same angle in both places. (Go further south to the equator and the sun sets straight down into the horizon—go north to Alaska and the sun almost skims the horizon).

Not only is Earth obviously round, but you can calculate its size from your measurements. Grand Forks to Victoria is 1400 miles, and Sirius changes height by 44-26=18 degrees. A full circle around the Earth would be 360 degrees, so Grand Forks to Victoria is (18/360)=(1/20). Thus 1400 miles is a twentieth the distance around the Earth. So the distance around the Earth is 20x1400=28,000 miles. That’s a little high (25,000 miles is the accepted figure) but definitely in the ball park, and not at all bad for measuring the roundness of the Earth entirely yourself, with no reliance on any scientific authority.

Then Tyson could ask B.o.B (who certainly has the money to travel around and see much of this for himself) to either walk the talk or stop the talk—no space here for claims about getting checks from “them.”

The fact is, the Earth is obviously and undeniably round. And, free society or not, you should not think whatever you want. If you think you have a billion dollars in the bank, you are in error. You should not think that. And if you think that the Earth is flat, you are in error. If you go right ahead and think that you have a billion-dollar bank account or that the world is flat, then free society or not, things will not go well for you—for in areas where mathematical reasoning rules, like finance or science, error gets you in trouble. Some ideas are right, some are wrong, and while not every idea in science is clearly right or wrong, the idea that the Earth is flat is one that is obviously and absolutely wrong. B.o.B need not take Tyson’s word for it, nor anyone else’s. He can measure, observe, and reason it out for himself. That’s what science is about.


*Tyson is a great representative of science. But, star quarterbacks have to put up with armchair quarterbacks second-guessing them, and so it is here.

Reading Creation: Exploring The Book of Nature and The Book of Scripture (Part One)
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Reading Creation In the coming weeks, we will explore a theme that goes back to St. Augustine, is referenced by Galileo and Kepler, and has been a theological interest of St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis: The relationship between the book of nature and the Book of Scripture.  The importance of these “books” is that they communicate God’s Word to us and our exploration of these books help us come to know the Divine Author through creation. To begin this exploration, we can ask a simple, yet very deep question: How did these two “books” come into existence?  To use the metaphor of books in a library, we know that the written word doesn’t just magically appear.  Rather, there is a first thought, an idea that so moves the heart of the author that it is expressed verbally and then is put to paper.  In other words, in order to have a book, we must first … Continue reading

Asteroid Day 2016
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June 30th – the date of the historic Tunguska Impact Event of 1908. Dr. Carl Sagan introduced me to Tunguska in his 1980’s COSMOS series. I’ve done the same for quite a few members of the public, and students over the years. June 30th is also the date of this year’s second annual worldwide Asteroid Day. In 2013, a relatively small asteroid exploded over a densely populated city in Russia – blowing out windows, damaging buildings, and injuring almost two thousand people. A group was organized – their goal was simple: to make every human on earth aware of asteroids, to urge world governments and space agencies to ramp-up asteroid detection programs, and begin creation of planetary defense and impact mitigation programs. This group crafted a declaration, and got a significant number of very well-known individuals to sign-on: As scientists and citizens, we strive to solve humanity’s greatest challenges to safeguard our families and quality of life on Earth in … Continue reading

From the Cabinet of Physics: Sharing a Flea Together
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We recently saw the projector based on the Duboscq arc lamp. Today’s video introduces a nifty optical attachment: a microscope. Intense light from the projector passes through a slide containing a prepared specimen. A system of lenses focuses a magnified image of the specimen upon a screen. Using a microscope is ordinarily a solitary activity. Only one person sees what’s on the slide. This device allows a teacher and students, in a darkened room, to examine specimens together. Not only is this valuable in teaching about the specimens on the slides, but it can also be helpful in training students how to see when they later use conventional microscopes. In 1665, during the early days of microscopes, the English scientist Robert Hooke prepared an elaborate book of drawings, Micrographia, that would introduce readers to the newly-visible world of the very small. The showpiece of the book was Hooke’s masterful drawing of a flea. In the centuries since, in textbooks, Hooke’s … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clerical Work
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This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2011 The typical scientist spends more time in front of a keyboard, writing, than in a lab or a telescope dome. That’s certainly true in my case. This past month has seen me busy with many different sorts of paperwork. One task this month was serving as a referee for one of the journals in my field. When scientists want to publish a new idea or set of data, they write up an article in a quite rigid format, designed not to let the greatest number of people understand it, but rather such that the fewest possible might misunderstand it. They send it to the journal where they think it should be published; its editor then chooses other scientists in the field to referee the article, grading it with lots of red ink. This is all done anonymously, though the referees’ identities can often be deduced from their comments (“You neglected … Continue reading

Marvellous Mars Drawing Workshop at Dunsink Observatory Dublin
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  Earlier this year I designed a drawing workshop to highlight the many missions engaged with exploring Mars. I wanted children to experience the planet through the beautiful and extraordinary images taken by robotic explorers both on the surface and in orbit around the planet. The purpose of the workshop is to inspire children to see themselves as viable future explorers of our solar system via the many career choices and pathways available. The workshop uses drawing as an educational tool,a kinesthetic activity to embed new knowledge in a fun way. The venue on this occasion was Dunsink Observatory Dublin, one of my much-loved places. Established in 1785 the building has the comfort feeling of a favourite chair. The observatory has a relaxed atmosphere while at the same time it is saturated with a rich historical past. Hamiltons ghost is said to wander within,perhaps he is in another dimension in wonder at how his quaternions have affected space exploration. Boys … Continue reading