Launchpad 2013 Review

The class of 2013 from left to right: Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Claudine Griggs, Douglas Dechow, Jay O'Connel, Jennifer Marie Brissett, Brenda Clough, Jamie Todd Rubin, Liz Argall, Andy Romine, Caren Gussoff, Chaz Brenchley, Jeri Smith-Ready, Anna Leahy, Doug Farren. Kneeling in front: Andria Schwortz, Me, Mike Brotherton
The class of 2013 from left to right: Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, Claudine Griggs, Douglas Dechow, Jay O’Connel, Jennifer Marie Brissett, Brenda Clough, Jamie Todd Rubin, Liz Argall, Andy Romine, Caren Gussoff, Chaz Brenchley, Jeri Smith-Ready, Anna Leahy, Doug Farren. Kneeling in front: Andria Schwortz, Me, Mike Brotherton

Over the weekend, we said goodbye to 14 newfound friends from the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop for Writers. It was a long, fun, and challenging week but by far the hardest challenge was realizing that had come to an end. Here’s why:

Launchpad is essentially astronomy 101 crammed into a one-week crash-course tailored for science fiction & fantasy writers, editors, filmmakers, and other creative professionals. It’s held on the campus of the University of Wyoming where my friend Mike Brotherton is an Associate Professor of Astronomy. Last year, he invited me to be a guest instructor and as much as I enjoyed myself then, I had a much better experience this second time around for several reasons.

For one thing, I had a much better idea of what to expect this year, and was able to prepare my lectures accordingly. Mike had me teach the same topics as last year, plus asked me to teach some new topics, including binary stars and exoplanets. In fact, I have a post on my slides from launchpad you can peruse, though it may not make as much sense without me explaining them. In any case, the great preparation and coordination with Mike and fellow instructor Andria Schwortz meant that I wasn’t staying up as late preparing for my talk the next day. I did, of course, stay up just as late talking with Mike about all sorts of nonsense.

As much as I enjoyed giving and watching the lectures, getting the attendees out of the classroom and into the lab was even better. Attendees got to try their hand at identifying elements from their spectra, detecting exoplanets from Kepler data, and processing Hubble images.

Chaz Brenchley having a go at identifying elements from their emission spectra
Chaz Brenchley having a go at identifying elements from their emission spectra

Even better, we were able to get up to the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) on Jelm mountain on Wednesday night. It’s always a treat to come face-to-face with a 2.3-meter telescope. Even better, the students were taking spectra of a binary star system, which is a topic that is always near and dear to my heart 🙂

The 2.3-meter Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) telescope atop Jelm Mountain.
The 2.3-meter Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO) telescope atop Jelm Mountain.

As much fun as it was, it was a lot of hard work so taking a break with a hike in Vedauwoo national park was a nice change of pace, even if 1/3 of our group fell at some point.

A view of our hike in Vedauwoo National Park.
A view of our hike in Vedauwoo National Park.

But my favorite part of this year’s Launchpad was that my wife joined me this time. Jeri is a pretty good writer in her own right and it was great being in an environment where she could talk shop with fellow writers as well as geek out on astronomy. As much as she already knew about astronomy, this was her best exposure to it yet. Besides, we like being together:

As much fun as it was, it was a lot of work, especially for us instructors. And yet, we’re already thinking about next year!

For others’ perspectives on this year’s launchpad, check out my listing of everyone’s blog posts and recaps. And once again, a huge thank-you to our funders this year, without whom, none of this would have happened!

Geek Girls Have Nothing to Prove

It always astonished me that there are such things as snobbery and sexism in geekdom. I mean, aren’t we the ones who were picked on as kids, and yearned for a world in which everyone was accepted for who they are? I suppose that for all of us in that camp, the former was in everyone’s priority list but the latter escaped the views of some.

Apparently, it’s become enough of a problem, particularly for women, that there needs to be a public service message about it, and the Doubleclicks have gone and done just that, with a little help from amazing people everywhere:

Sorry, I think I had something in my eye there…where was I? Seriously, geek girls (and all self- or society-proclaimed geeks) have nothing to prove to anyone, especially their fellow geeks.

So if you’re not sure how geek girls should be treated, here’s my suggestion:

Treat them how you would like to be treated. Unless you want to be treated as an object, in which case just treat them like human beings.
Treat them how you would like to be treated. Unless you want to be treated as an object, in which case just treat them like human beings.

Tip of the felt-tip marker to Liz Argall for showing me this. And for being a badass geek.

Liveblogging Launch Pad

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop

One of the great things about having an astronomy workshop for writers is that they tend to write about the workshop as it’s going on. That’s a good thing for me because as an instructor, the near-real-time feedback on our lessons is invaluable.

The downside to being an instructor is that there is no time to blog, myself. So, while I shall endeavor to offer my thoughts on a later date, I’ll share the posts from the attendees here and keep updating throughout the week (in theory):

Arrival

Sunday, July 14 2013

Brenda Clough – Liveblogging Launch Pad

The Workshop

Monday, July 15 2013

Liz Argall – Monday, day one of Launch Pad (Liz also has a running comic she’s making during the workshop as well)

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks – Launch Pad workshop: Day 1

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 2

Jamie Todd Rubin – Launchpad Day 1: Space is Big… And So Are Robots

Tuesday, July 16 2013

Liz Argall – Day 2 at Launch Pad, part one. All kinds of light and a little angular momentum

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks – Launch Pad workshop: Day 2

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 3

Jamie Todd Rubin – Launchpad Day 2: Sex In Space and Other Interesting Scientific Tidbits

Wednesday, July 17 2013

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad (second post)

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks – Launch Pad workshop: Day 3

Brenda Clough – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 4

Anna Leahy & Doug Dechow – Launch Pad: Astronomy for Writers

Jamie Todd Rubin – Launchpad Day 3: At the Top of the World

Thursday, July 18 2013

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks – Launch Pad workshop: Day 4

Brenda Clough – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 5

Friday, July 19 2013

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 6

Saturday, July 20 2013

Chaz Brenchley – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks – Launch Pad workshop: Day 5

Brenda Clough – Liveblogging Launch Pad

Jamie Todd Rubin – Launch Pad Days 4 and 5 (Catching Up)

Departure / Post Workshop

Sunday, July 21 2013

Doug Farren – Launchpad 13 Day 7 & 8

Monday, July 22 2013

Andrew Penn Romie – Launch Pad 2013: Space is Big. Really Big.

Liz Argall – Launch Pad Video Blog burbling summary

Jamie Todd Rubin – Launch Pad Days 6 and 7

Tuesday, July 23 2013

Jamie Todd Rubin – Going Paperless: The Paperless Classroom: A Case Study at Launch Pad

Jamie todd Rubin – The Amazing Friends I Made at Launch Pad

Wednesday, July 23 2013

Caren Gussoff – Not to scale

Thursday, July 24 2013

Anna Leahy & Doug Dechow – Launch Pad: Facts about the Moon

Wednesday, July 31 2013

Anna Leahy & Doug Dechow – Launch Pad: The people

Stardust: Voyager’s witness

Screen Shot from Stardust by Mischa Rozema
Screen shot from Stardust from PostPanic director Mischa Rozema.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (sorry about that, much has been going on in the last month but still), but I would be more than a little remiss if I didn’t share this amazing video:

This is Stardust from PostPanic director Mischa Rozema. It depicts Voyager 1, currently on its way out of our Solar System, “looking back” billions of years from now at our Sun as it becomes Giant, engulfing Earth, and dissipating as a Planetary Nebula. Earth and the Sun are returned to the Cosmos as stardust, while Voyager 1 carries with it a final message from the people of Earth: We were here.

Of course, the video has some inaccuracies takes some artistic license. The timeframe of the Sun’s demise will take place over a much longer time period than depicted in the film (as in millions of years longer). The Sun won’t become a planetary nebula until long after it has engulfed the inner planets and will span up to several light years across at the time. And Voyager 1 itself will have long stopped transmitting back to Earth, its Plutonium-238 power source having long since depleted by then.

But that’s ok, because that’s not the point of the film. Instead, it’s an artistic reminder that no matter how short our time here on Earth is, our real destiny is to return to the universe as the stardust that we are and to seed the next generation of stars.

When that time comes, Voyager 1 and the other probes will be out there, carrying a message for that next generation: We were here.

Terra Lumina

One of the things I love about science is that it gives us insight into what would otherwise be a mysterious and confusing world to live in. True, there are things that we still don’t quite yet fully understand, but what we have learned in just a cosmic blink of an eye is truly astonishing.

But sometimes communicating science to the public is, ironically, a challenge for those who practice it. Thankfully, we have some incredible artists and science communicators who pick up the slack, and in so doing, not only excite the public, but those of us who already “know” science as well. The latest example:

Album artwork for Terra Lumina – Image credit: MelodySheep

Terra Lumina is a project by John D. Boswell and William Crowley, aka MelodySheep, the same artists who brought us the amazing Symphony of Science series. Unlike Symphony of Science, Terra Lumina is a collection of original music. Despite the lack of auto-tuned scientists, the music conveys the awe and beauty of the natural world. It’s a different vibe from some of the Symphony of Science work, and that’s entirely appropriate as there is more than one way to sing the universe’s praises.

If you want to get a taste, head over to the Terra Lumina website, or check out this really cool preview video:

Suffice to say, this just made my Wish List for this Christmas 🙂