Girls Speak Out on Physics Education

Do you think there are as many women astronomers as there are men? Did anyone out there in blog-reading-land answer yes? I doubt it. At least in the United States and Great Britain it's no secret that there are more men than women employed in science, technology, engineering and math-related (STEM) fields. Why? Well, that's a good question and many explanations have been advanced.

Recently, I watched an outstanding video on titled KS3/4 Science – Physics – Girls Speak Out. This video features a visit by three women to the Haydon School in London. Their goal was to determine why so few girls choose to study physics. They wanted to know what girls themselves have to say on this important topic. As I expected, there were multiple explanations:
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Narrowband Imaging – Interview with Neil Fleming

Neil FlemmingMy recent blog posts have focused on citizen scientists and the opportunities available to citizen science wannabees. While I love this topic, it seems like a good time to return to another favorite subject – astro imaging. I am very pleased and excited to share with you an email interview I just did with Neil Fleming.

Neil Fleming (image at left) is a wonderful astrophotographer as well as a very nice person. Neil has presented at the Midwest Astro Imaging Conference (MWAIC), the Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC) and the NorthEast Astro Imaging Conference (NEAIC). His images have been shown in Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines and on the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) web site. Neil's web site is Fleming Astrophotography.

Included below is my email interview with Neil (images supplied by Neil):

1. You currently specialize in narrowband imaging. What advantages does narrowband imaging have for a person living near a large light polluted city like yourself (Boston)?
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Three Great Science-Oriented Web Sites

Webb Telescope Screen ShotI like to draw attention to quality web sites and today I have three that I'd like to share. The first is a site from NASA that provides an interactive 3D tour of the Webb Space Telescope. The site is organized into three sections: optics, instruments and systems. Each section is divided into subsections. As you click on a particular component of the telescope a graphic representation shows you where the item is located and a text box displays an in-depth description. One of the graphics I like best shows the primary mirror size in comparison to the Hubble primary mirror and a human being. This site is very well done and you could easily spend a lot of time learning about the various components of the Webb Space Telescope. Links at the bottom of the page take you to additional excellent NASA Webb Space Telescope web sites.

Space Place Screen ShotThe second site on my list is also from NASA. It's a web site designed specifically for children. It is called Space Place. The site has "games, animations, projects, and fun facts about Earth, space and technology". Any child – and a lot of adults – would have a great time on this site. There is an electronic coloring book that uses "crayons" controlled with the mouse or you can print individual pictures that can be colored the old fashioned way with real crayons. There are more than 30 different games and about 10 animations and a long list of amazing facts. There is even a Teacher's corner with classroom activity suggestions and a poster download section. If you have children or work with children you should definitely check out this web site.

Astrobites Screen ShotMy third recommendation is a relatively new site called Astrobites. Astrobites was created by graduate students for undergraduates. This is a great web site if you are interested in astronomy and astrophysics. The primary goal of Astrobites is to present one paper per day from astro-ph which is the astrophysics section of (an e-print service where researchers post their current work). However, other posts have fallen into the career navigation, personal experiences or quick notes categories. I really like this web site a lot. The participating graduate students are all very good writers and very adept at summarizing and explaining complex topics. Be sure to check out this site!

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Jim Fox – Profile of a Variable Star Observer

Jim Fox Small ImageLast week I wrote about Tom Krajci and how he is supporting the work of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and other organizations by hosting a telescope farm on his property near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. The subject of this blog post is Jim Fox who lives near the town of Mayhill, New Mexico (only a few miles from Tom Krajci). Jim also supports the work of the AAVSO but in an entirely different way. Jim is a variable star observer and the Committee Chair of the AAVSO Photoelectric Photometry (PEP) Observing Program.

Variable star observations can be done in a variety of ways but the three most common are: visual observations, photometry with a CCD camera and photoelectric photometry. Photoelectric photometry, which is Jim's specialty, requires a telescope and a photoelectric photometer. The photometer provides a precise measurement that can be converted (reduced) into a magnitude. (One company that makes photometers is Optec, Inc. You can learn more about photometers on their web site.)
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Tom Krajci – Citizen Scientist and Wrench Turner

EnclosuresAs I said in my last blog post, there are many ways for people to participate in astronomy-related citizen science activities. On my recent trip to New Mexico, I met a citizen scientist and self-described "wrench turner" named Tom Krajci who is providing a valuable service to the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers) and other researchers. Tom provides a hosting site for telescopes used by citizen scientists worldwide.

Situated at over 9,400 feet (2865m) in elevation, Tom's home is located near the small village of Cloudcroft in south-central New Mexico not far from the Apache Point Observatory. The south-central portion of New Mexico has become a mecca for amateur and professional astronomers because of its dark skies, excellent "seeing" and favorable weather.

Tom currently has seven telescope enclosures on his property (they can be seen in the image at the top of this blog post). He hosts four telescopes (soon to be five) for AAVSOnet, one telescope for a Swiss astronomer doing research on eclipsing binaries and a telescope that captures data for the Center for Backyard Astrophysics.
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Pro/Am Scientific Collaboration in Astronomy

On January 2, 2011, 10-year old Kathryn Gray of New Brunswick, Canada become the youngest person to discover a supernova (Supernova 2010lt in the galaxy UGC 3378). Using images provided by family friend David Lane, it reportedly only took Kathryn about 15 minutes to find her supernova. Her discovery should't be much of a surprise; her father has found six supernovae.

In my opinion, Kathryn's discovery is wonderful for three reasons. First, Kathryn is a girl. We all know that astronomy as a hobby and as a profession is dominated by men. It's great to see a girl make a discovery like this and perhaps inspire other girls to participate in citizen science. Second, Kathryn is young. Again, we can all hope that she will inspire other children to learn more about science and astronomy. Third, regardless of gender or age, Kathryn has reminded all of us that this is a great time for citizen science and anyone who is interested can play a part.
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NEAF 2011 – Unofficial Vendor List

One of the most fun activities at NEAF is roaming the exhibit hall. Every amateur astronomer I know loves to see the latest and the greatest astronomy products! To help you keep track of who's exhibiting at NEAF 2011, I have compiled an unofficial vendor list. This document, in spreadsheet format, lists the names of each vendor along with their web site address and a general description of their product line(s). You can access the most current copy of the list by clicking on this link.

I will be updating this document (but not necessarily this blog post) every time Alan Traino (the Chairperson of NEAF 2011) updates his public list so please check back often.

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NEAF 2011 – Alan Traino Interview 1

NEAF LogoNEAF 2011 won't be held until April 16th and 17th, 2011 but if you're an amateur astronomer it's never too early to start thinking about NEAF! For those of you who have never heard of the Northeast Astronomy Forum, it is the largest amateur astronomy event in the world. It is held yearly at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. And, yes, it is definitely worth the trip if you don't live near Suffern. (You can find a link to the NEAF web site at the bottom of this interview.)

Naturally, Share Astronomy is going to thoroughly cover NEAF 2011. We are starting today with the first of several interviews with Alan Traino the Chairperson of NEAF.

NEAF will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2011. Is anything special planned?
Yes it is our 20th, I am working on this as we speak. One thing I plan to do is invite every speaker we have ever had. I would love to have one of the science type channels get more involved with the show. I think it would be a natural for them. We also plan to have many other exhibitors from groups we have met this year at some of the huge science events in New York and Washington.
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A Visit to PlaneWave Instruments

If you are a fan of big, beautiful telescopes (and who isn't), I bet you occasionally day dream about owning a PlaneWave telescope. I would like to tell you that I bought one, but sadly that's not true. However, I did get to do the next best thing; I got to go to the PlaneWave Instruments headquarters in Torrance, California. For those of you not familiar with PlaneWave, they manufacture Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescopes with primary mirror diameters of 12.5" (.32m), 17" (.43m), 20" (.51m), 24" (.61m) and 28" (.7m). All of their scopes have ellipsoidal primary mirrors, spherical secondary mirrors and a two element corrector. Their Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescopes have no off-axis coma, no off-axis astigmatism and a big flat field. They are primarily used for imaging but a surprising number are purchased for visual use (often outreach).

While at PlaneWave Instruments, I met with Rick Hedrick, President, CEO and co-founder; Joe Haberman, Vice President and co-founder; and Allan Keller who is the systems designer for the CDK700 Observatory Telescope System.

Shown below are pictures and additional details of my visit. (Please click on any image to see a larger version.)

PlaneWave currently does all of their mirror grinding, polishing, figuring and testing on site. The following image shows one of their two optical rooms:

PlaneWave Optics Room
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AIC 2010 – Conference Highlights

PlaneWave at AIC 2010If you are an astrophotographer you've probably heard of the Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC). The AIC is the largest astro-imaging conference in the world. This year's edition was held in Santa Clara, California from October 22-24 and it was great. I attended for the first time this year and I learned a lot and I had a great time. It's always difficult to recap an event of this size (more than 25 unique workshops and sessions including sponsor updates and about 30 vendors exhibiting in the Technology Showcase area). Inevitably, someone (probably someone who did a great job) is going to be left out. For one thing, I couldn't attend all sessions since some were held concurrently. In addition, summarizing all aspects of this event would take more space than should be used for a blog post. So, let me apologize to everyone who wasn't included here. With that said, here are my highlights:

  • Conference Organization.  The Advanced Imaging Conference was very well organized. The Board of Directors (Ken Crawford; Frank S. Barnes, III; Al Degutis; R. Jay Gabany; Keith Allred; and Bob Fera) should all be congratulated on organizing and executing a flawless conference. The board was supported by Hope Gabany and her fiance who did an excellent job. (I apologize for not remembering the name of Hope's fiance. If someone could post his name in the comments below I'd appreciate it.)
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