I have a rather big announcement to make: the Bad Astronomy Blog is moving to Slate magazine on November 12!
I’ve been writing at Discover Magazine for over four years, and it’s been a great ride. From the moment the phone first rang early in 2008 – then-CEO Henry Donahue calling me asking if I’d be interested in joining their nascent blog collective – to this very day, I’ve had so much fun working for this grand science magazine. I’ve posted something like 4600 blog articles since then – can I get a Holy Haleakala from the choir? – which is a whole lot of science, astronomy, Doctor Who, and antiscience smashery. I’m proud of my work here, and grateful for the support I’ve received from Discover.
But, as Q said to Picard, all good things must come to an end. Slate is already a major voice in politics, economics, and social issues, and they cover science as well. Since I do tend to speak my mind on every topic in which I’m interested – and that includes politics, religion, what-have-you – it’s a natural fit.
This is bittersweet, to be sure, as any big change can be. I’m excited about this new chapter in my blogging life as well as sad about leaving Discover. I’ve made many friends here, and I have great hopes for their future. All the Discover blogs are and will remain in my feed reader, and I will always check them every day.
Science covers the whole Universe – that’s rather the point – so there’s room for lots of science coverage. You could do a lot worse than read 80 Beats, Cosmic Variance, The Crux, Discoblog, Gene Expression, The Loom, and Not Exactly Rocket Science.
But I also hope y’all will follow me to Slate as well. I’ll have more info on the move (like the URL, RSS feed address, and all that) closer to when the time comes.
And seriously – thanks to all of you who have been reading my writing, whether you’re a new BABloggee or one who’s been hanging around since I first started writing it on my Bad Astronomy site back in 2005. I appreciate all the comments, emails, tweets, and general feedback I’ve gotten, and I’m sincerely happy to be able to bring you a slice of the cosmos, no matter where my words sit.
A few weeks ago, the small company NanoSatisfi announced a Kickstarter campaign to launch a small satellite called ArduSat into Earth orbit. This satellite would have contributions from the public both for funding and for experiments they could do on the diminutive device. Discover Magazine partnered with NanoSatisfi to run a contest where people could submit their own ideas for the satellite, and asked me to judge.
And judge I did, along with several other folks. And now we have a winner: Enrique Gomez, who wants to observe gamma rays emitted by lightning flashes on Earth! Through processes still not completely understood, the tremendous energy of lightning bolts, coupled with their incredibly focused magnetic fields, can generated bursts of high-energy light called gamma rays – it’s like the light we see, but every photon has millions of times the energy of visible light. These Terrestrial Gamma ray Flashes (or TGFs) are difficult to detect, and not a lot is known about them. Are they sent out in all directions, like light from a light bulb, or are they beamed, like light from a light house? If they’re beamed, do they go straight up, or at an angle?
Using a clever combination of instruments on the ArduSat, Gomez proposed detecting these TGFs to narrow down possible solutions to these questions. His idea was well thought-out and had solid physics backing it up, so we think it has a good chance of working on the ArduSat.
For his part, the idea that ArduSat is open source, and that the science will be made available to everyone, appealed to Gomez:
I believe all science is a "social science" in that we advance questions about nature as a community. Space science should be no exception. When I read in KickStarter about ArduSat, I knew I had to support it because it speaks to me about this belief. ArduSat is a prime example of two ideas that are worth sharing widely. The first is community supported science. People care about scientific and technological problems and thus they can gather their resources to answer them. The second is citizen science. People can not only ask scientific questions but can also work together as a community to answer them irrespective of their scientific or technical background. This is also where the open source spirit of Arduino technology comes into play by making even the technical dimension of a scientific project as accessible as possible. The project that I proposed came from my fascination with sky phenomena. There are so many mysteries in the Earth’s atmosphere between the troposphere and the ionosphere, which beg for inquisitive minds.
For his experiment, Gomez will receive a $1500 Development Kit for hardware and a week of uptime on the ArduSat to perform his tasks.
But he’s not the only one with time on the satellite: well over 100 people backed the KickStarter at a level that will give them access to the satellite in one way or another, from aiming it to take pictures up to getting a week of time on the bird.
I have to say, this is amazing to me. We live in an era where someone can take the kind of money they would spend on a decent set of clothes or a bicycle, and use it to help build and command a satellite! Between things like this, and launch costs about to drop due to private companies getting into the launch biz, I wonder what we’ll be seeing just a few years down the line?
My thanks to the folks at NanoSatisfi and Discover (and you too, Darlene!) for asking me to be a part of this.
Image credits: NanoSatisfi; NASA
A lot of people think only scientists can do science.
They’re right. But then, anyone who does science is a scientist. You can do science. So, you wanna be a scientist?
For a while now, more and more regular ol’ people have been participating in science. It started a few years back with SETI@Home, where you could download software to automatically process data taken from radio telescopes using your CPU. Still, as advanced as computers are, there are still things that are just better done with human brains (what we call "wetware"). Pattern recognition. Pulling weak data out of strong noise. Seeing the anomaly in the field of sameness.
Citizen Science, it’s called. It’s a powerful new tool, crowdsourcing the work to people interested in helping out. And the cool thing is: it works. People categorize galaxies. They examine lunar craters. They look for lonely iceballs orbiting the Sun out past Neptune.
The only problem has been finding these projects… but that’s not a problem any more. SciStarter is your one-stop shopping for citizen science. Founded by my pal Darlene Cavalier (from Science Cheerleader), SciStarter has tons of projects with which you can participate. And not just astronomy and space science; there’s biology, archaeology, chemistry, health, climate…. the list is impressive.
Even better, Discover Magazine has partnered with SciStarter to create Your Research Mission, a weekly highlighted project in Citizen Science. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking to participate and make a real difference for science research. Of course, if you read my blog (and you do) then Astronomy and Space may be of particular interest to you. So why not check out what they’ve got there?
Oh, I do love good news. A few days ago I wrote about a small group of aerospace experts who put up a Kickstarter project to launch a small satellite. The news? It’s fully funded! That means this satellite will get built and launched into space.
Be aware that, as with most Kickstarter projects, reaching their goal doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t pitch in. More money pledged even after the goal is achieved means more and cooler stuff the project people can do with it!
And in this case, kicking in some cash gives you a chance to quite literally be a part of this mission: Discover Magazine is holding a contest where you can enter to get your experiment performed on this wee satellite. The details can be found here. Here’s the basic stuff:
(1) Fund the ArduSat project, for however much or little as you desire. You’ll receive a personal code that identifies you as a donor.
(2) Read the contest guidelines here to learn about how you should design and submit your idea.
(3) Enter with this entry form, making sure to include your personal code.
(4) Wait for winners to be announced on July 20th, after judging by Discover blogger Phil Plait, Discover Editor-in-Chief Corey Powell, and an expert panel of judges.
Note #4 there: I’m a judge! I’m pleased and honored to be asked to participate in this, and I’m very excited to see what folks come up with. I think this is an excellent project for a high school class or similar groups, and given it only costs a dollar minimum it’s well worth the effort.
Very important: the contest ends on July 6, 2012! So get moving. And maybe get your very own idea off the ground, and literally into space.
This is very cool: Discover Magazine is contributing to a project to help the public create and run an experiment that will actually get launched into space aboard a small cubesat satellite!
This is a real thing. A small group of aerospace experts is running a KickStarter campaign to fund this satellite. By contributing to the KickStarter you can do anything from simply supporting them to actually being able to build and run your own experiment on the satellite once it’s up. Here’s a video explaining the basics:
[You may need to refresh this page to get the video to load.]
As I write this they’ve already had over $3000 pledged to their goal of $35k, and it’s only been up a few hours. Pretty nice. [UPDATE: The project reached its goal on June 21, after only a few days! Wow. However, you can and should still fund it; if you do you can enter Discover Magazine's contest.]
Discover Magazine’s involvement with this has been to issue the Discover Space Challenge: you can submit your own idea for an experiment, game, or application to run on the ArduSat. The most innovative one will win free Team Development Kit worth $1500, and it will fly with the ArduSat into space! Details are on the KickStarter page.
The satellite itself is very small: just 10 cm (4 inches) on a side, and weighs only about a kilogram. But it will pack as many as 25 sensors on board, including three detectors, a spectrometer, a magnetometer, and even a Geiger counter. Plus, of course, the experiment from whomever wins the Space Challenge.
The project as a whole is being run by NanoSatisfi, which is a company working on democratizing space access by allowing people to put experiments up there for cheap. Other partners in this endeavor are SciStarter (to promote it in the community), Science Cheerleader (run by my pal Darlene Cavalier), MySpectral (developing a sensor for the ArduSat), and DIYSandbox (working on the electronics).
There’s a lot more info in the FAQ at the bottom of the KickStarter page. I’ll admit I’m fairly amazed by all this. We live in a time when nearly anyone can design and fly an experiment in space. Incredible!
So think about what sort of experiment you’d like to see on a satellite… and submit it. You could actually and for real get it into space.
Because it’s a FAQ: I won’t be at the San Diego Comic Con this year, but I will be at Dragon*Con.
For the past few years, Discover Magazine has hosted an increasingly popular and extremely fun panel on Science and Science Fiction at Comic Con, which I’ve been honored to moderate. Unfortunately, this year we won’t be doing the panel, so I won’t be attending. I’m sad, but we’ll be there next year for sure. I hate to miss such a huge geekapalooza, but we’ll have to figure out some way to make the 2012 panel extra-awesome. I’m thinking the panelists will skydive in. Or we’ll fight with bat’leths. Something.
In better news, I’ll be at Dragon*Con on September 1-5. In fact, I’ll be at the becoming-an-annual-event star party on Thursday night, September 1, where we raise money for cancer research. D*C has a very strong skeptic track, and I’ll be there as well as doing other talks and fun things (like having a two-person panel with my friend Kevin Grazier, where we rip on science in movies and TV). There are also tons of other things going on there, like the parties, the costumes, the dealer rooms, the general madness.
Read the links below in the Related Posts to get the idea. I’ll post my schedule when I get it, and if you’re a reader here, find me at one of my events!
… and I still want to bring a costume. I have an idea, but we’ll see if I can figure out how to pull it off.
Regular readers may know me as the beloved online blogger for Discover Magazine, but I also sometimes write longer articles for the print version as well.
Last summer, I wrote a piece on the search for small solar system objects that might, theoretically, circle the Sun inside Mercury’s orbit. Called vulcanoids, they are extremely difficult to observe, which is why it’s still not certain if they exist or not (I wrote a brief post about this back in 2008). Two astronomers (and friends of mine), Dan Durda and Alan Stern, are hot on the trail of the purported possible planetesimals; I talked to them about their chase and the history of the search for these hot little objects.
Until now, the article was only available in the print magazine or to online subscribers, but now my brilliant prose is open to the public. Seriously, this is a pretty cool topic, and one that most people don’t know about. The region between the Sun and Mercury is closer to the Earth than the main asteroid belt, yet we know much less about it. Read the article and find out why.
[UPDATE: The article discussed below is now online at Discover Magazine's website, so you can read it there.]
Every now and again I delve back into the ancient art of writing for an actual magazine that has words printed in ink on paper which gets sent to you via the postal service.
Quaint, I know.
But I wrote just such an article for Discover Magazine which is in the December 2010 issue. The article, called "Why Size Matters" is about why defining the word planet is proving to be so difficult.
Funny how writing works sometimes. I got the idea for the article while researching a blog post on a moon in the outer solar system. Curious about its size, I started poking around the web looking for other moon diameters, and then started wondering how big an object you need before gravity crushes it into a ball. I thought I could write the article about just that, but the words apparently had a mind of their own and went in a different direction. I wound up talking about what we think of as planets, and then in the middle of all this I read an advance copy of Mike Brown’s wonderful book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming (full review coming soon). Mike spends quite a bit of time on this very topic, as you might imagine (he discovered the Kuiper Belt object Eris, which kick-started the demotion of Pluto). I found his thinking to be very similar to mine, and his writing actually gelled a lot of disorganized thoughts I had about all this.
Anyway, the article was fun to write, and I think anyone who likes my blog will like it. I got the issue in the mail the other day, and it’s on newsstands and at bookstores now. I hope you’ll check it out.
I’m very pleased to announce that once again, Discover Magazine and the venerable telescope company Celestron have teamed up for the Capture the Universe astrophotography contest!
The rules are pretty simple. Just like last year, you have to register on the Celestron images website, read the rules, and then enter your picture(s). An important caveat: at least one piece of equipment you use must have Celestron optics.
Once again, my mind control beam has worked perfectly: Discover Magazine and Celestron picked me to judge the entries. I won’t tell you outright what might win and what might not, but like last year, I’m looking for beautiful images, interesting images, out-of-the-ordinary images. For example, the picture to the left won last year because it was such a cool idea – the photographer took a picture of every planet in the solar system (except Earth, and, for you diehards, Pluto) and the Sun all in the same 24 hour period, then put them together in this montage. You can also check out the other images from last year, too. They’re all really amazing shots.
The contest prizes are very nice: a Celestron Nexstar 8SE telescope (retail value: $1199) for the Grand Prize, an Axiom LX31 eyepiece ($399) for the Runner Up, and a 50th Anniversary First Scope ($70) for the Viewers’ Choice picture.
The contest starts TODAY, October 1, 2010 and ends on October 30, 2010. So get out there and start snapping.
Clear skies, everyone!
Last week was Comic Con, and for the third year in a row,
the Hive Overmind Discover Magazine sent me along to be on a panel. Every year we do a variation on discussing the science of science fiction, and this year we focused on its abuse. We asked our panelists (Jaime Paglia [Eureka], Kevin Grazier [science advisor for Eureka and Battlestar Galactica], Zack Stentz [Fringe, Thor], and Sean Carroll [cosmologist and DM blogger]) to pick examples of good and bad science in the movies.
The results? Well, watch for yourself:
A couple of notes: