At James Randi’s The Amazing Meeting this year, my friend and fellow astronomer Pamela Gay made a speech that covers a lot of ground, but essentially boils down to two ideas: do great things, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.
The JREF put the video of her talk on YouTube, and it’s simply fantastic.
She also paraphrased it for a post on her blog that’s well worth your time to read: Make the World Better.
There’s lots I could add, but there’s no real reason to. Just watch this, and be happy there are people like Pamela out there in the world.
Now go out and make the world better.
Space science is in a tight spot today. Much of it is funded by NASA and NSF, and both are facing very large cuts in the 2013 US budget.
So what’s a space and science enthusiast to do? If you’re Alan Stern – head honcho of the Pluto New Horizons probe and longtime scientific researcher- you start a new company that’ll fund space science by engaging the public.
So he did. The company is called Uwingu – Swahili for "sky" – and the team includes several top-notch scientists like Geoff Marcy, Andy Chaikin, Emily CoBabe-Ammann, Pamela Gay, Mark Sykes, and many others.
The idea is to create space-related products the public will like such as games, software, and merchandise. They’ll then sell them and use the profits to fund scientific research. People will be able to submit proposals for the funding, which will be peer reviewed to ensure high-quality work. And it’s not just research: they hope to fund space-based projects, education, and other science-supporting ventures.
Right now they’re just starting it up, and they need cash to get it rolling – getting an accountant, paying for server support, and the like. They’ve calculated that they need $75,000 to get it started (none of them is taking any pay until they’re up and running), so they created an Indigogo page for donations. Once they get Uwingu started, they’re confident they will be able to get money from bigger investments and really dig into funding projects. They expect to raise millions of dollars this way.
At the moment they’re not giving out specifics about the sorts of merchandise and apps they’ll have, because they’re trying to build a little suspense. However, I’ll note that half the people on their team are a) great scientists and good people, and 2) personal friends of mine. I trust them. If they say they can do this, then they can do this. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be posting about it.. and I just donated, too, so I’m putting my money where my keyboard is! They have nearly $13,000 as I write this (one person just donated $5000!), and a month or so left on the campaign.
The team also made a short introductory video:
In fact, Pamela interviewed Alan at length about Uwingu for Science Hour, which has far more info.
I hope you’ll consider donating to Uwingu. It’s a pretty bold idea, and one I think is worth exploring.
This morning was the Google I/O 2012 meeting, celebrating the first anniversary of Google unveiling Google+. At the meeting, keynote speaker Vic Gondotra talked about Google+ Hangouts — live video chats that can have several people broadcasting, and an unlimited audience. And look what they featured for the talk: the Virtual Star Party, held every week by my friend and Universe Today founder Fraser Cain!
Wow. You can see several regulars there too, including astronomers Pamela Gay, Gary Gonella and Mike Phillips. I didn’t happen to be in that star party that night, but I participate when I can.
The star party was Fraser’s idea a while back, and when he came to me with it I was initially skeptical — I’ve never been much of an early adopter — but Fraser and I have a rule: "Trust Fraser". And of course he was right. We did one of these for the Venus Transit and 7000 people joined us to watch live. Fraser has wrangled astronomers from across the globe to hook up webcams to their telescopes and participate in this. We’ve had sessions featuring the Moon, Saturn, nebulae, galaxies, clusters… all live, and piped right into your computer. And it’s not all one way, either, since we encourage our audience to ask questions and suggest targets. And of course there’s also the Weekly Space Roundup, too, where space and astronomy journalists do a live hangout and talk about recent stories. That was all Fraser’s idea, too.
I am incredibly proud of Fraser for doing this, and for Pamela and all the others who made this happen.
If you want to join in, just circle Fraser Cain on Google+. If you’re not signed up, it’s quick and easy. And don’t listen to the naysayers; G+ is way better than Facebook. I find the conversations there to be stimulating and fun, and of course the Hangouts are a blast. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve done a Q&BA Hangout. Maybe I’ll fix that this weekend.
Man. It’s really true: We live in the future.
I give talks about asteroid impacts quite often, and sometimes people ask me why we should worry about them. I reply, "Go outside and look at the Moon. Then tell me we don’t need to worry about asteroid impacts!" The Moon is covered in craters, and it really brings home — literally — the fact that we need to understand impacts better.
I’m not being facetious, either. Looking at the Moon is a great way to learn about craters. By measuring their size, position, and shape, we can find out a lot about the history of impacts in the Earth-Moon system. The problem is there are so many craters — billions, if you look at high enough resolution. How on Earth — haha — can any scientist or team of scientists possibly look at them all?
Well, it depends on how big the team is. Enter citizen science: non-professional-science people who nevertheless love science. If you’re reading my blog — and you are — then that means you! CosmoQuest.org is a group of astronomers, run by my friend Dr. Pamela Gay, who have created a series of projects where people like you can perform needed tasks that are real science… in this case, measuring craters on the Moon! Using MoonMappers, you can identify and measure craters using images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft currently circling our Moon and taking thousands of high-resolution pictures.
I signed up and started right in, and find it somewhat addicting. You’ll need to register first through the CosmoQuest forum, which takes one minute and is free. Once you’ve done that, just go back to Moonmappers and dive in. I was able to identify dozens of craters in just a few minutes. Here’s a typical scene:
The blue circles are craters found using automated software. The green ones mark craters I found. The task is really simple: you can mark craters with your mouse, dragging the circle to match its size. If you miss a bit, you can easily adjust the circle’s position to re-center it. You only need to find craters bigger than 18 pixels in size, so it’s not an impossible chore! You can also flag odd features like linear cliffs, boulders, and so on, if you happen to see any. Several of the images I went through had them. One had lovely striations in an old lava flow, so you never know what you’ll see.
Sound like fun? It is! But hurry: right now, CosmoQuest has issued a Million Crater Challenge, to get 1,000,000 craters identified by full Moon, which is on May 5, just days away. As I write this they’re still a long way from their goal. How many can you find?
And remember: this isn’t just fooling around, this is real science. How are craters made? Why are they different shapes? How many are 10 meters across versus 20 versus 30 versus 100? All these questions are important in understanding impacts… especially that last one. Getting the scales of impacts, and how the numbers of them increase as the size gets smaller, is critical in being able to predict how often they happen. At some point, we’ll see a small asteroid headed toward Earth, and we’ll have to decide if it’s big enough to worry about and spend hundreds of millions of dollars deflecting it. The work you do here, quite seriously, can help inform that decision.
In July 2011, at the JREF’s TAM 9 meeting in Las Vegas, I moderated a panel discussing the future of space exploration. On that panel were some familiar faces: Bill Nye (the Science Guy), astronomers Neil Tyson and Pamela Gay, and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss. All of us have, ah, some experience talking to the public about matters spacey, so I knew it would be a fun panel to moderate.
I had no idea. The video of the panel has been made available by the JREF, so you can see it for yourself! I’ve embedded it below. It’s an hour long, but I think you’ll find it absolutely worth your time to watch all the way through. A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said it was the best panel at the meeting, and one of the best we’ve ever had at TAM! As a participant, modesty forbids me from saying more, but then, who am I to disagree?
It was a rollicking discussion, and very interesting. Neil was in rare form, and I think my favorite moment was when Pamela was making a point, and Neil jumped in to give an opinion… and Pamela held up a finger and "shusshed" him! It was extremely funny, especially when Neil got this, "OK, fine, you got me" expression on his face. After the panel, Neil was signing books, and I got Pamela to sit down next to him and recreate the moment:
I’ve written about the terrific award-winning podcast 365 Days of Astronomy before: it’s a user-driven podcast, where listeners themselves record the episodes. It’s a great idea, and up until recently has been doing really well, with daily updates of personal stories of astronomy and science.
And now it needs your help. My friend, astronomer Pamela Gay, is the driving force behind 365 DoA and has just written a post on her blog saying that the podcast is in desperate need of submissions and funding. She has the details there.
365 DoA is a great venue to not only educate people about astronomy, but to get them personally involved. I strongly support their efforts, and I hope you will too.
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has just opened registration for its annual skeptical extravaganza, The Amaz!ng Meeting!
TAM is arguably the world’s premier critical thinking conference, and certainly one of the most fun. I’m always torn between listening to the speakers and gathering with the friends I’ve made over the years — and meeting new ones. It’s fair to say the audience is a major reason to attend TAM.
The theme this year is "TAM 9 from Outer Space", and it’s obvious why with speakers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Pamela Gay (one of my favorite people on this planet), Bill Nye (The Science Guy), and hey, me. And the list keeps going: Carol Tavris (who gave a very popular talk last year at TAM), Jennifer Michael Hecht, Penn & Teller, Jennifer Ouellette, PZ Myers, Genie Scott, anime artist (and totally cool chick) Sara Mayhew, and, of course, the Amazing One himself, James Randi. The list goes on and on, so go check it out!
Did I mention the MC this year is the one and only George Hrab? Yeah. Awesome.
Also, as usual, there will be a ton of workshops, panels, and other extracurricular activities. I can’t stress enough how much of a blast this meeting is. It’ll be July 14 – 17, 2011 at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Registration is now open. I hope to see you there!
Regular readers* may remember that a couple of years ago I was involved in a pilot for a skeptical investigation TV pilot called "The Skeptologists". The other cast members were Michael Shermer, Kiki Sanford, Brian Dunning, Steve Novella, Mark Edward, and Yau Man Chan.
Eventually, as you may know, I was offered to host a TV show pilot on The Discovery Channel, so I had to give The Skeptologists my regrets. At that point they did two good things: they replaced me with my dear friend Dr. Pamela Gay, and changed the name of the show to The Edge.
At this point, they are trying to get the show to air on PBS. This is where, perhaps, you come in. A grant came in rather quickly and unexpectedly, and to get it they need endorsements. They’re looking for skeptical groups, teachers, and other people involved in education to write a brief letter of support for the show.
Head over to Brian Dunning’s page about this and see how you can help. The grant has to be submitted Tuesday, so sooner is better. It won’t take but a few minutes of your time, but could be invaluable to help get an actual reality show on the air.
In 2007, a young woman with no prior experience in astronomy made a discovery that led to dozens of astronomers using billions of dollars of equipment to figure out the solution to the mystery. The young woman, named Hanny, and the object — whimsically named the Voorwerp — wound up becoming a fantastic demonstration of how citizen science works, and how it can lead to a greater understanding of the Universe.
My friend Pamela Gay, an astronomer and educator, spearheaded an effort to get this story out to the folks who need it most: kids! She and her team created a comic book based on Hanny’s story, called "Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp" – you can learn more about it at that link. The comic book (a panel is shown above) will be premiered at Dragon*Con this weekend, but you can pre-order a copy for $5. If you’re an educator, or are looking to get your kids interested in science, you should check it out.
It’s a cute story, but also an important one. You don’t need a big fancy degree or even years of experience to make a big discovery. Sometimes what you need is a bright, curious mind, and the desire to explore.
Before I gave my TAM 8 talk — now known as the "Don’t Be a Dick" speech — I was more nervous than I had been before a public speaking engagement since high school. Watching the video, I’m surprised that I appeared so composed. I was sweating bullets up there, and had an emotional catch in my throat several times that wasn’t so obvious in the video.
After the video, my friend Pamela Gay was waiting off stage for me. She had given an impassioned talk about "science evangelism" literally minutes before I took the stage, and I could tell she was warmly received. I’m not speaking out of school when I say she was more than a little concerned talking at a skeptic conference; as an active Christian she knew she’d receive the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism… and she did, during the meeting and since. Having her support me after my talk meant the world to me.
As we left the auditorium and went out into the hall, someone beckoned to me. I went over, and they told me that an old friend wanted very much to talk to me. Down the corridor I saw Kitty*, indeed an old friend and someone very active in the skeptical community in general and the JREF community specifically. As I approached her, to my distress, I saw she had been crying. Read More