Transit of Venus event success!

We had over 400 people attend, and fortuitously got a well-timed period of open sky!

Publicity in the Baltimore Sun helped.

WBAL coverage of our event.

Peter McCullough’s talk on transits

Maryland Space Grant Observatory TA Chris Martin using the projection method:


Volunteer Shireen Gonzaga helping guests view through a solar telescope:

Some of the organizers (Veselin, Justin, Scott, Dan) with speaker and Nobelist Adam Riess:

Watch the transit of Venus with us at Johns Hopkins

The Astrobiology Forum and Maryland Space Grant Observatory will host transit of Venus observing at the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on the Hopkins Homewood campus, on June 5, 2012.

Event schedule:

5 pm – Short talks in the Schafler Auditorium, including one by Nobel Prize winner Adam Riess on the importance of transits in the history of astronomy and cosmology

6 pm to sunset – Observation of transit using Bloomberg’s Maryland Space Grant Observatory telescope (projecting onto paper)

…and using several personal, smaller telescopes set up on the Bloomberg roof

…and using a live feed from Hawaii (projecting in the Schafler Auditorium)

Contact me at richman[at]pha[dot]jhu[dot]edu if you have questions.

If you would like to bring your own telescope, please contact us at least one week before the event so we can make sure it is ok to use. We will have limited space for telescopes on the roof, so please get in touch with us early. See this for directions to the Bloomberg Center:

Two odd balls

The marvelous line of discoveries made by the Kepler mission continued last week with the announcement (article) of two planets orbiting a hot B subdwarf — a star way past its prime. Both planetary candidates are smaller than the Earth and are on very short orbits which is already exciting on its own.

What makes them special, however, is their unusual history. The authors suggest that these are the remnants (cores) of larger planets that have been immersed inside the star as it expanded to become a Red Giant — the inevitable fate of our own planet. The two probably proceeded into spiraling ever deeper inside the envelope of the gigantic star, losing mass and possibly even driving the evolution of the host itself.

This discovery adds yet another example of the wide variety of environments extrasolar planets can be found in. More importantly, it show how…stubborn…and resourceful planets are in the game of survival. But of course, nothing less is to be expected of the carriers of this most fascinating and robust thing called life.

Pyruvate: a key molecule in metabolism

I was just reading about pyruvate to build my biochemistry literacy (the molecule is relevant to an NMR project I’m helping out on). Wikipedia describes pyruvate, which is the product of breaking down glucose, as a key intersection in several metabolic pathways, aerobic and anaerobic. Being at the heart of the chemistry of metabolism makes a molecule a candidate for being a very old player in biochemistry. Here’s how the Pyruvate article puts the molecule in the context of the origin of life:

Main article: iron-sulfur world theory

Current evolutionary theory on the origin of life posits that the first organisms were anaerobic because the atmosphere of prebiotic Earth was, in theory, almost barren of diatomic oxygen. As such, requisite biochemical materials must have preceded life. In vitro, iron sulfide at sufficient pressure and temperature catalyzes the formation of pyruvate. Thus, argues Günter Wächtershäuser, the mixing of iron-rich crust with hydrothermal vent fluid is suspected of providing the fertile basis for the formation of life.

Successful presence at the JHU Physics Fair

Our booth, which was in the main atrium of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on the Homewood campus, was home to a planet-detection simulator, ancient meteorites, and a model cell. We presented the science of astrobiology as “How to find a planet,” “How to build a planet,” and “How to build life.”