Archive for January, 2011
A reminder to everyone, we have a meeting this week! It’s going to be Wednesday, February 2nd at 5pm in Mudd 23. We’ll have pizza and drinks, talk about some of the public outreach projects we’re working on this semester, and there’ll even be a few presentations. I’ll give a run down on the latest announcement from Kepler. Dan will give us a first look at the issue of prebiotic chemistry of lipids. There’s also a third talk scheduled that we’re still working to get filled. So come on out for our February meeting. As they say in the corduroy world, all whales welcome!
Post-meeting update: here are slides we used in the talks:
I’m planning an astrobiology booth for the Physics Fair at Johns Hopkins in April, so I’m exploring the outreach-and-education section of the NASA Astrobiology website to find materials. Here are some fantastic things I’ve found.
This lets you see how long ago two evolutionary lines diverged: http://www.timetree.org/
My first test was human vs. wombat (~150 million years ago): http://www.timetree.org/time_query.php?taxon_a=29139&taxon_b=9606
But also interesting is human vs. brewer’s/baker’s/biologist’s yeast (~1300 million years ago!—1.3 billion): http://www.timetree.org/time_query.php?taxon_a=4932&taxon_b=9606
This is an unbelievable historical perspective on our discovery of other planetary systems: http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/timeline/timeline.html
I wish we could bring back some of these guys, like Giordano Bruno, and say “Look, you were right, we found other solar systems!” Really makes me cry. The exoplanet counter does not change from zero until 1992.
Also the Extreme Planet Makeover activity at that PlanetQuest website a good way to get a feel for how physical parameters (star type, distance from star, size of planet) change the nature of the planet (balance of solid, liquid, gas, etc.).
Adventure through a microbial community—goofy but informative: http://microbes.arc.nasa.gov/movie/large-qt.html
It’s that time again to schedule our next meeting. We’re shooting for the first week of classes. There’s a doodle poll set up, so mark your preferred day and time. We’re closing the poll on Friday, January 21st at 5pm, so mark your preferences soon.
When we have the meeting may dictate who is available to give presentations during the meeting, so right now we can’t make any promises about topics. But we will soon!
I mentioned this about a month ago to this list, so I’d like to remind everyone about a great public outreach opportunity. We’re currently signed up for several slots in the 365DaysOfAstronomy.org podcast. This is a podcast open to submission from all over the world about any topic of interest related to astronomy. As such, people from all over the world with hugely varying degrees of expertise download and listen to this podcast. This is a great opportunity to get involved in public outreach, get your name out in front of the general public, as well as an important addition to your CV or grad school application. If you’d like to know more about the site and the podcast in general, I suggest reading through their “about” page.
I started doing these as an undergrad at Columbia University. The grad students there mobilized to establish a “Columbia Mondays” recurring series during 2009. We did quite a bit of them, and you can find links to all of them from here. I was thinking we could do something similar for astrobiology at JHU. We can do podcasts on any topic you like–current events, your research, hobbies, etc–as long as you can link it back to astronomy/astrobiology in some way. I’ve done about 6 of these myself, ranging from a discussion of the Galileo probe’s discoveries at Jupiter, the science behind detecting moons around extrasolar planets, to an exploration of my interest in the history of astronomy.
Doing a podcast requires writing a transcript, recording yourself reading the transcript, and then uploading everything to the site. The writing part requires the most time and research, but if we do this as a collaborative effort (someone writes about an area of interest, the rest of us providing copy-edit and revisions) it should go quickly. Then, using David Coren’s suggestion, we can record and edit the podcast at the Digital Media Center in Mattin in just a couple of hours.
We have four dates reserved on the calendar: Feb 12, April 25, Sept 26, and Nov 28. The very first one is Darwin’s birthday. We should do something Darwinian related. Let me know if you’re interested in doing this first one. We’ve got to have it submitted February 7th.
Justin just posted this on the email list:
The Kepler team has announced their first terrestrial-sized exoplanet discovery, Kepler-10b. It’s 4.6 Earth masses, 1.4 Earth radii (denser than Earth; more like solid iron or lead), and in an 0.84-day orbit. So, most likely way too hot to be habitable, but still, huge hope for detecting many more small transiting planets.
Veselin sent this out to the email list a few weeks ago. PlanetHunters.org is an offshoot of the Galaxy Zoo project and a fun way to spend a few minutes (or hours) looking at light curves. Check out their introductory video:
As we grow as an organization, we’re slowly starting to make use of tools like Google Docs to get business done. Here’s a post over at Astrobetter that delves into one group’s experiences with using Google Docs to write an NSF proposal.
The huge advantage of using Google Docs to write the proposal was that we could all work on the same document at the same time. There was never various versions floating around or emailing comments back and forth that would need to be laboriously incorporated. Instead, we highlighted sentences that we needed to discuss and left notes and comments directly in the text. You can even see the other people’s cursor and selected text so you can either avoid working on the same bit of text at the same time or watch another person’s edits in real time. A couple days before the deadline, we all edited and polished each other’s text. If we weren’t sure about the edit, we highlighted it and the used the sidebar chat to quickly come to a resolution. I think this simultaneous polishing by three different people got us to a high-quality final product extremely efficiently.
Here’s an excellent post about how to prepare 5-minute talks.
1. In a 5 minute talk, you can usually only teach people about one new thing. The key to framing the talk is to figure out that One New Thing, and then build the rest of the talk around it.
2. So, the very first step is to pick the absolute best single visual to show the One New Thing. This is usually an awesome plot.
3. Make this plot the first slide you prepare. Don’t start with history and motivation and data acquisition and analysis techniques — if you do, you’ll prepare way too much material, and find yourself at 4 minutes and 59 seconds without having actually gotten to your results.