Monday, day one of Launch Pad

Monday, day one of Launch Pad

I’m at Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. It’s a good thing that helps writers use better astronomy in their science fiction.

Monday – these are notes, there may be errors or misunderstandings.

Astronomy Pre-test. I know I didn’t do very well. I was a little embarrassed, truth be told! We won’t find out our result until later, but I KNOW some of them were wrong and I find it strange (and fascinating) how my chains of logic got so tangled and led to this series of cascading faults.

Scales of the Universe

Mike Brotherton led us through the scale of the universe. Space is big, really big. It was nice to spend an hour or so pushing our brains to wrap around just how big. The filamentary structure of the cosmic webbing of the universe added extra dimensions to a Things comic! This is one of the videos we watched.

And we watched You Are Not the Center of the Universe

We didn’t watch the following video, but I found it while I was looking for images of the filamentary structure of the universe. Now that I have search terms like filamentary structure of the universe in my vocabulary I’m able to find beautiful videos like this (and when you watch it bear in mind the powers of ten video, galaxies aint small!)

Wow, right? Do you have a glowy feeling of insignificance and grandeur? What a great way to start the week.

Wolfram Alpha was mentioned as a useful resource.

Seasons and Lunar Phases & Misconceptions

Andria Schwortz (who designed our pre-workshop questionnaire and will be testing us again) led us through this challenging session.

We started by going through some common misconceptions and watched the first few minutes of a somewhat chilling documentary called a Private Universe. We really have deeply embedded misconceptions about how seasons work etc.

Lunar phases are so specific to our reality that I find it more challenging than the more abstract principles. I’ll remember stuff and then forget and we dig into such specific realities that you really have to know what’s what. I still feel like I’m mastering all the relationships between the different angles. I was pleased she brought in cross-cultural perspectives and mentioned other ways of describing seasons and moon phases (in Hawaii there are 30 named phases of the moon).

We made our way through several worksheets. Several of my questions are unanswered and I hope to work through them properly (or ask Andria for help). They’re the sort of questions where I feel like a get the answer and then it somehow drains away and I have almost a memory of an answer. The stickiest questions (for me) are mostly things I’ve read about dozens of times but they do not stick in my noggin – I’m sure if I sat down with a globe and charts I’d figure it out eventually, but only in a slow, stumbling, insecure way. They’re also highly relevant questions for anyone writing in a setting where people have strong connections to seasons and don’t have advanced technology to tell them where they are and what time it is:

  • How can you use the stars and Sun to tell your latitude on Earth?
  • After the zombie apocalypse, how would you reestablish the calendar?
  • If the Earth’s axis were tilted by 40 degrees instead of 23.5, at what latitudes would we find the (a) Arctic Circle, (b) Antartic Circle, (c) Tropic of Capricorn, and (d) Tropic of Cancer?

Random things. I did not know that the Chinese calendar and the procession of Jupiter had a relationship (Jupiter has a 12 year procession).  Dear Liz, don’t let hollywood etc fool you, remember remember remember that the dark side of the moon and the far side of the moon are different things. The moon is tidally locked, but what we see and what the sun sees are different. I know this thing (thanks to science fiction I read as a kid), but sometimes I forget I know this thing and get tripped.

Links and resources  for simulations. H.A. Rey’s book “The Stars” is a good resource. The US Naval Observatory is a good place to go to for precise times around the world for sun rise, sun set, moon rise, moon set, and phases of the moon.

Hanging out with the Solar System

Christian Ready took us on a blazing fast tour of the solar system. Starting with cool images of coronal mass ejections from the sun (I couldn’t find the perfect youtube video with my current connection, but do a search and you will see plenty of pretty). There is an app you can download that will alert you to sun activity.

Solar system studies are becoming planetary studies as we have more samples to work with. Eg, looking at dirt is called geology.

My notes feel more scattered now, here are some bullet points (and it’s late! I want to go to sleep, but I don’t want to forget!)

The solar system’s frostline is the line where it’s too hot for hydrogen to form into ice.

Pheonix detected snow on mars. Snow fell on the solar panel but almost instantly sublimated. Cool images of what looks like water erosion.

Andy Romine mentioned the Kerbal Space Program – a nifty, techy, and cute solar system flight simulator.

There are Gas Giants and Ice (more slushy than solid) Giants, mostly the same characteristics.

Roche limit – what rings rather than moons are made of. Getting close enough to the planet where the difference in the gravitational pull on one side of a moon compared to the other side is so strong that the moon is pulled apart.

Rings evolve and change. All the gas giants have rings (Neptune’s is just very small).

In Saturn’s Rings is a film that’s worth checking out (when it comes out). We watched several minutes that focused Saturn, but the film with have more stuff in it:

Europa Report was recommended as a good hard science fiction film.

Pluto and Charon around each other, spent a bit of time looking at what dwarf planets. Pluto is the second largest dwarf planet (Eris is the biggest)

The boundaries of our solar system probably do not have a bow shock beyond the heliosphere.

Then we went to dinner. Then others went to see Pacific Rim, I went to bed. Then I woke up and wrote this. Now it is midnight. I should probably go brush my teeth and do that sleeping thing. I haven’t slept properly the last two days, so the nap was much needed. I felt more rested rollerskating around campus at 7.30 this morning than I did by tossing and turning on my slippery vinyl bed!

Pausing to write this down it feels like we went through a lot, but thanks to the pacing and skill of our instructors it felt like a good flow of information and not at all rushed or crammed. I do wish I’d asked more questions around latitude, longitude and all that “mundane” stuff. By the looks of things we’re going to spend a lot of time gazing deep into the cosmos, but I think it’s stars and the moon in relationship to all the places we could be on our own planet that I will struggle with the most! Weather allowing we’re looking through the small telescope tomorrow night, so hopefully that will allow more time to dig into that.

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