beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
I'm discovering that hard SF where you're bouncing around the solar system means my Inner Skeptic actually pays attention to people other than me and my writing.

Probably because I've spent most of my adult life following NASA missions. Maybe because I read Heinlein in high school, and Heinlein learned orbital mechanics for his solar-system SF. There might be Martians and Venusians and a spin-locked Mercury*, but by golly, things moved like they should.

But when you're gallivanting around the Solar System you have to remember that things are all moving at different rates.

Nerdity Ahoy! I'll be good and not do the math here, though. )

I feel really weird that things like this bug me enough to make petty ranty journal posts about it. Also, yes, I have calculated things like 'what's a good timescale for going from X to Y assuming no magic physics that let me ignore that if we accelerate too hard, we kill the passengers'.

* This is a SFnal dating technique: look at what things we thought we knew at the time but turned out wrong. So Mercury's rotation makes me go 'wait, what', but a quick check to the publication date makes me go with it.
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Well, yes, I have many thoughts. Some of which are full of colorful language. These thoughts in particular about his whole 'space program thing'.

So, for my non-American readers, the Republican Party is currently trying to decide who they want to run as the official Republican nominee for President in November. Most of my thoughts on the candidates involve 'gentlemen, your policies are 99% bigoted garbage that I think will be horrible for America, and you seem engaged in a contest to see who can be the worst human being'.

But, Newt Gingrich, in an effort to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney*, decided he was going to be all 'Space is awesome, you guys!'.  )
beccastareyes: (discourage dreams)
A political thing that is relatively uncontroversial for your (American) election day. But, first! A story!

So, yesterday folks in my research group were talking about various things, as we do, and somehow the Cassini end of mission plans came up. If you're not familiar with what I actually do, Cassini is the mission I work on, that currently orbits Saturn and has for seven years. We plan on running it until 2017, since outer Solar System missions are pretty hardy, and it'll always be cheaper to use what you got than to build a new mission and wait til it gets out there. Plus, there are other giant planets to visit.

Now, NASA has a thing about space missions near potentially habitable places cleaning up after themselves.  )
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Today I got a talk on Pluto's New Moon by the discoverer* and to listen to a science fight over when and how Saturn's rings and medium-sized moons were made.

Life is good, even if I am tired.

* Basically, someone had to cancel his talk at the last minute, so Mark Showalter offered to give a second talk. Since it was a rings meeting and not a moons or KBOs meeting, the official topic was 'Non-detection of Rings around Pluto' -- which was the original intent of the observations. The fact it would locate moons was a fringe benefit.
beccastareyes: (have a nice sol!)
I promised some friends on Twitter I'd celebrate the last launch of the Space Shuttle by talking about NASA's robots. Because NASA does so many other cool things besides send people on a space shuttle to orbit.

Robots! And Acronyms! )

I have to remember to finish my post series discussing the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, too...
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Sometime this week is the first Neptunian-year anniversary since Neptune was spotted and recognized. I might do a blog post about the story of Neptune's discovery, since it's a fun one. Probably tomorrow.

Also, tomorrow, if all goes well, it will be the final launch of a Space Shuttle. You can watch it on NASA TV, or on their website. NASA is working on getting a replacement human spaceflight vehicle, and has plenty of rockets for robots, but until NASA either finishes theirs or private industry takes on the job*, we're using old Russian Soyuz rockets to get up to the Space Station.

Another depressing thing is that the Republican budget came out -- it hasn't been voted on yet, but it's published -- and it takes away funding from NASA. The thing that has everyone upset at the office is that they want to cancel the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST is supposed to be a bit of a Hubble replacement. Unlike Hubble, it won't be servicable by astronauts (it'll sit too far from Earth), and will be more geared towards infrared observations. But it's bigger and will have better instruments.

It's taking forever to design -- one of our researchers nicknamed it the Just Wait and See Telescope -- but it's been the dream instrument for a lot of people. Even though it's gotten cost overruns and delays**. So everyone is doing the Write Your Congresscritter explaining how this is an investment. Granted, sometimes NASA tends to toss good money after bad in projects that took too long to figure out that we can't do them with the resources we have, but it seems a shame to cancel the thing and not have a space telescope once Hubble finally is retired.

* This is an argument in itself. Problem is, there's not much for people to do in space, so a lot of companies are better off building smaller rockets for satellite launching. OTOH, part of that is because government space agencies run the only game in town. So one of the arguments is that now that going to low-Earth orbit is a routine engineering problem, we should pass it off to private companies to figure out if they can make money off of it.

** The one leads to the other. Basically, if you think it'll take three years to design a mirror and it takes six, you have to pay twice money for staff/facilities/etc. Plus, you're paying some astronomers to hang around to work on the new telescope, rather than move on after Hubble.

Life Update

Jul. 4th, 2011 12:51 pm
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
So, the moral of the story? Don't do fandom writing things the same time you have to write a 12-page proposal for NASA. Ended up dropping most of my fandom stuff because after spending workdays trying to justify that I knew enough spectroscopy for NASA to give me money, I really didn't feel like writing about civil wars, adventure stories, or researching if Harry Dresden could SCUBA-dive in Lake Michigan*. Drawing on the other hand, seemed to work just fine.

I'm getting back on the bicycle in that I'm also writing drabbles again, which usually means that the urge to write has come back. I'll take the rest of the summer/fall at an easy pace and see if I can finish the two big stories I started.

And I did get my proposal in, so hope that I get a job out at NASA Ames (that's in the Bay Area). My boss is seriously thinking I can finish by the end of the summer. I have my doubts -- in that I need to Find a Job and put a lot of my work time/energy towards that, which will delay thesis finishing -- but I expect that I can get my degree before the end of 2011.

Unfortunately, the American Astronomical Society and American Geophysical Union's** job pickings are pretty slim. Which means I need to spend a lot of time emailing people and asking if they know of any postdocs/have funding for one rather than just answering ads. You'll know my desperation by what jobs I'm at. Right now, the Kuiper Belt Object ones are starting to look appealing. Worry when I start to dust off my extragalactic astronomer cred from undergrad. Really worry if I'm trying to convince cosmologists or geologists I know anything***.

* Answer: Maybe? I'm still not sure how computerized modern equipment is, or if I should just have him magic up a substitute.

** Planetary science is kind of between the two. My own work is much closer to astronomy than earth and atmospheric science, so AAS is a more obvious choice. But AGU's membership is $7 for students. The way my adviser tells it, it's a difference in philosophy -- AAS charges more for membership so they can keep meeting/publication prices down. AGU makes membership cheap, but charges for meetings. That and AGU can get more industry money from mining/energy companies, while AAS is slightly less funded (we still get instrument makers and aerospace taking an interest).

*** One of our postdocs actually is a cosmologist who did work on the Cosmic Microwave Background (which is literally the earliest thing we can see in the Universe). He arrived maybe a year before I did, and was hired because he was great at signal processing. Now he talks rings like a pro. Of course, he also has a double major in physics and anthropology, reads several ancient languages and can give a competent talk on evolutionary biology. I kind of want to be him when I grow up.
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
This took longer than I expected.

So, now I get to go through and tell you what each of the five subcommittees got on their Christmas List. Which also means going into what sexy and exciting things are going on AS I TYPE, because one of the things expensive missions do not let you do is repeat yourselves for gits and shiggles.

Inner Planets that are Not Mars )
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
Yesterday I got a draft of my second paper printed off and handed to the adviser, along with an email I wanted to send to someone at NASA Ames which is basically 'hi, I want to work for you, can you help me with my proposal?' Part of the problem is that I'm not very assertive, so I have an idea of what I can do, but there's a lot of Cassini data that is considered Dr. So-and-so's territory. And that's not always written down or apparent from who is publishing what*. So I kind of need my adviser's moral support, since he knows the power structure better than me. (And I can blame him if things happen.)

Also, Dreamwidth is doing a fest celebrating the site's anniversary, so I'm posting a few things over there on astronomy. I'll link them over on LJ and IJ when they're done, but if you all want to check them out, I'm still [personal profile] beccastareyes. Right now I'm talking about the Decadal Survey (a once-a-decade document planetary scientists put together to tell NASA what kind of missions would be cool to do), but I'm open to other science writing suggestions.

Today we have dinner with a professor, and I'm putting the finishing touches on my code. Hopefully by the end of the week I can test it on something other than the test case I've been using to get all the bugs out -- I am sick and tired of looking at Gamma Crucis through the Encke Gap.

* It's not 'my' instrument or team, but it's a semi-joke around the department that Dr. Squyres is technically on the Cassini icy satellites team. Originally he had been put there because everyone assumed that the Mars Exploration Rovers would quickly wrap up in the three months they were supposed to work for, and then he could come and study Saturnian moons with us. Note that Opportunity is still running, seven years, three months and one day after it touched down on Mars. (Spirit is hibernating, and may or may not wake up again.)
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
So, as part of my 3 Weeks for Dreamwidth, I thought I'd do something a bit different. Instead of my normal combination of fandom stuff, reviews and general life kvetching, I thought I'd talk about science.

Today (and for the next n days), since today we got a lunch talk on the subject, I'm going to talk about the Future of Planetary Science. If you have any

Disclaimer: I'm a grad student, and the views represented in this blog, unless properly cited, are only my own reports. I also tend to be more than a bit glib about things.

Introduction )
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
So, the interview meme. [livejournal.com profile] padparadscha asked me questions, I gave answers, and I can try to ask you questions too, if you like.

A lot of astronomical rambling goes here )

Science!

Mar. 24th, 2011 04:18 pm
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Boo yah, I am so a published author!

Okay, it's a journal article, which, for a scientist is like saying 'I am employed and/or not dead', but still.

Of interest

Mar. 3rd, 2011 01:47 pm
beccastareyes: Image of man (Kain Furey) doing something electronic.  Text: geek at work (geek at work)
Psych-Out Sexism: The innocent, unconscious bias that discourages girls from math and science.

This article argues that some of the 'leaky pipeline' -- the fact that women drift away from science and math at a proportionately higher rate than men when you go from high school to college to grad school to a career -- is based partially on biases about whether science is inclusive. Basically, it cites some studies done that show female high school students are more willing to tackle a tough math problem on a test when a female math major is proctoring the exam (rather than a male math major), and that female students with a female professor become more willing to volunteer answers in class and go to office hours than if they have a male professor. I've seen other studies that show students two advertisements for a science program and both male and female students identify the mixed-gender pictures as seeming more welcoming than the predominantly-male pictures.

It's a bit discouraging, since it's kind of a self-perpetuating cycle unless you ask women to work their butts off to get the next generation into the field. I know I've met female professors who've mentioned being asked to be on ALL THE COMMITTEES so they aren't all-male, which takes them away from the parts of the job they like. Teaching is fun, but I think I'd start to resent it if I was constantly asked to do it instead of cool science things.

I don't know how much I was affected by things like this. My stepmother is a scientist, and I had mostly female science and math teachers in middle and high school -- from 7th grade*, only my high school physics teacher was male and the math teacher I had for a month in seventh grade before I was moved up a year.

OTOH, it's one reason Nancy, our outreach coordinator, is particularly happy when we have both male and female grad students (or anyone) helping. Because it's good for the public to see scientists that aren't all men.

* Which was when we got teachers dedicated to each subject. In 6th grade, two teachers were in charge of wrangling the gifted and talented classes, and they traded off subjects.
beccastareyes: Image of man (Kain Furey) doing something electronic.  Text: geek at work (geek at work)
Reading blogs, and I got this from Pharyngula. Dr. Myers notes that he likes to throw a few softballs at his students at exam time so that the folks who show up/do the reading/pay attention get some points. One of the questions he normally asks is "Name a scientist, any scientist, who also happens to be a woman."


About 10% of the class leave it blank. C'mon, it's a free 2 points on a 100 point exam! Over half the time, I get the same mysterious answer: Marie Curie. We do not talk about Marie Curie in this class at all, and it's always a bit strange that they have to cast their minds back over a century to come up with a woman scientist. Next year, I should change the question to "Name a scientist, any scientist, who also happens to be a woman, and isn't named Marie Curie," just to screw with their heads. They won't be able to think of anyone but Marie Curie.


Note that this is a biology class that mentions many biologists. Dr. Myers also notes that the second-most-common is 'Jane Goodall' (who was also not mentioned in the course). Third was 'Louise Pasteur', which... well, I guess showing that many people are confused by French noun gender. So, Dr. Myers offered a challenge -- name 10 female scientists who were not Marie Curie (or Goodall).

... I got about 18 before I realized I was starting to name friends. But I did get at least ten people I have never actually met or heard speaking. Reading the comments brought me a few more professionals of things I wasn't sure if they counted as 'science'.

So, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to name as many female scientists as you can. You can use Google to check name spellings, but not to, say, match up 'that one that discovered the thing'. (Scientists may want to either exempt themselves from the challenge or limit it to 'people who are not working in my field and/or who I know personally'.)

And, if we're being fair, see if you can name as many male scientists -- just to control for people who don't know many scientists at all.
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Every other week, my research group and a few interested bystanders have a Distant Planets Journal Club. Recently, a book called Saturn from Cassini was published that aimed to collect a summary of everything we have discovered about Saturn, its rings, and its moons (except Titan, which got its own book) since Cassini arrived there. This week, we read the chapter on the origin of the Saturnian system, which was mostly about its moons*.

It's interesting, since the professors in the group have worked on outer planets since Voyager was doing its thing, so they have a good sense of the history of the field. So we talked a bit about how more data messes up the nice, simple pictures we make.

Solar System Chemistry )
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Day 27 - Favorite anime opening theme song: Dive in the Sky, Planetes

I was going to say Rinbu Revolution from Utena, but I've been on a major Planetes binge. Though part of it is just for the opening graphics. I'm a space nerd, what can I say?

Video Behind Cut )
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
Things I need to do before I leave for California on Saturday:

1. Haircut.
2. Check that my dress clothing all fits and that I have enough.
2a. If not, buy some
2b. Repair the seam in my skirt.
3. Finish my talk and upload it to the servers.
4. Charge everything -- iPod, eReader, camera, DS, phone.
5. Pack.
6. Pick up some snacks for the plane.
7. Make sure I have little toiletry bottles for stuff, so I can try to go without a checked bag.
8. Finish the outstanding art projects I have due by the end of the month.
9. Make sure all veggies are cooked into something and frozen in the freezer, the milk is used up or tossed out, and other perishables are frozen or in the trash.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm going to Pasadena, California for a conference. My first time in that part of the state -- I've been to San Francisco, Monterrey and San Diego, but this is my first time near LA. Not that I'll be spending much time in LA -- most conferences don't involve me doing much touristy stuff unless it's a sponsored trip. And this time I decided the Palomar tour wasn't worth staying an extra day. (I think... if not, I now have a ticket to the tour that I can't use, and will need to give to someone else at the conference.) I'm presenting on the morning of the first day, so I can relax for the rest of the conference and enjoy the science. Or hide in my room and write during the evenings, since usually I am burned out by a day of having to be social.

(Though I do have a roommate -- a month ago, a friend of mine emailed me and was all 'our undergrad can't afford to go to DPS unless she can find someone who will let her sleep on their floor', so I offered, as the only woman from Cornell going**.)

Also, I ended up on the same flight as my adviser. Which means I save on cab fare to and from the Ithaca airport, but that always makes airports interesting. (At least this way if we end up stuck in Philadelphia*, I have an Ithacan who can drive with me.)

* Ask any Cornellian about the Phili airport, and you will get a story.
** I'm the only woman in our group besides our undergrads, the Martians prefer geology conferences to astronomy conferences, and the only other planetary study at Cornell is a bit of moon radar, and that grad student isn't going either.
beccastareyes: Image of boy (Sokka) looking flustered in front of a map.  Text: Gah! Presentation! (%^&*$!presentation)
Today has been a bit of a night. I ate too much or the wrong thing, so I felt kind of queasy til about 6. I've got a talk tomorrow that I was supposed to write, so I'm setting down to do that. I got some improvements on the data I was using -- mostly just reduction on the error bars -- but this is apparently radically changing my conclusions. That and one of the programs I tried to run was pretty borked*.

Then my evening got a bit more interesting. My upstairs neighbor let his sink overflow. I didn't notice until I heard a sort of dripping, cracking sound, which was water coming through my entryway light to hit the carpet. Until I went upstairs to check, I was worried it was a pipe or something that would require me to do more than put a bucket under it. Well, or call someone out here on a Sunday night to fix it -- the apartment complex keeps people on hand to handle such things, but calling one out would be a hassle.

But, thankfully, it was just my upstairs neighbor and his sink, so it stopped around the time I went up to ask if something was going on up there, and before I called someone.

Now, I should just sit down and write this talk, and then do damage control with my adviser after it for next week's conference. Granted, I'm pretty sure I can make a joke about this, since I've been to conferences where the presenter is like 'yeah, my conclusions have totally reversed themselves since I sent in my abstract'**. Not that good when I'm such an untried scientist, though. And I might have to retract my paper and resubmit it after re-writing the sucker.

I even have my potato. (It's a model for a moon -- talking about rotating coordinate frames is hard without a model.)

* I think I know why, now that I think about it. I just picked a bad way to turn a 3-D data set into a 2-D one. Which means I have a week to figure out a good way to represent a 3-D data set in a way that gives a physically meaningful answer.

** In one case, it was literally the night before.
beccastareyes: Image of two women (Utena and Anthy) dancing with stars in the background.  Text: I have loved the stars too fondly... (stars)
Yesterday, I helped out at the Fuertes Observatory's International Observe the Moon Night. And I'm still tired from it.

It wasn't worth taking the bus when I'd still have to hike across North Campus (or up from the gorge), so I just packed my telescope and tripod up and walked it. The first hour was setting stuff up and getting everyone assigned. We didn't have nearly enough volunteers early in the evening, when it was still light and we could do outside demos.

Dan (my fellow grad student) and I were doing rocketry. Well, Alka-seltzer rockets. Basically, you take a film canister and put Alka-seltzer and water in it*. The carbon dioxide is enough to launch the canister (and a rocket made around it) into the air -- six feet if you're lucky. I was bad at following directions, so the kids I supervised didn't get that kind of height. Anyway, originally Dan was launching the rockets and I was helping kids make them. Then Dan had to go give a talk, so I got left alone. Laura, who was doing a demo nearby on cratering, helped a bit, and then we got Dan-the-tech-guy and Nancy (the department's education person) to help.

We were very popular, and a lot of kids were disappointed when it was too dark to do rockets any more. Mosquitoes were bad -- I found a bunch of bug bites this morning. Strangely on my side, where my shirt and pants met, rather than, say, on my arms or neck.

After that, I spent an hour or two hanging out near the small telescopes and helping to keep them roughly moonward and in focus. Clouds were coming in then, so around 9 PM, we switched to Jupiter in the east. I wish I had advanced notice, because Uranus was actually pretty close to Jupiter last night -- to the point where you could see it in the same (wide) field of view. It's also about the same brightness as Jupiter's moons, IIRC, which I could see in my little telescope and were shockingly clear in the bigger telescopes the observatory had.

I'll check on Monday, if I can find a good star chart. At astronomy camp in high school, I took pictures of Uranus and Neptune, but never seen them with my eyes. It would add my total planets seen directly to seven. (Plus some moons -- ours, the four Galileans and a few of Saturn's.)

(Galileo is recorded as having accidentally seen Neptune, but he was more 'huh, funny moving star near Jupiter' and didn't realize it was a planet. But no one had known that there could be planets past Saturn -- even when William Herschel discovered Uranus, he thought it might just be a peculiar new type of comet that was round and kind of solid-looking. Until folks noticed the orbit was like a planet's and not at all like a comet's.)

--
* Parents were amazed we had film canisters in this age of digital photography.
beccastareyes: Image of Sam from LotR. Text: loyal (Default)
So, I made it back to Boston. Obviously. I'll try to get a write-up of the conference with 'interesting science I learned'. Because I had a good time. And, yes, I will include my own talk.

I also spent Saturday Night doing 'Ask an Astronomer -- LIVE' at a local bar with three other astronomers and a physicist. Fun, though there was some inadvertent comedy when I mentioned a transit of Venus in 2012*. Speaking of, Ann in our department is doing a Science Café with a local Mayan archeologist on 2012 -- the archeologist will handle the 'what the Mayans actually believed, as far as we can tell from their writings' and Ann gets to handle all the stories she hears about how people think the world will end and why they don't work (as well as "2012 in pop culture" and "answering emails from people scared by History Channel 'documentaries'").

* I also got to be the only one who could answer the 'what did you discover in the last year', because we had a theoretical physicist (I got my model to give self-consistent results!), an instrument builder (I took my instrument to a telescope!) and a first year grad student.

Oh, and the meme I did: all but two were answered, so I thought I'd give the answers.

"Government employees read their employer's financial information, steal a business vehicle, and go off to violate their now-former boss's purchasing agreements." is Marvel's NEXTWAVE: Agents of H.A.T.E. Let me put it this way, if Watchmen was Neon Genesis Evangeleon, deconstruction the tropes of a genre, NEXTWAVE is Gurren Lagaan, turning the tropes up to 11 and still managing to be awesome.

"A young woman's loss of sanity causes concern for a friend of her missing parents." is Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Not sure if the 'loss of sanity' is the manifestation of Agatha's Spark, since Sparks aren't generally sane by normal standards, or the fact Agatha currently has a copy of her mother's personality lodged in her head, after discovering her mother had conducted a reign of terror on the continent before she was born. Either thing concerns the Baron Wulfenbach.

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