A post-doc is extremely low on the totem pole of authority.  The ranking goes roughly: Principal Investigators and Branch Heads, Staff Scientists, Secretaries, Soft-Money Scientists, Technical Staff, Support Staff, Janitors, the stray cats in the garage (yes, we have them!), Post-docs, Students.

Naturally the branch head asked me to manage the pre-launch efforts to ensure our science pipeline would be ready on time and able to produce scientific results from day one.

I found the situation extremely amusing.  There I was, a newcomer to the group and a lowly post-doc to boot, assigning tasks to senior scientists, shifting people to must-do items, and chiding them for missing deadlines.  And you know what?  Everyone was fine with that.
Astronomers have found more than 300 alien (extrasolar) worlds so far. Most of these are gas giants like Jupiter, and are either too hot (too close to their star) or too cold (too far away) to support life as we know it.

Sometime in the near future, however, astronomers will probably find one that's just right – a planet with a solid surface that's the right distance for a temperature that allows liquid water -- an essential ingredient in the recipe for life.

But the first picture of this world will be just a speck of light. How can we find out if it might have liquid water on its surface? If it has lots of water – oceans – we are in luck. is broadcasting live images of galaxies, to be compared with reference images in search for supernovaes. A commentary is provided in Italian and English. Join NOW!

Below is a screenshot of what is being shown now.

This week's PhD Comic lists the 4 'research topics guaranteed to be picked up by the new media':

  1. Chocolate
  2. Robots
  3. Unrealistic Sci-Fi gadgets
  4. Experiments that might blow up the world
Pulsars are superdense neutron stars, the remnants left after massive stars have exploded as supernovae. Their powerful magnetic fields generate lighthouse-like beams of light and radio waves that sweep around as the star rotates. Most rotate a few to tens of times a second, slowing down over thousands of years.
Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have succeeded in measuring the size of giant galaxy Messier 87 - or what they thought there should be.    It turns out that its outer parts have been stripped away - and no one is yet sure how.   To add to its woes, the galaxy also appears to be on a collision course with another giant galaxy in this dynamic cluster.

"We have the habit, as humans, of only thinking that what we see is real", began Neil Tyson.  Our job as astronomers is to 'turn something invisible and make it real'.  His premise: space weather is important to study, but scientists also have to step up their game in communicating why this is important.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke at the 3rd Space Weather Enterprise Forum today.  As an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, part of his job is "when the universe flinches and the reporters come to knock on my door" it's "because there is a hunger" for science.

Astronauts blazed through their third of five spacewalks Saturday as they continued servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, installing the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and repairing the main science camera of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) which has been disabled since February 2007.  Initial tests verified that both instruments were alive and able to communicate with ground control.

(2007 photo: Cariana Nebula imaged with ACS and CTIO; credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith, STScI, AURA, NOAO, NSF)
8 classrooms in 5 hours. 30 minutes per class. Grade levels ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade. Unscripted, 1 index card of talking points. When I compare 'Career Day' at my kids' elementary school with my Ph.D. defense, that dissertation committee seems the easier audience-- fewer questions outside of my field.

This blog serves me well for my K12 talks. Many of the concepts I work with here-- what it's like to be a working astronomer, what motivates me, what neat science stuff have I come across-- are perfect for talking to school kids. I used much of material here when I talked there.
The Whole Earth Telescope (WET), a worldwide network of observatories coordinated by the University of Delaware, is synchronizing its lenses to provide round-the-clock coverage of a cooling star. As the star dims in the twilight of its life, scientists hope it will shed light on the workings of our own planet and other mysteries of the galaxy.

The dying star, a white dwarf identified as WDJ1524-0030, located in the constellation Ophiuchus in the southern sky, is losing its brightness as it cools, its nuclear fuel spent. It will be monitored continuously from May 15 to June 11 by WET, a global partnership of telescopes which was formed in 1986.