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Swimming In The (astro) Pacific

As a newly minted, 1 year old professor, this is the deep end of the astronomy edu cation pool...

The Phantom Of The Laboratory

We are fortune here at Science20 to have come across an early work by Gaston Leroux.  This...

Engineering Roleplaying

Hey, you got simulation in my roleplay! Hey, you got roleplay in my simulation! Wait, it's two...

Stars That Ring Like Bells

Time to ring in a new year with pressure waves.  We can see, but not, hear true sonic waves...

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Alex "Sandy" AntunesRSS Feed of this column.

Read more about the strange modern world of a day laborer in astronomy, plus extra space science-y goodness.... Read More »

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Space weather can kill astronauts. This is one of the motivations for funding space weather. Solar events-- flares, particle storms, and coronal mass ejections-- can knock out GPS and cell phone reception, screw up radio and radar, and endanger airline pilots flying the polar routes. All of these damaging effects are well worth mitigating. 

But what about circumstances higher up?

In an article titled Fake Astronaut Gets Hit by Artificial Solar Flare, NASA reports on their upcoming experiment to see just how much damage a solar flare would cause to an unprotected astronaut.
In two hours, under my guidance, a small group of 5th and 6th graders built a drawbridge. We were operating using a plan essentially sketched on the napkin, with the napkin left at home. We had a stack of wood, rope, 2 hammers, a drill, a hacksaw, and a box of nails. I had access to as many kids as we needed as labor. And, again, we built a portable, freestanding, working drawbridge in under 2 hours. And assembled it outside a classroom 'medieval museum' to serve as its entrance for the rest of this week.

Just which skills of a computational astrophysicist made me especially suited for such a task?


  1. my knowledge of geometry and trigonometry


  2. my background in space-borne CCD camera assembly

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.
  - Richard Feynman

I just read a neat HST result on dark matter on slashdot.org. I also enjoy peeking at Astronomy Picture of the Day to find out about stuff I don't know. Basically, I get my fix from the same sites I recommend to others curious about astronomy.  So I'm not just a professional astronomer. I'm an astronomer fan when it comes to fields other than what I work on.
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.
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

"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.