• [Article 6824]Astronomers Without Borders

    Bring Astronomy Education to Kids in Tanzania

    Last fall I had the great privilege of meeting and traveling with Mike Simmons, the President and Founder of Astronomers without Borders. This organization fosters and follows through on the idea that the stars belong to all of us, and that astronomy is a worldwide cultural and scientific heritage. We happened to be in Poland for a meeting called “Communicating Astronomy with the Public” and as part of our after-meeting trip, we traveled to Torun (the home of Nicolas Copernicus) and visited two “Astrobazas” — observatories built and run by students at their respective schools. It was a great trip and I was really impressed with the level of interest and expertise of the students involved.

    One of the projects that AWB is doing is called Telescopes to Tanzania, and it’s the subject of an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign. The group has a goal of raising $38,000 to improve science education Tanzania, and as of this writing, they’ve raised $6,549 with 39 days to go. AWB has been actively working with and supporting Tanzania’s schools since 2011, trying to bring textbooks and other materials to students who don’t have access to even the basic materials that kids in the U.S. and other countries take for granted. The group is using their crowdsourcing campaign to build the The Center for Science Education and Observatory in the country, which will  help students and teachers in the country with astronomy  and science training. By integrating astronomy into the national teaching curriculum, the center will be able to develop and circulate hands-on science and astronomy teaching resources to schools around the Tanzania.  In addition, the center will provide hands-on laboratories, and an astronomical observatory with a portable planetarium, and internet connectivity so that students and teachers can connect one-on-one with science centers and students and educators worldwide.

    Do you have some spare cash lying around?  It only takes $5.00 to make just the minimum contribution to the AWB’s effort. Of course, you can (and should, if you’re able) give more. You could even fund the construction of the observatory for $15,000.  Of course, you get cool perks, plus you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping one of the world’s premier astronomy outreach organizations bring science awareness and education to the students in Tanzania. Your money will go a long way. Here’s a breakdown of what the $38,000 will cover.

    Budget breakdown for the IndieGoGo funds raised by Astronomers Without Borders. Courtesy AWB.

    If you can give, please do so. If you’re interested in other projects and accomplishments of AWB, check out their Web page. And, if you want to learn first-hand about AWB and their current project, visit them during their August 6th G+ Hangout. The topic is focused on the development of STEM education in developing world. Anousheh Ansari, astronaut and social entrepreneur Ron Garan, and people from Africa will be joining Mike and the gang. Check it out at the AWB Google+ page and learn more about this remarkable organization.

  • [Article 6820]Stories of Climate Change Need Telling

    Help Savvy Writers Get the Story Out

    NOAA ship R/V Roger Revelle exploring an Antarctic iceberg floating in the Indian Ocean part of the Southern Ocean, in 2008. This study was part of long-term research into changes in ocean chemistry in light of increased amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Courtesy NOAA.

    A few years ago I worked with a very good writer and PhD chemist named Sarah Webb on a project to create exhibits for the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. She worked on image and topic research and provided me a much-needed second pair of eyes before I could send copy out to the curatorial team in LA.  Today, Sarah is focusing much of her professional attention on topics in climate change. She’s part of a group of writers who are raising funds for a project called Bracing for Impact, which will bring a variety of stories to public attention about nature, culture, and science as they weave around the topic of climate change. They’re using a cool project called Beacon to do their fundraiser and will ultimately publish there. I’m asking you to throw some support their way by sending some money to them. They’re almost at their goal with a couple of days to go, so give ‘em some of your time, money, and attention! Click on the Bracing for Impact link above and check out their very worthy project.

    Why do we need stories about all aspects of climate change?  It’s happening to and around us. We’re involved in it. And, it will involve our children and their children. It’s only right to inform yourself about the effects of global warming and climate change. It hurts to think that humans caused much (if not most) of the problem that we’re handing on to future generations. I know there are people who are in serious denial over this, invoking all kinds of unlikely conspiracy theories, political chicanery, and religious quotage to revile the rest of us who are willing to accept our role and move on to effective solutions. The first step in maturity about this topic is to understand that we DO and DID have a role in what’s happening to our planet’s climate, and step forward to make changes. That’s not a conspiracy: that’s facing facts and being an adult about them.

    A year or two after working on the Griffith exhibits, I was the senior writer for another set of exhibits for the California Academy of Sciences, focused on the effects of climate change on California’s ecosystems and biomes. While I had studied some atmospheric physics, I needed to spend some time catching up with the latest news and research on climate change (as it stood at that time). It didn’t take me long to figure out that the climate scientists are right. I read a huge variety of works, from newspaper articles to scientific papers. And, where once I might have been skeptical about a few facts in the climate change saga, I was able to learn more about the facts. It wasn’t an easy process. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But, I learned. And, if I can, so can anyone who wants to find out what scientists really do know about our planet and its complex atmosphere, ecosystems, and biomes.

    I hope that the stories Sarah and her colleagues are able to tell will wake you up to the facts and realities of climate change in the same way that my own research did in 2008. Nothing has changed for the better since then, our planet is still warming, and effects are being felt. It’s time to face the facts and learn the lessons. Denialism and gibbering quotes from ignorant (or well-paid) shills for the industries having most of the effects on our climate are the weakest part of the dialogue about climate change. Science can and should be the main part of the discussion.

    Want to learn more about climate change and how NASA is taking a lead role (along with NOAA) in documenting the change? Check out the following links and learn for yourself. And, if you wonder why space exploration has anything to do with climate change, think about this:  space exploration helps learn about ALL the other planets, and beyond. It only makes sense to use the same tools we use to explore those places to look at Earth (as a planet) and see how it is changing.

    Piecing together the Temperature Puzzle

    Global Climate Change (NASA)





  • [Article 6806]Some Thoughts about Apollo 11 and Beyond…

    History Was Made, Will it Be Made Again?

    Buzz Aldrin on the spacewalk during Apollo 11 in 1969.
    Buzz Aldrin on the spacewalk during Apollo 11 in 1969.

    We watched the whole Moon walk sequence last night and it’s amazing what I remembered from the first time and what made a WHOLE lot more sense now. The thing that really surprised me was how much work the guys had to do in their 2+ hours on the surface. Amazed they got it all done!

    Those first men who set foot on the Moon achieved something great, standing on the shoulders of the rest of us who guided them on the way, supported the space effort, and clamored for the images and sounds. They set fire to people’s imaginations, and spurred a great many of us who go on and seek careers in science.  I got hooked on astronomy and space science. Other people I know became doctors and physicists and planetary scientists and science teachers and planetarium directors, based on what they saw that night in 1969 and on subsequent missions to the Moon. We all were inspired to dream big.

    There’s no way we can replicate the exact conditions of political will and courage that it took for 1960s politicians and corporations to get behind space exploration. But, we need to know that it was a golden age of technological development and science education. Those are things we CAN and DO need to kickstart in my country again (the U.S.). It won’t be easy. The political will needs to be there, and the best way to make that political will happen is to make science research, technology and a serious space program a priority.

    What we CAN do is elect people who have more than venal self-interest at heart, who aren’t bought and paid for by oligarchs who only see their profits and can’t see that people with good jobs are an important part of a successful country. We need people who CAN see that space exploration and the technology that flows from it, is at humanity’s best interests. At the very least, it beats the crap out of funding wars and giving tax cuts to people who don’t need them. We don’t get ahead by sitting on our hands and letting some people slide (and get corporate welfare) while others do the work (but don’t get the rewards).