These pages chronicle the work and ruminations of Carolyn Collins Petersen, also known as TheSpacewriter.
I am CEO of Loch Ness Productions. I am also a producer for Astrocast.TV, an online magazine about astronomy and space science.
For the past few years, I've also been a voice actor, appearing in a variety of productions. You can see and hear samples of my work by clicking on the "Voice-Overs, Videos and 'Casts tab.
My blog, TheSpacewriter's Ramblings, is about astronomy, space science, and other sciences.
Ideas and opinions expressed here do not represent those of my employer or of any other organization to which I am affiliated. They're mine.
Visit my main site at: TheSpacewriter.com.
**I encourage comments and discussion; please keep it polite and respectful. I do moderate them to weed out spam, but I also refuse to post any messages that contain harassing, demeaning, rude, or profane language. I run a respectable establishment here.
Contact me for writing and voice-over projects at: cc(dot)petersen(at)gmail(dot)com
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November 30, 2004 at 11:17 am | Leave a Comment
A couple of entries ago I talked about observing on Mauna Kea in 1996. I suppose I went into it with only a little bit of a romantic view of Big Astronomy Observing, knowing that it wouldn’t quite be like the days of old with the lonely astronomer sitting in the cage while the selfless night assistant monitored the proceedings and moved the telescope at my command. For one thing, I knew that modern observatories use computers to position their telescopes precisely, and that most observers sit in nice, comfy control rooms and not in drafty chairs on the telescope, peering through eyepieces.
Our own observations on Mauna Kea made heavy use of computers to quickly capture images and do some quick processing to make sure we got what we wanted, before moving on to the next target. Our observing runs were chock full of targets: Comet Hale-Bopp, Comet Machholz, an assortment of asteroids, and just for grins toward the end of the night, we targeted a few deep-sky objects before we shut the systems down. If we’d had to go out on the observatory floor and manually position the scope for all those objects? Well, it wouldn’t have happened.
Computers revolutionized astronomy and nowadays you see amateurs routinely hooking up their Dells and IBMs and other systems up to guide their telescopes. Many amateur scopes have their own onboard guiding systems, complete with star ephemeris information and more. Heck, you see them being run from laptops and Personal Digital Assistants! It’s a far cry from the early days when the computers at observatories were pretty much limited to guiding the telescope for precision pointing. Today they also monitor the instruments attached to the telescopes, record data, and in some cases do what is called “pipeline” processing to get it ready for the observer who got the telescope time in the first place. It’s safe to say that most of modern astronomy would be impossible to do without computers.
There are those who bemoan the loss of the “old days” when the observer had complete control of the process, sort of like a king on a throne, but I think those folks are few and far between. Far from computerization being a tool to remove power from lofty astronomers, it has democratized the process for more observers and made a great deal more science possible. Without it, the wonderful images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Gemini Observatories, Spitzer Space Telescope, the myriad amateur astronomers who turn out breathtaking work, and so many others would not exist.
November 28, 2004 at 13:33 pm | Leave a Comment
Way back in the Dark Ages, before I got out of graduate school, I took a planetary science course or two at the university. Our field trips were great! We went to places on Earth that had similar characteristics to Mars. That would be deserts, volcanoes, and meteor craters. The West has these in various places, and so over the course of several trips we went to Arizona Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater (a volcano in northern Arizona), the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado, and the Big Island of Hawaii, where we studied volcanoes and sapping valleys.
On one of the trips to Meteor Crater we actually had permission to go into the crater to study the layered rocks and the ejecta hurled out when the incoming space asteroid chunk impacted the desert some 50,000 years ago. We were led down by the world’s foremost authority on the crater, the late Dr. Gene Shoemaker. Descending to the bottom of the crater we examined each layer of rock and gleaned its depositional story. Fascinating stuff and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us.
When I saw the latest “rim country” image from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (currently finishing up its exploration of Endurance Crater) I felt transported back more than a dozen years to that hot, dusty day when we explored the layers of Earth’s history in the Arizona desert. The scene here is so familiar that I had a strong memory of Gene’s voice calling out to us across the rock faces and crumbling layers to “come see this!”
This is Mars exploration today, limited by the speed of a couple of slow-moving rovers serving as our eyes and geological tools on the Red Planet. It’s providing tantalizing glimpses of an alien planet that looks so familiar, yet lies so far away. In a funny way, however, looking at pictures like this make me homesick for the wide open spaces we once explored as we readied ourselves to study Mars. I think Gene would say the same thing, but like me, he’d be champing at the bit to go there and see it for himself.
November 26, 2004 at 11:10 am | Leave a Comment
And What’s It Doing on An Astronomy Blog?
One of the things that fascinates me about blogs and blogging is the huge diversity of subjects that people write about in their daily entries. Just as I know I’m one of many folks who write about topics related to astronomy and space science, there are millions of people out there writing about everything you can possibly imagine. Some are fun to read, others are less so, but each one offers a window into some reality we might not otherwise get to experience.
About a year ago I ran across a virtual “stock exchange” in blogs called Blogshares.com. You might have noticed an icon for it over in my ever-growing list of links on the left. It’s actually a game site where you can register your own blog and “play investor” by buying shares in other blogs. The stock market is not just limited to blog shares, however. Traders also seek out and purchase ideas (which are linked to blog subjects), and artefacts (which are also linked to ideas industries). It’s a fascinating game to play, and I might add, a way to learn about the inexorable laws of supply and demand!
When I first joined I thought I might the only space blog registered, but it turns out there are lots of people who think “space is the place” and they blog about it! So, I got to looking around for other blog writers who chronicle a couple of my other interests—space music and planetariums.
Space music comes naturally for me, considering I’m married to and run a business with Mark Petersen—one of the world’s foremost space music composers. Now, space music is a pretty “niche” genre. In most record stores it doesn’t even have its own bin anymore (although it used to), so you have to look for it in the Ambient and New Age bins. Despite this unfortunate placement, space music IS thriving, particularly on the Web, where people like Mark sell their CDs and music to a dedicated following.
Space music is evocative of the wide-open spaces beyond the stars, going beyond the confines of traditional orchestral or electronic genres. Yet, it has roots in other genres: electronic music, ambient music, and I’d even say it might owe some of its existence to composers like Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Alan Hovhaness. Certainly it has come to be best known in the planetarium, where it is used to help paint aural images for cosmic scenes like starbirth areas, distant galaxy clusters, and the longed-for dream of travel between the stars. Mark takes scenes like these and fuses them with music that fits the vast spacescapes made possible in the planetarium.
Some of the blogs about space music that I’ve run across are quite interesting indeed, and give us a peek into this very rarefied world. There are many, many blogs to visit about some aspect of ambient, space, and electronic music. Here are three that I visited lately:
Astreaux World Blog about ambient, space, and new age music.
Dr. Tom’s music blog.
Now, Blogshares does have a music industry under which all kinds of ideas are swapped, so I think it would be neat to have a sub-industry called “space and ambient” music, and another called “new age” music. If that’s too specialized, then perhaps these could become sub sub-industries under “Indie and Alternative Music.” And, if the powers that be who run the game want a new artefact, then how about “synthesizer” since much of space music is created using these unique and facile instruments?
Of course, talking about space music brings me to planetariums, which also come easy for me, since I’ve been working in, with, or for them in one form or another since the early 1980s. They’re fascinating facilities—capable of taking us anywhere in the universe we want to go, in a quest for an understanding of the cosmos. Now, when I talk about planetariums, I’m thinking of the round rooms with the star projector in the center. There are also planetarium software programs, which also make stars for you, but only on your computer screen. However, there are few smart folks (like Sky-Skan, Inc., of Nashua, NH), who have harnessed the computer-generated starfield programs and are using computer systems and projectors to blast them up to the dome, but those aren’t in people’s homes— yet. Chances are when you’ve been to a planetarium, you’ve heard space music. It was probably what made you feel right at home in space!
So, are there blogs and blog entries about planetarium space theaters? Well, yes there are. In a cursory Google search I found hundreds of entries about experiences in the planetarium, ranging from that first visit to one as a grade-school child to the absolute awe and wonder these places spark in our minds. Here are a couple of examples:
Gone to Carolina, with an entry about going to the planetarium.
Planetarium visits seem to be a recurring theme across these blogs. While planetaria aren’t things you visit every day (unless you happen to be IN the biz), they ARE a part of our landscape, and I hope they continue this way for a long time!
As far as Blogshares goes, I think that the game could use a new entry under “Media” called “Planetariums”, with an artefact called “Planetarium show” and another called “Planetarium Instrument.” Sure, they’re esoteric, but life isn’t always about the everyday things. It’s also about the experiences we share in places like planetariums, where science, music, art, and the human voice all combine in new kinds of media vehicles that can take us to the stars.
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This blog a wholly pwnd subsidiary of Carolyn Collins Petersen, a.k.a. TheSpacewriter.
Copyright 2013, Carolyn Collins Petersen
Image of Horsehead Nebula: T.A.Rector (NOAO/AURA/NSF) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA)
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