October 29, 2007 at 19:39 pm | Leave a Comment
Ever heard of Joost? I hadn’t either until last spring, when a producer I’d talked to at a meeting called to ask if we’d be interested in having one of our shows featured on Joost. “What’s a Joost?” I asked. He went on to explain that it was a startup company, formed by the inventor of Skype, to push TV content onto people’s home computers. We checked it out; rather interesting, and we figured it couldn’t hurt to put some content on there. So, we submitted our Hubble Vision fulldome video show, but remade it as a “TV” format presentation. Joost is still in Beta, but you can check out Hubble Vision on the SpaceRip channel. Give it a vote to make sure it stays up when Joost goes “live”!
The show’s about the Hubble Space Telescope and takes viewers on a tour of the loveliest and coolest pics returned by this grand old orbiting observatory. It’s the first and only spacecraft I ever had anything to do with as a grad student, and it was the topic of my first book (co-authored with John C. Brandt, of the University of New Mexico). Hubble keeps cranking out cool pics and I’ve been telling its story for more than a decade! So, go check out the show and tell me what you think!
October 27, 2007 at 21:24 pm | Leave a Comment
Taking Pride in a Great Project
Occasionally I refer to the work I did for Griffith Observatory as “my exhibits.” Of course, I didn’t do <i>all</i> the work on them myself; there was an extremely talented group of designers making all the visuals look good. But, even as I was responsible for all the writing you see on the Griffith exhibit panels, I relied on a team of amazing curators, people who were there to answer questions, find data for me, give feedback on the writing, and, in general, be the endogenous goads that all successful writers need to help make the work look good for the readers. The curatorial team was led by Ed Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory, a long-time colleague and writer himself. It also included several astronomy professors from the SoCal area, the former program supervisor at Griffith (the now-retired John Mosley, another long-time colleague), the director of the exhibit program Mark Pine (who is now the deputy director at Griffith), and a former prof of mine named Bruce Bohannon. While it was my job to write the exhibit panels for the whole building, which required that I come up with approachable language for a huge variety of topics in astronomy, I couldn’t have done it without those folks. So, even if I say those are “my” exhibits, it’s only in a manner of speaking; they belong to all of us who worked on them for several years, bringing the wonders of astronomy to a huge and diverse audience.
And now, of course, they belong to the visitors who come to Griffith to learn about astronomy.
I thought about all those curatorial folks and all the meetings we had in 2005-2006 as I wandered around Griffith last week on my latest visit. Each panel has a story, a number of discussions and meetings behind it. In some cases they were easy to write; in other cases, they took many iterations before we were all pleased with the effort.
It wasn’t just the science that we had to work to discuss; I had to carry around in my head the “persona” of the voice that shaped those words. Actors and writers often talk about “voice” and “characterization” as aspects of telling a story. Such things do speak to people; when you read a story somewhere, it’s got a “voice” that speaks to you, that tells you the narrative. An actor’s character has a story behind it, something that the actor has to use to bring the character alive in performance. The same thing happened with these science panels. Each one had a backstory, a voice. That’s because science itself has a voice. As an institution that brings one of the coolest of all sciences to life—astronomy—Griffith has a voice that voice tells the story of astronomy. It was my job to bring that voice to life. And now, it’s everyone else’s “job” to listen and learn and hopefully enjoy.
October 25, 2007 at 7:09 am | Leave a Comment
or Dedicate Their Computers to It
In the burgeoning world of “doing science at home on your computer” made popular by such projects as Seti@Home, there’s a new entry: Cosmology@Home. It works the same as Seti and the other distributed computing projects: you download a program that goes to work on your computer chewing up chunks of data that will help astronomers come up with a model that best describes our universe. The ultimate goal is to find the range of models that best agree with the observational data from astronomy and particle physics experiments.
As described in the Welcome Letter on the project’s web page, each work package your computer processes helps simulate a universe with a particular geometry, particle content, and “physics of the beginning.” The cosmologists then take the chewed-on data and compare it to the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (observed from space by the WMAP and soon the Planck spacecraft, as well as from ground based and balloon based experiments), the large-scale distribution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies, measurements of the current expansion speed of the Universe by the Hubble space telescope, the acceleration of the Universe as measured by observations of supernova explosions, observations of primordial element abundances in distant gas clumps, and gravitational lensing data, when it becomes available.
If you’d like to take part in this large-scale computing project, check out the web link above for details on how to download the client and get started helping cosmologists explain the physical evolution of the universe we live in.
October 23, 2007 at 22:26 pm | Leave a Comment
After my trip to Athens, I turned around and came back to the U.S., not just back to New England, but all the way out to Los Angeles for the Association of Science-Technology Centers meeting. I’d never been to an ASTC meeting before, and was going because we (Mark and I) had a clip running in the fulldome showcase that was held at Griffith Observatory. It was also a good chance to visit “my” exhibits again at Griffith, and also to catch up with my old friends and colleagues there. We don’t all see each other often enough!
So, I hopped a plane in Athens and 22 hours later found myself in Los Angeles, jetlagged but glad to be back “home” in the U.S. No slam on Athens; I loved running around and meeting with folks at the CAP meeting. But, as any traveler knows, it’s always good to get home again.
The ASTC meeting featured a number of interesting talks that, as I get more interested in doing exhibit work and also as I do more “production” work along the lines of the vodcasts Mark and I are doing, give me an opportunity to learn from other people who do the same kinds of work for science centers. In that regard then, going to ASTC was a “must-do” event. And, I did meet a LOT of new faces mixed in among the science center folks I already knew.
Science outreach is going to become (if it isn’t already) one of the more crucial means for scientists to impact people who may not ever consider becoming scientists but who are interested in what science is and does. In the U.S. (and in some other countries) science is facing increasing onslaughts from pockets of ignorant thought, borne by people who can’t bear the rational thought that science requires, and are blind to the beauties of the scientific universe. It’s tough for me to understand such ignorance, mostly because I don’t see any need for it to exist. Nonetheless, it’s there. And so, I do what many others do, try to teach about science as best I can through my books, exhibits, scripts and other works. We’re all scientists at heart; we’re born that way, to question the universe and seek to understand how it works.
October 14, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Leave a Comment
Travel Will Do It
I spent last week in Athens, Greece, at a meeting called Communicating Astronomy with the Public. About 250 or so folks from around the world attended, and we heard a number of cool presentations about people communicating astronomy through various means, including planetarium shows, lectures, films, etc. I actually presented two poster papers, one about the Griffith Exhibits and my work writing them, and the other about a vodcast project I’m involved with that will be up and available soon (more on that as it comes up).
Of course, at these meetings, some of the most interesting things we learn come from hallway conversations and discussions during coffee breaks. I got to talking with a pair of gentlemen who live and work in South Africa, Zululand, and they were telling me that they cannot afford expensive exhibits, planetarium instruments, etc. But, they do want them, so they go around to facilities around the world, asking for equipment that is no longer used, exhibits that are being replaced, etc., so that they have something to teach their students about astronomy.
That conversation was an eye-opener. Most of us live in societies that have what they need; yet here are people who want to do what all of us space and astronomy educators/outreach types do, yet they have to beg for the leftovers from our feast. It really gave me something to think about!
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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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