Astronomy on the High Seas

The Ocean of Space from the Ocean of Earth

I’ve been absent from my blog for a couple of weeks because I’ve been out doing astronomy lectures onboard a cruise ship. This is the second of three cruise gigs I’ve signed up to do and, just as with the first one, I’ve learned a lot from my passengers and the experience of lecturing on a ship.  The lectures themselves go pretty easily — although lecturing on a stage on a swaying ship and trying to look sideways or backward at my slides can be something of a challenge.

Passengers always ask good questions when we meet on board the ship and they find out I’m the astronomy lecturer.  As you might imagine, one of the most-often asked ones is about black holes.  And that’s kind of interesting — black holes really grab people’s attention. Answering their questions gives me a chance to talk about a variety of subtopics in astronomy — from stellar evolution to galaxy evolution.

Another question that usually crops up is whether or not I believe there’s life “out there.” And, that one gives me a chance to talk about planetary formation and all the factors that make it possible for life to exist.  A related question is whether I’ve seen little green men, to which I’ve often said, “No, but I’ve seen some big green-looking men when the ship is really rockin’ and rollin’ in a storm” (which doesn’t usually happen too often).

Most of the people on the ships I’ve lectured on have been quite interested in astronomy — and when we get a chance to do top-deck stargazing (not as often as I’d like due to weather, etc.) — people do show up and are fascinated with whatever I can point out.

It’s a fun experience and just one of the many International Year of Astronomy activities that I and astronomers around the world are doing.  Cruise lectures reach an audience that runs across race and gender — and the experience always teaches me something new about what excites people about astronomy.

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  1. Well, what fun! Wish I were along! We were out on Thanksgiving and watched the space shuttle and the space station go over (found the time/location on the internet). We pointed them out to the friends we were with and explained the difference between planes (blinking lights) and orbiting objects (steady, reflected light). A short time later one little girl (about 4) in the group spotted a satellite – I think we got us a future astronomer!

    Comment by Annette — December 1, 2009 #

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