Thursday, October 16, 2014


As of the time I post this, it will have been exactly one year since since my old friend and high school classmate Roman was declared dead. He was shot multiple times after supposedly stepping in front of the friends he was with at the time during whatever confrontation ensued. As I was not there, I cannot personally confirm any of the details of the events surrounding his death, but it sounds like a very Roman thing to do.

I met Roman on my first day of high school on the school bus, and we started off laughing and joking on the long bus ride. That started everything. We ended up shooting the shit, and were each supremely excited to discover that the other was a St. Louis Rams fan. Though he had no connections to St. Louis, he became a fan during the Greatest Show on Turf years (and let's face it, who can blame him?) and stuck it through the Marc Bulger and Ryan Fitzpatrick years as well. No one can ever claim he was a frontrunner there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bad Astronomy Acronyms (BAAs)

One of my personal favorite things about astronomy is that astronomers tend to come up with really bad acronyms. Such acronyms are like puns; I love to hate them. In fact, I collect them. My favorites are the so-called "stackronym"s, which are acronyms that contain other acronyms. So, this is going to be my collection of my personal favorite BAAs. I was inspired by the DOOFAAS (Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms Site) run out of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, which hasn't been updated in a while, so far as I can tell.

These are particular acronyms I've seen in department colloquia, at conferences, or on the web. I'd also like to give a special shout out to my buddy Alex Hagen (@astrophysicalex) who posts an acronym of the day from his daily browsing of the arXiv. This list shall be updated as new acronyms are collected. If you have any favorite bad acronyms that I don't have listed here (that you didn't just rip from DOOFAAS), you can tweet them at me @HeavyFe_H or post them in the comments.

ALFALFA - Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA survey (ALFA is, itself, an acronym for one of Arecibo's instruments, the Arecibo L-band Feed Array. So, properly written, ALFALFA = Arecibo Legacy Fast Arecibo L-band Feed Array survey. I love "Arecibo" being in there twice. Thanks for the reminder, Gabo.)

BaLROG - Bars in Low Redshift Optical Galaxies project. Better yet, the observations were made with the SAURON spectrograph. You just can't make this shit up..

BANANA survey - Binaries Are Not Always Neatly Aligned. (I'm kinda sad it's not BANANAs. Thanks Ben!)

BATMAN - BAsic Transit Model cAlculatioN in python. Unofficially known as Bad-Ass Transit Model cAlculatioN in python. (Seriously, I think this wins. This is by far the biggest stretch for an acronym I have ever seen. I approve of the unofficial name though.)

The BEAST = The Bayesian Extinction And Stellar Tool (Thanks Lea!)

CLASSy - CARMA Large-Area Star-formation Survey (a stackronym. CARMA = Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy) (Something just cracks me up about the lower case "y" tacked on to the end.)

DUSTiNGS - DUST in Nearby Galaxies with Spitzer (Oh for crying out loud, you literally just used a whole word as part of the acronym!)

ENiGMA - EvolutioN of Grains in the MAgellanic clouds (Where did the lowercase i even come from? That makes no sense!)

ESPRESSO - Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (brought to my attention by Guðmundur Kári Steffánson at AstroBites)

G-CLEF - GMT-CfA Large Earth Finder (a stacronym. GMT = Giant Magellan Telescope, CfA = (Harvard Smithsonian) Center for Astrophysics)

GHOST - Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (how the hell did they think to include the T?)

JUICE - JUpiter ICy moon Explorer (They really stretched that one)

KINGFISH - Key Insights on Nearby Galaxies: a Far-IR Survey with Herschel (Woooooooooooooow)

MAGIICAT - Magnesium II absorber-galaxy CATalog. ( even has a mascot... Thanks Meredith!)

MINERVA - MINiature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array (Thanks to Jason Wright and company for creating this one)

PINOCCHIO - PINpointing Orbit-Crossing Collapsed Hierarchical Objects (Holy cow... Thanks Nina!)

RUN-DMC - Radial velocity Using N-body Differential evolution markov chain Monte Carlo (Best part is that I know EXACTLY who to blame for this one; we once shared an office)

SLoWPoKES - Sloan Low-mass Wide Pairs of Kinematically Equivalent Stars (So far, this is my favorite)

SLUGGS - SAGES Legacy Unifying Globulars and GalaxieS survey (a stackronym. SAGES = Study of the Astrophysics of Globular clusters in Extragalactic Systems) (Also run out of UC Santa Cruz, whose mascot is the Banana Slug. Yes, really.)

SOAP - Spot Oscillation And Planet software (Bet that made it through their panel review squeaky clean!)

SUMaC - Swift UV survey of the Magellanic Clouds (Once again, I know the people responsible for this one.)

SURFS UP - Spitzer UltRa Faint SUrvey Program (They used a letter in the middle of a word. That's just not okay. Thanks Lea!)

VAMPIRES - Visible Aperture-Masking Polarimetric Interferometer for Resolving Exoplanetary Signatures (I hope the instrument sucks less than the name. Get it, because vampires suck your blood. And I hope the instrument... never mind.)


Well, that's quite the bummer to wake up to. It turns out that the gamma ray burst everyone was so excited about last night was merely an artifact of a glitch in Swift's analysis software. The data have since been re-analyzed (really early in the morning, Dave Burrows is going to need a lot of coffee today) and the following notice has been published.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gamma Ray Burst NOT Detected in Andromeda Galaxy

MAJORLY IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Swift X-ray Telescope team has taken a look at the X-ray data, and has shown that there was a mistake that was made in the analysis. As Robert Rutledge (@rerutled) has been saying on Twitter, this analysis error gave this source an X-ray brightness 300 times higher than what it should have been. Repeat, NO GRB IN M31. Disappointing I know, but it's our job as scientists to propagate correct information, so there it is. I will discuss what went exactly went wrong shortly. My post on the topic is here, and Phil Evan's (vastly superior and more comprehensive) post is here.

At 21:24:27 UT (4:24:27 PM EST), the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Telescope detected a sudden emission of gamma rays (REALLY high energy photons, you know, the ones that turned Bruce Banner into The Hulk) from our nearest galactic neighbor, M31, better known as the Andromeda Galaxy. This is by far the closest gamma ray burst (assuming it's a gamma ray burst, still unconfirmed) Swift has ever seen, and will provide a fantastic opportunity for astronomers to follow up by observing with other telescopes. The Andromeda Galaxy is roughly 2.5 million light years away, which is nearly 40 times closer than the next closest GRB we have detected. Hell, if it wasn't mostly cloudy and thundering tonight, I'd be outside with a telescope as soon as it got dark! Not that I'd be likely to see much yet, especially with a small telescope, but one can dream.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Shadows of the Dying Sun" album review

Despite the album name, this post is actually going to have nothing to do with astronomy. Insomnium, my all-time favorite band, just released a new album! And I finally got my pre-ordered copy thereof. It also comes with a lyrics booklet (of course), and each song has a little blurb about the writing process for that particular song, so now I have even more material (and can actually see the lyrics!).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cygnus X-1 Undergoing Changes in Its Emission

First off, to all of my Rush fan readers (Alan, I'm looking at you in particular), this is not about either of the Cygnus X-1 songs. Sorry.

Actually, what I'm going to talk about is much cooler. It started when I came across a Tweet from the Astronomer's Telegram (@astronomerstel) which led to a "telegram" titled "Cygnus X-1 is entering its hard X-ray state". Of course, these are no longer actual telegrams. Rather, they are shared public messages from astronomers telling other astronomers that something exciting is happening in space and that people should point the appropriate telescopes at it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Holy S***! NASA Announces 715 New Confirmed Exoplanets!

Yes, the title pretty much says it all. NASA scientists have confirmed the existence of 715 former planet candidates, all of which are in multi-planet systems. Sounds cool and all, but what does that actually mean?

The original goal of the Kepler mission was to continuously observe 156,000 stars and monitor how their brightnesses changed over time. One of the possible ways that a star's brightness can change is if a planet orbiting that star passes in front of the star, blocking some of the star's light from reaching us. This is what we call a transit. Observing transiting exoplanets was the primary mission of Kepler, and it has found nearly 3,500 candidates and confirmed planets to date. The pattern of light we would expect to see from a planet transiting its star is shown below for a single planet.
Image courtesy of

Monday, January 27, 2014

You Want to Study What?!

I'm four weeks into the new year and there are already signs that it will be a big one for me. The logical place to begin, I think, is the end of last semester, around the start of my winter break (which I largely spent at my parents' place with my family).

On various nights at home, I had a bit of trouble sleeping. One reason is pretty simple; my sleep schedule gets REALLY screwed up when I'm on break. I also had a lot of things running through my head that I previously haven't really talked about much, largely self-doubt and other things that could be associated with impostor syndrome. At least, I'd probably call it impostor syndrome if I was listening to someone else describe these same feelings, but being on the impostor end makes things look very different.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Closest Supernova Since 1987 Explodes in M82 Galaxy!

Well this completely interrupted the other post I was working on, but for good reason! A supernova has gone off in the nearby (11.5 million lightyears is what astronomers consider "nearby") galaxy Messier 82, shown below in a Hubble Space Telescope visible/near-infrared composite image.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

AAS 223: Wednesday, January 8.

Morning was mostly spent wandering around poster session, so more tweeting than blogging took place. Today's the exoplanet session, so it's pretty much all the posters I've been looking forward to. I'll be blogging from the late morning plenary session (in 20ish minutes) and the afternoon talks, including one from our very own Ben Nelson (after which I'll ditch the exoplanet talks in favor of Astronomy Education Outreach.)

318 Plenary Session Mark Krumholz: The Origin of Stellar Masses
(Just took Kevin Luhman's ISM course, so I should be able to understand what's going on!)

IMF = initial mass function, which is the distribution of stellar masses at birth (for you non-astronomers reading this).
One of the most fundamental problems in astrophysics, and not a new one. Also underlies most extragalactic observations (just ask Alex Hagen). Determines energy/chemical balance of the universe. Determines suitability of the universe for life (need stars that can support planets that support life).
(Also, turns out that letters complaining about not being cited in journals goes back at least 100 years).

Observing the IMF:
You can measure galactic field stars (good for numbers/statistics, and not useful above a few times the mass of the Sun) or young clusters (worse statistics, but fewer systematics, no corrections for stellar evolution).
Best case scenario: Orion Nebula Cluster
Most IMFs show peak between .1 and 1 solar masses, and power-law drop off at higher masses
Unresolved stellar populations observed in dwarf and large elliptical galaxies.
Dwarf galaxies don't actually have a different IMF, just normal IMF coupled with low SFR and clustering.
In giant ellipticals, IMF peak appears to be lower masses (from kinematics and spectroscopy).

So where does the power-law high mass tail come from?
Turbulence described by a power-law (alpha roughly -2). Generates nearly log-normal (logarithmic Gaussian distribution) of gas densities. Now some derivation of the IMF slope based on the distribution from turbulence, gonna skip on the details here because no one likes derivations. Predicts we should get dense 100 solar mass regions, so why don't they form more often?
Problem #1: Well, first off, massive stars are bright as hell, so they exert radiation pressure on surrounding material. Radiation pressure alone restricts us to 20 or so solar masses as the most massive stars.
Problem #2: Fragmentation. How do we make a 100 solar mass cloud collapse and not have it fragment into small pieces?
"Aww crap, we need a computer."
Cue nasty equations of stellar structure.
"We have a technical term for 6-dimensional objects: really really bad."
Also, simulations of star formation always look really cool.
"Real world is not a spherical cow."
Heating from protostars can inhibit fragmentation in surrounding gas. So what happens when you take this into account? (cue simulation) With radiative heating, accretion still happens onto massive star, doesn't form a bunch of tiny stars as well.

Now how about the peak?
Clouds fragment due to Jeans instability. Except that while Giant Molecular Clouds have roughly constant temps, densities are not remotely uniform. Argument described as "bullshit".
MORE UGLY EQUATIONS! (describing isothermal gas)
Isothermal collapse doesn't actually work.
More equations that I can't really type here, but basically building a toy model of a star.
Radius of accreting protostar set by deuterium burning. Burning sets characteristic core temperature of roughly 10^6 K. Core temperature => escape speed => luminosity
Bunch of math gives stellar mass in units of fundamental contests. Pressure still unknown, but has exponent of -1/18.
"I plead guilty to bullshit to the -1/18th power."

Power-law tail plausibly produced by statistics of supersonic turbulence.
Peak mass likely comes from effects of stellar heating.

325.01 Ben Nelson: Remastering the RV Classics: Self-Consistent Dynamical Models for the 55 Cnc and GJ 876 Planetary Systems

55 Cancri A: solar-like stat hosting 5 planets
1418 RV observations over 23 years, 40 model parameters, 5 minute integration timestep.
Mass estimate for planet e, 7.99 +/-0.25
Can't be misaligned with outer planets or it tends to get accreted by the star.
planets b and c strongly interacting "not in a mean-motion resonance", strongly interacting on observable timescales.

GJ 876: red dwarf with 4 planets, 2, 30, 60, 120 day periods.

(Holy crap, Astro Education Research is packed to the gills!)
322.03 Douglas Duncan: Digital Devices and Student Learning: Faculty Policies Make a Difference

Worked with sociologist whose specialty was college student behavior.
Does digital distraction (texting) affect grades? Frequency of cell phone use correlates with worse grades, but also dependent on instructor's policy. Harsh anti-texting policies work. Students recognize lack of policy concerning cell phones.

Laptop use (how oddly appropriate):
Multitasking laptop users suffered full letter grade drop, those behind users suffered BIGGER drop.
Learning limited to being superficial, more easily forgotten.
Need to find most effective uses of technology, not just use it haphazardly.

322.04 Angela Speck: "Assessment" of Teaching Methods and Critical Thinking in a Course for Science Majors

Assessment is even trickier than they thought. How do you test critical thinking?
Critical thinking is important for students to overcome previous knowledge. "critical thinking is the correct assessment of a statement." Can you adjust your thinking when you learn new stuff?
Course used: Solar System Science, for seniors and grad students.
Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test (1985)
Designed to "evaluate a person's ability to appraise an argument and to formulate in writing an argument in response."
Re-done for course-relevant material, using video "What if We Had No Moon?"
Critique essay "What if Earth Had Two Moons?"

322.05 Kate Follette: Science Literacy's Neglected Twin: Numeracy

Started off with a number of numerical mistakes, some of which I've definitely made on tests in the past.
Pre-test scores ranged from rather good to guessing. 50% of students get simple math questions wrong and think they got them right. Very hard to make a statistically significant change in students skills.

322.06 Kathryn Williamson: Didn't catch the full title. Shit was long.

Newtonian Gravity Concept Inventory: can measure student understanding of gravity on a linear scale.
Biggest significant predictors were pre-instruction ability and the instruction received. Physics students consistently slightly better. Significantly significant under-performance of women (as usual :( )

What we want to know:
How *should* we teach Newtonian Gravity?
What types of interactive engagement strategies are most effective?
How to students in the study compare naturally?

322.07 Ed Prather: The Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS) – Reporting from the Nation’s Largest College-Level, Astronomy Education Research Initiative.

Hard to disentangle CATS from Center for Astronomy Education work. Positive effects of interactive learning affects all students equally. Lot of projects, can't write them all down.
50 publications, 200 talks and posters at professional meetings, 100 professional developement workshops, lot of work being done.
"150 years ago you had to use an outhouse. Now you have a cell phone. That's science."

322.08 Sanlyn Buxner (covered by Ed Prather again): Findings from Five Years Investigating Science Literacy and Where Students Get their Information about Science

College preparation probably best indicator of science literacy.
No significant changes in mean and standard deviation over time.
Faith and belief based factors have strongest effect on where people end up on science literacy test.
Pseudoscience not necessarily at odds with functional science literacy.

Sources of science info

322.09: Seth Hornstein: A Research-Informed Approach to Teaching About Light & Matter in STEM Classrooms

Mostly a developmental talk. Develop research-validated, student-centered interactive engagement classroom activities. Brought together astro education specialists and NRAO scientists. Scientists identified hot topics while educators identified needs in Astro 101 courses. Managed to find common ground. All topics required understanding of light and matter.
Created lecture slides with embedded think-pair-share questions.

My battery died at this point.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

AAS 223: Tuesday, January 7.

Round 2: lessons learned about how often to save my work after yesterday.

206.01 John Armstrong: The Applicability of Emerging Quantum Computing Capabilities to 
 Exo-Planet Research

Quantum computing generally more powerful than classical computers. Much faster at things like factoring large numbers, extracting signals from noise, many variable complex problems, and machine learning.
Man, I haven't seen quantum computing since undergrad. I'm definitely way out of date here.
Kepler-QC experiment compares classical vs quantum transit-finding algorithms. Apparently it did well.

206.02 Jon Jenkins: Likely Planet Candidates Identified by Machine Learning Applied to Four Years of Kepler Data

Kepler pipeline likened to I Love Lucy in a chocolate factory, more information than we know what to do with. Algorithm correctly identifies 96.4% of planet candidates, 89% of false positives. Basically, our machines are getting better. I for one welcome our new computer overlords.

207.02 Nikku Madhussudan: Constraints on Elemental Abundance Ratios in Hot Jupiter Atmospheres and Implications for Their Formation Conditions

Atmospheric H2O (and therefore C/O ratios) can be measured more easily for hot Jupiters than for giant planets in the solar system apparently. Of course, elemental abundances have consequences for planet formation. Where you form planets leads to different C/O ratios.
WASP-12b: C/O>1, atmosphere contains little water
WASP-19b: ruled out thermal inversion
WASP-33b: great for constraining C/O because of its obscene temperature. Definite thermal inversion.
Hot super-Earths are good candidates for measuring atmospheric composition.
Plug for more ground-based observations of these kinds of planets. For HST, hotter planets are better targets.

207.03 Knicole Colon: Characterizing Exoplanet Atmospheres with Narrow-Band Photometry
(Wooo! Someone I know!)

Why narrow-band photometry? Minimizes effects of Earth's atmosphere by probing narrow wavelength band. Observes multiple stars simultaneously. Tunable filters give you custom bandpasses, goof for probing Na and K lines, which produce narrow and strong lines in hot Jupiters.
XO-2b: observed in 5 bandpasses with 10m GTC/OSIRIS. Potassium definitely observed in atmosphere.
TrES-2b: same telescope, possible potassium absorption detection, odd detection around 778 nm. Nature uncertain.
GJ 1214b: narrow-band data at 2.1 microns. Atmosphere shown to be flat/featureless.

207.04: Joseph Harrington: Significance of Trends in Exoplanetary Atmospheres

Want model-indepentent atmospheric statistic, trying brightness temperature and equilibrium temperature. Odd stacking at T_eq around 2100K. Split data at 1850K and you get different slopes on your graph. Goodness of fit is pretty bad due to large amounts of scatter. Gotta admit, a lot of this is lost on me. Couldn't find any overarching conclusions to draw from this one.

207.05 Katja Poppenhaeger: Exoplanet transits in X-rays: a new observational window to the exoplanetary atmosphere
(X-rays? This should be interesting...)

Target: HD 189733, active K1 dwarf. Has wide M4 stellar companion (~100 AU). Planet b has 2.2 day period. HD 198733 is a bright star in X-rays (meaning you get 1 photon for every 10 seconds).
X-ray observations pick out stellar corona. Interestingly enough, center of transit is brighter because of corona angle you're able to look at.
Constrains atmosphere models of planet b.
Stars hosting planets with strong tidal effects are more active in X-rays than stars with weak tidal interactions with their planets.

207.06 Ming Zhao: A Survey of the Hottest Jupiter Atmospheres via Secondary Eclipses
(Wooo Penn State!)

Why do we care about the hottest Jupiters? Well hotter is better! (Awww yeah.) Best targets for thermal emission signatures, few condensates in atmosphere, disequilibrium chemistry limited. (Good, no one likes chemistry anyway.)
Observations with Palomar 200-inch H & K filters and Spitzer 3.6 & 4.5.
HAT 32A b: strong high altitude heating, not much recirculation
WASP48 b: moderate high altitude heating and recirculation

Photometry improved with better telescope guiding to constrain centroid drift AND a new detector calibration method to correct non-linear oddities present in IR detectors.
Next step: use defuser to stabilize and better distribute de-focused PSF (de-focus so you don't saturate your detector). Looks like it does a good job.
Should be able to detect more secondary eclipses with better observation techniques (should take us from 7 detections to ~30.

Last speaker's flight got cancelled. Poor Jean-Michel Desert. :(
Comparative exoplanetology sounded cool too...

219 Plenary Session Sally/Sarah? Dodson-Robinson: Giant Planets in Dusty Disks

How dust affects planet formation: provides planetary raw material and affects composition, thermal regulator of the disk, thermal emission can be an important dynamical indicator.
Consequences: Stellar photospheres can be used as tracers of grain nucleation, galactic evolution affects planetary formation.

Core accretion: bottom-up growth of giant planets. Bigger star means bigger disk means more raw material available for planet formation. More massive stars have higher planet incidence rates, as to more metal-rich planets. Means starting conditions are very important. Planet host stars tend to be more silicon-rich (statistically significant). Possible separation of populations around solar silicon abundance. No correlation seen with oxygen. Of course, oxygen is a major component of planets in various ways (rocks and water major oxygen carriers), so why doesn't it matter? Oxygen is not a limiting reagent in formation of any relevant minerals. Silicon, iron, magnesium matter more.

Do giant planets form from astrophysical cirrus clouds (formed from heterogeneous nucleation)? Is the ice line actually important at all for giant planet formation?

Dust and thermal regulation in protostellar disks.
Inner part of disk is "dead", unionized, doesn't interact with magnetic fields.
Opacity effects on stability: if disks are actually unstable, then we expect top-down giant planet formation. Disk sound speed an indicator of disk stability. If you have strong pressure support with high sound speeds, hard to collapse. If you can form planets via gravitational collapse, then the ice line in the disk doesn't actually matter. Jupiters may form in disks with different dust opacities than disks that form Neptunes.

Galactic planetary evolution: metallicity changes over generations of stars going supernova changes the means by which planets form. Back in the day, gravitational instability planets were likely more common. Gravitational instability also forms bigger planets, so planet size over time may have gotten smaller.

Dust as a dynamical signpost
Easy to see holes in the disk from dips in the SED at mid-IR wavelengths. Where do holes come from (especially ones that go out to 50 AU!)? Single planets cannot open such big holes in disks, even 10 M_J planets. Gap size scales as only M_planet^1/3.
Well how about multiple planets? Gaps formed by individual planets can overlap to make a big hole. Good match to what radio telescopes observe. IR picks up material in gaps. Tidal tails of material in gaps give you a way to move material into the star from the optically thick disk while still maintaining a mostly optically think hole. Observations of transitional disk around HD 142527 with ALMA and IR look like simulations. Gap-crossing stream maybe seen in HCO+.

Grain nucleation is a limiting step in planet building.
Grain composition and abundance affect planet formation mechanism.
Dust and gas configurations in transitional disks are best explained by multiple planets.

224.01 Christine O'Donnell: Science Education & Advocacy: Tools to Support Better Education Policies

Policy is everywhere. Funding, testing standards, REUs, promoting/aiding diversity in science, etc.
Advocacy is important for affecting policy. Speaker put together a collection of tools that can be useful in advocacy. Walkthroughs for effective advocacy strategies, one-page papers to leave with policymakers.
Working on women in science, planetarium funding. And she actually stuck to 5 minutes. Fantastic!

224.02 Denise Smith: Impact of NASA’s Astrophysics Education and Public Outreach Programs

Education forums organize individual programs such that they can work together. Allows access to/discussion of best practices & research. 10% of NASA's online traffic is on
People are actually returning to outreach events (better to reach the same people repeatedly).
Chandra's workshop attendees are largely going into STEM fields in college. Materials reach 24 million people per year, inc 6 million students. .5 million teachers use materials from NASA.

224.03 Jim Manning: The ASP at 125: Advancing Science Literacy in an Age of Acceleration
(Happy birthday guys!)

ASP = Astronomical Society of the Pacific for those of you who don't know.
Goal: Advance scientific literacy through astronomy
Astronomy from the Ground Up, Cosmos in the Classroom, flying educators on SOFIA, etc all ASP programs.
ASP seeking private funding due to difficulties maintaining public funding.
Another talk that stayed in the time limit.

224.04 Gregory Schultz: Findings from a NASA SMD Survey of Two-Year College Faculty

Role of 2 year colleges in providing Earth and space science education to general workforce? Want to understand demographic makeup and views of STEM faculty at community colleges. 183 survey participants. Teaching breakdown: mostly earth science, followed by astronomy. Almost entirely non-majors in their classes (50% of classes have <10% of future STEM majors in class).

224.05 Bethany Cobb: Introductory Astronomy Student-Centered Active Learning at The George Washington University

All right, active learning strategies! SCALE-UP = Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs.
GWU has own workbook for intro astro. Workbooks include definitions, numerical calculations (not sure how I feel about this), applications of knowledge. Work done in groups of 3 (which was discouraged in the workshop I just attended... but hey, if it works for them, why not?).
Lots of positive feedback, definite improvements in exam performance.
Lessons learned:
- spell out expectations on day 1.
- tell students the purpose of active learning strategies
- grading must me group-dependent
- no electronics (even laptops)

Introduced in Intro Astro class in Fall 2011, Fall 2013 incorporated in Intro to the Cosmos.

224.06 Kate Meredith: SkyServer Voyages: Next-Generation Educational Activities using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Former middle/high school teacher. Cool! Speaker also looks familiar...
Sloan SkyServer project (old site):
Research has been done into how to make effective inquiry-based science instruction. SkyServer has, as such, undergone recent rewrites.
I wanna check this stuff out IF I ever have the free time to do so.
Will be pilot testing this summer before (hopeful) launch!

(Man, trying to live-blog these sessions while having Twitter conversations on EPO in astronomy is tough, I keep finding myself ending up behind by a bit. Good convo though.)

224.07 Kathryn Williamson: The Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT)
(All right! More acronyms!)

Leaders write slideshow presentations, educators request presenters to appear in class.
Presenters recruited from all majors. Receive stipend, learn public speaking and other skills.
Reach 10,000 students per year (which is 10% of Montana's secondary school students!)
Now being piloted in West Virginia (presenter moved to NRAO).

224.08 Michael Martynowycz Inspiring a future generation of Astronomer and Astrophysicists during the 48th and 49th annual Astro-Science Workshop

Why do the Astro-Science Workshop? General decline in STEM interest, increase in global competition, growth of STEM fields, minimal experimental exposure in schools, lack of access to advanced STEM classes. Operates out of Alden planetarium.
Program consists of...
Advanced classroom discussions: physics, astronomy, student's choice
Student Driven projects: only requirement is to have something done by the end of the program
Guest speakers from top tier institutions give talks on current research topics

Successful projects include
- sampling Earth's magnetic field
- speed of sound wrt altitude
- balloon dynamics

224.09 Connie Walker: Dark Skies Africa: an NOAO and IAU OAD Program on Light Pollution 
(Go Connie!)
Goals: be responsible stewards in safeguarding dark skies and point out inefficiencies.
Active in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Google+ Hangouts used to keep in touch with coordinators, teach trainers how to do activities. Trainers then go on to train actual teachers.
Challenges include Internet connections, attendance, getting resources through customs.
Will be reviewing progress reports, evaluations, look into improvements. Hope for more IAU funding.

Monday, January 6, 2014

AAS 223: Monday, January 6.

Note that this summary will initially be very rough, I may choose to insert particularly good/relevant figures from papers related to these talks when I'm not busy typing furiously. That said, let us begin!

105.01 Geoff Marcy:  Masses and Radii of 42 small exoplanets

Large number of 1-4 R_E planets, previously unexpected as they are not seen in our solar system.
High resolution spectroscopy and astroseismology on target stars, constrain stellar properties.
22 KOIs, 42 transiting planets
Keck spectroscopy to measure/place limits on masses
Kepler 406b, new rocky planet: M=4.71 +/- 1.7 density = 9.18 g/cc
Kepler 94b: 10.84 +/-1.4, density 1.45 g/cc

Plot mass/radius: see small planets (less than 2 R_E) dominantly rocky. Appears to be radius cutoff for super-earths/mini-Neptunes. (

Kind of jumped into the middle of 103.01: Megan Schwamb: Planet Hunters: Kepler By Eye

General talk about the benefits of crowdsourcing Kepler data (seems to be a dissertation talk).
Recovery rate between 80-90% for planets for to 4 Earth radii, much lower (40% for 2-3 Earth Radii)

Unexpected finds found through Planet Hunters Talk: allows volunteers to discuss odd light curves
Transiting planet around eclipsing binary, fat chance finding them with automated routines (paraphrased)
PH1 b (link) first confirmed planet from Planet Hunters
System is a 4-star, with 2 made of 2 close binaries
Planet is 6.2 R_E, M < .5 M_J

Wang et al. 2013: giant planet candidates in HZ, ~6 missed by Kepler, and a few with only 2 transits. (
Interesting stellar finds as well, RR Lyrae, cataclysmic variables, etc
7 planet candidate system: See Joey Schmitt's poster

103.02 Fabienne Bastien: Photometric Flicker

Stars are noisy, gets in the way of photometric signals. Typically, we look for the lowest-noise stars to analyze. Try to use stellar noise to better characterize stars.
Use long cadence data to characterize Sun-like (F, G, K) stars
"crackle" - number of zero-crossings. Low "crackle" = longer term variability
"flicker" - measure of short term (>8 hour) variability
Flicker traces surface gravity. (
Comparison between astroseismic- and flicker-measured surface gravities is very favorable.
Also observed flicker from the Sun. Solar flicker is largely invariant
Absence of spots related to higher flicker?
Radial velocity jitter can be predicted from measured photometric flicker: comparison of photometric data to RV measurements from the California Planet Search
F-stars are very noisy, high radial velocity jitter. Again, flicker seems to trace RV jitter, but sample is small.

119 Plenary Session -Alyssa Goodman: Linking Visualization and Understanding in Astronomy

Fun note: powerpoint slides had to be printed on 35-mm film back in 1996... at the same time Geoff Marcy was announcing his exoplanet discoveries.
Computers suck at pattern recognition and creativity, but are good at calculations... and that's pretty much it.
Plug for Worldwide Telescope with respect to Galileo's observations from Siderius Nuncius. Free software, downloading now.

Example of Big Data visualization: Milky Way Project - humans' pattern recognition abilities feeding into machine learning.
Wide data - multiple data sets obtained from different methods (like having IR, visible, and radio observations of a single source).

Unsolved problem: Big AND Wide Data.
Visualized as a cube
1D - columns (like spectra, SEDs, or time series)
2D - faces or slices (like images)
3D - volume visualization, sometimes difficult to do in astronomy, and with 2D screens.
4D - time evolution of the above. Our brains are pretty bad at this.

Goodman 2009 (Nature) published a 3D interactive image in pdf. This is really fucking cool. (Of course, Nature's behind a fucking paywall so I can't link you to the paper. Because gods forbid people have ACCESS to science. Seriously, fuck Nature.) ApJ apparently able to accept such figures. (Tutorial by Josh Peek available here)
Uploading astronomical image to flickr and tagging astrometry group finds the image on the sky and view it in other wavelengths and such.
ADS all sky survey plans to connect all images of the same objects/regions (
Glue - Python program for linked datasets. (
D3PO - allows Glue-made plots and such to be manipulated online (
Authorea - publishes such figures online (
Microsoft Kinect can be used to interact with Worldwide Telescope (I REALLY WANT TO TRY THIS!)

Whole bunch of links to cool interactive demos that I need to get off a handout. Will type up when I can.

Kepler/K2 Town Hall

Surprise! The longer Kepler goes, the more small planets we find. Of course, we're not getting any more of the usual data from Kepler, so we just have to analyze it.

2014: HUGE growth in Earth-size and slightly above Earth-size planets (78% increase in Earth/super-Earth size and 33% growth in Super-Earth/mini-Neptune sizes).
Remaining tasks with Quarter 1-12 data
- finalize planet candidates vs false positives and such
- update stellar parameters (temp, surface gravity, metallicity)
- update ephemerides (period, epoch)
- new planetary parameters
- finish catalog paper (Rowe et al. in prep)

Q1-Q16 catalog in prep (Mullally et al)
Will look at all quarters of data AND review all previous KOIs.

Kepler is in close-out stage. Over the next 3 years, this will involve...
- improving the pipeline further
- uniformly processing all data to put up on MAST by June 2014
- generate Q1-Q17 catalog (100% complete catalog)
- increase sensitivity to small planets by improving photometry

Community participation encouraged. Kepler Science center (

K2 - Kepler's Second Mission
Kepler only has 2 reaction wheels left, so pointing is significantly less precise, but can still be used. 42 white papers submitted within a month.
Ecliptic plane pointing can balance out many different high-impact science goals
- observe 4-6 fields per year
- new science from enabled by variety of galactic locations
- observe ~10,000 community-selected targets per field
- still use long and short cadence

Will still observe exoplanet transits. Target low-mass stars. Expected 4000 M dwarfs/field, can find HZ planets around these stars (short orbital periods). Bright stars also possible; can provide early targets for TESS, CHEOPS and JWST.
Lowest temp stars allow good sensitivity to Earth-radius planets with 2 orbits (in an 80ish day period).
25% of Kepler planets have < 8 day periods, most of which are small.

Star clusters and star forming regions (ecliptic has a lot of sweet star clusters
- more exoplanet detection!
- Stellar activity and rotation: angular momentum evolution, pre-main sequence and young stars
- eclipsing binaries in clusters (nice to observe low-mass young eclipsing binaries
- astroseismology to explore stellar structure across the H-R diagram
- Accretion, circumbinary disks, gas flows, protoplanetary disks

Extragalactic science with Kepler
- AGN variability
- Supernova light curves + progenitors (pre-SN light curves observed), allows you to learn about the progenitor and study shock break-out.

- could perform microlens parallax measurement. Measure microlensing event both in space and from the ground!

K2 will...
- be entirely guest observer mission, very largely community driven. Limited to 75-80 days per field per 2 years. Each K2 campaign will be "stand-alone" for science value.
- use solar pressure to balance remaining reaction wheels to keep pointing. Limits view to the ecliptic.
- undergo 80 day performance demonstration in March 2014, possibility of collecting light curves from 5,000-10,000 targets

Son of a bitch. Nothing from the afternoon session auto-saved because my battery died. There was some good stuff there too, including a planet whose orbital period is shorter than the Return of the King Blu-Ray edition and meeting the author of "Winter is Coming" ( talking about circumbinary planets. Now I'm mad. Apparently this only autosaves in draft form. God damn it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hey guys, I'm still alive!

So, I haven't done one of these in a while. As is the usual, I get busy during the semester and academic things take priority. I also have some other work to do at the moment, so I'll keep this brief.

This week I'm in National Harbor, MD for the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society. This weekend, in particular, I'm attending the Center for Astronomy Education's Tier I teaching workshop. If you know me at all, you know I love teaching, so this is pretty fantastic. It's also very encouraging to meet so many other people who are as interested in education as I am.

During the more interesting talks at this meeting, I will be live-blogging/live-tweeting the talks, mostly because I can. My twitter handle, for anyone interested, is the incredibly creative @DanielBarringer.

I've also got some big life decisions coming up. I'll keep my friends and such updated in this regard because it's something I feel is particularly important. Don't worry, it's nothing bad!

Keep on keeping on.