At breakfast with various LaunchPad attendees, I discovered that we are not at 6,000 feet but rather 7,200. A few people besides me felt shaky due to altitude, but for me breakfast helped a lot. Then on to a long day (10:00 a.m. to past 6:00 p.m.) of astronomy.
We began with introductions. Attendees are: Alma Deckert, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, David Levine, David Marusek, Jay Lake, Cheryl Floyd-Miller, Mary Robinette Kowal, Andrea Hairston, Deanna Hoak, Christine Stebbins, Paul Witcover, and Scott Humphries. Our instructors are Mike Brotherton, Jerry Oltion, and Jim Verley. It felt odd sitting on the other side of the desk, after so many years of teaching. I liked it. The first order of business, however, was a pre-test. I could not remember the inverse-square law. These tests were collected and carted off to be scored, but mercifully we had no results today.
Mike's first session was "The Scale of the Cosmos," about how big everything actually is and what units that bigness is measured in. This wasn't new material for me, but was a good review. Best guess at the size of the observable universe: about 150 billion light years across, "although it might be infinite." We then descended from the infinite to lunch, delivered the classroom by the university. Everyone hydrated.
The first afternoon session was "Seasons and Lunar Phases: Public Misconceptions," and it opened with a film interviewing Harvard graduates on their graduation day, asking them simple questions about the solar system. 21 out of 23, in answer to "Why is it warmer in summer than in winter?" answered "Because in summer Earth is closer to the sun." This included a faculty member in full Ph.D. regalia. After our minds boggled at this, Jim Verley led a session on orbital movements. Everyone hydrated.
The second afternoon session was Jerry Oltion's "Tour of the Solar System," with the latest photographs on information on the sun, planets, asteroids, and comets. The photos, some from the Hubble or planetary probes, were wonderful. I was surprised to learn that Mars has dust storms, not sand storms; there is no sand left due to weathering in the thin atmosphere. Everyone hydrated.
By this time most of us were dead on our feet, especially those coming from the East Coast. I skipped dinner in favor of a nap, which also didn't happen. Too much coffee. In the evening there were astronomy-themed movies, of which I stayed for only one: the TWILIGHT ZONE'S horrible rendition of Clarke's "The Star," which managed a "happy" ending to Clarke's grim story. Mary Kowal and I walked back to the dorm, chatted for a while with David Marusek and Steve Gould, and then I crashed.
No sand storms on Mars!