Friday, August 1, 2008

LaunchPad -- Day 1

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!


Robert Gus Gissing said...

My son's grade 7 science teacher told the class that the reason everything sticks to the earth is because the earth spins. He come home upset because this was wrong since we had talked about the very same myth back when he was in grade 3. His grade 3 teacher had also said this.

He asked me if he should correct the teacher and I said he should, and if there were any problems, that he should tell me. The next day he went and talked to the teacher and she dismissed his comment about the earths mass by saying that the class had moved on.

The dark ages is just beneath the veneer of society...maybe 4 weeks away.

Neal Holtschulte said...

I had an 8th grade teacher introduce light years as a unit of time.

Nevermind that this is pretty basic stuff everyone could/should know, it highlights the fact that most elementary and middle school teachers are not required to know much math or science, just "how to teach".

However, I can see myself making the "Earth is closer to the sun" mistake if caught off guard. Elliptical orbits... yeah that sounds right... (five minutes later) wait isn't it winter in the southern hemisphere during our summer?

TheOFloinn said...

The dark ages is just beneath the veneer of society

Funny thing is that during the Dark Age those who were not otherwise busy fighting off Vikings, Saracens, or Magyars at least knew that everything sticks to the earth because earth and water seek their natural places and their natural motion is downward. (Air and fire move upward.) This may not be quite the way we would put it, and we know today that air has gravity, not levity; but at least it goes in the right direction.

They would never have said "because the earth spins" because they didn't imagine that the earth did so.

In fact, it was used as an argument against the earth spinning. If the earth were spinning, we would all go flying off into space!

Agreed, about the level of science teaching in the schools.

Mark said...

I myself lucked-out and had literally a Small Handful of quality teachers when I was a kid. Even then, there are still things that one would figure should be taught in every school, maybe more in "ghetto" area schools than in wealthy areas, such as balancing a checking account, planning a career, personal financial planning, networking, etc. You know, Real World Pragmatic skills. Yet how may people get a paper diploma without having learned any real world survival skills.

So it's no wonder the sciences take a beating when it comes time to certify teachers. The same's true for "teachers" and grammar.

Oh well, what's to do, move to Galt's Gulch? :->

Mesa, Az.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Mike, I'm surprised at you. Always thought you're a man who can seperate truth from nonsense. Isn't the Heliocentric theory the greatest hoax ever foisted upon a bewildered Humanity? How can the massive Earth move? No way, bro! Yet another sad example of Big Science obfuscating a big issue. And it's amazing the Conspiracy went back to the Ancients. Who was paying =them= off, I ask yez! Well, I have an ah-deer, but I'm saving it for my forthcoming book COMMON SENSE COSMOLOGY.

TheOFloinn said...

bluesman miike Lindner said...
Isn't the Heliocentric theory the greatest hoax ever foisted upon a bewildered Humanity?

That is as may be. It certainly took a genius of the stature of Einstein to overthrow Copernicanism and point out that no frame of reference is privileged, not even the sun. Indeed, since we now know that so-called "gravity" is merely a warping of space-time caused by the mere presence of matter, we have returned to a more sensible Aristotelian vision of gravity as an attribute of matter itself rather than a separate entity called a "force" that acts on matter As Aristotle once said matter seeks unity to the extent that it already possesses unity; or, in modern terms, the more matter a body possesses, the more gravity it exhibits.

Thus we may use the geodesics to set up a cosmology centered on the earth as easily as one centered on the sun.