Scientific Radio and Podcasting Workshop

On May 24th, 2014, York Universe hosts Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson travelled to Montreal to present at the Genomes To/Aux Biomes Special Workshop on Science Communication. It was a half day workshop prior to the beginning of the Genomes To/Aux Biomes conference (a biology conference). With years of experience as radio hosts on York Universe, Lianne and Jesse were invited to create a hands on workshop that teaches the development of scientific podcasts for the attendees of the biology conference. Here is the title slide to the presentation:

The title slide to the podcasting workshop.

The title slide to the podcasting workshop. Note the dropbox link. By following that link (click here), you can access some of the resources Lianne and Jesse used during the workshop.

The workshop was designed in three parts:
1. A formal presentation by Lianne and Jesse
2. Building a script, recording your voice
3. Editing with Audacity.
The first part was designed to give the participants some insight into how they should be thinking when building a podcast, i.e., researching, writing a script, story telling, documentation, communication with listeners. The second and third parts were designed to get the participants to actually attempt to build their own recording and edit it in the workshop.

Lianne and Jesse laughing at the front of the room while the attendees record their podcasts.

Lianne and Jesse laughing at the front of the room while the attendees record their podcasts.

Jesse helping an attendee work with Audacity.

Jesse helping an attendee work with Audacity.

The workshop was a huge success, as was the rest of the Science Communication Workshop; this included panel discussions and another break away group on blogging and social media.

Why teach scientists about public outreach?
There are a lot of good reasons for designing a workshop like this. Communication is an important part of ANY field, in whatever form it takes. In academia, people are constant drawn upon to write about, present about, or animate their results so that others in the research community can learn what you have done, and incorporate it accordingly in their own work. Science is built on the open source concept wherein you reach into the grab bag of work that has already been done, add your own experiment/twist/look at it, then send it back for others to do the same. It’s a wonderful system that requires good communication skills. By working to find the most important facts of your work and making it palatable for the public, you are also honing your ability to clearly and concisely communicate your work to the academic world as well. Therefore, by participating in public outreach, you are training yourself to better communicate with the layperson AND your peers.
It is also important to note that scientists have a duty to inform the public of what it is working on, because basic science has a huge impact on engineering, development, and future social connections. The public has a right to the knowledge scientists develop as it is funded by public dollars (for the most part).
Finally, public outreach is fun. It is a wonderful feeling to have someone excited about your field to talk to.

The 200th Episode: Just getting warmed up!

Episode 200, June 23, 2014
Hosts: Paul, Shah, Lianne, Julie, Ryan, Harrison, Ted, Jesse
Title: The 200th Episode: Just getting warmed up!
York Universe began in 2009 with the International Year of Astronomy (called ‘Live from York University’ at the time). Over the last 5 years, we’ve grown from a couple hosts and a twinkle in our eye to a full team of motivated individuals, captained by our resident Australian (and Dundee lookalike) Paul Delaney. Now celebrating our 200th episode, we look back over the history, and talk about the future. In this episode we also feature 2 panel discussions: The Human Exploration of Mars and Life in the Universe. We’ve had a great time with every episode, and look forward to the next ones. Thanks for listening everyone, podcast and show notes below.

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Science Slam: The Extreme Universe

[This post is co-written by Jesse Rogerson and Lianne Manzer.]

The Ontario Science Centre holds four or five star parties each year, in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Toronto Faction). These are always free events, and are great for both newcomers to the world of astronomy, and also to seasoned vets interested in doing a little outreach. Included in a Science Centre Star Party is a chance to see through some great telescopes (thanks to RASC), participate in various small science experiments/demonstrations, and watch some experts give presentations on various astronomy topics. On 12 July 2013, the Science Centre added a new element to the Star Party equation: the Science Slam. The structure of a Science Slam is, rather than having 1 presenter give a public talk, multiple presenters compete for the most entertaining presentation (by audience applause). The Science Slam structure is growing in popularity (mostly overseas, watch this EinsteinSlam out of Germany). This format of public outreach forces presenters to think of what is not JUST educational, but also entertaining.

The theme of the Ontario Science Centre’s Summer Star Party & Science Slam was the ‘Extreme Universe’ (happily in accordance with their new planetarium show launching this fall). There were four presentations for the slam: Extreme Distances presented by Randy Attwood (of SpaceRef), Finding Exosolar Planets presented by Lisa Esteves, Globular Clusters presented by Ryan Marciniak (of Astronomy in Action), and finally, Gravity in the Extreme, presented by Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson. Here’s the promotional poster for the event:

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

Both of us (Lianne and Jesse) do research in the field of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) (you can read Jesse’s Research Blog, or check his work here); AGN are powered by super massive black holes, which possess the most extreme gravitational fields possible. Since the the theme of the science slam was the ‘Extreme Universe,’ we decided gravity was a fun topic to cover. The presentation we designed was created to step people up from the gravity they know (Earth’s gravity), to the most extreme gravity possible (a black hole’s) by using simple demos and analogies.

The Presentation

We started by demonstrating Earth’s gravity (1g) by simply dropping two objects of similar size, but different mass, and explaining how gravity accelerates objects of different mass equally (check out the most ultimate version of this test here). We then compared Earth’s 1g to Kepler 22b‘s (roughly) 2g by creating what we called the Gravity Sim 22000; GS22000 was just ankle/wrist weights and two backpacks full of textbooks desgined to make someone of roughly 100lbs feel as if they were 200lbs. Our volunteer loved it! The next step was the Sun’s gravity (30g), and then on to a White Dwarf’s gravitational field, which is 10,000g. In order to demonstrate the difference in magnitude between 1g and 10,000g, we compared the difference in magnitude of a burning match, to the explosion of a hydrogen balloon. A Hydrogen balloon explosion gives off about 10,000x more energy than a match, which is the same difference in magnitude of the gravity of Earth compared to the gravity on a White Dwarf. Here’s a pic of me exploding the balloon:

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre's Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre’s Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Finally, we finished up our presentation by comparing Earth’s 1g to a black hole’s 1E16g (that’s 100,00,000,000,000,000g). That’d be the same difference in magnitude of a match compared to an atom bomb!

Why we do it

I loved the format of the Science Slam, because not only do I get to have a lot of fun with topics I find VERY interesting, but the audience has a bunch of fun as well. We all get excited about different things: some love movies, some love comics, some enjoy drawing, some like making models, some enjoy exercising, or hiking, or exploring, or geocaching…. I could go on. Everybody has SOMEthing. And what’s better than sharing that experience with others? It makes your own interests that much better when other people are enjoying it with you. That’s why we like talking about what happened in TV shows, or books…it’s why we have friends. This is exactly why I like presenting science to people. When I present, I’m telling people why I find astronomy so interesting. Hopefully, they will find it just as interesting as I do!

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

Episode 198
Hosts: Pat, Julie & Hugh
Title:  Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. June 2, 2003 – ESA launches Mars Express.  It reached Mars that December; Beagle 2 was carried along and released at Mars, but contact was lost.  M.E. is still going strong, and has produced a nearly complete topographical map of Mars.
2. June 5, 1989 – Voyager 2 starts regular observations of Neptune. Its last encounter with a planet brought Voyager 2 close enough to Neptune to make observations of activity in the atmosphere.
3. June 5, 1783 – Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier gave the first successful balloon flight demonstration.

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Observatory Logbook: The Return of Leesann

Episode 197. Monday the 26th of May 2014.
Hosts: Jesse, Lianne, Shah
Title: Observatory Logbook: The Return of Leesann
Leesann having left York University after graduating, has returned to volunteer at the Observatory in her spare time. We welcome her back with open arms! We chatted about the shrinking (not so) Great Red Spot on Jupiter, and the dud of a meteor shower Camelopardalids, which Lianne was able to say without fumbling. Thanks for listening all; podcast and show notes below.

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Camelopardalids Meteor Shower

Last week there was a lot of noise surrounding this so-called “new meteor shower” called the Camelopardalids (said — Camelo-par-dal-ids) which were to occur on Saturday, May 24, 2014 (700 UT or 2 – 4 am ET). This new shower was broadcasting around the media as “A shower that could generate up to 100 or 1000 meteors per hour!” Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the media’s (or the public’s) hopes of a beautiful show, but that didn’t make this new shower any less awesome.

 

This new meteor shower appeared to come from the constellation Camelopardalis (a very small constellation near the north star) which is where it got it’s name. Meteor showers are usually produced by us (the Earth) travelling through the dust left behind by a comet orbiting our star.  As we travel through this dust, fragments of the discarded comet hit our atmosphere and burn up. This is what causes the bright streaks of light across our sky. Comets are constantly travelling through our solar system leaving behind dust trails, but it’s only the really dense clumps that we see.

This shower is a result of a comet called Comet 209P/Linear which was discovered in 2004. This comet is about 1-3 miles across, and rotates less than once a day. This comet orbits the Sun approximately once every 5 years, and every time it orbits it leaves some comet bits in it’s wake.

You may ask, why haven’t we seen this shower before? Well, this is for a few reasons. First, scientists think that this is a fairly old comet — it’s been around for quite a long time.  This means that the comet is less active and likely close to becoming a “dead comet” (much like an asteroid). Dead comets don’t leave behind as much dust. It was so dim that we didn’t even know that this comet existed until 2004! Secondly, as It’s a fairly faint comet it leaves behind small dust trails. In a normal year, we may skim the outside of these dust trails and not see many meteors. Due to this, it’s very hard to pick up that we are travelling through any trail. But, in the past few months, a number of papers had been released  by different groups regarding potential meteors that had been produced from this comet. These groups went back through their video meteor data and found evidence of meteors from this comet during April, May, and June, which suggested that this meteor shower has been around for a long time.

What we saw this week was due to us passing through a number of dust lanes head on! This is similar to what occurs when there is a particularly good regular meteor shower (such as the Perseids). But, as this is a smaller, more inactive comet, what we saw was much more like a normal, light meteor shower.  The debris that created the lovely show was likely from orbits over the last century!

Malcolm Park of Toronto captured a bright Camelopardalid this morning.

So, why the big let down? This because we don’t know a lot about this comet — some thought that there’d be a lot, and some thought that it would be the next big thing since sliced bread. Scientists are actually going to try to determine how active the comet was in the past by looking at the frequency of asteroids we see.  From this, scientists found out that the comet was much more active in the past than they had thought.

So, it wasn’t as spectacular as some had made it out to be, but according to some reports it produced some unusually slow meteors and at least one nice large fireball! Some estimates had suggested that there had been about 20 to 50 meteors per hour, with more brighter meteors than had originally been predicted.

Fun fact: it’s come closer to Earth than any other comet since IRAS-Araki-Alcot in 1983! On Thursday, this comet will pass within 8 million kilometres of the Earth (approximately 20 times the distance to the moon!)

More Reading:Space.com CBC UniverseToday

Visiting the Mayall 4 meter

The Steward Observatory’s Bok 2.3m telescope sits right beside the largest telescope on Kitt Peak Mountain: the Mayall 4 meter. I’ve posted pics of it many times, like here, and here, and here. I’ve walked up to it a few times and gone inside the visitor centre there, but an up-close look at the telescope is usually only afforded to those that are using the telescope. Happily, we met the operator of the telescope and he offered us a chance to see it. This is what it looks like when astronomers geek out over astronomy-type things:

The Mayall 4m was placed at the highest point of Kitt Peak, and is itself many stories high, making it the highest point on the mountain.

The Mayall 4m was placed at the highest point of Kitt Peak, and is itself many stories high, making it the highest point on the mountain.

Standing next to the telescope operator, I got to ask lots of questions.

Standing next to the telescope operator, I got to ask lots of questions.

Looking down the barrel of the 4m, it was turned on its side to fill up the instrument with liquid nitrogen (just like at the Bok). You'll notice in the mirror Pat is taking my picture...as I take his...

Looking down the barrel of the 4m, it was turned on its side to fill up the instrument dewar with liquid nitrogen (just like at the Bok). You’ll notice in the mirror Pat is taking my picture…as I take his…

From far away, the 4m looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Punch it Chewy.

From far away, the 4m looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Punch it Chewy.

Pat standing in front of the 4m on its side.

Pat standing in front of the 4m on its side.

Me at the prime focus of the 4m. helluva big scope.

Me at the prime focus of the 4m. helluva big scope.

Shah Sez CME’s Ain’t Good For You!

Episode 196. Monday the 12th of May 2014.
Hosts: Jen, Paul, Shah
Title: Shah Sez CME’s Ain’t Good For You!
From the history of the exploration of Venus (and its challenges) to the excitement of Apollo 10 and Skylab, tonight’s show starts out local but heads for the uncharted regions of a simulated universe.  We then work our way back to the siblings of the Sun and the expectation to find more of the Sun’s family in the not too distant future.  Finally, we discuss the implications of a direct hit from a monster CME similar or worse than the Carrington event of 1859 or the recent event from July 2012.  With our newest host Shah and Jen’s first time at the controls, it is a show not to be missed!
Our newest Team member …
Hey everyone! This is Shah. I completed my undergraduate degree in Space Engineering at York University. York is like a second home for me, which is why I decided to pursue my Master’s in Space Science under the supervision of Professor Michael Daly.

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Visiting the WIYN 3.5 meter

There are roughly 25 observatories atop Kitt Peak mountain, so there’s lots to see and do. I am visiting the mountain in order to use the Steward Observatory’s 2.3 meter Bok telescope (‘the 90inch’). One of the observers on our team was also scheduled to use a different telescope for part of the week; she is working with the WIYN 3.5 meter telescope, which is the 2nd largest optical reflecting telescope on the mountain (1st is the 4m Mayall). As a result, we got to take a quick peak in side:

From the outside, the WIYN 3.5 looks different than most telescopes. Its dome is of a more segmented shape than most spherical domes.

From the outside, the WIYN 3.5 looks different than most telescopes. Its dome is of a more segmented shape than most spherical domes.

The scope set and ready to go for obseving.

The scope set and ready to go for observing.

The operator turned the scope on its side so we could get a look at the primary mirror. At 3.5 m, it's pretty big.

The operator turned the scope on its side so we could get a look at the primary mirror. At 3.5 m, it’s pretty big.

It's a big scope.

It’s got a big mirror.

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[Roll over to animate] Looking north across the mountain towards the Bok 2.3m telescope, where I’m doing my observations.