Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Launchpad Workshop, First Two Days

We've been covering some basic astronomy, most of it stuff I already know, but still interesting as a refresher. Three different people are presenting to us, Mike Brotherton covering the basic science, Jerry Oltion on amateur astronomy and simple calculation of orbits. Jim Verley has been covering educational issues, such as how to convey to the public, or to school kids, frequently misunderstood concepts such as the cause of the seasons and the phases of the moon. (Jim showed us a short video in which 23 brand new Harvard grads and faculty members were asked what causes the seasons. Out of 23, 21 answered that summer occurs when the Earth is closer to the sun, and winter when it was further away. Twenty-one students, including some who had studied science, stated this misconception with complete confidence! The correct answer, of course, is that the Earth is tilted on its axis, and when the northern hemisphere is tilted to receive more direct rays from the sun, it's summer there; and when the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, it's summer there. So we talked about why this is so commonly misunderstood, and why kids in school don't get it even when it's taught to them. One thing we learned is that hands-on and kinesthetic ways of showing the Earth's tilt, or the phases of the moon, are much more effective at conveying the concepts than words or even diagrams.)

As a group, we watched the movie Armageddon, and laughed and cried at the astounding number of scientific errors foisted on the viewers by a movie about the Earth being endangered by an approaching asteroid. Tonight we were to be observing from the roof of the astronomy building, but the sky is cloudy, so we've put that off a day. Tomorrow, we hike in some of the local hills in the morning, and then get back to astronomy in the afternoon.

It's a great group of people--some well-established writers like Vonda McIntyre and Josepha Sherman, and some folks whose names you might come to know in the future. (There's a list on the Launchpad website. Click the prematurely-named link for "past attendees.")

Internet access turns out to be iffy, at least for me. I can get online at the astro building, and can do things like post blog updates during breaks, but for some reason I can't send email. I don't know what that's all about.

More in a day or two, I hope.

"Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go." —E. L. Doctorow

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