Monday, August 24, 2015

Australian Science Week - its a wrap!

Science week this year went to a whole new level in Australia. Following the lead from Prof Ian Chubb's STEM Strategy white paper, people really rolled their sleeves up and exceeded all expectations - and claimed two world records!

On Aug 12th, I was in Canberra for work and snuck out in the evening to catch the Science in the Pub sponsored by the ANU and the Australian - American co-operation through the US Embassy. The session was led by Prof Brian Schmidt (ANU), Dr Alan Duffy (Swinburne) and Glen Nagle (CSIRO/ANTF). An amazing session debriefing all the latest data from the NASA New Horizons, Pluto mission. If you had told planetary scientists only 6 weeks ago there was frozen nitrogen glaciers filling in old craters on Pluto, it would have been beyond their wildest dreams, yet that is exactly what they have found.

Friday 21st Aug The ANU/RSAA Stargazing night smashed two world record's for single-site and multiple-site observers with telescopes observing the night sky for 10 consecutive minutes. We were all a bit nervous about the weather, but the clouds cleared out just in time to ensure the night was a great success and everyone had a great time observing some fantastic sights through the larger telescopes. 76 people from the school community and nearby residents came out for one of the many local Melbourne sites at Norwood Secondary College in Ringwood. My trusty 14inch dobbie (dobsonian) was a hit, with people stunned and amazed looking at individual craters on the moons and counting the moons of Saturn which could be seen beyond the glare of the magnificent rings.

Mt Stromlo observatory in Canberra smashed the single-site Guinness Book of Record with a massive turnout of 1800 observers. The tally for the multi-site is still being finalized but was believed to have been over 10,000 people around the country. Once official it should easily eclipse the previous record of 3006 set in April 2013 in Mexico. Go Aussie!

Saturday 22nd Aug was a great night as well. The Scienceworks' Festival of Astronomy and Light opened up Scienceworks into the evening and I took the dobbie along again as one of the astronomers providing telescopes for viewing by the general public. Its amazing to watch kids who have never seen a telescope before walk up to one and try and work out which end/lens/mirror to look through. All are completely amazed at whats going on with all the lens and mirrors and when they see a crater on the moon as big as Tasmania it just blows them away. I have often described Astronomy as the "cupid's arrow of science", because of the emotional impact on people the first time they see the rings of Saturn or the craters of the moon. [That's original you have to quote me ;-) ]

As a veteran of many starparties it takes a bit to impress me, however I was not to be disappointed ........ a WORKING Tile from the Murchison Array had me fan-boying with selfies. It was sitting there on the grass collecting signals from the universe quite happily. Some 128 of these tiles currently form the Murchison Array, and will be a key part of the Square Kilometer Array that will put Australia at the forefront Astronomy research. If your dream is to win the nobel prize for Astrophysicis - Get into astronomy, go to the ANU or Curtain Uni in WA, and get onto the SKA (once built) and start data mining!!!!

Image: Selfie with "Popup Radio Telescope" - one tile of the Murchison Array actually working at Scienceworks.

What better way to wind up the week on 23rd Aug with some actual science supporting NASA's OSIRIS-REx Mission working with University of Arizona's Citizen Science Project - Target Asteroids. Laneway Learning, a novel idea that started as a way to increase traffic to a little coffee shop called the Little Mule Cafe (in a dead end laneway), has now gone global due to its outstanding success. Laneway Learning run eccentric little classes on just about anything to promote community engagement and sharing of ideas. I have run three "Asteroid Hunting" classes and become a regular at their Sunday Science Spectacular during Science Week.

Over a couple of hours about 10-20 people helped classify and record the photometry of asteroid Magellan, an analog of asteroid Bennu, the target of the 2018 OSIRIS-REx NASA New Horizons Mission. Asteroid Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid and 3rd on the Sentry Risk Table that requires careful watching by amateur and professional astronomers alike. Bennu is a 492m asteroid that (at this stage) will pass at about 1/3 the distance to the moon in 2182. Saving the lives of your great grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon during science week - what could be better than that!

This is a photo of my little booth at Captain Melville's for the Sunday Science Spectacular.

All in all a great effort, thanks to Norwwod Secondary College, Mount Burnett Observatory, Scienceworks, Captain Melville's and Laneway Learning for putting up with me enthusiastically waving my arms about and carting large telescopes, screens and computers around.

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