Sunday, January 31, 2010

Carnival of Space #139

Welcome to the 139th edition of the Carnival of Space, your portal to the blogosphere's most interesting astronomy posts of the week. I'm delighted to be in your company.

Since I'm new here, let me introduce myself. I blog about family-friendly science here at Mama Joules and astronomy is a favorite topic in our family. I recently interviewed Tracy, of Tiny Mantras, about her experiences raising a four-year-old astronomer. You can read her wonderful responses in Meet Jupiter's Mother and Meet Jupiter's Mother (Part 2). As you can see, my own four-year-old, Little Brother, has been working on his book of Space Words.

Speaking of terminology used in astronomy, Stephen of Steve's Astro Corner has defined basic terms used when describing how planets orbit the sun. Kim at Chandra Blog gets more technical by sharing five differences between white dwarfs and neutron stars.

And white dwarfs are getting some press this week! Mike, of Simostronomy, shares the heartening story of how amateur astronomers alerted the world to a rare stellar eruption known as U Scorpii. He writes, "Observers around the planet will now be observing this remarkable system intensely for the next few months trying to unlock the mysteries of white dwarfs, interacting binaries, accretion and the progenitors of Type IA supernovae."

Interacting with the public can take researchers to some interesting places. What do you get when you combine ancient legends and Google Earth? Steve of Cheap Astronomy interviews an astronomer who used this unusual method to find a new meteor impact crater. You can listen to the interview as a podcast or read the transcript (this is a .pdf file). (I didn't know you could get a degree in Aboriginal astronomy - fascinating!)

Careful examination of photographic images can yield some interesting results. In 2000, the unmanned Galileo spacecraft conducted a flyby of Jupiter's moon Io. Jason of The Gish Bar Times explores Io's Chaac Patera, a green-hued volcanic depression, using data collected by this space probe.

As for spacecraft, this week was a sad one for fans of the Mars Exploration Rovers. Efforts to free Spirit, still stuck in the Martian sand with two of six wheels broken, have been called off. However, as Stu at Cumbrian Sky points out, we should not count Spirit out, because Spirit is not dead. We wish her well as she hunkers down to survive the harsh Martian winter, and we hope that she is able to endure as a now-stationary science station.

In honor of Spirit, why not enter Alice's competition for artists at Alice's Astro Info. Draw, photoshop, or paint your rendition of Spirit stuck at Troy, send it over to Alice, and your artwork will grace the Space Place Bulletin Board at Pacific Science Center. What a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of Spirit’s new life as a station!

As you are visualizing Spirit on Mars, let your mind wander beyond the edge of our solar system, where Ian at Astroblog gives us a wonderful rendition of the sun as seen from other planets. (I feel very small now, Ian!)

After drifting among the stars, take in James Cameron's blockbuster new movie Avatar, which is poised to break the all-time U.S box office record later this week. But before you go, drop by Next Big Future, where Brian examines the Valkyrie Antimatter Propulsion Rocket used in the movie and explores the science propelling this spaceship.

How long will it be before we go back into space ourselves? Is President Obama going to axe Ares and Constellation? Has funding for this new rocket system dried up? How will this affect future space travel? Phil tackles this rumor and its possible implications at Bad Astronomy.

And what does the rest of this year have in store for us? Have we begun a new Global Space Age? Bruce at 21st Century Waves shares ten space trends for 2010. (2015 looks like a good year!)

What if we open up cislunar space (the space between the Earth and the moon) to entrepreneurs? Check out these unique business ideas from Ken at Out of the Cradle. Is a 3-D gravitometric map of the inner Solar system in our future?

How are we going to keep up with the energy consumption needs of future civilizations? Brian at Next Big Future examines what it would take to power a yottawatt civilization. (A yottawatt is 1024 watts - a blindingly large number. In 2006, total human power consumption worldwide was about 16 terawatts; a terawatt is 1012 watts.) It's hard for me to fathom, but as Brian concludes, "As noted by the definitions, capturing and using 0.3% of the energy from the sun enables a yottawatt civilization." Personally, though, I was most intrigued by Brian's off-handed comment about "using Jupiter for nuclear fusion fuel." Now that's thinking big!

One thing we know for certain, this is the year of launches at Kentucky Space, with three confirmed launch dates set for 2010. As Wayne shares, "Our suborbital 'ADAMASat' mission is slated for February 24 from Wallops. Discovery (STS-131) will lift off with the first of three 'Nanoracks' bound for the ISS in March. Our free orbiting craft, KySat-1, was just publicly confirmed as a secondary on NASA's 'Glory' mission in November." Safe travels, Kentucky Space!

On a sober note, C.C. at TheSpacewriter's Ramblings remembers pioneers of space exploration, noting that three terrible disasters are recalled this week: the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger disaster, and the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. As she so eloquently says, let's "salute the Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia crews who gave their all so we could explore. Let’s do them the honor of pushing forward and continuing our push to space regardless of the challenges we face at the moment."

That brings us to the close of issue #139. Thanks for stopping by! If you'd like to check out previous issues of the Carnival of Space or if you would like to host or submit to this blog carnival in the future, please visit Universe Today.

Photo credits: top two photos by Mama Joules, images by Little Brother; bottom photo by Jurvetson (flickr)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fun at the dinner table

I made pasta for dinner tonight. In the middle of the meal, I heard a strange sound. My 8-year-old was blowing through one of the thick, tubular, penne noodles. It sounded just like a whistle.

Before I could stop myself, I asked, "How did you do that?"

I found a sauceless noodle of my own and tried blowing through it. When it didn't whistle, I thought out loud, "I wonder what will happen when I poke it with my fork?"

When I was done, my noodle looked vaguely like a tiny, fat clarinet. I proceeded to blow through it while covering the new holes with my fingers. (It still didn't whistle, BTW. I think Kerm had a special noodle!)

At this point, everyone at the table -- Itinerant Cryptographer, Kerm, Little Brother, me -- was blowing through a noodle. (Princess just stared at us.) I looked up, aghast, at what I had started.

"All right, everyone," I said. "These are the last noodles that we're blowing. Put your food back on your plates and let's eat like civilized people."

My husband looked at me and smiled. "Your inner scientist is in conflict with your inner mom."

I had to agree. But once in awhile, you just have to use your noodle.

Photo credit: babbagecabbage through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license via flickr.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Great Blue Heron
2009 Great Backyard Bird Count

Photo credit: Marianne DiAntonio, FL

If you live in North America, mark your calendars! It's almost time for the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Held in February, this year's count will occur from February 12-15, 2010.

Want to participate? It's easy! You need to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the survey and then enter your data online. You can download a tally sheet for birds in your geographic area here and look for special GBBC events near your home. There's even a flickr group where you can upload your bird photos taken during the count. And if you are snapping pics, be sure to participate in this year's photo contest (you can win prizes!).

Get ready to identify birds by taking this sound quiz (love the title, "Guess Who's Squawkin'!") and visiting the online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with profiles of over 550 species. And don't worry if, like me, you can't identify every bird that you spot during your count. There's a special box to check on the survey if that's the case. Be sure to download a participation certificate (this is a .pdf file) after you've completed your count!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Space Words

Two weeks ago, Little Brother created an illustrated book of weather words. He was so proud of his creation that he recently told me, "I want to make another book -- an award-winning alphabet book!"

As a writer myself, I was excited to hear this. The original weather book was my idea, but now he was taking things further. I told him that his new book needed a theme. "Like animals, outer space, or places."

Little Brother loved the idea of a book of "space words." I wasn't sure. How do you draw "dark matter" or "black holes"? How could I explain these concepts to a four-year-old? Could I even think of words for each letter of the alphabet? You can see that we are missing several letters in our original list of space words.

Mommy, what color is gravity?

Fortunately, Twitter is populated with some kind people, including Debra L. Davis, otherwise known as Woman Astronomer. She made some helpful suggestions for Little Brother's book, including "flyby" for f, "Kuiper belt" for k, and "ice moons" for i.

And so, "Space Words" was born.

Little Brother referenced his older brother's illustrated Earth & Space book, which influenced his drawings for "black hole" and "dark matter".

I told him to think of a "comet" like a shooting star (since it looks like one), but I now realize that's the wrong way to think about it so we'll have to have a chat about that soon.

Our conversation about dark matter went something like this:

Me: "Well, you know how there's all that stuff up there in outer space that we can see?"

Little Brother: "Yeah."

Me: "Well, there's a lot of stuff out there that we know about, but we can't see. That's dark matter."

I taught Little Brother how satellites would sometimes have a "flyby" near a planet to gather data. And I suggested that maybe someday, manned spaceships would fly by planets, too. He loved this idea, which is why the rocket is much larger than the planet -- in this case, Jupiter (note the large red eye!).

"Gravity" was another fun topic.

Little Brother: "What color is gravity?"

Me: "Uh, gravity doesn't have a color. It's the force that sticks us to the Earth. How about you draw some people walking on the Earth with an arrow pointing down?"

So far, it's my favorite of his drawings. I promised him that if he finishes the whole alphabet, I'll find a way to get his pictures bound in a real book.

Photo credits: Mama Joules. Images courtesy of Little Brother.

Monday, January 18, 2010

We are all scientists

In the US, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I've been thinking about equality. I just arrived home from attending Science Online 2010, a science blogging and web communication conference, where I sat in on several talks about citizen science. In one, while discussing the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) funding for adult science literacy programs, a participant said,
"It's like we've given up on the adults."
This is tragic. Not everyone is going to work in a lab doing research, but everyone can be a scientist. We are all entitled to explore the world through science - it's our birthright. My husband, Itinerant Cryptographer, said it well:
"Everyone should have the opportunity to explore science as far as their interests and abilities can take them."
But in this country, many adults no longer participate in discussions about science. In turn, scientists feel like the general public isn't listening anymore. Both sides are growing more polarized, with the scientists amping up their insistence and the non-scientists becoming more resistant. As someone who has sat on both sides of the table -- as a working scientist and now a stay-at-home mom -- I can see why some people have completely opted out of this discussion.

On the plus side, practicing scientists are often generous with their time. They love to be asked about their work. Many share their knowledge freely with those who are interested. Frankly, I find most scientists to be nice folks when you get to know them. (And I love ecologists. I know I am biased here, but people who want to save the planet tend to be kind.)

But scientists can be an intimidating lot to the uninitiated. Some researchers are so steeped in their work that they can't imagine why someone would see things differently. They don't hesitate to tell you so -- this is their life's work and they know it well. But this passionate viewpoint can sound aggrandizing, or worse, insulting. The non-scientist (or non-practicing stay-at-home mom science blogger) might leave the conversation feeling frustrated, angry, and unheard. As John Morley once said, "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."

Where does this leave us? It's terrible for the future of science. Scientists need to get the word out about their research. Non-scientists need to hear the message, but their concerns must be addressed by the scientific community. Nothing is going to improve if we don't all start listening to one another.

In order for this to happen, though, everyone needs to feel welcome at the table of science. Whether you are a four-year-old stargazer or a distinguished Nobel Laureate, your concerns and ideas matter. You are a part of this conversation.

If you felt unwelcome in scientific discussions before, let this be your ticket in. Please come back to the table of science. We need you here. All of our futures depend upon it.

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo credit: Linda Byers, National Park Service

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Meet Jupiter's Mother (Part 2)

Today, we welcome back Tracy Zollinger Turner, of Tiny Mantras. Tracy is the mother of a four-year-old astronomer (above) and has been sharing her tips for encouraging a child's love of science. You can read the first part of our interview here.


Welcome back to Mama Joules, Tracy! I've gathered from reading your blog that astronomy was not one of your primary interests prior to your son falling in love with Jupiter (and the rest of the universe). How do you foster your son's love of astronomy?
For someone like me, I think remembering the connection between art and science (or science and everything!) has been helpful. I bring the science he likes into projects I enjoy more. We make planets and galaxies and nebulas out of clay. Or we do things like make egg tempera paint and encourage color mixing so there's a scientific process that's part of painting.

Tracy and her son made these planets and stellar objects
out of Play-Doh and FIMO clay.

I've promoted his interest in letters and reading by spelling and helping him write space-related words (we have used so many space metaphors in this house). When you actively notice what your child responds to, it gets easier to realize that shimmery fabrics can be used for imaginative play when he feels like being a comet or a black hole, crystals that hang in the window make rainbows around the house, and that it's okay for an apple to be sacrificed in the name of understanding gravity now and then.
What suggestions (for websites, books, etc.) do you have for parents of other would-be astronomers?

There are plenty of great astronomy sites out there, but few of them have stuff for younger kids. I like There are science songs and reasonably simple games there.

Television, Music & Books

[My son] loves watching Powers of Ten, which may be one of the best videos ever made when it comes to illustrating the vastness of the universe, as well as the microverse! The TV show Zula Patrol is actually pretty great [too].

They Might Be Giants CD, "Here Comes Science" is our new soundtrack around here. It's actually taught or reminded me of a number of basic [scientific] concepts.

I wrote a post a while back about some of the astronomy books for kids that I like. [Note from Mama Joules to Tracy: Kerm reviewed George's Secret Key to the Universe; he thought it was great!]

Places to Visit

We've used Google Earth a lot to find our house, and [my son's] favorite places nearby from space. Incidentally, his favorite places are...

COSI - our local science center

Perkins Observatory - where the telescope was formerly the most high-powered in Ohio and used for astronomical research. It's now an educational center with lots of old-school astronomy displays, and lots of volunteer amateur astronomers who love to help people of any age develop a love of space and telescopes.

We have had the chance to go to a couple of NASA sites - one was a rare open house. [NASA scientists] are really good at figuring out how to talk to and educate kids!

Of course, we want to take him to Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Hayden Planetarium in NYC, the Air and Space Museum in DC and any [other] NASA site that we can, but we haven't had the chance just yet.

Tracy, those are some wonderful suggestions. I know that I will be visiting those websites soon. Thank you so much for stopping by!


If you'd like to contact Tracy, or read further about her adventures with her astronomy-loving preschooler, please visit her at her blog, Tiny Mantras. She is also the occasional host for the Carnival of Space, a must-read if you want to keep up with astronomy in the blogosphere.

Photo credits: Tracy Zollinger Turner (used with permission)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Win a copy of 2010 Writer's Market! (Cross-Post)

NOTE: This message is cross-posted from my other blog, Stars in my Sugar Bowl. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS THERE. Thank you!

To celebrate the launch of my new poetry blog, Stars in my Sugar Bowl, I am giving away an unused paperback copy of the 2010 Writer's Market published by Writer's Digest Books. This tome is a great addition to any writer's toolkit, containing listings for 3,500 places to publish your work. I already own a copy and received this extra one at Christmas -- a perfect opportunity for a giveaway!

To be eligible for the drawing, please leave me comment about science, poetry, or both, on that post only. Any comments left on the Mama Joules blog are NOT eligible.
  • Tell me about your favorite scientific subject, describe a fun science activity, tell me what you like about Mama Joules, provide a link to a family-friendly science website, or tell me anything else about science.
  • If science isn't your thing, talk to me about haiku, tanka, haiga, alliteration, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, or anything else relating to poetry.
  • And if, like me, you enjoy both science and poetry, share your thoughts on Scifaiku, Fibonacci sequence poetry, or some other topic similar to both.
You must include something about science, poetry, or both, in your comment to be eligible for this drawing. Again, please leave your comments there. I reserve the right to delete any comments that contain spam, sexually explicit references, swearing, or other overtly troll-like content. Please make sure to include enough contact information that I can E-mail you back if you win!

I'll be accepting comments there for roughly two weeks (until 8 pm EST January 20th) and then I'll have my husband, Itinerant Cryptographer, help me pick a winner at random (since he does that sort of thing for a living). At that time, I will announce the winner there, by updating that post on Stars in my Sugar Bowl, and I will request that you contact me by E-mail to claim your prize.

If you are chosen as the winner and haven't contacted me by 8 pm EST January 24th, you will forfeit the prize and I will draw another name from the list.

I look forward to reading your comments on my other blog. Good luck!

Photo credit: Francis via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Help! I'm more than 1,292,976,000 seconds old!

I feel ancient after visiting GirlsGoTech, an online math, science, and technology outreach program from the Girl Scouts. You can learn about careers in science, html code and the Internet (and find out how many seconds old you are!), try cryptic codes, make your own mandala (and learn about mathematics and symmetry), discover how your brain processes information, and compose digital music.

The GirlsGoTech Mandala Maker reminded me of Make-A-Flake (although it took me a bit longer to learn to use the Mandala Maker). What do you think of my mandala?

With either of these programs, you will create a design with several lines of symmetry. Can you see where the lines of symmetry are on this design? How can you fold this circle in half so that both sides have an identical pattern?

Click on the image above to visit GirlsGoTech and their nifty Mandala Maker to design your own!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Weather words

Earlier this week, Itinerant Cryptographer came home and announced, "I signed us up to run the activity at Boy Scouts next week. Our topic is weather."

Now, if you've read this blog before, you know how much I like meteorology! But I'm at a loss for an appropriate weather-related activity to try with a group of third grade boys. So, I consulted with my favorite four-year-old.

"What should Mommy and Daddy do next week to teach about the weather?" In the back of my head floated images of cotton ball clouds, weather station data, and field guides full of bizarre weather phenomena (like lenticular clouds).

Little Brother's response, however, was simple and delivered with great enthusiasm. It didn't matter what the big boys did next week. He wanted to try this today.

"Let's make a weather book!"

So we did. I took one sheet of black construction paper and five sheets of drawing paper, stacked them neatly, and folded them in half so that the black paper formed a cover. Then I punched three holes down the fold and tied some ribbon for the binding. I gave Little Brother a list of 17 weather terms -- like wet, partly cloudy, foggy (can you think of more?) -- to illustrate and let him choose the ones he wanted to copy into his book.

Little Brother did a great job! Here are two of my favorite pages:

Photo credits: Mama Joules. Images courtesy of Little Brother.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Meet Jupiter's Mother

Happy New Year! I'm pleased to welcome Tracy Zollinger Turner, of Tiny Mantras, to Mama Joules. In a recent issue of the Carnival of Space, she described her relationship with astronomy like this:
"[My son's] interest in space has been unyielding for as long as he's been able to talk. Therefore, I spend a lot of time reading astronomy blogs to try and become more scientifically literate, as well as riding imaginary space elevators out to Proxima Centauri and other stars in search of exoplanets. And smoothing flour and cocoa powder in a large bin so my son can throw rocks in it and make craters. Or making special trips to Big Lots to buy a bright yellow bucket for a $1 so he can keep his pretend meteor collection safe. You get the idea."
I was fascinated by her description. Reading further into her blog, I discovered that Tracy's son has a special affinity for Jupiter, and has even dressed up as the planet for Halloween.

Jupiter goes trick-or-treating
Photo credit: Tracy Zollinger Turner (used with permission)

When thinking of blog topics for Mama Joules, I often focus on how to engage a child's love of science. But Tracy's blog got me thinking: How do parents and educators sustain a child's interest in a scientific topic, especially when his or her fascination goes beyond our own? So, I invited Tracy to Mama Joules for a visit.


Today, we welcome Tracy Zollinger Turner, of the blog Tiny Mantras, for a chat about raising scientifically literate children. Tell us about yourself, Tracy.

I'm a longtime freelance writer and editor, technology lover, journalist, blogger, art and music appreciator, wife, mother, home-based career woman, learner.
You write in Tiny Mantras that you are "mother to a fanantical four-year-old astronomer." When did you realize that your son's interest in outer space was unusual for his age?
It's been a consistent interest for as long as he has been able to speak. When he was about a year-and-a-half old, he learned words in groups - colors, shapes, animals. Since he just seemed drawn to spheres and pictures of planets, he learned the solar system next.

I think I kind of always realized it was unusual. I do remember it really hit home for me when we went to the bookstore on his second birthday and he pointed at a big coffee table book up high on a shelf and said, "Get the 'bero galaxy book, Mommy." I pulled the thing down, looked at the inside flap, and found out that the picture on the cover was of the Sombrero Galaxy, which I wouldn't have known.

Sombrero Galaxy as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Image courtesy of NASA

He either picked it up through the space documentaries we were watching ("The Universe" on the History Channel was in its first season) or one of the space books we had begun to accumulate. At the time, he was far more interested in books full of space telescope images than space books that were created for kids.

I have always been prepared for him to lose this interest or move on to something else. Other parents told me that sometimes two-year-olds get really into something then forget all of the details they once knew as they move on to other things. At times, he's gone pretty deeply into learning about other (usually science-y) things, like anatomy and weather, but now, at four and a half, space still prevails.
Do you have any tips for how to encourage children to love science, especially when their interest in a specific topic exceeds your own?
I let his questions lead me. I learn a lot of this stuff with him. Like a lot of people - and women, especially - I grew up thinking that I didn't have much of an aptitude or love for science, and one of my son's real gifts to me has been teaching me that I actually do!

With a couple of exceptions, I don't think that most of my elementary or high school teachers knew how to make science relevant to students' lives. Yet it is so relevant and so common, and can be so much less intimidating than we make it. I see a lot of parents tripped up thinking that they have to know something to teach it, when learning it together - giving them some of the power to realize that grown-ups don't have all the answers - can make it so much more memorable for the child.

When I want to set [him] up with something I don't have to help a lot with, there are so many great resources and ideas out there when it comes to creating projects and experiments. Like putting flour and cocoa powder at the bottom of a big plastic bin, smoothing it, then letting him throw rocks in there to see what happens when meteors hit the moon, or Mercury.
Thanks, Tracy, for giving us such wonderful suggestions for making science fun!


You can learn more about Tracy's adventures raising her mini-astronomer at her blog, Tiny Mantras. Join us next week as Tracy shares some of her family's favorite astronomy websites and places to visit!