Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Exoplanet Lecture

Today was my first college lecture, and by this I mean this was the first time I have ever been up in front of a large class lecturing. In this count, pre-lab lectures are not considered. Small lectures before a laboratory are fairly straight forward since there is a very limited amount of information that you need to convey before the students start following the laboratory procedure. Anyway, my advisor is teaching the introductory astronomy class this term and, seeing as he was going to be out of town this week, tasked me with presenting a lecture on exoplanets in his stead.

It was actually quite a fun experience and I think the students were engaged and absorbing the material. I approached the topic in such a way that when the students left the class they should be able to critically analyze a popular science article describing an exoplanet discovery. This includes not only understanding the detection methods, but also the metrics that are used to qualify a planet as habitable. Since habitability is often exaggerated for public consumption, it was crucial that students be able to understand what all is involved (and not involved) in these claims.

Specifically, I focused on a fun exoplanet that was announced not too long ago - Kepler 16, the real life "Tatooine" from Star Wars. The system was discovered with transits using Kepler and confirmed using radial velocity and a recent paper discussed potential habitability of an exomoon (Ewoks!?). I was really pleased with the analysis that Kepler 16 lent itself to. Hopefully the students agree.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sunday in Brest

Greetings from Brest, France! After the conference, I decided a small vacation was in order as was mentioned a couple posts ago. I spent today walking around the city trying to just see what there was to do and attempting to see some of the standard tourists sights. One of the many sights is the Musée de national de la Marine, a castle housing the French naval maritime museum. The castle is apparently the oldest monument in Brest and dates back possibly to the year AD 260 when the Romans had an outpost there. Anyway, the history isn't important, what is important is that it was free. Not knowing any differently, I was all in favor of touring. Below is a picture of just one segment of the outer wall (taken from within the castle). The tower in the picture is one of several towers you can visit.

Later in the day, I was having a coffee in the hotel and the hotel worker said that all museums were free this weekend! He mentioned that it was a special weekend, but didn't elaborate - he seemed very hesitant to continue, so I didn't push any further. One site he highly recommended is a tunnel called Abri Sadi Carnot. Not knowing what it was exactly, I looked it up online. During WWII French civilians in Brest and a large grouping of German soldiers were hiding in the tunnel (really a bomb shelter). One night, the clerk in charge of the generator made a mistake somehow and a fire ignited - which then lit the reserve fuel which was nearby. Shortly there after the ammunition which was stored in the shelter erupted. In total, ~400 French and ~700 Germans died in what was apparently a massive explosion - probably enhanced by the topology of the shelter. This occurred on September 8 (I believe).

 Anyway, that isn't necessarily what makes this weekend so special. It turns out that tomorrow is anniversary of the liberation of Brest from Nazi control. On September 18, 1944 the American forces finally freed the city. I'm not sure if it's because I'm American that he didn't want to say, or if it's just a very trying time for the people of the city, but either way, this weekend is one of celebration.

Friday, September 16, 2011

EES 2011 - Outlook

Greetings from Roscoff. Unfortunately, I was not able to publish blog posts during the meeting. This was mostly due to internet issues, which were not resolved until mid-week, but there was also the issue of time constraints. The meeting is fairly well scheduled, which means one is quite often supposed to be somewhere at all times. The "free time", however, generally ended up being consumed with conversation or (even) research. Many interesting papers were released to the pre-print archive astro-ph this week (include one on modeling the Kepler object KOI-126). I will hopefully be posting a bit more over the next couple days as the school wraps up and I start my mini-vacation in Brest!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

EES 2011

Tomorrow I head off to Roscoff, France for nine days to participate in a summer school on low-mass stars and the transition to brown dwarfs. I will attempt to keep the blog updated with my current status and anything interesting that learn about or see on my trip. This may or may not include pictures, but we all know what the answer to that should be from a previous post

What precisely is a summer school and what exactly is it about? The former is fairly simple to answer. A summer school isn't like your typical "summer school" we are all used to hearing about. You know, the one for misguided children and those basically failing in their studies. Quite the opposite. It is for the mega-nerds of the world to go and learn as much as they can on a particular subject. Some schools last a few days, some months. This one is 5 days, so not too much of an information overload. 

The latter is more difficult to answer. I know we will be exposed to pretty much every topic imaginable about low-mass stars and the transition to brown dwarfs. Well, not exactly all of them... but pretty close to it. There is some very interesting physics that goes on in this stellar mass regime, and plenty that hasn't yet been studied in detail. So maybe that answers the question I posed. It'll be more about learning the current state of the field in order to gain exposure to what is known and what still needs to be done, opening new research avenues. The lectures last all week, save a half day on Wednesday where we travel to l'Ile de Batz.

Oh, and yeah, the last remaining days of my trip will be spend touring around Brest. Might as well take a mini-vacation while I'm there! It should be a lot of fun, but also quite a bit of work, so the vacation will be well earned, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Big Bang

Being in the science world, it is hard to be blind to the rather prominent anti-religion sentiment that many prominent scientists take. This is not to say all scientists are atheist, but I think it's fair to say that most of the outspoken scientists are in that position. Often science and religion are branded as incompatible with neither adding to the other and both standing in stark contrast to each other's teachings.

In the case of religious fundamentalism, this isn't far from the truth. However, in the case of Catholicism, it is entirely NOT the case. Catholicism is very embracing of science and scientific fact. Leading theologians work with science facts in order to evaluate philosophical arguments and to bolster their beliefs in God. Many people are probably scoffing at this very moment, "Ah, and I bet you think Galileo was treated fairly?" Galileo represents any interesting case where it wasn't necessarily the science which led him to be treated as he was by the church. He has also since received a full pardon. More on this in a later post.

So, is there any good evidence for the church adding to science? Yes. Georges-Henri Lemaître. What about him? Well, his name should really read: Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. For those who are familiar with cosmology and astrophysics, this name should be familiar. For those who are not, Lemaître was the first person to propose the Big Bang theory. While his original hypothesis has since been revised and expanded upon, the notion of the Big Bang still exists and has a large amount of evidence in its favor.

It is interesting, however, to note that hardly any books (textbooks and popular science books) mention that he was a Catholic priest. While it may be rather irrelevant in the scientific context, it would do no harm to write his name as it should be written, Msgr. Lemaître. Also, it wouldn't hurt to dispel the myth that religion is strictly against the advancement of science. I wonder, are authors afraid of mentioning his religious background for fear of condemnation? Or maybe they do not want to give credit to the notion that religion is not opposing science? Maybe people just do not really know that he was a priest. Entirely possible.

I think his life would be interesting to read about. Unfortunately, no extensive biographies exist, at least from what I can tell, aside from the typical Wikipedia biographies. In the end, it is irrelevant to the science that he was a pious man, but I do believe that it can do a lot of good for science-religion relations if it were mentioned.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making Progress

Have you been to Flagstaff, ME? Probably not, unless you were around pre-1940. It turns out Flagstaff, ME was once a small town located on Flagstaff Lake. However, "progress" wiped out the town. Slaid Cleaves has chronicled the story in his song "Below".

The song is older (2004), but today I learned of Slaid Cleave and really enjoy his music. He masterfully weaves song and story leaving the listener (aka: me) wondering what to be more enthralled with, his tunes or the story?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Miss Evolution

The topic of this post was brought to my attention thanks to Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance. Sean is a well-known cosmologists and a well respected scientist who often weighs in on topics outside the realm of his research, such as the infamous "science v religion" battle. Sean posted a link to a pre-recorded Miss USA Q&A on evolution. In particular, "Should evolution be taught in schools?"

Some of the answers are baffling and entirely incomprehensible, such as those who answer "no". I'm not writing, though, to contribute to the banter that fills the Comments section, the science fanatics who scoff at religion are just as bad as those religious fanatics that scoff at science. Instead, I wanted to draw attention to an answer that has been ignored by the commentators; Ms Minnesota's answer.

Ms Minnesota was raised Catholic and was taught that evolution is entirely compatible with Catholicism; even supported by Blessed JP II. THANK YOU MS MINNESOTA! A voice of reason among the contestants, and the world at large, apparently. If you are unsure how this is true, I urge you to investigate this further. I could, and maybe will later, write up a post which explains this.

Why am I taking the time to bring this up? I have a theory as to why her answer has been ignored - ignorance. Those who argue ferociously from either side are entirely ignorant of Catholic beliefs. Science lumps all of Christianity into the category of the fundamentalists (e.g., Earth was created 6,000 years ago) and religious zealots tend to lump all scientists into the category of those who just plain hate religion (e.g., religion haters).

Maybe my post is vague and rather puzzling. I'm not sure if I really expressed what I had intended to from the start, but the point is that the whole "religion v science" debate is spiraling out of control with BOTH sides plagued by ignorance of the other. If we are to have an intelligent discussion on the topic of science and religion, we should be possess a knowledge of both.

To see all of the contestants answers, head over to the post on Cosmic Variance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruins Win the Stanley Cup!!!

After a grueling 7 game series with the Vancouver Canucks, the Boston Bruins have come out victorious! They closed out the series with a brilliant 4-0 victory in Vancouver accomplishing a feat very few thought possible. The Bruins had difficulty scoring in Vancouver in games 1, 2 and 5, allowing the Canucks to sneak out a 1 goal victory in each of those three games. However, in Boston, the Bruins dominated the 'Nucks, outscoring them 17-3. Finally, though, Boston showed up with the A-game in Vancouver, and the rest is history.

Congratulations Bruins players, staff, and fans!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Far Side of the Sun

For the first time in human history, we have seen the far side of the Sun. It seems rather remarkable, at first thought, that this is even considered a triumphant result. However, the prediction of space weather through the monitoring of solar active regions is hugely important for our technology dependent society. Also great, is that we can now track individual active regions to get a sense of how long they last and study other aspects of the active regions which can lend insight into the underlying physics of solar activity.

Here is a video released from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center describing the achievement.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Two Week Recap

Greetings. A lot has seemingly taken place over the past couple weeks and I'm just now getting a chance to take a step back and relax. I figured now was as good a time as ever to update the blog, since I'm sitting in the laundromat waiting for my clothes with very little to do. So here is a chronological ordering of the events that have taken place over the past couple weeks:

1) Started seedlings for the garden. Spring is almost (yes, almost) here and the vegetable garden provides some great pleasure... and food!

2) Passed my thesis proposal. This was a huge stress in my life since February. Most of March was spent writing my proposal, writing and re-writing... mostly re-writing. The beginning of April was the actual presentation. A quick 30-45 minute talk over a topic I had just spent the past month writing a paper about, so that wasn't too bad. However, after the talk your committee is allowed to ask you questions about whatever (generally related to your field of research), and can do so for however long. Needless to say, I survived.

3) The Dead River Oilers won the UVHL championship! Dead River (DR) is the men's league team I play for in the UVHL (the Upper Valley Hockey League), a men's A league. Great hockey, good fun. Turns out that although we finished 4th in the regular season (out of 6), we had the best team come playoffs. We won 5-2 in the championship against a solid Whalers organization.

4) Submitted my first "first author" paper. A letter to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, to be precise. The article is currently undergoing review, so I will refrain from discussing it here.

5) Mudleague hockey playoffs. This event was not so great in terms of the overall outcome. We lost in the first round against the Wiseguys, but it was a 1-0 final score. I probably had around 40 saves, I'd estimate. A good individual performance.

6) End of hockey season. Normally something I wouldn't find myself wanting to enjoy, but it was a long season and the end feels great. Last night was the last skate of the year, a UVHL pick-up skate; the last official skate before they took the ice out of Campion.

A great couple of weeks, in my opinion. Now I get to put effort into enjoy other things in life, aside from my thesis proposal and hockey. More likely than not, this will include Contra, gardening, and hiking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Best Tuna Melt

You heard me right. The best tuna melt. What about it? I made it, that's what. Okay, admittedly it's probably not the best tuna melt in the world. I'm sure someone, somewhere has either already thought of this same recipe or is making something far superior. Still, I'm no stranger to tuna melts and I've made my fair share of varieties, so I'll share what I've found to be the most delicious recipe I've yet come up with for a tuna melt.

Empty one can of tuna (drained) into a bowl. Instead of using Mayo, added the brine from a jar of pickled jalepenos until the tuna achieves the desired consistency (I like mine to be mushy so it packs well on the sandwich). Add a few dashes of garlic and onion powders and mix thoroughly. Slice a few pieces of (extra) sharp cheddar cheese. Spread half the tuna over one piece of Jewish Rye bread and the other half of tuna over another slice of bread (of course!). Place the cheese on top of one of the pieces of the sandwich. Place in toaster oven and toast until the bread begins to brown and the cheese is nice and melty. Remove from the toaster oven and combine the two halves. Cut in half (for style).

Simple yet super delicious. You could add some cumin to the mix, but I just haven't yet tried it with the straight jalepeno brine. I normally add it when I make the sandwich with mayo, but I don't know if it's necessary with the jalepeno brine. Tuna melts might be simple, but they are cheap, delicious meals with lots of protein. If anyone else tries this, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Widgets

Good news, I've finally decided to bring myself into the 21st century! Considering that I basically stopped updating my "Currently Reading" and "Recently Read" book lists after moving over to, I gave in and added the bookshelf widget to my blog so that it automatically updates the blog bookshelf when I update my page. Fancy, I know. Now people can finally keep up with what I'm reading and also get an insight into my opinion of the book via the rating system and, if one clicks on the book, presumably also, my review (if I wrote one).


Here are two features at my hotel in Seattle that I am so grateful to have at my service:

A bottle opener for getting sauced in the tub:

And just in case I fall in, it is good to know help is always right at hand:

Now all I need is an French press on my nightstand... I guess I'll have to make do with what I have.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seattle Coffee Quest

Synonymous, right? Everywhere you go in Seattle, practically, there is a cafe of some sort staring you in the face, tempting you to enter and sample it's wondrous elixir. Most of these cafes are owned by the big giants, Seattle's Best and Starbucks, and are not too much different from the everyday version of these places you find in most every moderately large town. However, sometimes you come across smaller cafes or coffee companies that you rarely, if ever, see outside of Seattle. Now, I tend to gravitate towards these smaller places for one reason: I don't particularly care for Seattle's Best or Starbucks coffee. Sure, they make delicious specialty beverages, but when it comes to a good 'ole cup of joe, they fall way short of delicious. The coffee always has that acrid, burnt coffee taste and is never palatable for more than a few minutes before your brain finally realizes that it's stupid to continue on pretending to like it. So I have a quest to find a good tasting cup of coffee in this city that isn't a specialty beverage... trust me, I already accidentally stumbled upon the "best cafe latte in Seattle", and trust me again, it was the best of my life. More on that another time.

It begs the question, then, "where is the best cup of coffee to be had in Seattle?" Thus far, I have no answer for you. The place that serves the best latte serves a drip coffee that contains a bit of flavor, but mostly just a pungent taste of grossness. Oh, and then there's the place in the Convention Center. Crap. I could barely palate the dirt that was put in my cup. Served scalding hot so that you first burn your taste buds off before you actually taste the coffee. Too bad for them I wait for my coffee to cool to a reasonable temperature; sickening. Absolutely the worst cup of coffee I've ever had in my life. No joke.

So I raise my coffee mug to you, readers of this post, as I venture forth to try and find a good cup of coffee in this coffee mad city; a task most would think simple. Think again.

UPDATE: I have not found anything spectacular (nothing close to a Dirt Cowboy quality cafe, but Seattle Coffee Works "wins" so far. Maybe at future AAS meetings in Seattle I will have to work a little more vigorously to get a superb cup of coffee.