The first two days of Launchpad have been long days and nights. I’ve been doing my best to take advantage of the time, so despite the fact that I was pretty tired, I was still up at about 5:20 am. I spend the first hour of the day writing up my Launchpad Day 2 blog post. Then I showered, and started in on the fiction writing. At 7 am, I once again headed over to the student commons with Chaz Brenchley and Doug Farren, and spent the next hour or so writing. I managed about 600 words of fiction, making it my 140th consecutive day of writing. Here are two-thirds of the writers at work (the other third is busy taking pictures):
I headed back to the dorm at 8:15 to meet the gang for breakfast. We once again walked over to the Turtle Rock cafe. The weather was just about perfect and we once again sat outside, eating our breakfasts and talking. It was wonderful. And not just the weather. There is a camaraderie that is growing within the group. Writing is a lonely business and is a wonderful just to be able to talk to other writers about writing, because you are talking to people who know. They’ve been through the same things you have and have complete empathy. And you can learn a lot from them, too.
Lectures started at 10 today, and as it turned out, today was a kind of brass tacks day for science fiction writers. We began the day learning about exoplanets, which meant starting the day with binary stars. Binary stars rotate around a common center of gravity and can occlude one another when seen from earth. This occlusion is one way in which exoplanets are discovered (it’s called the “transit method”). Getting exoplanets right is a very practical matter for science fiction writers because we often write stories set on worlds that are not within the solar system. There was a time when we had no idea if such planets even existed. We now know different (there are over 3,000!) and it’s useful to have real information about them.
After a short break, we went downstairs for a lab on planet hunting. We learned to read the data from the light output of stars and so we went to this lab room which had computers for all of us, and set about using a website called planethunters.org, a citizen science project, to attempt to classify stars and identify possible occlusions. This was a lot of fun, to say nothing of practical. And, as it so happened, one of our group, Doug Dechow, discovered a star that had a very regular occlusion–and it further turned out that he was the first to identify them. So who knows, maybe Launchpad 2013 will have discovered another exoplanet.
When that lab was over–no one really wanted for it to be over because it was too much fun–it was lunchtime and we headed to the cafeteria.
After the lecture we had a break and then headed over to another building for a demonstration of astonomical image processing by astronomer Chip Kobulnicky. The room we were in had computers for each of us to use. The computers had software for image processing, as well as some images from both Hubble and the University of Wyoming. The photos were taken in several different filters and the software is used to combine and manipulate the results.
Chip is an animated guy and you can tell from his enthusiasm just how much he loves astronomy. Chip explained how the CCD cameras that take pictures of stars work. The cameras in our phones are the same type of camera and work in the same way. The way the camera functions affect the quality of the images, and Chip explained the “noise” that can creep into the photos. We looked at raw images from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as images taken here at the university. Chip then showed us how to use the software to combine images taken in different filters, and how to adjust them in different ways to get the maximum amount of information out of them. After playing around with the images, here is the results I got:
The image processing class gave us a real sense of how astronomy is done. We also got to see raw images, with all of their flaws included. It is amazing how much cleanup work takes place on some of these images to produce the posters of amazing Hubble views of the universe.