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Showing posts from April, 2013

Today in History: First Player Out

Jason Collins, an 11-year veteran of the NBA, just became the first openly gay athlete in any of the major US sports. In his self-penned Sports Illustrated article, he writes:

I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.  I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.

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MC Monte Carlo - Gridding It Up In the Likeli-Hood

At the end of the term in my Ay117 Astrostats course, the students gave 15-minute oral presentations or poster presentations describing their final projects. The morning of presentations was organized like a Keck Science Meeting, so that students not only learned the primary course material, but also gained valuable practice in giving scientific presentations.
Of the many highlights from this year's session was Scott Barenfeld's performance of his latest single from his upcoming Astrostats hip hop album. It was most certainly the best rap performance of the day.
Griddin' it up in the Likeli-hoodFrom the upcoming debut album Straight Outta Inverse Compton
Scott Barenfeld (CIT 1st year) March 19, 2013
They call me MC Monte Carlo Be runnin' my code 'till tomorrow I take the random walk So don't sit there and squawk If you need my routines, you can borrow. I doin' my Bayesian stat stu ff Comin' up with posteriors off the cu ff It's Bayes' Theorem yo…

Google, you are 100% correct!

Minerva update: The eagle has landed

On Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 4:39 PM, Jon Swift wrote:
Status update:

Our CDK700 is safely in place now! Rick and Kevin are
hooking up all the cables and our camera in prep for
tonight. The telescope fit nicely on the mounting bolts
(after a few strikes with a mallet) and the clearance is to
spec. Skies are clear, and if all goes well we'll have a
pointing solution soon after dark. -----------
Telescope 1 was delivered and installed successfully Friday afternoon! That we were able to get on the sky immediately is a testament to the amazing engineering of Planewave, and the wisdom of going with top-of-the-line, yet off-the-shelf telescopes for our project. Telescope 2 will soon be rolling down the assembly line.
For now, testing of Telescope 1, the science camera and the fiber acquisition unit (FAU) have begun in earnest. Kristina Hogstrom (CIT Aerospace Engineering second-year) will be teaching the telescope to operate robotically, while Phil Muirhead and Mike Bottom (CIT Astro third-y…

What the IAU should have written

At least to Dr. Wright's mind:

An excerpt:
In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to namenominating or voting on popular names for exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming processastronomers do not use such names and the international astronomical community currently has no plans to do so. The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public's interest to be involved in recent discoveries, but would like to strongly stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure for official names and designations.

Is Uwingu fishy? I really don't think so.

I've read/heard a lot of negative comments from astronomers regarding Uwingu. I suspect this is because they have bad associations for any concept involving money for naming rights of astronomical objects. There are a lot of shady sites out there that supposedly let the public buy names for stars, all for profit and with no scientific interest in mind. But I'd like to assure you, dear readers, that Uwingu is no such organization.

The Uwingu website makes their mission and methods abundantly clear. They are compiling a "baby name book" of unofficial designations for exoplanets that may become unofficial monickers, or even eventually official names if the IAU ever gets into the business of officially sanctioning exoplanet names. But nowhere on the site have I seen evidence that they are misleading the public in how all of this will actually work. Under "About us" they state:
Funding great science and science education doesn’t take a lot of money, but it requ…

Something strange going on in the IAU

Prof. Jason Wright has the story over at his blog. If you care about the actions of the IAU---in particular a potential abuse of procedure---please read the post in full and pass it along.

It all starts with a company called Uwingo that wants to sell the ability to propose exoplanet names (think of an exoplanet baby name book) in order to raise funding for exoplanetary science. As stated on the Uwingo site, "We’re asking the public to create a vast list of planet names for astronomers to choose from."

In a recent press release, the IAU responds:
In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process. The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public’s interest to be involved in recent discoveries, but would like to strongly stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure. Interes…

Compilation of mental health posts

Several people have requested this list, so here you go. Enjoy! And point me to other sources, please.

Performance Enhancing Drugs
Impostor Syndrome
           - Not just in academia
Work-life balance through working efficiently
           - Part 1
           - Part 2
           - Part 3
Professing with Depression
           - In good company: With tenure but not without troubles
           - It's not you, it's a disease
Zen and the Art of Astronomy Research

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

Here's an informative, high-production-value video explaining NASA's next big exoplanet mission:

I'm a lucky teacher!

Last term I taught Ay117: Statistics and Data Analysis. I wasn't expecting to have to teach the class in the winter; I thought I was teaching in the Spring. So I scheduled a bunch of travel in the Winter, most of it related to my job decision. Fortunately, I had the best TA on campus last term, Aaron Wolf. Aaron really carried me, subbing for me about 1/4 of the lectures. He also did the grading and office hours, and the students absolutely loved him. 
Aaron is my favorite type of human: extraordinarily smart, yet humble and extremely personable. These characteristics shone through in his teaching last term. Oh, did I mention he did all this while writing his thesis?! As a last-year grad student, he didn't even have to TA.
From:Registrar's Office REGISSent: Tuesday, April 09, 2013 9:00 AM
To: Wolf, Aaron S.Subject:Aaron, thank you for being an excellent TA!
Dear Aaron,

It has come to our attention that you were one of the highest rated TAs in the TQFR for the past term. I hope…

Planets and planetesimals around kappa CrB

My collaborators and I have just published a paper announcing a newly detected planet and dust disk around the subgiant kappa Coronea Borealis. I've written about kappa CrB previously here. Back then I only knew of one planet orbiting the star. With additional RV measurements, we discovered a second planet in a long-period orbit. The period of the second planet is so long that we only see a portion of the orbit, which looks like a linear RV "trend," or constant acceleration (scientists: think first-order Taylor expansion of a Keplerian orbit).

Additionally, my collaborators Amy Bonsor and Grant Kennedy used the Herschel space telescope to observe the star in the far infrared. At these long wavelengths, the star is very faint, but any warm material around the star will be bright. Amy detected extended emission around the star consistent with a flattened disk of warm dust grains, similar to our Kuiper belt, only much larger and more massive.

Here's the link to the pre…

This Week's Astro Nutshell: It's full of stars!

Each week I work with first-year grad students Marta and Becky on "order of magnitude" problems at the blackboard. I put that in quotes because we tend to do many more scaling arguments than true OoM. The idea is for them to draw on what they've picked up in class and apply it to common problems that arrise in astronomy.

Several weeks ago we asked

Suppose you have a magnitude-limited survey such that all stars have magnitudes $m < m_{\rm max}$. What will be the most common type (mass) of star in your survey?

This question is pretty much the same as "What types of stars visible in the night sky are most numerous?" This type of problem was first addressed by Swedish astronomer Gunnar Malmquist back in the 20's, which led to what we now refer to as the Malmquist Bias.

Initially, one might thing: well red dwarfs are the most common stars in the Galaxy, so M dwarfs will be the most common in our survey (or sky). However, M dwarfs are very faint (low luminositi…


The Transiting Exoplanet Sky Survey (TESS) has been selected as NASA's next next Explorer mission. TESS 
is like an all-sky Kepler. While the Kepler telescope stares at hundreds of thousands of faint stars in one patch of the sky, TESS will look at an order-of-magnitude more stars (2.5 million!), and it will focus on those much closer to home. This mission is a big part of my future science plans on a ten-year time scale, so I'm extremely excited that it was selected. Go NASA!

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Astrophysics Explorer Program has selected two missions for launch in 2017: a planet-hunting satellite and an International Space Station instrument to observe X-rays from stars. 

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) were  among four concept studies submitted in September 2012. NASA determined these two offer the best scientific value and most feasible development plans. 

TESS will use an array of telescopes to…

Quick-twitch muscles: theory and practice

Here are the muscles that help humans jump. Most important are the quick-twitch muscle cells. This is theory.

The video below shows the theory in practice, as seen in last night's Clippers game. I was in the crowd, up near the rafters, but it was still a plenty good view of DeAndre Jordan tearing up the Suns. Poor Jermaine O'Neal at the 1:50 mark. Not quite Mosgov'd, but close...

NOTE: Cover the kids' ears near the 0:30 mark. We heard it in the stadium, too, when the basket mic picked up O'Neal exclaiming "Oh sh*t!" when he saw the lob going up over his head. Guard yo' grill!

Kepler meets Einstein when a stellar skeleton bends space-time

Gravity-Bending Find Leads to Kepler Meeting Einstein

This is a press release by my postdoc, Dr. Phil Muirhead. Last summer he compiled a list of all of the planet candidates around the M dwarfs (red dwarfs) targeted by the NASA Kepler mission. One of our summer students, Andrew Vanderburg, noticed that the light curve of one of the candidate transiting Jupiters looked very strange. If a hot Jupiter transits a star, it should take about 20 minutes for the planet to move across the limb of the star, causing the light to go from the full, out-of-transit level, to the minium level during a full transit (eclipse). Here's what the light curve of Kepler Object of Interest number 256 looks like (KOI-256):

Where the light level first decreases is called "ingress," and for KOI-256 the ingress time is about a minute, instead of 20 minutes. Weird! After pondering this a bit, Andrew and Phil realized that the ingress time implies an Earth-sized object. But why does an Earth-sized ob…

New disorder identified

Four-oh-phobia - The persistant, irrational fear that your page cannot be found.