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Showing posts from November, 2013

Intelligence in Astronomy: Preview 3

Stuffed with turkey, tired of family, bummed about the post-Thanksgiving workweek? Well, at least you have tomorrow evening to look forward to! The Intelligence in Astronomy post series starts at 4pm Eastern Sunday Dec 1. Sign up to follow this blog by clicking the little blue button on the right-hand panel of this page. Add this to your RSS feed. We're almost there!

Intelligence in Astronomy: Preview 2

Do you have Successful Intelligence? How do you project into the 7-dimensional hyperspace of excellence devised by Turner & Tremaine in the late 1970s? What is you-dot, or


and why do I think it's one of the most important ingredients for success in science, and vastly more important than you(t).

Answers to these questions and more starting this Sunday, and running for several weeks thereafter.

First Planet Detection From Minerva

The Project Minerva team has been hard at work calibrating and characterizing Telescope #1, which is in an Aqawan enclosure on California Blvd, on the Caltech campus in Pasadena. This test rig allows us to work out the kinks with the telescope and enclosure control systems without having to fly/drive back and forth from campus to an observatory. Having a test rig right next to the Minerva team's offices has paid huge dividends thus far. We have overcome a major telescope hardware/software malfunction, identified improper coatings on some of our optical elements, and brought our telescope throughput up to spec, all in far less time than it would have taken if we went straight to the mountaintop.
This past Sunday night, Caltech postdoc Jon Swift and fourth-year PhD candidate Mike Bottom were at the controls of the telescope measuring the amount of starlight that makes it through the telescope optics and onto the actual detector, known as the telescope throughput. To do this, they m…

Kepler 2: Photometry, With a Vengance

The highly successful NASA Kepler Mission was a beautiful thing, and its beauty was primarily in its simplicity. The mission is based on a 1-meter Schmidt camera in space that resides in an orbit about the Sun with a semimajor axis slightly larger than the Earth's. This "Earth-trailing" orbit allowed it to maintain a continuous gaze on a single target field near the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, just off of the Galactic plane.

Once Kepler reached its orbit, it blew away a dust shield that covered the front of the telescope and from that point onward there were very minimal moving parts. On the space telescope there is only a single instrument: a 340 megapixel CCD imager of epic proportions. There are no other instruments to swap in and out of the light path, no filters, not even a shutter. For four years Kepler measured the brightnesses (relative fluxes) of ~150,000 target stars searching for periodic eclipses of planetary companions.

The Kepler telescopes only major …

Intelligence in Astronomy: Preview 1

As my mentor Sara Seager recently told me, my appointment at Harvard is a huge honor, a huge opportunity and also a huge responsibility. I have been given tremendous resources and a highly supportive department with strong leadership. I also have a big, highly visible stage on which to perform. On the research front, I have ambitious plans to discover and characterize the nearest Earth-like planets using existing and new instrumentation (Project Minerva), with an eye toward the NASA TESS mission and JWST. My goal is to make the discoveries and do the careful statistical analyses necessary to advance our knowledge of the formation and evolution of planets like our own.

My opportunities and responsibilities do not end there, nor do my ambitions. Here's an exerpt from my recently updated teaching statement:
I recognize that just because institutions produce good outcomes does not mean that those institutions are optimized. Astronomy is an excellent, yet non-optimized institution. I w…

Poll on attitudes about intelligence

I'm curious what you, dear reader, think about intelligence, both in yourself and others. Please take < 1 minute to fill out this quick poll. Seriously, it's super-fast because it only involves reading and clicking a mouse. (Note that the form scrolls within the blog-post frame. Scroll down to see the last bit of the final question)


(Note that the form scrolls within the blog-post frame. Scroll down to see the last bit of the final question)

Intelligence: Nature or Nurture? Both, together!

Lately, I've become obsessed with understanding a fundamental problem in astronomy. We're all familiar with this problem, yet I've found very few good answers among my conversations with astronomers. I've found many clues, plenty of leads, but no fundamental understanding. For better answers, I have decided that I need to turn to psychology. But I digress. What's the question?! I'm interested in the nature of intelligence, and the role intelligence plays in success, particularly in the realm of astrophysics. More specifically: why do some students excel while others struggle, when all of them look about the same when we admit them? (And: is this even a well-posed question?!)

I'm currently reading Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. The book is absolutely fascinating. I'm very much looking forward to meeting him in person during an upcoming trip to NYC (he's a prof at NYU).

I'm on chapter 3, but today I felt compelled to rer…

2013 NBA Countdown: #5 Paul George

Yes, the season started a couple weeks ago. But that's also when I went out of town for a couple of trips. I'm back now and Owen and I want to continue our countdown, T-plus-N days from the start of the season. Number five on our list is 6-foot-8 small forward, Paul George, out of Fresno State. So far, Owen and I have partial toward guards, perhaps because we're both fairly short, ourselves. George was a big surprise to me last season, mainly because living in LA didn't afford me many opportunities to watch the Indiana Pacers play. But the team went deep into the playoffs, crushing their opponents before eventually squaring off against Lebron, Wade and the Heat. George just blew up, scoring 27 in two different games in the series, against a strong Heat backcourt, and hitting a key jumper at the end of game six. My prediction is that George will have a big year in 2013-2014.

Owen's take on George:
Shoots lots of 3sShoots from the side of the courtDoesn't do much…