Adventures on My First Science Convention: Day Three

John Reed leads a workshop on widefield astrophotography with a DSLR at MSRAL (Sun 03 Jun 2012)

After a handulf of hours sleeping, I drug myself out of bed early Sundy morning.  Rather than eating breakfast, I composed my blog post recapping Saturday at the MSRAL convention.  I published at ten after eight o’clock, leaving me less than an hour to drive to UMKC from Lansing.  The last day of the convention consisted of a morning dedicated to three workshops.  Not knowing what I might need, I packed up my laptop and my DSLR camera and zipped down I-70, arriving with about ten minutes to spare.

I burdened myself with my laptop bag, camera backpack, purse and water bottle and trudged up the stairs to the Student Union.  I opted not to take the additional four flights of stairs on the interior of the building, taking full advantage of the elevator to the top floor.  I planted myself on the first row (as I’ve done each day of the convention) so I wouldn’t have any trouble hearing or seeing (or taking photographs like the one above).

First Workshop: Widefield Astrophotography with a DSLR by John Reed

Very interesting workshop on using consumer camera equipment (a Canon DSLR and a 200 mm telephoto with an AstroTrac mount) and some post-production work with Photoshop for stunning astrophotography.

Second Workshop: Variable Star Research with Modern Amateur Equipment by Jim Roe

The middle workshop presented by Jim Roe dealt with variable stars and doing some hands on scientific observation and research.  I got to know his old friend Z Umi (a variable star in the Little Dipper).

Third Workshop: Successful Web Cam Astronomy by David Kolb

David Kolb answering questions after his Successful Web Cam Astronomy workshop at MSRAL (Sun 03 Jun 2012)

The final workshop of the day got really hands on, for those who wanted to participate in the step-by-step process of massaging web cam videos taken of Saturn to produce a nice crisp stacked image.  The entire presentation will be uploaded to David’s website (Sunflower Astronomy) in the near future.

Final Musings on the Convention

I learned so much and met some great people.  I have many fascinating ideas and concepts revolving through my brain and many new projects I’m inspired to pursue.  I look forward to attending similar conferences when they pass through the area again.

Adventures on My First Science Convention: Day Two

Just can't get away from my work area
Beautiful, clear morning from atop the UMKC Student Union (looking northwest ~ June 2, 2012)

I survived the second day of the MSRAL convention.  I think I overdosed on science, as my brain worked overtime while I slept to process the fascinating concepts, breakthroughs and forthcoming projects in astronomy and astrophysics I absorbed Saturday.

I arrived just in time to wait for the business meeting (scheduled for the eight o’clock hour) to run over into the first session.  I strolled around the fourth floor of the UMKC Student Union, watching the venders setup their tables in the room adjacent to the main conference one.  Several conference attendees also brought their solar telescopes and began setting them up on the rooftop deck of the building to facilitate solar observing throughout the entire day (and we had crystal clear skies for the duration).

Morning sessions:

  • History of U.S. Astronomy and funding forecast, presented by Dr. Dan McIntosh, who kindly provided a link to his entire presentation during his talk: U.S. Astronomy: Past, Present and Future.  Some highlights from my notes:
    • I need to watch The Journey to Palomar via PBS’s website.
    • NSF founded/funded in 1950
    • NASA founded/funded in 1958
    • Public investment in science led to a boom in our economy.
    • In the 20 year history of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), more than ten thousand (10,000) scientific papers have been published.
    • Out of our huge $3.7 trillion federal budget, only 0.85 percent of it relates to science funding (NSF, NASA, DOE, etc.) or about $60 per year per family.
    • Is Science a Good Investment?  It inspires dreams, drives innovation, new technologies (just a few of NASA’s 6,000 patents and 2,000 spinoff ventures: water filters, cordless tools, shoe insoles, memory foam, scratch resistant lenses, UV sunglasses, cell phone cameras), which lead to economic growth and we, the public, come to rely on the new technology (GPS, weather, communication satellites).
  • Local amateur astronomer discovers comet (skipped most of this session because I saw it at a club meeting in March).

I returned to the stairs leading from the third floor to the top floor of the Student Union for the group photo just before we broke for lunch.  I ended up standing in the second row directly behind Fred Bruenjes (see local comet discoverer mentioned above).

More solar observingSolar observing

Afternoon sessions:

Location of the Kepler Mission FOV on the Sky
Location of the Kepler Mission FOV on the Sky
  • Helioseismology leads to Asteroseismology via the Kepler satellite aka Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: The End of Wondering in the Era of Asteroseismology. presented by Dr. Bruce Twarog.  This session really stretched my flabby scientific brain muscles.  The professor presented his topic with great enthusiasm.  I took copious notes, because I knew I needed to research and review most of what he talked about.  The first portion of his talk dealt with some history, including a crash course in Fourier transforms.  Once we were all on the same page, he could talk about helioseismology.  Finally, we connect the dots of how the data gathered by the Keppler Mission can build upon our discoveries in our own sun and apply them to other stars in a leading edge branch of astronomical research called asteroseismology.
  • Webcam Imaging by David Kolb: Interesting, but it seems like an awful lot of post-production work involving a myriad variety of software packages.  I will learn more this morning during a workshop with this presenter.
  • NASA’s Night Sky Network – There actually is an app for that (stargazing that is).  All these tools, kits, videos and services provided free by NASA to astronomy clubs around the country.

Evening Keynote: LSST by Dr. Barbara Anthony-Twarog.  Wow, just wow.  This telescope, when it becomes operational (currently proposed completion and operational in 2022), will survey the sky like never before.  All the data (15 terabytes per night) will be freely available to everyone (not just the US public, but the entire world).  By the time it finishes its ten year run, there may be nothing left for traditional observers (both professional and amateur astronomers alike) to discover.  The future of astronomical research will no longer rely on observations, but will need computer scientists and data miners to sift through the avalanche of data produced by the LSST.

Observing the Moon via Warko atop Royall Hall

After Dark: Warko on the rooftop of Royall Hall

I moved my vehicle from the parking lot next to the Student Union to the parking garage next to Royall Hall, parking on the fourth level to take the sky bridge across to the building and then a couple of flights of stairs up to the rooftop observatory.  The nearly full moon shone exceptionally bright on a clear, calm evening.  We trained the 16 inch telescope on it, at least until the sky darkened enough to move on to other targets.  I snapped a quick photo with my cell phone of the bright moon through the eyepiece:

Moon via Warko

We moved on to Saturn and stayed there until I had to leave (around 10:30) because I had a forty minute drive home and had been up since five.

I saw my first iridium flare last night.  What is an iridium streak, you ask? Check out the Heavens Above web page to find out and to search for a streaker in your neighborhood (sky that is).

I enjoyed my second day at the convention.  I learned more than I can possibly absorb on just five hours of sleep.  In just a few minutes, I return for the final half-day of workshops.  I’ll post my final thoughts later this afternoon, perhaps after I’ve had a nap.

Adventures on My First Science Convention: Day One

Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station
Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station

Since the late 80s, I have attended many conventions, all across the country.  All of those conventions had one thing in common with the convention I’m attending this weekend in Kansas City:  Science.  Well, that’s not entirely true, those other conventions also included stars, but I’ll let that rest for a moment and wait for the shoe to drop.

Yep.  I frequently attended science fiction conventions, mostly of the Star Trek flavor, but more recently of a more eclectic variety, culminating in a trip to Atlanta last fall to attend one of the largest in the country called Dragon*Con.  I won’t be repeating the experience this fall.  In fact, I could have attended the local science fiction convention, ConQuest, hosted annually over Memorial Day Weekend by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society.  But none of the guests of honor intrigued me, so I decided to embark on a harder challenge.

I registered early to attend the Mid-States Region of the Astronomical Leage (MSRAL) Convention and get a fix of hard science.  I am a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC), which in turn is a member of the Astronomical League.

The convention started Friday evening at six o’clock with the Star-B-Que, catered by Jack Stack, at Union Station, followed by a program at the Gottlieb Planetarium.

Friday, of course, was a work day for me.  Normally, I can make it home to Lansing by 5:25 p.m., after dropping off all my vanpool riders.  Fortunately, one of my riders left early for a weekend trip, and it just happened to be the person whose home is fifteen minutes off my direct route home.  So, I managed to make it back to Lansing by 5:10, giving me enough time to change clothes, put some gas in the car, and fly back to midtown Kansas City.  I made it to I-670 and within sight of my goal by five ’til six.  Then all traffic became a parking lot and I began to panic.  I exited I-670 midway across the bottoms and took a slight detour around Kemper Arena, approaching Union Station from the west-southwest.  I could not believe the amount of traffic!  Something was going on, because streets were barricaded and people were flocking to the midtown and/or Crown Center area in droves.  I wanted to scream!   I finally wound myself through the mess, using an old shortcut I knew from my days of working next to Union Station (in the Two Pershing Square building) and arrived only ten minutes late.

I picked up my registration packet and got in line for the barbecue.  I sat at a table and met some new astronomers and reacquainted myself with some ASKC club members.  Seven o’clock arrived quicker than I thought it would, and we all migrated to the planetarium for several very interesting programs presented by Jack Dunn of the Mueller Planetarium in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He awed us with parts of several shows, including a moon tour via the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Jupiter via Science on a Sphere projection and a beautiful one created by Kagaya (a Japanese artist) called A Starry Tale.  He closed the evening with a teaser trailer on the seventh planet, by popular request.

Cloudy Sunset from Union Station
Cloudy Sunset from Union Station

Announcements and updates followed and the disappointing news that neither Powell nor the Warko observatories would be opened up this evening, thanks to the clouds (see photo of sunset from Union Station at the left).  So, I found myself heading west towards the sunset and home much earlier than I anticipated.

Today will be full of sessions and workshops.  I can’t decide whether to take my laptop with me or not, as suggested during the announcements last night.  It’s heavy and bulky and I’d have to worry about it and lug it around with me all day.  I think I’ll forgo the hassle and rely on pen and paper and my Nook Color tablet for notes and research.

My only disappointment today will be not entering in the astrophotagraphy contest.  I did not review the MSRAL Convention website well enough in advance to obtain quality prints of a few of my best photos from the last few months.  The photos I would have entered are shown below (click images for larger versions).

Three Planets and a Baby MoonFrom my Mercury hunt in February 2012

EarthglowNewMoonVenusAndWesternHorizon01Earthglow Moon and Venus in May 2012

Partial Solar EclipseSolar Eclipse in May 2012

IMGP2052Lunar Eclipse in December 2011