Tag Archives: Astronomy

Women in Science – Natalie Batalha and Dawn Gelino

Another week where you get a Women in Science rather than a weekly wrap up.

As a lot of you know I try to follow developments in the search for exoplanets and we have found quite a few now (1846 Confirmed / 4604 Candidates). While we know somethings about these planets there is plenty that we don’t know. The biggest question is do any of them support life. There are things we can look for that would support life. One team is trying to look at the light as it passes through the atmosphere of a planet transiting a star and using the absorption spectrum to see what is in the atmosphere.

NExSS Poster
NExSS Poster (Source NASA)

NASA has formed a group call NExSS, currently made up of teams from 11 institutions, to answer some of these questions. They expect more teams and international teams to join in as things get rolling. NASA selected three people to lead this initiative each from a different NASA Center. Two of those people are Natalie Batalha and Dawn Gelino.

NASA Release
Wikipedia: NExSS

Natalie Batalha

Natalie Batalha
Natalie Batalha (Source NASA)

Natalie Batalha is a co-investigator on the Kepler Project.. She has written a number of papers but two of them relate to Kepler. The first talks about the criteria they used to select what spot of sky they were going to study. A number of factors went in to that including the ability for ground based telescope to look at that area of the sky to follow up; stars of a type that they predict would be more likely to have planets and to minimize clutter in the background.

The second paper narrowed the half a million stars in the field to 150,000 that they viewed. The first step was to catalogue all the stars in the field with ground based telescopes. They predicted which stars they would be able to detect a transiting star based on their equipment, the background clutter and the size of planet they could detect for that star.

NASA Kepler Bio page
Research Gate

Dawn Gelino

Dawn Gelino
Dawn Gelino (Source CalTech)

Dawn Gelino created the website “The Habitable Zone Gallery” with a partner and wrote a paper on the math used to calculate the data. The site is wonderful and I have spent too much time looking at orbits. The movies are particularly cool as they give the temperature of the planet as they orbit.

Example Habitable Zone Orbit
Example Habitable Zone Orbit (Source The Habitable Zone Gallery)

She has written a number of papers to do with the habitable zones of planets. Habitable zone are basically defined as where water would be in liquid form. Clearly there are a lot of variables that enter into that. Some planets have orbits that only have parts of their orbit in the habitable zone. Our atmosphere affects the temperature of our planet so the composition of exoplanet atmospheres would also. The above image is one where the orbit crosses the habitable zone but it would be really cold in winter and boiling in summer. (173K to 397K / -100 c to 124 c)

The Habitable Zone Gallery
Research Gate

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Women in Science – Carolyn Porco

Ok I am not going to get to a weekly update in this week so I am finishing up this “Women in Science” Post that has been sitting in my drafts for far too long.

Today’s post is on Dr Carolyn Porco who is a planetary scientist. Reading about her was like going down the rabbit hole. Every step I took involved taking another step so I could understand the first step. Every wonder led to another wonder that I need to read about. She has written 115 scientific papers so clearly I am only going to be scratching the surface. As always hopefully this is a starting point for your own rabbit hole of discovery. For the first link we will go with her biography on her website.

Carolyn Porco
Carolyn Porco (Source Wikipedia)

Bio on her website

Wikipedia – Carolyn Porco

She was a member of the Voyager Imaging Team. As part of that team she described the ringlets and spokes in the rings of Saturn. She also showed how the two newly discovered moons of Uranus were shepherding the outer rings.

Vg1 p23254 hires

Saturn as imaged by Voyager 1
She also made a prediction along with another that certain features in the rings were cause by oscillations in Saturn and could be used as a seismograph. This led to a greater understanding of the structure of Saturn and other planets with rings. This prediction was shown to be correct 20 years latter with the Cassini / Huygens mission where she is in charge of the imaging team.

Huygens surface color sr

The Cassini / Huygens mission discovered seven new moons of Saturn and some new rings. One of the cool things is that they did some close flybys of some of the moons and dropped the Huygens probe down to the surface of Titan. One of these moons, Enceladus, is the most likely place for us to find life. It has been speculated that life there might predate life on Earth and even be the source.

Enceladus geysers
Enceladus geysers
In the TED video below she talks about the geysers on the south pole of Enceladus and that there is a liquid ocean under a frozen surface. She also talks about some of the carbon based molecules they detected as they flew the space craft through the geysers.

The next video is actually the TED talk that is mention above as having happened two years prior. In this one she is talking more about the discoveries on Titan and the landing of the probe Huygens.

Other Links…

Wikipedia – Enceladus

Cassini Imaging Website

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Weekly Wrap up: New Semester New Schedule

In my life this week…

This has been another laid back week. We had to get Philip ready for a winter survival camp this weekend. It meant tracking down some of our equipment and replacing some that just wasn’t going to cut it for the cold. He has everything he needs loaded onto a sled and snowshoes to hike through the snow. They have tarps to make shelters with and good, very warm sleeping bags. I’ll have a picture of the sled for next week.

Lego part laid out
Lego part laid out

My fun for the week was making the little Lego Tie fighter that I got for Christmas. I like to organize the parts before starting. I believe there is a word for that as I got it from watching Adam Savage on Tested.com. I think the word is “Knowling” but searching for it brings up no results. I guess I have it wrong. Anyways it was fun, quick and looks great sitting on my desk.

Lego Tie Fighter
Lego Tie Fighter

I’m Cleaning…

I have continued my cleaning of the old craft room in the laundry area. I have made great progress but it still needs a lot of work. I got a box and a bag out and there is at least another box or two to go but I need to finish sorting them.

We cleaned our desks in the homeschool room this week. It is nice to start the semester with a clean work area.

In our homeschool this week…

With the new semester we have implemented a new schedule. So far it is working better. Our time blocks now align with our subjects so they are slightly longer. The breaks are fewer with two short 5 minute one and two longer at 15 minutes.

The biggest change is the reporting. With them telling us what they have done it is easier to keep track and make sure they are on schedule. We do need to work with them on what they report. Both are little short on details. Margaret’s at least gives me the basics of what she has crossed off but she could have just given me a her original task list with the items crossed off. Philip’s “I did Rightstart math” basically says it all. What sections???

Knex lever
Knex lever

We built a lever out of K’nex for Ian and demonstrated that the longer the arm the easier it was to lift a weight. I also showed him that he had to go further the less force he was applying and that the work he did was always the same.

Knex Elevator
Knex Elevator

Margaret built her K’nex elevator. We also looked at the ratio of how much she had to move the string to move the elevator. Next week she needs to do some reading on simple machines and answer some question on the elevator.

Last week Christy over at Unexpected Homeschool asked about our reporting requirements so I thought I would explain it a bit more. I homeschool through a Distance Learning provider. In doing that I am required to meet the province’s Prescribed Learning Outcomes. They are sort of like Common Core but with a whole lot more sense. I am not told how to teach them, the only requirement is that they can demonstrate their knowledge. The Distance Learning provider basically acts as a buffer between me and the government. They fulfil all the reporting requirements. They assign me a licensed teacher that oversees us. Mostly in the form of the portfolios that I submit three times a year. The teacher that we have also attends our church so we see her every Sunday and she reads my blog. The Distance Learning provider receives funding from the government and in turn they provide me with a curriculum budget through a PO# I can use at a variety of homeschooling stores.

Learning Outcomes
Learning Outcomes

This is the first summary page from a 94 page government document that is very good if you need to go to sleep. This document is only Grade 7 Math. My distance learning provider has an online database version of this that is easier to read and helps us keep track of where we are.

So they don’t tell me how much time I have to spend on a subject but they can warn me that we are behind on completing those outcomes. In math we are behind and are playing catch up. Fortunately we can continue into summer.

We are Reading…

Apparently I am behind on what Margaret is reading. She has finished reading “The Giver”, “Gathering Blue”, “Messenger” and is almost finished “Son”. It is now a race to see if I finish writing this before she finishes reading. (Note I lost)

I don’t know what Philip is reading right now and he is out camping. I am guessing that Philip read all the books above as he has read “The Giver”and he wouldn’t have stopped. Plus they are on the e-reader so somebody bought them…


Crash Course now has Astronomy with Phil Plait. They are being release every Thursday and are very good.

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