Astrophotography Sunday

I awoke to the buzzing of my wristwatch. It was 4:30am. The telescope and all its accessories were already in the car. I only needed to get out of bed and dress myself. Jupiter waited. In the night sky above Allen, I was sure it was clear and that Jupiter waited. So I put on warm clothes, a hat, and a scarf. I put coffee in a thermos. I hit the road for a nearby hill.

Jupiter waited. But so did something far more extraordinary.

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A vigilant eye on science leadership in the U.S.

Scientists in Washington D.C. in 2009, spreading the message about the benefits of science to society. This was a trip I helped co-organize and involved physicists working at US and European laboratories.

Scientists in Washington D.C. in 2009, spreading the message about the benefits of science to society. This was a trip I helped co-organize and involved physicists working at US and European laboratories.

Pens, phones, and word processors at the ready. In the coming months, President-Elect Trump will be filling some 4000 positions. These will include those that oversee science policy and direct agencies with science funding oversight. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) “FYI Bulletin” today nicely covers the appointments of most interest to the science community and the effects that his transition team leaders can have, especially those team leaders who are avid science doubters (that is, they call into questions the findings of science in favor of ideologically motivated belief systems).

Below, I excerpt some key moments from the FYI Bulletin that struck me. The full FYI Bulletin is available online [1]. If you care about sound science, be ready to contact your members of Congress in the coming months and express you concerns you might have about decisions the new President-Elect makes. It doesn’t take more than a few letters and phone calls on the same issue to catch the attention of your member of Congress.

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Our Possible Futures

A coal-fired power plant, one of the engines our species created that had ushered in a new age of the Earth: the Anthropocene. Photo by Robert Ashworth.

A coal-fired power plant, one of the engines our species created that had ushered in a new age of the Earth: the Anthropocene. Photo by Robert Ashworth.

I finally had a chance tonight to listen to the “TED Radio Hour” episode on the “Anthropocene”. This is the name given by some in the climate science community to the epoch of time in which we now live. The Holocene, which began about 11,000 ago when the glaciers of the last ice age receded, had been the period in which we lived. The climate had been relatively stable and generally cool and pleasant. But our species’ strong ability to adapt, evolve technologically, and reshape the world has likely shifted the Earth from that period into a new one. Our consumption of fossil fuels has resulted in a shifting climate that warms more every decade. The last time this kind of warming occurred and was not checked, 90% of all life on Earth was driven to extinction in an event our species named “The Great Dying.”

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Keep talking

Born in America, he’s a humble whiz kid with a penchant for physics and computers and a knack for whipping up miracles in a laboratory. His only crime this day was the apparent misfortune of being born brown-skinned. To be fair, all he wanted to do was pump gas. This was a nice gas station in a wealthy neighborhood. Mostly white, to be sure, but it was wealthy and educated. Hell, this damn town had spent decades wearing its pride on its sleeve about keeping itself independent from the city school districts that, as the expansion crept, came to surround them on all sides. There was a strong pride in love for knowledge here.

And all he wanted to do was pump gas.

The man in the truck in front of him had the apparent fortune of being born with white skin. That man got out of his truck. He was wearing that ballcap – the one whose simple imperative sentence implied simultaneously that the US was a failed state and that the only person who could fix it was the man who’d ordered these ballcaps from an immigrant-fueled factory near LA. The man in the ballcap approached him.

All he wanted to do was pump gas.

When the spit hit the hood, it shone a little in the chilly autumn air. It began to slide, runny eggs on a tilted plate. The smear of spittle cut an irregular channel in the dust on the paint. “Go back to your fucking country,” the white man in the imperative ballcap said equally imperatively to the brown-skinned American whiz-kid.

There was just one new gallon in the car. He paid and got the hell out of there.

It’s November 10th in America.

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