It’s been a CRAZY COUPLE OF WEEKS, GUYS. We closed on our new house, we moved, I felt sad & happy about it, two days later I left for Wyoming, I got stranded in the airport, I finally arrived and learned a lot about astronomy, I hung out constantly with SF/F writers, I had more travel trouble, and now I’m home. But it’s a new home. It’s weird! I’m very tired.
I’ve already made a great many excited sounds here about SPACE CAMP!, i.e. the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and now I’ve actually been to SPACE CAMP! and lo, I can report that it was awesome. (The one downside to my excited SPACE CAMP! ravings has been that a number of people seem to have believed I was going to actually be in an anti-gravity suit or something, and that was not the case. But everything lived up to my own expectations! So that’s good.)
Here’s the dirty secret about how you learn astronomy: a lot of it involves lectures. We were often in lectures (or a combination of lectures + practical labs) for 6 hours a day, and while this brought pleasant Life of the Mind flashbacks to college, it was concomitantly exhausting, much like college. No regrets, though! I’ve been asked several times to describe what I learned, and that would be somewhat difficult without putting together 100% more slides about astrophysics than I currently have, but here is a brief list of things I did or learned:
– How to spot a planet transiting a star using spectroscopy
– What spectroscopy is (basically: how light & matter interact, and how you can use one to learn about the other, & vice versa)
– What it’s like to watch shooting stars and lightning storms through night-vision goggles at an astronomical observatory located 9,000 feet above sea level (hint: VERY GOOD)
– What Clarion West is (this is actually in reference to sci-fi more than science, but as a literary fiction writer, I didn’t know about it!)
…and much more. Naturally, I learned about black holes, dark matter, and why Fritz Zwicky was a jerk. (Hint: it is this comic. He really called people that.) I have not yet gotten anyone to explain to me why I keep wanting to call Fritz Zwicky “Frank Zwicky,” but some problems, even in astronomy, are still left unsolved.
(FYI: Zwicky is called the “father of dark matter” because he noted, while studying the Coma Cluster, that there wasn’t enough baryonic [read: normal] matter to account for gravity holding the cluster together, and thus theorized there must be unseen matter at work. The matter in question is “unseen” and “dark” because it doesn’t absorb or emit light/radiation.)
(Double FYI: there is also a “mother of dark matter” named Vera Rubin.)
I’m still sorting through my notes and figuring out what will come in useful in my writing – I have several specific ideas, but I assume more will shake out in the fullness of time. It’s a rare bout of research that presents its usefulness immediately. But I bet I will get at least a few more comics out of this whole shebang. Stay tuned.