Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Others Aren't, But This Test is Really Important!

The NerdTests' Space Quiz says I'm an Uber Space Nerd's Mentor.  What kind of space geek are you?  Click here!

These things are absolutely silly...until you do well on one, and then they are extremely significant and important. I got lucky on some of the questions; I've always known Sputnik went into space during the year of my birth, for instance. I don't do as well on computer-speak tests, but astronomy and the space sciences were literally the underpinning of my life as a child. Actually the quality of the questions was pretty good, and I have been declared to be Uber Space Nerd's Mentor!

I often quiz my students early in the semester on the stereotypes they have about science, and two words that come up consistently are that doing science is "hard" and "boring". That allows me to "launch" into a discussion of how privileged we are to be living in the time we are living in. The riches of new data that have emerged in the last decade or two because of the Hubble Space Telescope, or the Spitzer Infrared, or the Mars Rovers, or the Saturn Cassini orbiter leave me awestruck, being someone who grew up in a time when the telescope images of the planets revealed only fuzzy featureless disks.

And the accessibility! Gone is the time when the spectacular images could only be taken by multi-million dollar has advanced to the point that my colleagues at the college have now produced images of planets and galaxies with their own equipment that rival the best stuff that Palomar ever did a few decades ago. A year or two ago, I was at Death Valley and an astronomy buff had set up his equipment, and started projecting the images he was taking in real time on a sheet on the side of a truck. On a sheet, and it was spectacular!

And to top things off, we have a president who thinks science should have some influence over policy decisions! That may be the most amazing development of all...

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