It’s Tuesday and I’m Knackered… Let’s do Some Astronomy!

Hello once again everyone, so in keeping with my attempt to keep thing interesting around here and have posts happening at least semi-regularly I thought I’d update you on my week so far. Yep, it’s Tuesday and I already feel as if an entire week has gone by, at least I have tea, ginger snaps and Joseph Haydn to keep me going.

I spent six hours at the Glasgow University Observatory today, just outside Maryhill and towards Bearsden, it really is a wonderful place – out of the way, quite and full of positively incredible gadgets to keep you busy for weeks. I’m currently in the process of conducting an experiment, with the aid of three of my peers, into determining a limb darkening profile for the sun. It’s an interesting experiment that looks at how the outside of the disk of the sun as we look at it appears dimmer than the centre.

To conduct this experiment, they have given us free reign over the 12″ telescope in the main dome of the observatory. It’s every kids dream set up, a telescope in the an observatory dome that we can rotate with some ancient looking switches. The most childishly fun part? We can only access the dome via an access hatch on the observatory roof, this involves climbing a ladder onto the roof, scrambling across the top of the observatory and hopping through a small door underneath the dome.

Childish fun aside, we’ll be using a Meade 12″ LX200 and a Canon EOS 600D DSLR to take pictures of the sun in the visible range, analyse the photos via Matlab, most likely with a Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, and trying to determine a limb darkening profile for the sun. It’s a great experiment as it involves making observations of our own sun, the only opportunity we get to observe a real star close up. It also means we get our hands on some pretty cool gear and we don’t have to worry about staying late to make any night observations.

Unfortunately, with this being astronomy, there is quite a bit of ugly maths involved, but hey, I’m sure we’ll get around that sooner or later. On the astronomy front, this Friday I will be travelling out to Brediland primary school to help give a series of talks to the children about astronomy. I will be going out with the Astronomy Group from the university with the mobile planetarium, I have no doubt it will be a great chance to get some of the kids really hooked on space and science in general.

Recently our universities have seen a huge spike in kids interested in and applying for science related degrees, and it’s an area I am really passionate about. The more kids we get into science early, the more researchers, developers, doctors, engineers and teachers we will have later; and that’s something that will be better for us all. Education is something I am quite passionate about pushing as knowledge really is power, and with the world facing so many problems – disease, over-population, global warming, etc. – and the opportunities being presented to us – cures, space travel, clean energy, etc. – we need, now more than ever, a new generation of young scientists to push us forward.

The main thing that we need to do though is to make science interesting for kids. When I was at primary school we never got talks like the ones we’ll be doing on Friday. Science was never made particularly interesting, the only reason I pursued it was because I was a curious kid who was never quite happy with the half-arsed answers provided by teachers, much to their annoyance. However, many kids, especially in today’s schools, don’t have this curiosity; they are taught what to think, to jump through the hoops. We no longer teach kids how to think, we no longer seek to inspire in them that curiosity to find out how things work, why they do certain things, to reach out and see what’s out there.

That’s what I want to do, I want to give kids that spark to ignite the flames of curiosity and drive them to reach for further knowledge, to unlock the secrets of our vast and wonderful universe. That’s all it takes, a little fun, a little bit of interesting material and you have kids hooked, they want to learn more. Half an hour in the mobile planetarium, show them a few stars, planets, nebulae of galaxies… but there’s so much we haven’t seen yet! Well, there’s one way to see it all, and it’s called science.

Half an hour in a mobile planetarium and you may just have created the next group of astrophysicists, engineers, doctors, teachers, astronauts… etc. Or maybe they’ll fall asleep in the darkened dome, I don’t know, we’ll just have to see.

It does mean that I will not be coaching the school kids curling on Friday evening as normal, however I have also been coaching another group on Saturday mornings and it looks like I may be getting more coaching work popping up in the future, which is something I really enjoy doing, and if I get paid for some of it, then I shan’t complain.

So the week may only just have started, I may wish that it was already Friday evening, but there is a lot still to come, this week may require quite a bit of tea, I fear. I may also try and get a decent, full post up some time soon. For now, though, I think a bit of a rest before tomorrow kicks off. Thanks for reading

Have a nice


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