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Stellar Citizen Science June 23, 2009

Posted by Sarah in astro 2.0, new astronomy.
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Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Historical eclipse measurements of epsilon Aurigae

Over at Professor Astronomy, Kurtis recently talked about an excellent citizen science project to light on the nature of mysterious variable star epsilon Aurigae. For almost 200 years, this run-of-the-mill star has been seen to dim periodically. This is not particularly remarkable in se – many stars dim at regular intervals, typically every few days, due to a companion star or planet passing in front of it. But in the case of epsilon Aurigae, the dip in its lightcurve occurs every 27 years and lasts several hundred days – around 2 years! The eclipse lightcurve (above) also shows that the dip contains quite a few bumps. So whatever movement is causing the eclipse is very very slow, and some interaction between the two bodies appears to be going on.  (more…)

Of men, women and chimpanzees June 14, 2009

Posted by Sarah in politics, science, women.
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Holy bananas I got a Hubble fellowship!

Dr. Smith was ectstatic he'd been shortlisted for a fellowship

Last week I listened to an excellent podcast at Slate.com on how to get more women into science. I can’t find the podcast anymore but the transcript is here, with lots of interesting links. In it, Ray Fisman reports results of a study into academic achievement in maths and science at the US Air Force Academy. The study found that replacing male instructors with a female one has a dramatic impact on the performance of the female students in the class, bringing it level with that of the men. Specifically,

women on average obtain scores that are 0.15 grade points lower (half the difference between an A and an A-) than their male classmates, even after accounting for students’ SAT scores. The gap in performance was widest for women taught by men. When a female instructor was put at the front of the classroom, nearly two-thirds of the grade point gender gap evaporated.

Bottom line: hire more women. (more…)

Hubble brings exotic beauties to the IYA party April 7, 2009

Posted by Sarah in pics, science, space.
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Remember when the folks at NASA gave us all the opportunity to vote for a target to observe with the Hubble Space Telescope? (more…)

A big week for astronomy March 30, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science.
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This week, starting 2 April, one of the biggest events in the International Year of Astronomy will take place. 100 Hours of Astronomy, one of the year’s Cornerstone programmes, will get thousands of people looking through a telescope at the skies, just like Galileo did 400 years ago, over the course of 5 nights. Tons of great events are taking place, from star parties organised by local astronomy organisations around the world to global webcast events.

The webcast events look particularly fun. The first, called Live Science Centre, will allow anyone with a weblink to participate in discussions about space and astronomy throughout history with scientists in places as far-flung as Germany, South Africa and the US. The Science Centre webcast takes place on 2 April at 17:00 UTC (follow the link to see the time at your location). Around the World in 80 Telescopes is a really cool continuous 24-hour webcast, starting on 3 April at 09:00 UTC that hops around 80 world-class telescopes scattered around the globe and in space to follow live what astronomers are up looking at.And yes, that does include the space telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer and the newly launched Kepler!

This is really one of the big highlights of the IYA and it will be well worth your while to take a peek. So follow the jump over to the website to see what’s happening in your area and mark the webcasts in your diaries. You can also get updates via twitter (@100Hours and @telescopecast). If you own a telescope, take it out onto the street and get your neighbours out.

Celebrate the XX March 10, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science, women.
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Yesterday, 8 March, was International Women’s Day. I hope many of you enjoyed and celebrated it. A ton of events took place yesterday and throughout the month of March, check out the official website for information.

As it’s also International Year of Astronomy, IWD marked the launch date of one of the IYA’s cornerstone project, She is an Astronomer. The project aims to bring female astronomers into the spotlight, encourage more girls and women to get involved in astronomy, and to remove misconceptions about gender in this great science.

An extra special shout out to fellow women astronomy and space bloggers, Amanda, Nicole, Emily, Pamela, all the women blogging in Cosmic Diary and Cosmic Variance and all the women scientists out there on the internet. And check out an exciting new blog carnival on Diversity in Science.


Image credit: IYA2009/She is an astronomer