Friday at the 1998 Astronomical League Convention

Friday morning was a time of workshops. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific presented the Project Astro workshop. This workshop brings amateur astronomers and teachers together to better learn how to teach astronomical concepts and deal with the preconceptions of the student and the teacher. In addition to this fine workshop the following workshops were also presented:


The afternoon sessions were open to the general public and hence were not as technical as those in the rest of the convention, but just as enjoyable. The first speaker of the afternoon was Dr. Tom Crawford, Professor or Chemistry at the University of Louisville who spoke on "Popullution". Dr. Crawford first talked about chemistry, which he says is the study of "stuff". His first experiment was creating new stuff from other stuff. He did this by mixing two clear liquids, calcium acetate and ethyl alcohol, to create a white solid, Sterno. This material is commonly used to heat food in the buffet line. This is what chemists do -- they solve problems by using stuff.

Popullution discusses two important problems that face us. The first is population. In 6000 BC there were five million people on Earth. By 1974 there were four billion. The rate of population change is increasing and there are now over 5.7 billion people on Earth. The population increases are occurring mostly in the third world countries. To provide them with the same standard of living as in the United States would require 2.5 earths. Something will have to give.

Dr. Tom CrawfordToday in our school systems, children are not being encouraged to be creative. If you asked students if they are creative, only a quarter will raise their hands. The rest will sulk down and slouch their shoulders and they will never become creative since they do not believe they can be. We need to bring our interest and excitement into the schools to spark their creativity.

One thing modern humans need is energy. While there are many sources available to us, most are hard to get and create pollution. One fuel that is readily available is hydrogen. Hydrogen can be gotten from water, and when burned, creates water. This clean power source will someday provide power for our use. Scientists have recently managed to use just a solar cell to dissociate hydrogen and oxygen to provide fuel either for direct combustion or through a fuel cell to produce electricity to power a car.

Dr. Crawford then produced a cigarette which he said would, on average, burn for 12 minutes. He then lit the cigarette and dropped it into a jar of oxygen. The cigarette flashed brilliantly and was completely consumed in just a few seconds. He commented that this was a good reason not to light-up when visiting someone in the hospital who was receiving oxygen.

We were then treated to Dr. Crawford's rendition of Tom Lehrer's "Pollution". He then did the chipmunk rendition after taking a breath of helium. He also mixed a few other chemicals together and produced the light of the firefly.

Next we were shown a series of visual illusion slides: phantom circles, squares that look like trapezoids, and the young lady/old hag illusion. His point was that we are conditioned to believe certain things and to induce creativity we need to bring the students out of their preconceived ideas.

Finally, he mixed a few more chemicals and made purple iodine smoke, then he made a liquid that first turned yellow and then turned black. For his final trick, he added a little sulfuric acid to iron ore. This mixture sparked and flared violently and created steel through the thermite reaction. This left an appalling smell in the air. Dr. Crawford pointed out that this clouds of this stench used to hang over Pittsburgh. Even though many of us are not always happy with the Environmental Protection Agency, it is thanks to them that we have the much cleaner air of today.

Jack Horkeimer & CleopatraMr. Jack Horkheimer was next to tell us about "The Comet that Killed Cleopatra". This is a story of love, sex, treachery, and propaganda. Cleopatra was actually Greek, the last of the Ptolemy dynasty. She was very intelligent and schooled, knowing over eight languages, a stateswoman and diplomat. Had Mark Antony won the battle, our culture would have been based on their culture and the look of history, always written by the winner, would be much different.

The ancients viewed everything in the sky as a star. A few stars moved, the planets, and now and then new stars (nova) would appear. Occasionally, a "hairy star" (comet) would appear, brighten, and become a flaming sword. These were always considered to be portenders of doom, but doom for who?

Comet Halley was perhaps responsible for the most deaths. In 240 B.C. Ghengis Kahn, slaughtered over a million people after the apparition of Halley. Halley has been blamed for everything from the bubonic plague to the American Revolution and the Great London Fire. Powerful people have also violently changed their lives because of a comet. People have killed themselves, Kings have become monks and even abdicated after the appearance of a comet.

Even when a comet did not appear, Charlemagne's greatest biographer, feeling that the universe had slighted his object of study, recorded that a comet had appeared anyway. People also recorded a small comet appeared over Helena the night Napoleon died, though none was recorded anywhere else. Obviously, propaganda is an important part of history and comets must play their part.

Cleopatra fell in love with Julius Caesar after he helped her regain her throne in Egypt and bore him his only son, Caesarian. When Caesar was finally forced to returned to Rome, Cleopatra and Caesarian accompanied him home. When Caesar died, there was a power vacuum in Rome. Instead of leaving his estate to Caesarian, Julius left his estate (and the throne) to his adopted stepson, Octavian. Cleopatra took Caesarian and returned to Egypt. Mark Antony, meanwhile, had married Octavian's sister, Octavia, back in Rome. Taken with Cleopatra's beauty and political prowess, Mark Antony also married Cleopatra in Egypt without the benefit of a divorce first. Their children were named Helios and Selena, the Sun and the Moon, a great propaganda tool.

Octavian and the Roman Army followed them and the decisive battle between the two forces occurred at the Battle of Actium. Mark Antony lost the battle because many of his Roman soldiers deserted to join Caesar because of something in the sky.

While Caesar's son Octavian was holding athletic games in honor of Julius Ceaser's death, a comet appeared in the sky. This was proclaimed to the peasant population as proof that Julius Caesar's soul had been taken into the heavens and that he was a god. This then made Octavian a god and so each successor in the line of Caesars could claim, at least a little, to be a god. This meant that any attempt by the Roman Senate to overthrow a Caesar would be blasphemy. The Roman Senate could only look on as each Caesar wielded absolute power.

Had the comet come only a few months earlier, it would have appeared that Julius Caesar was doomed (which he was) and Cleopatra and Mark Antony would have won the Battle of Acton. As it was, Mark Antony committed suicide with his sword, and Cleopatra with an asp. Caesarian was killed by Octavian.

Even though she had been dead for 300 years and Roman rulers had portrayed Cleopatra as a harlot, none of them would dare remove her statue from the Roman Forum. She died in 46 B.C. The City of Alexandria and the Great Library there were all-but-destroyed by the Romans. What if Cleopatra and her culture of learning and education had won over the culture of ruthlessness and force promulgated by Rome?

The final speaker Friday afternoon was F. Storey Musgrave who told us about the "Art of Space". Children are born with a sense of curiosity and wonder that society seems to try to kill as quickly as it can. But the child within us still drives us onward to reach out and explore the universe. Machines have allowed us to form a new relationship with the world around us and the universe in general. The telescope, from the basic refractor to the Hubble Space Telescope, has allowed us to relate to the universe in a new and different way.

Shuttle flights allow us to learn more about the universe and ourselves. NASA plans highly scientific experiments to obtain specific results. But the child within all of us, even astronauts, wants to explore the more day-to-day aspects of science. Gyroscopes, for example, will hold their position even in space, and you can use them to maneuver yourself around.

A magnet, released in free-fall will point itself toward the north no matter how the shuttle was maneuvered. Coca-Cola released in free-fall forms a sphere, but the bubbles do not go up or down, since there is no up or down in free orbit. If you spin the sphere of Coca-Cola, it will turn into an oblate spheroid, just like the spinning Earth.

F. Storey MusgraveDr. Musgrave related that these experiments were conducted on what was only his second flight. The other crew members would say, "Oh, that's just crazy Storey", but they would always stick around to see what he would try next. It was Alka-seltzer. He tossed a tablet of the stuff toward a globule of water. The tablet hit the water and stopped. Without gravity, the tablet would only react with the water on the surface of the globule. This formed a thin layer of reaction since the water could not circulate to bring new water to expand the reaction.

Photography from orbit had to be done systematically. Film faster than E.I. 100 would be fogged by radiation from the Van Allen Belts. With the shuttle moving at 18,000 miles per hour, you had to be ready to take a picture or it would be lost. From orbit you can photograph white, the white of a snow-covered Indiana or the white of a completely cloud-covered landscape. You can watch jet "com-trails" being formed, though the plane is too small to be seen. Ship wakes draw long lines in the blue water, and at their head the tiny dot of the ship can be seen. Volcanoes stick up out of the water.

When the Sun is right, you can see the standing waves of the water flowing out of a river mouth and into the sea. What you cannot see from space is history. Our history, as important and mighty as it seems is not visible from space. We must be "up-close and personal" to experience our history. Even the Great Pyramids of Egypt cannot be seen, but when the Sun is rising or setting, they cast their long shadow over the sands. The sharply-pointed shadows trace back to some of the mightiest works of humankind.

Large scale geologic features are clearly visible from space. Pictures of the Himalayas that show the mountains and the valleys always give the false perception that the brown valleys tower over the snow-white mountains. The same thing happens with the Grand Canyon.

The Himalayas also show the tectonic activity of the of the Indian Plate crashing into the Asian Plate forcing up the well-organized mountain ranges for which the area is famous. Fault lines are also clearly visible from space, especially when the shifting faults have displaced linear features like dikes.

Water, the key to life, also shows its many forms. The sweeping curves of the ocean shoreline smoothly stretching along the southern Texas coast. Lakes often look like snowflakes, with streams feeding into them from all direction. Artificial lakes, on the other hand, have smooth shorelines that can be instantly recognized from space.

The ocean is not the place of solid blue that we often imagine it to be. At sunrise and sunset, the sunlight illuminates the huge eddies in the ocean water, creating a canvas of turbulence smudging the entire ocean surface. Just as fronts in the atmosphere separate airflows from different directions, currents in the ocean water can actually be seen, with the "front" appearing as a dark line in the water. A ship's trail, split at the front can punctuate the difference in the motion of the water on each side.

Volcano plumes are clearly visible, with the plume spreading off downwind in shades of white and brown and yellow. Coral reefs around volcanoes appear in shades of blue around the volcanic islands. If the volcano has sunk or exploded, all that is left is the ring or coral forming an atoll.

Aurora from ShuttleClouds provide no end of forms, shapes, and colors. Turbulence vortexes from an island mountain leave swirls in the clouds trailing off downwind. Hurricanes especially provide dramatic views of these tremendous spinning storms. Peering down into the eye of a hurricane provides a stunning view of the eye-wall and the pure blue water at the heart of the storm. Huge thunderstorms, towering up into the sky, provide a three-dimensional view of these monsters. At night they provide stunning lightning displays visible for thousands of miles from space.

Some of the most spectacular views were of the aurora hanging over the Earth. Sometime the aurora would appear to cling to the limb of the Earth, curving along with it, leaving spikes of light pointing outward into space. Other times the aurora would snake over the landscape, twisting and undulating over the Earth. Rays pointing into space highlight the magnetic lines of force guiding the energetic particles into the atmosphere forming the aurora.

During re-entry, the tail of the shuttle glows in the faintly ionized light from the atmosphere hitting the tail and engine-bell surfaces near the back of the shuttle. If you turn off all of the lights, and computers, you can watch the ionization glow dance around on the back of the spacecraft as it comes back to its home here on the blue Earth.


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