As Douglas Adams correctly wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Few people understand the vastness of space as well as Will Percival. Percival is a cosmologist working primarily on galaxy surveys, using the positions of galaxies to measure the cosmological expansion rate and growth of cosmological structure. He is the Survey Scientist for the extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS), which created the largest three-dimensional map of the universe ever made using the positions of millions of galaxies and quasars dating back roughly 11 billion years.
In his April 7  Perimeter Public Lecture webcast, Percival will aim to help the audience grasp the enormity of space using the latest results from eBOSS, exploring the profound insights they provide into the physics of our universe.
Known to many as the world’s first analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism is the most complex piece of engineering to have survived from the ancient world. The 2,000-year-old device was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets as well as lunar and solar eclipses.
Published in Scientific Reports, the paper from the multidisciplinary UCL Antikythera Research Team reveals a new display of the ancient Greek order of the Universe (Cosmos), within a complex gearing system at the front of the Mechanism.
Lead author Professor Tony Freeth (UCL Mechanical Engineering) explained: “Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the Mechanism itself.
“The Sun, Moon and planets are displayed in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance.”
The Antikythera Mechanism has generated both fascination and intense controversy since its discovery in a Roman-era shipwreck in 1901 by Greek sponge divers near the small Mediterranean island of Antikythera.
The astronomical calculator is a bronze device that consists of a complex combination of 30 surviving bronze gears used to predict astronomical events, including eclipses, phases of the moon, positions of the planets and even dates of the Olympics.
Whilst great progress has been made over the last century to understand how it worked, studies in 2005 using 3D X-rays and surface imaging enabled researchers to show how the Mechanism predicted eclipses and calculated the variable motion of the Moon.
However, until now, a full understanding of the gearing system at the front of the device has eluded the best efforts of researchers. Only about a third of the Mechanism has survived, and is split into 82 fragments – creating a daunting challenge for the UCL team.
The biggest surviving fragment, known as Fragment A, displays features of bearings, pillars and a block. Another, known as Fragment D, features an unexplained disk, 63-tooth gear and plate.
Previous research had used X-ray data from 2005 to reveal thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover include a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct.
Two critical numbers in the X-rays of the front cover, of 462 years and 442 years, accurately represent cycles of Venus and Saturn respectively. When observed from Earth, the planets’ cycles sometimes reverse their motions against the stars. Experts must track these variable cycles over long time-periods in order to predict their positions.
“The classic astronomy of the first millennium BC originated in Babylon, but nothing in this astronomy suggested how the ancient Greeks found the highly accurate 462-year cycle for Venus and 442-year cycle for Saturn,” explained PhD candidate and UCL Antikythera Research Team member Aris Dacanalis.
Using an ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, the UCL team not only explained how the cycles for Venus and Saturn were derived but also managed to recover the cycles of all the other planets, where the evidence was missing.
PhD candidate and team member David Higgon explained: “After considerable struggle, we managed to match the evidence in Fragments A and D to a mechanism for Venus, which exactly models its 462-year planetary period relation, with the 63-tooth gear playing a crucial role.”
Professor Freeth added: “The team then created innovative mechanisms for all of the planets that would calculate the new advanced astronomical cycles and minimize the number of gears in the whole system, so that they would fit into the tight spaces available.”
“This is a key theoretical advance on how the Cosmos was constructed in the Mechanism,” added co-author, Dr Adam Wojcik (UCL Mechanical Engineering). “Now we must prove its feasibility by making it with ancient techniques. A particular challenge will be the system of nested tubes that carried the astronomical outputs.”
This paper is open access and, as these things go, it’s fairly accessible reading, i.e., even someone like me who has no interest in astronomy can understand enough to enjoy the article.
Today’s post falls, thematically speaking, into similar territory as yesterday’s (March 16, 2021) posting where in addition to celebrating Urania Day I included information about astronomy and some of its history.
I sometimes get notices from unexpected sources for science and technology events. On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, I received a notice from an agency about Urania Day (March 16, 2021) celebrating women in the arts and sciences during (US) Women’s History Month. What made the notice unusual is that the agency was representing Ophira and Tali Edut of AstroStyle, an astrology website.
Astrologers like Galileo, Kepler, Tycho and others
I realize that for a lot people, astrology is a pseudoscience but what is often missed, according to some observers, is that astrology has provided the basis for current astronomy and physics.
Dr . Rebekah Higgott who was Curator of History of Science and Technology at the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from 2008 – 2013 wrote a thoughtful January 28, 2011 post about astrology and science on Martin Robbins’ Guardian science blog,
Like Martin, I heard about the astrologers’ petition to the BBC and blogged about it, together with another astrology-related story that recently hit the headlines. Unlike him, I was critical of the knee-jerk response of many scientists, science writers and fans of science. I also had some quibbles about his post, so I’d like to start by thanking him for hosting this – and, before you leap to the comments section, making it clear that I do not believe in astrology. However, I do believe that a little knowledge and understanding can help the cause of science communication far more than ridicule.
As is well known to readers of The Lay Scientist, the Astrological Association, prompted by remarks made by Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, has asked for “fair and balanced representation” (note, not “equal representation”). This has resulted in widespread derision from those who can see nothing wrong with stating that “astrology is rubbish” and “nonsense”. Most, however, have failed to understand exactly what has annoyed these astrologers, or to take the time to find out what astrology actually is.
The Astrological Association is not complaining about a statement such as this. Rather, they consider it unfair that they are represented as having no knowledge of the astronomy and celestial mechanics that Cox and O’Briain are paid to explain on TV. They are annoyed that astrology is considered to consist solely of those who read and write newspaper horoscopes. Serious astrologers often have an excellent understanding of, and respect for, astronomy. They are, in fact, a not insignificant audience for astronomy programmes, lectures and books.
Which brings me to the history: a little historical understanding should make astronomers and science communicators realise that practising astrologers are likely to have good knowledge of planetary motions. Up until the late 17th century, astrology and astronomy were deeply interconnected. [emphasis mine] …
Do read the rest of Higgott’s post for the mentions of Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, and more.
An illuminating look at the surprising history and science of astrology, civilization’s first system of algorithms, from Babylon to the present day.
Humans are pattern-matching creatures, and astrology is the universe’s grandest pattern-matching game. In this refreshing work of history and analysis, data scientist Alexander Boxer examines classical texts on astrology to expose its underlying scientific and mathematical framework. Astrology, he argues, was the ancient world’s most ambitious applied mathematics problem, a monumental data-analysis enterprise sustained by some of history’s most brilliant minds, from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler.
Thousands of years ago, astrologers became the first to stumble upon the powerful storytelling possibilities inherent in numerical data. To correlate the configurations of the cosmos with our day-to-day lives, astrologers relied upon a “scheme of heaven,” or horoscope, showing the precise configuration of the planets at a particular instant in time as viewed from a particular place on Earth. Although recognized as pseudoscience today, horoscopes were once considered a cutting-edge scientific tool. Boxer teaches us how to read these esoteric charts—and appreciate the complex astronomical calculations needed to generate them—by diagramming how the heavens appeared at important moments in astrology’s history, from the assassination of Julius Caesar as viewed from Rome to the Apollo 11 lunar landing as seen from the surface of the Moon. He then puts these horoscopes to the test using modern data sets and statistical science, arguing that today’s data scientists do work similar to astrologers of yore. By looking back at the algorithms of ancient astrology, he suggests, we can better recognize the patterns that are timeless characteristics of our own pattern-matching tendencies.
At once critical, rigorous, and far ranging, A Scheme of Heaven recontextualizes astrology as a vast, technological project—spanning continents and centuries—that foreshadowed our data-driven world today.
… A newly installed microwave interferometer array, developed by MIT graduate student Alex Boxer PhD ‘09 [emphasis mine], was used to make the precision measurements of the plasma concentrations that were used to observe the turbulent pinch.
Alexander Boxer, a professional data scientist, knows a thing or two about distilling patterns from big data. Surrounded by constant, endless streams of information, humans are pattern-matching animals, and astrology, he claims, “is the universe’s grandest pattern-matching game.”
The book also exposes readers to the rigor of statistical analysis. Here, Boxer applies his knowledge of statistics to some of the most enduring and fascinating patterns that astrology educed from its constant comparisons between heavenly and terrestrial events. This combination of topics is usually the preserve of critics, who like to mobilize analyses of astrology’s conceptual apparatus, history, and statistical soundness to demonstrate the art’s vacuity. …
A Scheme of Heaven—like all good history writing—turns its subject into a mirror. (In the words of the Roman poet Horatius, “the story is told about you.”) Statistics, Boxer shows, not only debunk astrology’s claims, they confirm that some of our most private behavior happens in step with cosmic rhythms today. History not only documents a distant past, it shows how intimately some of our most prestigious scientific traditions really are—as Johannes Kepler argued—the children of this foolish daughter. And like astrology, the patterns that data science reveals turn out to hinge on far more interpretation than we might like. Boxer points out, for example, how the contemporary combination of big data with machine-learning algorithms is rapidly creating a rift between empirical forecasting models and causal understanding—exactly the kind of rift that has often been invoked to criticize astrology.
Purple hair, Caroline Herschel, and Urania Day
March 16 was chosen as Urania Day to honour Caroline Herschel, an astronomer with an extraordinary history as is made clear in the Urania Day notice,
Urania Day, March 16, to celebrate girls and women in arts and science
during Women’s History Month
Named for the Greek Muse of astronomy, Urania Day falls on the birthday of groundbreaking astronomer Caroline Herschel, who co-discovered Uranus
Supporters are encouraged to dye their hair purple like the ‘violet-haired’ Muses to champion the visibility of women in the arts and sciences
#UraniaDay #MarchMuse @astrotwins
NEW YORK – March 5, 2021 – Ophira and Tali Edut, twin founders of astrology multimedia brand AstroStyle, along with astrologer Matthew Swann, have established a new galaxywide holiday: Urania Day. Occurring annually on March 16, birthday of astronomy pioneer Caroline Herschel, and named for the Muse of astronomy, Urania Day’s purpose is to encourage girls and women to literally reach for the stars through science, math and technology.
“As female ‘astropreneurs’ — successful business owners in a creative field — ourselves, my sister Tali and I have been on a mission to empower girls and women since we established AstroStyle in the early 2000s,” explained Ophira, whose website garners more than 10 million pageviews each month. “With Urania Day, we seek to honor the lesser-known, under-credited and virtually forgotten female mavericks of the arts and sciences — starting with Caroline Herschel — and use their stories to inspire today’s young people.”
The Urania Day founders invite any supporters of their mission to be a #MarchMuse and post an image of themselves with purple hair (extensions, wigs and creative dye welcome!) or to share a purple-tinted selfie with the hashtags #UraniaDay and #MarchMuse.
Caroline Herschel, born March 16, 1750, was the younger sister of Sir William Herschel. They both left careers in music to indulge their mutual passion for astronomy and telescope-making. It was Caroline who possessed the craftsmanship to grind and polish their telescope mirrors by hand, and facilitated her brother’s accidental discovery of the planet Uranus on March 13, 1781 using a homemade 6.2-inch reflecting telescope. Beyond this historic accomplishment, Caroline was the first woman to discover a comet, discovering eight comets and three nebulae over the course of her career. She was also the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist, to hold to government position in England, to publish findings in the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, along with Mary Somerville). Caroline also created catalogs of astronomical discoveries that are still in use today. [emphasis mine]
“Uranus the planet was named for Uranus the ancient god of the heavens,” explained Tali. “He was the great-grandfather of Urania and her sisters, the Nine Muses, who were — are — the patron goddesses of the arts and sciences. It’s each Muse’s job to inspire humanity in her area of expertise.”
Visitors to UraniaDay.com are invited to Choose the Muse they most closely relate to: Urania (astronomy), Clio (history and the guitar), Melpomene (tragedy and rhetoric), Thalia (comedy, geometry, architecture and agriculture), Terpsichore (dance and education), Calliope (epic poetry, inspired The Iliad and The Odyssey), Erato (love poetry), Polyhymnia (grammar, geometry, hymns and mimic art), or Euterpe (lyric poetry).
“Artists are known to ‘invoke the Muse’ when they sit down to write or paint,” she added. “We all invoke the Muse regularly when we use words derived from their name, like ‘music,’ ‘musings’ and ‘amusement.'”
The AstroTwins have also restyled Caroline Herschel’s Urania’s Mirror constellation deck as an all-ages coloring book, which can be downloaded as a free PDF on the Urania Day website.
About The AstroTwins
Identical twin sisters Ophira and Tali Edut, known as the AstroTwins, are professional astrologers who reach millions worldwide. Through their website Astrostyle, and as the official astrologers for ELLE magazine, they bring the stars down to Earth with their lifestyle- and coaching-based approach to horoscopes. They’ve created astrology sections for multiple media properties, including Refinery29, Parade and Lifetime TV. Bestselling authors, they have written a collection of books, including AstroStyle, Love Zodiac and Momstrology (their #1 Amazon bestselling parenting guide), and their own brand imprint annual horoscope guides.
The AstroTwins have been featured on Good Morning America and Today, and in The New York Times Sunday Styles, People and Vogue. They have collaborated with major brands including Coach, Zappos and Nordstrom, and cocreated the wildly successful “Signs of Love” campaign with Revlon and Refinery29. The sisters have read charts for celebrities including Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, Karlie Kloss, Emma Roberts and Sting. They are regular guests on SiriusXM, and have appeared on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey, doing on-air readings for the cast. Follow them at @astrotwins and on www.astrostyle.com
A July 29, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces a study showing that quantum loop cosmology can account for some large-scale mysteries,
While  Einstein’s theory of general relativity can explain a large array of fascinating astrophysical and cosmological phenomena, some aspects of the properties of the universe at the largest-scales remain a mystery. A new study using loop quantum cosmology — a theory that uses quantum mechanics to extend gravitational physics beyond Einstein’s theory of general relativity — accounts for two major mysteries. While the differences in the theories occur at the tiniest of scales — much smaller than even a proton — they have consequences at the largest of accessible scales in the universe. The study, which appears online July 29  in the journal Physical Review Letters, also provides new predictions about the universe that future satellite missions could test.
While  a zoomed-out picture of the universe looks fairly uniform, it does have a large-scale structure, for example because galaxies and dark matter are not uniformly distributed throughout the universe. The origin of this structure has been traced back to the tiny inhomogeneities observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)–radiation that was emitted when the universe was 380 thousand years young that we can still see today. But the CMB itself has three puzzling features that are considered anomalies because they are difficult to explain using known physics.
“While  seeing one of these anomalies may not be that statistically remarkable, seeing two or more together suggests we live in an exceptional universe,” said Donghui Jeong, associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and an author of the paper. “A recent study in the journal Nature Astronomy proposed an explanation for one of these anomalies that raised so many additional concerns, they flagged a ‘possible crisis in cosmology‘ [emphasis mine].’ Using quantum loop cosmology, however, we have resolved two of these anomalies naturally, avoiding that potential crisis.”
Research over the last three decades has greatly improved our understanding of the early universe, including how the inhomogeneities in the CMB were produced in the first place. These inhomogeneities are a result of inevitable quantum fluctuations in the early universe. During a highly accelerated phase of expansion at very early times–known as inflation–these primordial, miniscule fluctuations were stretched under gravity’s influence and seeded the observed inhomogeneities in the CMB.
“To understand how primordial seeds arose, we need a closer look at the early universe, where Einstein’s theory of general relativity breaks down,” said Abhay Ashtekar, Evan Pugh Professor of Physics, holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics, and director of the Penn State Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. “The standard inflationary paradigm based on general relativity treats space time as a smooth continuum. Consider a shirt that appears like a two-dimensional surface, but on closer inspection you can see that it is woven by densely packed one-dimensional threads. In this way, the fabric of space time is really woven by quantum threads. In accounting for these threads, loop quantum cosmology allows us to go beyond the continuum described by general relativity where Einstein’s physics breaks down–for example beyond the Big Bang.”
The researchers’ previous investigation into the early universe replaced the idea of a Big Bang singularity, where the universe emerged from nothing, with the Big Bounce, where the current expanding universe emerged from a super-compressed mass that was created when the universe contracted in its preceding phase. They found that all of the large-scale structures of the universe accounted for by general relativity are equally explained by inflation after this Big Bounce using equations of loop quantum cosmology.
In the new study, the researchers determined that inflation under loop quantum cosmology also resolves two of the major anomalies that appear under general relativity.
“The primordial fluctuations we are talking about occur at the incredibly small Planck scale,” said Brajesh Gupt, a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State at the time of the research and currently at the Texas Advanced Computing Center of the University of Texas at Austin. “A Planck length is about 20 orders of magnitude smaller than the radius of a proton. But corrections to inflation at this unimaginably small scale simultaneously explain two of the anomalies at the largest scales in the universe, in a cosmic tango of the very small and the very large.”
The researchers also produced new predictions about a fundamental cosmological parameter and primordial gravitational waves that could be tested during future satellite missions, including LiteBird and Cosmic Origins Explorer, which will continue improve our understanding of the early universe.
That’s a lot of ‘while’. I’ve done this sort of thing, too, and whenever I come across it later; it’s painful.
The night sky has inspired speculation, discovery, and stories throughout time and from all the peoples of this planet. The information derived from observing the stars and moon has led to voyages on land, on sea, through space, and into the recesses of minds and hearts.
Currently, an ancient celestial practice, celebration of solstices and equinoxes seems to be gaining popularity and acceptance.
Indigenous Star Knowledge Symposia: A series of local and international gatherings, on the land and online
Organised by Ingenium in collaboration with the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa, and hosted on traditional Algonquin Anishnaabeg territory, this series of symposia (chosen on the dates of the Fall equinox, Winter solstice, Spring equinoxes and Summer solstice) will combine spiritual ceremony, presentations, activities and dialogue, both online and on the land. The symposia will feature gatherings of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, Elders, educators and scholars to share and exchange towards reclaiming, preserving, and revitalizing Star Knowledge with Indigenous communities worldwide.
Our original plan was to have a symposium in September 2020, but due to Covid-19 we have reshaped the entire program to spread out the timeline while combining physical and digitally-inclusive experiences. This blended format greatly expands our original intent to offer a space for teaching and learning, while bringing hope and healing through the Indigenous Star Knowledge and our work.
Fall Equinox: Protocols before Knowledge, Seasonal and regional themes
September 21, 2020 (7 p.m. Est Ottawa, Canada); September 22, 2020 (9:00 a.m. Lismore, Australia)
For Indigenous people astronomy and cosmology are intricately intertwined. Star Knowledge, like everything else, is all about relationships and teaches us our place in the universe.
Shawn Wilson is Opaskwayak Cree from Manitoba. He works at Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples and is also an Adjunct Professor at Østfold University College in Norway. Shawn will discuss how understanding Indigenous Star Knowledge develops a deeper understanding of the very nature of reality. To gain this understanding requires us to develop deeper relationships with Sky Country.
Stuart Barlo is a Yuin man from the south coast of New South Wales, and is Dean of Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples. Stuart will talk about the journey of being able to speak about Sky Country. The journey requires learning how to prepare yourself and create a safe space to develop relationship with Sky Country.
Wilfred Buck, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Center
*Postponed and adapted due to COVID* Coinciding with a ceremony at Kitigan Zibi, Quebec to launch the Algonquin Star Knowledge Project. Offering of Tobacco and Prayer on the land with Peter Decontie, Wilfred Buck, Anita Tenasco and members of the Algonquin community.
It gets a little confusing but I gather that the symposia are linked to a larger initiative, which has its roots in a 2017 exhibition (co-curated by Wilfred Buck and Annette S. Lee) at Canada’s Science and Technology Museum. ***Video link removed Dec. 8, 2020***
One Sky, Many Worlds; Indigenous Voices in Astronomy
I gather various parties have been working together to produce not only the symposia but a new traveling exhibition “One Sky, Many Worlds; Indigenous Voices in Astronomy.”
I was going to call this item a brochure but its URL includes the words “exhibition book.” Regardless, it’s where you can get more details about “One Sky, Many Worlds” and how it was developed. Do take a look at it, there are many beautiful images, including Margaret Nazon’s beadworks of art, one of which I featured at the beginning of this posting. There are many works of Indigenous astronomy-based art featured in the ‘brochure’. For some reason, the text is white against a dark background. Perhaps they were trying to evoke the stars against the night sky? Unfortunately, it makes the text less readable, which would seem to defeat the purpose of bothering with text in the first place. Also, it can lead to having to deal with cranky writers who worry their work won’t be read. (Just a thought)
New Partnership with Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation
Nomad are proud to be selected as Ingenium’s partner to develop and tour an exciting new international travelling exhibition ‘One Sky, Many Worlds: Indigenous Voices in Astronomy’. This ground-breaking new exhibition will illustrate in a spectacular immersive display environment how for tens of thousands of years Indigenous people have been building a relationship with the night sky.
The exhibition will showcase artifacts representing global collections, whilst numerous mechanical and digital interactive elements will enhance visitors’ learning and understanding in an engaging, active way that reminds every human being that we come from the stars.
Led by Indigenous knowledge keepers, One Sky, Many Worlds: Indigenous Voices in Astronomy, is an 8,000 sq ft traveling exhibition that explores Indigenous Star Knowledge from locations around the globe. Featuring content from North America, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, South America, Asia, Hawaii, and New Zealand, One Sky asks questions, and shares experiences that will resonate with all people who look up and wonder about the night sky. The exhibition is available for tour internationally from summer 2021. [emphasis mine]
Nomad Exhibitions are innovative creators of international museum quality touring exhibitions.
Nomad offers a unique portfolio of high quality touring exhibitions combining curatorial excellence, state of the art design and seamless turnkey production. Our exhibitions are designed to facilitate exceptional international collaborations between cultural institutions on major exhibition projects, providing museum professionals with a tailored exhibition hosting experience.
Nomad Exhibitions is located in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
One Sky, Many Worlds is a collaborative exhibition led by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, both young and old, from around the world. The exhibition explores the enduring relationship and connection that Indigenous people have with the night sky and how it has provided –and continues to provide – a practical, cultural, and spiritual guidebook for life.
One Sky, Many Worlds is, at its core, experiential. A strong emphasis on exceptional objects and intriguing ideas will be carefully complemented by a variety of interactive elements and spaces designed to engage visitors in active participation.
Each exhibition section will feature an immersive experience, audio visual content, and a selection of digital interactives, many of which will be touch free. For example, visitors will be transported from the Mississippi through the Milky Way on to the Pacific Ocean via a beautiful, [emphasis mine] immersive projection experience; visitors will be engaged in stories as told by Indigenous Elders in their own language; and visitors will also have the opportunity to participate in dynamic activities that show the links between earth and sky and allow them to see the constellations in a whole new way.
The example is a bit puzzling since ‘the Mississippi’ could mean either the ‘state of Mississippi’ or the ‘Mississippi River’ neither of which have any connection to the Pacific Ocean. But, perhaps astronomy buffs would understand this better than I do.
As to why either the state or the river would be the starting point for transportation via the Milky Way, that is a mystery. Especially after taking a look at Sharmila Kuthunu’s July 1, 2019 article, “How to See the Milky Way in 5 Easy Steps” for Space Tourism Guide,
Home to 400 billion stars, our galaxy is a barred spiral that spans 100,000 light years in diameter. While that might seem huge, the Milky Way is only clearly visible from April through October in the northern hemisphere and is hidden below the horizon for half the year.
It rises in the southeast, crosses over the horizon and sets in the southwest. Since it rises and sets in the southern hemisphere, those living in the south can see it directly overhead. The largest view of the galaxy can be seen from southern hemisphere destinations like South Africa, Chile, and Australia [emphasis mine].
Given that there was a global collaboration and the Milky Way is visible from any number of starting points, the choice of whichever Mississippi the writer intended to highlight seems odd. (See geography of Mississippi River; geography of Mississippi state [be sure to follow the red arrow to the green rectangle bordering the Gulf of Mexico])
Most likely, it’s my ignorance showing.
Plus, when I saw Nomad was offering an example, I was hoping there’d be a description or a story representing Indigenous astronomy. If you look at the brochure/exhibition book you’ll see they had a broad range of Indigenous societies represented on the team. The nomad description seems like a lost opportunity.
Regardless of my nitpicking, both the symposia and the travelling exhibition are exciting and I hope they get the attention they deserve.
If you’re as ignorant about astronomy as I am, you might find this piece about the Milky Way on the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) website helpful.
I was hoping this would be the concluding part of this series but there was much more than I dreamed. (I know that’s repetitive but I’m truly gobsmacked.)
Astronomy and bird watching (ornithology) are probably the only two scientific endeavours that have consistently engaged nonexperts/amateurs/citizen scientists right from the earliest days through the 21st century. Medical research, physics, chemistry, and others have, until recently and despite their origins in ‘amateur’ (or citizen) science, become the exclusive domain of professional experts.
This situation seems to be changing both here in Canada and elsewhere. One of the earliest postings about citizen science on this blog was in 2010 and, one of the most amusing to me personally, was this March 21, 2013 posting titled: Comparing techniques, citizen science to expert science. It’s about a study by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UK) comparing data collection by citizen scientists with experts. In this particular project where undersea data was being collected and people with diving skills needed, the citizen scientists did a better job than the expert scientists of collecting data. (I’m not trying to suggest that experts can be replaced by amateurs but do suggest that there are advantages to working together.)
Take a look at your car. The bus you take to work. The smart phone you tap on during your commute. They all have one thing in common: science. Science is all around us. It shapes the way we live, the meals we grab on the go and the commute that takes us to school and work.
That is why the Government of Canada is encouraging young Canadians’ interest in science. Research and innovation lead to breakthroughs in agriculture, transit, medicine, green technology and service delivery, improving the quality of life for all Canadians. The outcomes of research also create jobs, strengthen the economy and support a growing middle class.
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, carried that message to an audience of young students during her first citizen science Google Hangout today. The Hangout, run by Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants, a not-for-profit organization, featured frog exhibits from the Toronto Zoo and a demonstration of the FrogWatch citizen science project by Dr. Nancy Kingsbury of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Toronto Zoo frog expert Katherine Wright joined Minister Duncan at the zoo to share information about frogs that are local to Ontario.
Minister Duncan, Dr. Kingsbury and Ms. Wright then engaged with elementary school children across Canada in a live Q&A session about the frogs in their own backyards. The Minister highlighted the importance of getting young Canadians interested in science fields and talked about ways they can take part in citizen science projects in their communities. Citizen scientists can share their observations on social media using the hashtag #ScienceAroundMe.
“Science is for everyone, and it is important that we encourage today’s youth to be curious. Young Canadians who engage in citizen science today will become the highly skilled workers—engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technology experts and entrepreneurs—of tomorrow. Through citizen science, children can nurture an interest in the natural world. These young people will then go on to discover, to innovate and to find solutions that will help us build a better Canada.” – The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
“The Toronto Zoo is proud to participate in and encourage citizen science programs, such as FrogWatch, within the community. The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Programme works to engage citizen scientists and deliver impactful conservation-focused research, restoration and outreach that highlight the importance of saving Canada’s sensitive wetland species and their habitats.” – Robin Hale, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo
NatureWatch, of which FrogWatch is a component, is a community program that engages all Canadians in collecting scientific information on nature to understand our changing environment.
Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, explorers and conservationists by bringing science, exploration, adventure and conservation into classrooms through virtual field trips run by programs like Google Hangout.
The Government of Canada’s Citizen Science Portal is a one-stop shop for science in the community. It showcases science programs, including NatureWatch programs, across the country.
The portal is not nearly as Ontario-centric as the projects mentioned in the news release (in case you were wondering).
Aside: In part 2 of this series, Jesse Hildebrand, founder of Science Literacy Week was mentioned as also being the founder of Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.
Going to the birds
While bird watching and ornithological studies are not new to the Canadian science culture scene, there were some interesting developments in the 2010-19 period.
Canadian Geographic (magazine) sponsored a contest in 2015, the National Bird Project, where almost 50,000 people submitted suggestions for a national bird. Voting online ensued and on August 31, 2016 popular voting was closed. Five birds attracted the top votes and in September 2016, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society put together an expert panel to debate and decide which would be Canada’s national bird. The choice was announced in November 2016 (Canadian Geographic National Bird Project).
The gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis in Latin, Mésangeai du Canada in French) lives in all 13 provinces and territories — the friendly spirit in Canada’s wild northern boreal and mountain forests. It remains in Canada year-round, is neither hunted nor endangered, and from the Atlantic provinces to the West is an indicator of the health of the boreal and mountain forests and climate change, inspiring a conservation philosophy for all kinds of northern land uses. The gray jay has long been important to Indigenous Peoples, and will draw all Canadians to their national and provincial/territorial parks, yet unlike the loon and snowy owl, it is not already a provincial or territorial bird.
Gray jay is a passerine bird belonging to the family Corvidae. It is mostly found in the boreal forest of North America. The bird is fairly large and has pale gray underparts and dark grey upperpart. Gray jay is a friendly bird and often approach human for food. It is also popularly known as the camp robber, whisky jack, and venison-hawk. Gray jay is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature]. However, the anthropogenic climate change in the southern range may adversely affect its population. In some Fist Nation cultures, the bird is associated with mythological figures including Wisakedjak who was anglicized to Whiskyjack.
For approximately 200 years, the gray jay was known as “Canadian Jay” to the English speakers. The bird was renamed the “gray jay” in 1957 by the American Ornithologists’ Union. However, scientifically the bird is referred to as Perisoreus Canadensis. The bird is found in almost all the provinces of territories of Canada. the preferred habitat for the species is Canada’s boreal and mountain forests. Gray jay is also one of the smartest birds in the world and has almost the same body-to-brain ratio as human beings.
Canadian Georgraphic offers more depth (and a map) in a November 16, 2016 article, by Nick Walker, titled, Canada, meet your national bird (Note: Links have been removed),
With 450 species in the country to choose from, Canadian Geographic’s decision was made neither lightly nor quickly.
This national debate has been running since January 2015, in fact. But after weighing the opinions and preferences of tens of thousands of Canadians, as well as the expertise of our National Conservation Partners at Bird Studies Canada and other ornithologists and conservationists, as well as cultural experts and Indigenous Peoples, that list was narrowed to five birds. And one finalist best met all reasonable criteria.
We give you the gray jay. …
Not only has the gray jay never been recorded outside of North America, the vast majority of its range is in Canada, with only a small percentage crossing into Alaska and the western mountains of the United States. The species’ preferred habitat is Canada’s boreal and mountain forests — ecozones that stretch from coast to coast and into the North, blanketing nearly two-thirds of the country.
Like the Canadian flag when it was selected in 1965, the gray jay is fresh and new and fitting. To quote David Bird, ornithologist and professor emeritus of wildlife biology at Montreal’s McGill University, we cannot think of a more Canadian bird.
Three sets of bird stamps were issued by Canada Post from 2016-2018 saluting “Canada’s avian citizens.” Here’s more from a July 12, 2016 Birds of Canada blog post on the Canada Post website announcing the first series of bird stamps,
Hatched by designer Kosta Tsetsekas and illustrator Keith Martin, these stamps are the first in a three-year series celebrating Canada’s avian citizens. Our first flock includes five official birds: the Atlantic puffin (Newfoundland and Labrador), the great horned owl (Alberta), the common raven (Yukon), the rock ptarmigan (Nunavut) and the sharp-tailed grouse (Saskatchewan).
On behalf of the International Ornithologists’ Union, Vancouver is delighted to welcome ornithologists from around the world to the 27th International Ornithological Congress (IOCongress2018)! Considered the oldest and most prestigious of meetings for bird scientists, the Congress occurs every four years since first being held in Vienna, Austria, in 1884.
Canada has hosted only once previously, Ottawa in 1986, and Vancouver will be the first time the Congress has been on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. The Congress has broad national endorsement, including from the City of Vancouver, the province of British Columbia, Environment Canada, Simon Fraser University, Artists for Conservation, Tourism Vancouver plus an array of scientific societies and conservation organizations.
The convention centre’s webpage features an impressive list of events which were open to the public,
Stars of the Bird World Presentation (August 19): Dr. Rob Butler, chair of the Vancouver International Bird Festival, presents Flyways to Culture: How birds give rise to a cultural awakening, at look at how the growing interest in birds in particular and nature in general, is a foundation for a new Nature Culture in which nature becomes embedded into a west coast culture. 8:30-10 a.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Admission by donation ($10 suggested).
Festival Opening Ceremony – Parade of Birds and a fanfare by Vancouver Symphony Brass Quintet (August 20): The festival begins with a Parade of Birds and a fanfare by the Vancouver Symphony Brass Quintet. The fanfare “Gathering Flock” was composed by Frederick Schipizky. 3:20 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Artists for Conservation Show (August 22): Artists for Conservation is the official visual arts partner for the festival and congress, showcasing some of the world’s best nature art through its annual juried exhibit, a collaborative mural, artist demo and lecture series and an artist booth expo. Official opening 6-10 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Nature & Bird Expo (until August 25): The three-day Bird Expo is the showcase of birds and nature in Canada, including exhibitors, speakers, yoga, poetry, art and more. Runs until Aug. 25 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Check out a full event listing at www.vanbirdfest.com/calendar/nature-bird-expo.
Migration Songs – Poetry and Ornithology (August 23): Migration Songs brings together 11 contemporary poets to consider an array of bird species. Each poet was put in conversation with a particular ornithologist or scientist to consider their chosen species collaboratively. The poets involved include well-known west-coast authors, amongst them Governor General’s Award and Griffin Poetry Prize winners. A short book of these collaborations, Migration Songs, with cover art by poet, painter, and weaver Annie Ross, will be available. 6 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Unveiling of the Silent Skies Mural (August 23): A signature event of the week-long Artists for Conservation show is the unveiling of the Silent Skies mural made up of illustrations of the endangered birds of the world — 678 pieces, each depicting a different endangered bird, will make up the 100-foot-long installation that will form the artistic centrepiece for the 8th annual Artists for Conservation Festival, the 27th International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival. The unveiling takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Stewardship Roundtable 2018 (August 24): A forum and showcase of innovative practices championed in B.C. province and beyond, presented by the Stewardship Centre for BC and Bird Studies Canada, in collaboration with the 27th International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival. 8:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For more information or to register, visit stewardshipcentrebc.ca/programs/wildife-species-risk/stewardship-roundtable.
Closing Ceremony (August 26): The closing ceremony will include remarks from officials and First Nations representatives, and a Heron Dance by the New Dance Centre from Saskatchewan. 5-6:30 p.m. at Vancouver Convention Centre.
I attended the opening ceremony where they announced the final set of stamps in the Birds of Canada series by introducing people who’d dressed for the parade as the birds in question.
The Canadian birding community has continued to create interesting new projects for science outreach. A December 19, 2019 posting by Natasha Barlow for Birds Canada (also known as Bird Studies Canada) announces a new interactive story map,
The Boreal Region is a massive expanse of forests, wetlands, and waterways covering much of the Northern Hemisphere. In Canada, this vast region stretches for 5000 kilometres from Newfoundland and Labrador through the country’s central regions and northwest to the Yukon.
Over 300 bird species regularly breed here, from tiny songbirds like kinglets and warblers to comparatively giant swans and cranes. The Boreal is home to literally billions of birds, and serves as the continent’s bird “nursery” since it is such an important breeding ground.
While extensive tracts of Canada’s northern Boreal still remain largely undisturbed from major industrial development, the human footprint is expanding and much of the southern Boreal is already being exploited for its resources.
Birds Canada, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, has created an interactive story map that details the importance of the Boreal region for birds.
Climate change, ecology, and Indigenous knowledge (science)
There is more focus on climate change everywhere in the world and much of the latest energy and focus internationally can be traced to Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg who turned 17 in January 2020. Her influence has galvanized a number of youth climate strikes in Canada and around the world.
There is a category of science fiction or speculative fiction known as Climate Fiction (cli-fi or clifi). Margaret Atwood (of course) has produced a trilogy in that subgenre of speculative fiction, from the Climate Fiction Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). In Oryx and Crake Atwood presents a world where “social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event”. The novel’s protagonist, Jimmy, lives in a “world split between corporate compounds”, gated communities that have grown into city-states and pleeblands, which are “unsafe, populous and polluted” urban areas where the working classes live.
There is some other cli-fi literature by Canadians, notably an anthology of Canadian short stories edited by Bruce Meyer, from a March 9, 2018 review by Emilie Moorhouse published in Canada’s National Observer (review originally published in Prism magazine on March 8, 2018), Note: A link has been removed,
A woman waits in line to get her water ration. She hasn’t had a sip of water in nearly three days. Her mouth is parched; she stumbles as she waits her turn for over an hour in the hot sun. When she he finally gets to the iTap and inserts her card into the machine that controls the water flow, the light turns red and her card is rejected. Her water credits have run out.
This scenario from “The Way of Water” by Nina Munteanu is one of many contained in the recently published anthology of short stories, Cli-Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change. The seventeen stories in this book edited by Bruce Meyer examine how humankind might struggle with the potential devastation of climate change in the near or distant future. Soon after I finished reading the book, Cape Town—known in precolonial times as “the place where clouds gather”—announced that it was only a few months away from what it called “Day Zero,” the day the city would officially run out of water, making the similarities between fiction and reality more than unsettling. Munteanu’s story is set in a futuristic Canada that has been mined of all its water by thirsty corporations who have taken over control of the resource. Rain has not fallen on Canadian soil in years due to advances in geoengineering and weather manipulation preventing rain clouds from going anywhere north of the Canada-US border.
Indigenous knowledge (science)
The majority of Canada’s coastline is in the Arctic and climate change in that region is progressing at a disturbing pace. Weather, Climate Change, and Inuit Communities in the Western Canadian Arctic, a September 30, 2017 blog posting, by Dr. Laura Eerkes-Medrano at the University of Victoria (British Columbia) for Historical Climatology describes it this way (Note: A link has been removed),
Global climate change brings with it local weather that communities and cultures have difficulty anticipating. Unpredictable and socially impactful weather is having negative effects on the subsistence, cultural activities, and safety of indigenous peoples in Arctic communities. Since 2013, Professor David Atkinson and his team at the University of Victoria have been working with Inuvialuit communities in Tuktoyaktuk, Ulukhaktok, and Sachs Harbour. The main goal is to understand how impactful weather is affecting residents’ subsistence activities, particularly when they are on the water. The project involves site visits, interviews, and regular phone calls with residents.
Inuvialuit residents regularly observe the waves, winds, snow, and ice conditions that interfere with their hunting, fishing, camping, and other subsistence and cultural activities. In this project, communities identify specific weather events that impact their activities. These events are then linked to the broader atmospheric patterns that cause them. Summaries of the events will be provided to Environment Canada to hopefully assist with the forecasting process.
By taking this approach, the project links Western scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge to generate insights [emphasis mine] into how climate change is affecting Inuvialuit activities in the Canadian Arctic. An oversight committee has been established in each community to give direction to the project. This oversight committee includes representatives from each of the main community organizations, which ensures that the respective organizations provide direction to the project and advise on how to engage residents and communities.
Western science learning from and taking from traditional knowledge is not new. For example, many modern medicines are still derived from traditional remedies. Unfortunately, traditional practitioners have not benefited from sharing their knowledge.
It is to be hoped things are changing with projects like Atkinson’s and another one I mentioned in a December 2, 2019 posting featuring a discovery about ochre (a red dye used for rock art). The dye being examined was produced (in a manner that appears to be unique) in the Babine Lake region of British Columbia and the research may have applications for industrial use leading to economic benefits for the indigenous folks of that region. As important as the benefits, the science team worked closely with the indigenous communities in that area.
Canada will finally have its first Arctic university.
This past week [of December 1, 2019], the Yukon legislature passed a bill to make Yukon College a university. It will be an institution with an Indigenous flavour that will make it as unique as the region it is to serve.
“Everybody knows we’re moving toward something big and something special,” said Tom Ullyett, chairman of the board of governors.
The idea of a northern university has been kicked around since at least 2007 when a survey in all three territories found residents wanted more influence over Arctic research. Northern First Nations have been asking for one for 50 years.
Research is to centre on issues around environmental conservation and sustainable resource development. It will be conducted in a new, $26-million science building funded by Ottawa and currently being designed.
Indigenous content will be baked in.
“It’s about teaching with northern examples,” said Tosh Southwick, in charge of Indigenous engagement. “Every program will have a northern component.”
Science programs will have traditional knowledge embedded in them and talk about ravens and moose instead of, say, flamingos and giraffes. Anthropology classes will teach creation stories alongside archeological evidence.
The institution will report to Yukon’s 14 First Nations as well as to the territorial legislature. More than one-quarter of its current students are Indigenous.
“Our vision is to be that first northern university that focuses on Indigenous governance, that focuses on sustainable natural resources, that focuses on northern climate, and everything that flows from that.”
Climate adaptation and/or choices
While we have participated in a number of initiatives and projects concerned with climate change, I believe there is general agreement we should have done more. That said I would prefer to remain hopeful.
A newly launched institute for climate policy research will have a Yukon connection. Brian Horton, Manager of Northern Climate ExChange at the Yukon Research Centre, has been named to the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices expert advisory panel for Climate Adaptation.
The Institute, launched Tuesday morning, aims to bring clarity to Canada’s climate policy choices. The Institute’s initial report, Charting our Course, describes the current climate landscape in Canada and provides recommendations for policy makers and governments seeking to implement more effective policy.
In order to remain grounded in issues of importance to Canadians, the Institute has appointed three Expert Advisory Panels (Adaptation, Mitigation and Clean Growth) to provide evidence-based research, analysis and engagement advice to support integrative policy decisions.
“It is exciting to have a role to play in this dynamic new network,” said Horton. “The climate is rapidly changing in the North and affecting our landscapes and lives daily. I look forward to contributing a Northern voice to this impactful pan-Canadian expert collaboration.”
At Yukon College, Horton’s research team focusses on applied research of climate impacts and adaptation in Yukon and Northwest Territories. Northern Climate ExChange works with communities, governments, and the private sector to answer questions about permafrost, hydrology, and social factors to facilitate adaptation to climate change.
January 21, 2020 | OTTAWA — Dozens of academics and policy experts today launched the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, a new independent national research body. The Institute aims to bring clarity to the transformative challenges, opportunities and choices ahead for Canada as governments at all levels work to address climate change.
Experimental Lakes Area
This is a very special research effort originally funded and managed by the Canadian federal government. Rather controversially, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defunded the research but that may not have been the tragedy many believed (from the Experimental Lakes Area Wikipedia entry),
IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA, known as ELA before 2014) is an internationally unique research station encompassing 58 formerly pristine freshwater lakes in Kenora District Ontario, Canada. Previously run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, after being de-funded by the Canadian Federal Government, the facility is now managed and operated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and has a mandate to investigate the aquatic effects of a wide variety of stresses on lakes and their catchments. IISD-ELA uses the whole ecosystem approach and makes long-term, whole-lake investigations of freshwater focusing on eutrophication.
In an article published in AAAS’s well-known scientific journal Science, Eric Stokstad described ELA’s “extreme science” as the manipulation of whole lake ecosystem with ELA researchers collecting long-term records for climatology, hydrology, and limnology that address key issues in water management. The site has influenced public policy in water management in Canada, the USA, and around the world.
Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, argued that “our government has been working hard to ensure that the Experimental Lakes Area facility is transferred to a non-governmental operator better suited to conducting the type of world-class research that can be undertaken at this facility” and that “[t]he federal government has been leading negotiations in order to secure an operator with an international track record.” On April 1, 2014, the International Institute for Sustainable Development announced that it had signed three agreements to ensure that it will be the long-term operator of the research facility and that the facility would henceforth be called IISD Experimental Lakes Area. Since taking over the facility, IISD has expanded the function of the site to include educational and outreach opportunities and a broader research portfolio.
Part 5 is to a large extent a grab bag for everything I didn’t fit into parts 1 -4. As for what you can expect to find in Part 5: some science podcasting, eco art, a Saskatchewan lab with an artist-in-residence, and more.
The Universe in Verse event (poetry, music, science, and more) has been held annually by Pioneer Works in New York City since 2017. (It’s hard to believe I haven’t covered this event in previous years but it seems that’s so.)
A ticketed event usually held in a venue, in 2020, The Universe in Verse is being held free as a livestreamed event. Here’s more from the event page on the Pioneer Works website,
A LETTER FROM THE CURATOR AND HOST:
Dear Pioneer Works community,
Since 2017, The Universe in Verse has been celebrating science and the natural world — the splendor, the wonder, the mystery of it — through poetry, that lovely backdoor to consciousness, bypassing our habitual barricades of thought and feeling to reveal reality afresh. And now here we are — “survivors of immeasurable events,” in the words of the astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson, “small, wet miracles without instruction, only the imperative of change” — suddenly scattered six feet apart across a changed world, blinking with disorientation, disbelief, and no small measure of heartache. All around us, nature stands as a selective laboratory log of only the successes in the series of experiments we call evolution — every creature alive today, from the blooming magnolias to the pathogen-carrying bat, is alive because its progenitors have survived myriad cataclysms, adapted to myriad unforeseen challenges, learned to live in unimagined worlds.
The 2020 Universe in Verse is an adaptation, an experiment, a Promethean campfire for the collective imagination, taking a virtual leap to serve what it has always aspired to serve — a broadening of perspective: cosmic, creaturely, temporal, scientific, humanistic — all the more vital as we find the aperture of our attention and anxiety so contracted by the acute suffering of this shared present. Livestreaming from Pioneer Works at 4:30PM EST on Saturday, April 25, there will be readings of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, June Jordan, Mary Oliver, Audre Lorde, Wendell Berry, Hafiz, Rachel Carson, James Baldwin, and other titans of poetic perspective, performed by a largehearted cast of scientists and artists, astronauts and poets, Nobel laureates and Grammy winners: Physicists Janna Levin, Kip Thorne, and Brian Greene, musicians Rosanne Cash, Patti Smith, Amanda Palmer, Zoë Keating, Morley, and Cécile McLorin Salvant, poets Jane Hirshfield, Ross Gay, Marie Howe, and Natalie Diaz, astronomers Natalie Batalha and Jill Tarter, authors Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Masha Gessen, Roxane Gay, Robert Macfarlane, and Neil Gaiman, astronaut Leland Melvin, playwright and activist Eve Ensler, actor Natascha McElhone, entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, artists Debbie Millman, Dustin Yellin, and Lia Halloran, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, radio-enchanters Krista Tippett and Jad Abumrad, and composer Paola Prestini with the Young People’s Chorus. As always, there are some thrilling surprises in wait.
Every golden human thread weaving this global lifeline is donating their time and talent, diverting from their own work and livelihood, to offer this generous gift to the world. We’ve made this just because it feels important that it exist, that it serve some measure of consolation by calibration of perspective, perhaps even some joy. The Universe in Verse is ordinarily a ticketed charitable event, with all proceeds benefiting a chosen ecological or scientific-humanistic nonprofit each year. We offer this year’s livestream freely, but making the show exist and beaming it to you had significant costs. If you are so moved and able, please support this colossal labor with a donation to Pioneer Works — our doors are now physically closed to the public, but our hearts remain open to the world as we pirouette to find new ways of serving art, science, and perspective. Your donation is tax-deductible and appreciation-additive.
For anyone unfamiliar with Pioneer Works, here’s more from their About page,
Pioneer Works is an artist-run cultural center that opened its doors to the public, free of charge, in 2012. Imagined by its founder, artist Dustin Yellin, as a place in which artists, scientists, and thinkers from various backgrounds converge, this “museum of process” takes its primary inspiration from utopian visionaries such as Buckminster Fuller, and radical institutions such as Black Mountain College.
The three-story red brick building that houses Pioneer Works was built in 1866 for what was then Pioneer Iron Works. The factory, which manufactured railroad tracks and other large-scale machinery, was a local landmark after which Pioneer Street was named. Devastated by fire in 1881, the building was rebuilt, and remained in active use through World War II. Dustin Yellin acquired the building in 2011, and renovated it with Gabriel Florenz, Pioneer Works’ Founding Artistic Director, and a team of talented artists, supporters, and advisors. Together, they established Pioneer Works as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2012.
Since its inception, Pioneer Works has built science studios, a technology lab with 3-D printing, a virtual environment lab for VR and AR production, a recording studio, a media lab for content creation and dissemination, a darkroom, residency studios, galleries, gardens, a ceramics studio, a press, and a bookshop. Pioneer Works’ central hall is home to a rotating schedule of exhibitions, science talks, music performances, workshops, and innovative free public programming.
The Universe in Verse’s curator and host, Maria Popova is best known for her blog. Here’s more from her Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Maria Popova (Bulgarian: Мария Попова; born 28 July 1984)[not verified in body] is a Bulgarian-born, American-based writer of literary and arts commentary and cultural criticism that has found wide appeal (as of 2012, 3 million page views and more than 1 million monthly readers),[needs update] both for its writing and for the visual stylistics that accompany it.[needs update] She is most widely known for her blog, Brain Pickings [emphasis mine], an online publication that she has fought to maintain advertisement-free, which features her writing on books, and ideas from the arts, philosophy, culture, and other subjects. In addition to her writing and related speaking engagements, she has served as an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow,[when?] as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore,[when?] and has written for The Atlantic, Wired UK, and other publications. As of 2012, she resided in Brooklyn, New York.[needs update]
There’s one more thing you might want to know about the event,
NOTE: For various artistic, legal, and technical reasons, the livestream will not be available in its entirety for later viewing, but individual readings will be released incrementally on Brain Pickings. As we are challenged to bend limitation into possibility as never before, may this meta-limitation too be an invitation— to be fully present, together across the space that divides us, for a beautiful and unrepeatable experience that animates a shared moment in time, all the more precious for being unrepeatable. “As if what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious,” in the words of the poet Lisel Mueller.
There is a lot happening in the next day or two. I have two Vancouver (Canada) science events and an online event, which can be attended from anywhere.
Space debris on January 23, 2020 in Vancouver
I was surprised to learn about space debris (it was described as a floating junkyard in space) in 1992. It seems things have not gotten better. Here’s more from the Cosmic Nights: Space Debris event page on the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre website,
Cosmic Nights: Space Debris
There are tens of thousands of pieces of man-made debris, or “space junk,” orbiting the Earth that threaten satellites and other spacecraft. With the increase of space exploration and no debris removal processes in place that number is sure to increase.
Learn more about the impact space debris will have on current and future missions, space law, and the impact human activity, both scientific, and commercial are having on space as we discuss what it will take to make space exploration more sustainable. Physics professors Dr. Aaron Rosengren, and Dr. Aaron Boley will be joining us to share their expertise on the subject.
Tickets available for 7:30pm or 9:00pm planetarium star theatre shows. ________________
7:30 ticket holder schedule: 6:30 – check-in 7:00 – “Pooping in Space” (GroundStation Canada Theatre) 7:30 – 8:30 “Go Boldly and Sustainably” show (Planetarium Star Theatre) 9:00 – 9:30 “Space Debris” lecture
9:00 ticket holder schedule: 6:30 – check-in 7:00 – 9:00 (runs every 30 mins) “Pooping in Space” show (GroundStation Canada Theatre) 8:00 – 8:30 “Space Debris” lecture 9:00 – 10:00 “Go Boldly and Sustainably” show (Planetarium Star Theatre) The bar will be open from 6:30 – 10:00pm in the Cosmic Courtyard.
Only planetarium shows are ticketed, all other activities are optional.
7:00pm, 7:30pm, 8:00pm, 8:30pm – “Pooping in Space” – GroundStation Canada Theatre The ultimate waste! What happens when you have to “GO” in space? In this live show you’ll see how astronauts handle this on the ISS, look at some new innovations space suit design for future missions, and we’ll have some fun astronaut trivia.
7:30pm and 9:00pm – “Go Boldly and Sustainably” – Planetarium Star Theatre As humans venture into a solar system, where no one can own anything, it is becoming increasingly important to create policies to control for waste and promote sustainability. But who will enact these policies? Will it be our governments or private companies? Our astronomer Rachel Wang, and special guest Dr. Aaron Boley will explore these concepts under the dome in the Planetarium Star Theatre. For the 7:30 show SFU’s Paul Meyer will be making an appearance to talk about the key aspects of space security diplomacy and how it relates to the space debris challenge.
Dr. Aaron Boley is an Assistant Professor in the Physics and Astronomy department at UBC whose research program uses theory and observations to explore a wide range of processes in the formation of planets, from the birth of planet-forming discs to the long-term evolution of planetary systems.
Paul Meyer is Fellow in International Security and Adjunct Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University and a founding member of the Outer Space Institute. Prior to his assuming his current positions in 2011, Mr. Meyer had a 35-year career with the Canadian Foreign Service, including serving as Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations and to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (2003-2007). He teaches a course on diplomacy at SFU’s School for International Studies and writes on issues of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, outer space security and international cyber security.
8:00pm and 9:00pm – “Space Junk: Our Quest to Conquer the Space Environment Problem” lecture by Dr. Aaron Rosengren
At the end of 2019, after nearly two decades, the U.S. government issued updated orbital debris mitigation guidelines, but the revision fell short of the sweeping changes many in the space debris research community expected. The updated guidelines sets new quantitative limits on events that can create debris and updates the classes of orbits to be used for the retirement of satellites, even allowing for the new exotic idea of passive disposal through gravitational resonances (similar phenomena have left their mark on the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter). The revised guidelines, however, do not make major changes, and leave intact the 25-year time frame for end-of-life disposal of low-Earth orbit satellites, a period many now believe to be far too long with the ever increasing orbital traffic in near-Earth space. In this talk, I will discuss various approaches to cleaning up or containing space junk, such as a recent exciting activity in Australia to use laser photo pressure to nudge inactive debris to safe orbits.
Dr. Aaron J. Rosengren is an Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona and Member of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Applied Mathematics. Prior to joining UA in 2017, he spent one year at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece working in the Department of Physics, as part of the European Union H2020 Project ReDSHIFT. He has also served as a member of the EU Asteroid and Space Debris Network, Stardust, working for two years at the Institute of Applied Physics Nello Carrara of the Italian National Research Council. His research interests include space situational awareness, orbital debris, celestial mechanics, and planetary science. Aaron is currently part of the Space Situational Awareness (SSA)-Arizona initiative at the University of Arizona, a member of the Outer Space Institute (OSI) for the sustainable development of Space at the University of British Columbia, and a research affiliate of the Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) at the University of Maryland.
*Choose between either the 7:30pm or 9:00pm planetarium show when purchasing your ticket.*
This is a 19+ event. All attendees will be required to provide photo ID upon entry.
Date and Time
Thu, 23 January 2020 6:30 PM – 10:00 PM PST
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre 1100 Chestnut Street Vancouver, BC V6J 3J9
Cosmic Nights is the name for a series of talks about space and astronomy and an opportunity to socialize with your choice of beer or wine for purchase.
Canada-wide 2nd Canadian DIY Biology Summit (live audio and webcast)
This is a January 22, 2020 event accessible Canada-wide. For anyone on Pacific Time, it does mean being ready to check-in at 5 am. The first DIY Biology (‘do-it-yourself’ biology) Summit was held in 2016.
Organizers of Community Biolabs across Canada are converging on Ottawa this Wednesday for the second Canadian DIY Biology Summit organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). OSN [Open Science Network] President & Co-Founder, Scott Pownall, has been invited to talk about the Future of DIY/Community Biology in Canada.
A few points of clarification: DIYbio YVR has been renamed Open Science Network on Meetup and, should you wish to attend the summit virtually, there is information about passwords and codes on the agenda, which presumably will help you to get access.
Nerd Nite v. 49: Waterslides, Oil Tankers, and Predator-Prey Relationships on January 22, 2020 in Vancouver
When you were young, did you spend your summers zooming down waterslides? We remember days where our calves ached from climbing stairs, and sore bums from well… you know. And, if you were like us, you also stared at those slides and thought “How are these things made? And, is it going to disassemble while I’m on it?”. Today, we spend more of our summer days staring out at the oil tankers lining the shore, or watching seagulls dive down to retrieve waste left behind by tourists on Granville Island, but we maintain that curiousity about the things around us! So, splash into a New Year with us to learn about all three: waterslides, oil tankers, and predator-prey relationships.
Zachary is completing an MSc at UBC investigating freshwater and estuarine predation on juvenile salmon during their out-migration from natal rivers and works as a part-time contract biologist in the lower mainland. Prior to coming out west, Zach completed an interdisciplinary BSc in Aquatic Resources and Biology at St. F.X. University in Antigonish, N.S. During his undergraduate degree, Zach ran field and lab experiments to explore predator-induced phenotypic plasticity in intertidal blue mussels exposed to the waterborne cues of a drilling predator snail. He also conducted biological surveys on lobster fishing boats and worked as a fisheries observer for the offshore commercial snow crab fleet.
Shane is a professional mechanical engineer whose career transitioned from submarine designer to waterslide tester. He is currently a product manager for waterslides at WhiteWater West.
3. Oil Tankers 101
Kayla is an ocean enthusiast. She earned her Masters in Marine Management at Dalhousie University, studying compensation for environmental damage caused by ship-source oil spills. Passionate about sharing her knowledge of the ocean with others, Kayla’s shifted her focus to the realm of science communication to help more people foster a deeper relationship with science and the ocean. Kayla now works as a producer at The Story Collider, a non-profit dedicated to sharing true, personal stories about science, where she hosts live storytelling events and leads workshops on behalf of the organization. Follow her at @kaylamayglynn and catch her live on the Story Collider stage on February 11th, 2020!
Researchers at Columbia University and University of California, San Diego, have introduced a novel “multi-messenger” approach to quantum physics that signifies a technological leap in how scientists can explore quantum materials.
The findings appear in a recent article published in Nature Materials, led by A. S. McLeod, postdoctoral researcher, Columbia Nano Initiative, with co-authors Dmitri Basov and A. J. Millis at Columbia and R.A. Averitt at UC San Diego.
“We have brought a technique from the inter-galactic scale down to the realm of the ultra-small,” said Basov, Higgins Professor of Physics and Director of the Energy Frontier Research Center at Columbia. Equipped with multi-modal nanoscience tools we can now routinely go places no one thought would be possible as recently as five years ago.”
The work was inspired by “multi-messenger” astrophysics, which emerged during the last decade as a revolutionary technique for the study of distant phenomena like black hole mergers. Simultaneous measurements from instruments, including infrared, optical, X-ray and gravitational-wave telescopes can, taken together, deliver a physical picture greater than the sum of their individual parts.
The search is on for new materials that can supplement the current reliance on electronic semiconductors. Control over material properties using light can offer improved functionality, speed, flexibility and energy efficiency for next-generation computing platforms.
Experimental papers on quantum materials have typically reported results obtained by using only one type of spectroscopy. The researchers have shown the power of using a combination of measurement techniques to simultaneously examine electrical and optical properties.
The researchers performed their experiment by focusing laser light onto the sharp tip of a needle probe coated with magnetic material. When thin films of metal oxide are subject to a unique strain, ultra-fast light pulses can trigger the material to switch into an unexplored phase of nanometer-scale domains, and the change is reversible.
By scanning the probe over the surface of their thin film sample, the researchers were able to trigger the change locally and simultaneously manipulate and record the electrical, magnetic and optical properties of these light-triggered domains with nanometer-scale precision.
The study reveals how unanticipated properties can emerge in long-studied quantum materials at ultra-small scales when scientists tune them by strain.
“It is relatively common to study these nano-phase materials with scanning probes. But this is the first time an optical nano-probe has been combined with simultaneous magnetic nano-imaging, and all at the very low temperatures where quantum materials show their merits,” McLeod said. “Now, investigation of quantum materials by multi-modal nanoscience offers a means to close the loop on programs to engineer them.”
From a June 29, 2018 ArtSci Salon notice (received via email),
July 4 – 22 | Out Of This World | Juried Group Exhibition
“ Space… is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
– DOUGLAS ADAMS: THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1979)
July 4 – 22 | Out of this World | Juried Group Exhibition
Opening Reception: Thurs. July 5th, 7 – 10 pm. (with telescopes! weather permitting… and astronomically-themed music from the 17th and 18th centuries)
2018 marks a century-and-a-half of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s (RASC) promotion of astronomy and allied sciences in Canada. From early on, the RASC has encouraged exploring the connections of astronomy with other areas of culture, an interest which continues to the present. Propeller Gallery has partnered with the RASC to present an exhibition celebrating their sesquicentennial.
Astronomy, with its highly evocative imagery, and mindboggling and mindbending ideas about our Universe, provides artists with richly visual and deeply conceptual inspiration. Out of This World features a diverse array of work inspired by the cosmos, ranging from the visualization of astronomical data to textiles, video and installation. A select number of works from the archives of the RASC are also presented.
Participating Artists: Michael Black | Linda-Marlena Bucholtz Ross | David Cumming | Chris Domanski | Trinley Dorje | Dan Falk | Maya Foltyn | Peter Friedrichsen | Susan Gaby-Trotz | Aryan Ghaemmaghami | David Griffin | Xianda Guo, Charlotte Mueller, Sinead Lynch, Ramona Fluck, Christoph Blapp & Jayanne English | Diana Hamer | Chris Harms | Angela Julian | Adam Kolodziej | Irena IRiKO Kolodziej | Nancy Lalicon | Michelle Letarte | Shannon Leigh | Elizabeth Lopez | Trevor McKinven | France McNeil | John Ming Mark | Giuseppe Morano | Sarah Moreau | Joseph Muscat | Pria Muzumdar | Neeko Paluzzi | Frances Patella | Donna Wells | Donna Wise | plus archival work from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Curatorial Team: Robin Kingsburgh, Tony Saad, David Griffin, Randall Rosenfeld
Panel discussion: Understanding Astronomical Images, Saturday July 14, 1:30-3pm
Artist Talks and Star Party in Lisgar Park: Saturday July 21, 7pm+ (Join us in the gallery at 7pm for informal talks by artists about their work. Follow us outside to Lisgar Park across the street when it gets dark – where members of the RASC and York University will set up telescopes.)