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Spacewriter
2005-Feb-26, 06:39 PM
I'm doing some background research for a project I've been asked write up that includes commentary on new technology in astronomy. No, this is not a homework assignment -- I've got a great deal of background, but am looking for feedback.... I've come up with some possible topics that I think represent new (or newish) aspects of doing Big Astronomy. They are:

adaptive optics (with laser guide stars)
software telescopes
virtual observatory
large arrays; unusual arrays (i.e. GPS arrays)
giant segmented mirror telescopes
increased interest in education and public outreach

I'm somewhat at odds about what to talk about in new technology and practices in amateur astronomy. Certainly the goto telescopes were new wave a few years back, but I'm wondering if that's old hat now. Amateurs have increased ability to go dimmer and dimmer with better and better optics, plus there are small radio telescopes out there (admittedly that don't reach out as far as the Big Boys), but what other "new wave" technologies are boosting amateur science these days?

Any feed back on that question, or even my list of BigAstro "new technology/practices" aspects would be helpful.

Note that I've left off the latest range of spacecraft doing BigAstro at various wavelengths -- these are all part of another aspect of the commentary; here I'm looking more for the "next wave" ideas.

Russ
2005-Feb-26, 07:37 PM
On the little astronomy front I think the application of technologies that were developed for other purposes is the big wave.

1) Web cams as astroimager.
2) Video cams as astroimagers.
3) New snapshot and SLR digital cameras as astroimagers.
4) Using the big old satelite TV dishes as the basis for home radio astonomy.
5) Binocular telescopes such as the RB-6 & RB-10 from JMI

Just thumb through Astronomy Mag. & S&T. I think you'll have no trouble picking out wierd new stuff. :wink: :D

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-26, 07:51 PM
On the little astronomy front I think the application of technologies that were developed for other purposes is the big wave.

1) Web cams as astroimager.
2) Video cams as astroimagers.
3) New snapshot and SLR digital cameras as astroimagers.
4) Using the big old satelite TV dishes as the basis for home radio astonomy.
5) Binocular telescopes such as the RB-6 & RB-10 from JMI

Just thumb through Astronomy Mag. & S&T. I think you'll have no trouble picking out wierd new stuff. :wink: :D

Oh, I've done that. I was an editor at S&T and in fact edited a book on Video Astronomy for them. So I'm aware of what the trends have been. But a trend is not necessarily "new." Take the case of web cams. I haven't worked at S&T for five years now, but even before I left, we were getting writeups from people who were taking apart their web cams and doing interesting things to make them astro-ready.

I know I thought about that one, and also the availability of really NICE high-end imaging setups for amateurs.

I'm beginning to think that maybe what's "new" in astro am. is maybe more a case of defining the latest in the same trends... ;)

Russ
2005-Feb-26, 08:04 PM
What do you think of the trend toward home radio astronomy? I hear that some of the people are even putting up, what I call, Very Small Arrays (VSA) of these old TV dishes so they can do interferometry. Does that constitute "NEW"? :)

DoktorGreg
2005-Feb-26, 08:19 PM
I have been searching for a howto for small segmented telescopes. As soon as someone can explain it to me in a way I can understand I plan on making a 30" out of 6x10" mirrors. Well after a trial on smaller cheaper mirrors. The economy seems to be there even in the smaller optics. Maybe I am misunderstanding something.

Russ
2005-Feb-26, 08:26 PM
Hey! I followed your links to see your web site. Though I just skimmed most of it, it looked like you have a lot of good stuff. I must admit I was unprepared for your sense of humor!! Your link:

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: "National Public Radio: The Original Fair And Balanced" :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Whew! (Wipes tear from eye.) If there were truth in titling it'd be called "National Liberal Radio". :lol: :lol:

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-26, 09:22 PM
Hey! I followed your links to see your web site. Though I just skimmed most of it, it looked like you have a lot of good stuff. I must admit I was unprepared for your sense of humor!! Your link:

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: "National Public Radio: The Original Fair And Balanced" :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Whew! (Wipes tear from eye.) If there were truth in titling it'd be called "National Liberal Radio". :lol: :lol:

And I was taken aback by yours... #-o

Ummm... appreciate your looking over my links. Glad you enjoyed my writing.

The link wasn't meant to be funny... I'm dead serious about where I get my news.

Sorry you find my listening choice to be so laughable. I don't think NPR is liberal at all. If anything it has moved more to the center lately. That being said, I appreciate solid news values and good in depth reporting, which I can rely on NPR to give me. I see so little of it in the mainstream media.

I am a journalist as well as scientist, so I guess I kinda know what fair and balanced is (and what network named after a wiley animal it isn't).

So, back to the topic at hand: interesting idea about the small segmented mirror. I remember seeing one at an amateur star party in Canada a few years back. I'll have to see if I can dig up a pic of it and post it. It actually seemed to work pretty well, although we didn't get much chance to test it out because of the rain! ;)

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-26, 09:27 PM
What do you think of the trend toward home radio astronomy? I hear that some of the people are even putting up, what I call, Very Small Arrays (VSA) of these old TV dishes so they can do interferometry. Does that constitute "NEW"? :)

Um. It might, although I haven't seen a lot of results from those small networks.

There is an observatory near me that developed the Small Radio Telescope concept that can be used by students, etc.

Here's the link (http://web.haystack.mit.edu/SRT/) if you're into that.

And the company page (http://www.cassicorp.com/) where you can buy one. They seem pricey at first glance,but not so compared to what some amateurs pay for the full megillah of an optical setup.

Russ
2005-Feb-26, 10:05 PM
Ummm... appreciate your looking over my links. Glad you enjoyed my writing.

There is almost nothing about astronomy that does not interest me, especially when well written. :)


The link wasn't meant to be funny... I'm dead serious about where I get my news.

Sorry you find my listening choice to be so laughable. I don't think NPR is liberal at all. If anything it has moved more to the center lately. That being said, I appreciate solid news values and good in depth reporting, which I can rely on NPR to give me. I see so little of it in the mainstream media.

I do not find your listening choice to be laughable. I too listen to NLR on a regular basis. I Love classical music and Luuuuuuuuuuve Click 'N Clack, the tappit brothers. :lol: :lol: Their humor is VERY cornball but they do it soooooo well. :D

Let us politely agree to disagree about "If anything it has moved more to the center lately." :)


I am a journalist as well as scientist, so I guess I kinda know what fair and balanced is (snip).

(bites toung. puts on flame proof suit.)


So, back to the topic at hand: interesting idea about the small segmented mirror. I remember seeing one at an amateur star party in Canada a few years back. I'll have to see if I can dig up a pic of it and post it. It actually seemed to work pretty well, although we didn't get much chance to test it out because of the rain! ;)

I just did a quick search to get you a link. Unfortunately, I could not find the site I had been reading. It had some good pics and diagrams. It was right at the top of a list I cobbled up somehow. I guess that'll teach me to bookmark in the future. :oops: :roll:

Jpax2003
2005-Feb-26, 10:17 PM
I was thinking about joining an astronomical society recently. Maybe it'd be interesting to know what people want to get out of the newer bigger amateur optics. Do amateurs want to discover something, are they concerned about watching for possible impactors, do they want to do more public education, or is it simply the astronomical equivalent of the nautical two-foot-itis.

I had an interesting idea about getting public attention focused on space. Instead of just having open houses at fixed installations or star parties with small scopes, why not have a road show? Take one or several expeditions around the country with a trailer mounted large aperture telescope. It could be like a traveling circus/fair and even show up at county fairs. I had this idea of a centerpiece that was a binocular telescope that might catch the imagination more because visual acuity is increased with two eyes, and that might help newbies catch the fever. I was wondering if it could be set up using twin off-axis (zero obstruction) reflectors with really big primary (1m) mirrors and the viewer has to sit in a special chair in the middle. Maybe it could be setup with twin high resolution digital sensors that could intercept the image, perform quick and simple combination (or even interferometry?) for a fast picture that can be printed for the eager young observers expected at such events.

Maybe this is not a new idea, but I only recently discovered off-axis reflectors. BTW, would it be advantageous to make a catadioptric off-axis telescope that might be able to use a spherical reflector instead of parabaloid, or am I mistaken?

ngc3314
2005-Feb-27, 02:48 AM
I'm doing some background research for a project I've been asked write up that includes commentary on new technology in astronomy. No, this is not a homework assignment -- I've got a great deal of background, but am looking for feedback.... I've come up with some possible topics that I think represent new (or newish) aspects of doing Big Astronomy. They are:

adaptive optics (with laser guide stars)
software telescopes
virtual observatory
large arrays; unusual arrays (i.e. GPS arrays)
giant segmented mirror telescopes
increased interest in education and public outreach



My random thoughts: in many cases, quantity has its own quality. Lots of developments I see, especially in the amateur community, have to do with proliferation of such things as webcams, large CCDs, and image-processing expertise. The latter extends to a fair number of amateurs doing interesting work in incoming MER, Cassini, and Huyghens images, as well as making interesting enough HST archival products to merit press releases. (Although you don't have to follow many threads around here to know that this can be a two-edged sword with people seeing UFOs in SOHO and Cassini images...)

In high-speed imaging, the gear is routine enough that I've just turned students loose with one of the Celstron Neximage webcams - completely plug-and-play. Good thing, too, with our department's new pricey 16-inch picking up vibrations not only from the building air handlers, but the train crossing a mile away, and even equipment in the next building. Lots of time, that 30 Hz sampling is required to salvage decent images. And in the hands of skilled practicioners, I am in complete awe of the lunar and planetary images showing up quite regularly. (Registax, to my mind, sets the standard for community freeware in quality and usability).

Large data archives becoming public is also a big deal. I may head to a large telescope these days a year farther along on some projects than would have been the case a decade ago, because sample selection can be advanced so far using Sloan data or the VLA surveys - it lets me skip the first observing run and get right to the meat.

Both these developments have led to a flourishing of what I once called (somewhat disparagingly, as an inveterate observer) the armchair amateur astronomer. Put a keyboard in front of that armchair and ain't nothing to disparage about it. Quasar IDs from radio/X-ray/Sky Survey cross-identifications, meteor spectroscopy, variable star studies from the ConCam data streams, discovring comets from SOHO data - who would have thought, just a few years ago?

To be pretty contrarian, I worry that the increasing professionalism of the public outreach work may be counterproductive for some of the field, leaving rather less for those of us in smaller operations to do. This is simply because of the resources available to larger operations (especially NASA missions) to distribute very slick, well-produced materials (electronic and physical).For example, once NASA Public-outreach folks discovered the utility of putting out press releases on upcoming celestial events as a matter of course, local newspapers cut down on talking to nearby astronomers about them, since they already had something in print with NASA's implied stature behind it...

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-27, 06:09 PM
Interesting commentary, NGC. I wonder though about that concern over "Big EP/O" swamping local efforts. Sure, the big missions do that, but there is (and has been) money available for smaller outreach efforts on more local levels. It started with the IDEA grants through NASA, but now NSF is on the act too. I can't help but think that EP/O is a good development, although it may make YOUR life a bit harder locally. Or am I out in the woods on this?

rleyland
2005-Feb-27, 07:24 PM
I'm doing some background research for a project I've been asked write up that includes commentary on new technology in astronomy. No, this is not a homework assignment -- I've got a great deal of background, but am looking for feedback.... I've come up with some possible topics that I think represent new (or newish) aspects of doing Big Astronomy. They are:

adaptive optics (with laser guide stars)
software telescopes
virtual observatory
large arrays; unusual arrays (i.e. GPS arrays)
giant segmented mirror telescopes
increased interest in education and public outreach

I'm somewhat at odds about what to talk about in new technology and practices in amateur astronomy. Certainly the goto telescopes were new wave a few years back, but I'm wondering if that's old hat now. Amateurs have increased ability to go dimmer and dimmer with better and better optics, plus there are small radio telescopes out there (admittedly that don't reach out as far as the Big Boys), but what other "new wave" technologies are boosting amateur science these days?

Any feed back on that question, or even my list of BigAstro "new technology/practices" aspects would be helpful.

Note that I've left off the latest range of spacecraft doing BigAstro at various wavelengths -- these are all part of another aspect of the commentary; here I'm looking more for the "next wave" ideas.

One "little" item that has come up a lot, are the low cost H-alpha solar observing telescopes. A lot more people are getting into solar studies simply because they can now afford it.

cheers,
Rob

ngc3314
2005-Feb-28, 12:08 AM
Interesting commentary, NGC. I wonder though about that concern over "Big EP/O" swamping local efforts. Sure, the big missions do that, but there is (and has been) money available for smaller outreach efforts on more local levels. It started with the IDEA grants through NASA, but now NSF is on the act too. I can't help but think that EP/O is a good development, although it may make YOUR life a bit harder locally. Or am I out in the woods on this?

I realize that things are improving now that it's not just NASA missions supporting EPO - for some years, there was a real problem in that only those bits of astronomy addressed by a NASA mission had high-profile EPO support. Now that HST and Chandra span almost everything except H I clouds, that's not so much of a problem (except for items where public visibility matters - you can still pretty much buy press coverage at least by volume).

My greater concern is what they're funding. I do numerous school talks, schedule our series of public programs, advise teachers on setting up curricula, have put material in for a couple of Hubble Heritage releases, do popular writing.. and wouldn't dream of submitting an IDEAs grant proposal. Why? because they're clearly only interested in a very particular scale of effort, and that gets one tangled up with the educational bureaucracy. As a sort-of solo act, I can't give up the time to go into that particular source of entropy. (Caveat - Im not saying that the entire establishment of public schools and colleges of education is a source of entropy - I'm external reviewer on one Ph.D. project for a local teacher - but for an individual astronomer, the mandated involvement of educational review and "outcomes assessment" makes a funded EPO effort a much less useful way to leverage my time than other outreach-style activities). And with more and more programs mandated to include EPO components, I worry that we'll see bad outreach since it's becoming less coupled to how much of a heart and skill the primary astronomers have for this activity.

I hope this made my concerns a little more explicit, if perhaps no clearer...

[Edit: boy, those comments ought to draw the resident BA out of the woodwork!]

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-28, 01:20 AM
NGC,

I hear ya on the amount of time it takes. As one of those who works WITH scientists on EPO from time to time, I hear the "time away from research" commentary a lot. It's understandable. When I was in research, I doubt I could have spent as much time as any EPO person would like.

I'd like to think that BA and people like me help make it easier, but in a way, some of the models aren't robust enough (with experience) to know if that would be true.

Anyway, beyond the problems with EPO, do you think that the increased EPO "presence" is a plus or a minus? I'll give you my thoughts if you give me yours. ;)

c

Charlie in Dayton
2005-Feb-28, 02:49 AM
I have been searching for a howto for small segmented telescopes. As soon as someone can explain it to me in a way I can understand I plan on making a 30" out of 6x10" mirrors. Well after a trial on smaller cheaper mirrors. The economy seems to be there even in the smaller optics. Maybe I am misunderstanding something.

I had an idea something like that once...five 6" diameter mirrors in a cross-shaped mount, all the mirrors focused on the same secondary...

On the other hand, a discussion with someone led to an idea that each segment had to be ground to a multiple f/r of what the entire mirror would be...if it's an 18" f/5 made out of six-inch sections, then each six-inch section would have to be an f/15 so that the curve would be continuous across the entire array...(I think I remember how that worked...corrections are welcomed...)

Does this make sense? I can see some advantages here...a minor blemish/error on one mirror should be 'overridden' by the others...six inch mirrors are easier to make than 18's...

On the other hand, collimating five mirrors is guaranteed to be tougher than collimating one...

This would make an interesting Dob, would it not? Hey...not five round mirrors, make it out of nine square ones...yeah, there'd be a little rounding off ot the corners due to the grinding process, but still...

DoktorGreg
2005-Feb-28, 04:18 AM
I have been searching for a howto for small segmented telescopes. As soon as someone can explain it to me in a way I can understand I plan on making a 30" out of 6x10" mirrors. Well after a trial on smaller cheaper mirrors. The economy seems to be there even in the smaller optics. Maybe I am misunderstanding something.

I had an idea something like that once...five 6" diameter mirrors in a cross-shaped mount, all the mirrors focused on the same secondary...

On the other hand, a discussion with someone led to an idea that each segment had to be ground to a multiple f/r of what the entire mirror would be...if it's an 18" f/5 made out of six-inch sections, then each six-inch section would have to be an f/15 so that the curve would be continuous across the entire array...(I think I remember how that worked...corrections are welcomed...)

Does this make sense? I can see some advantages here...a minor blemish/error on one mirror should be 'overridden' by the others...six inch mirrors are easier to make than 18's...

On the other hand, collimating five mirrors is guaranteed to be tougher than collimating one...

This would make an interesting Dob, would it not? Hey...not five round mirrors, make it out of nine square ones...yeah, there'd be a little rounding off ot the corners due to the grinding process, but still...

My thought is... Just omit the mirror in the center, because it will mostly be in the shadow of the secondary anyhow...

Yah, the hard part is collimating the mirrors. If I understand the challenge correctly, they have to be aligned within a 1/4 wave front or else you get all sorts of destructive light reducing interference. It seems like, at that level of precision, no matter how sturdy you make the cell, just slewing the telescope is gonna knock it out of whack.

Then I resort to technology... Laser diodes mounted on each mirror, then a bunch of complex gearing with stepper motors, etc etc...

It just seems like there has to be an easier way...

Kaptain K
2005-Feb-28, 04:46 AM
On the other hand, a discussion with someone led to an idea that each segment had to be ground to a multiple f/r of what the entire mirror would be...if it's an 18" f/5 made out of six-inch sections, then each six-inch section would have to be an f/15 so that the curve would be continuous across the entire array...(I think I remember how that worked...corrections are welcomed...)
Nope! Each mirror would still be f/5, but it would not be a central paraboloid. Each mirror would be an off-axis section of the paraboloid. Picture grinding an 18" f/5 mirror, then cutting 6" mirrors out of the complete mirror. :o

DoktorGreg
2005-Feb-28, 11:40 AM
On the other hand, a discussion with someone led to an idea that each segment had to be ground to a multiple f/r of what the entire mirror would be...if it's an 18" f/5 made out of six-inch sections, then each six-inch section would have to be an f/15 so that the curve would be continuous across the entire array...(I think I remember how that worked...corrections are welcomed...)
Nope! Each mirror would still be f/5, but it would not be a central paraboloid. Each mirror would be an off-axis section of the paraboloid. Picture grinding an 18" f/5 mirror, then cutting 6" mirrors out of the complete mirror. :o

Ok, I know how to do that. The question is, should I tell you guys, or should I try to patent the process first?

Argos
2005-Feb-28, 01:14 PM
We discussed inflatable mirrors once...

DoktorGreg
2005-Feb-28, 02:13 PM
We discussed inflatable mirrors once...

Ouch then you google around and find this...

http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/Pr_8_2000_p_EN.html

And what do you know! It IS a Frech idea. =D> =D>

ngc3314
2005-Feb-28, 02:56 PM
NGC,

Anyway, beyond the problems with EPO, do you think that the increased EPO "presence" is a plus or a minus? I'll give you my thoughts if you give me yours. ;)

c


Not that my thoughts are all that organized (maybe they need to hold a meeting or something), but here are a few:

Like remote observing and large collaborative projects, the professionalization of EPO has probably been unavoidable to some extent. [By the way - let me remind casual onlookers that this particular three-letter acronym comes from Education and Public Outreach]. The issue becomes how this happens to best serve the wider community, and preferably without local and individual efforts being steamrollered. (One nice example of synergy - the Chandra people are interested in celebrating the centennial of relativity, and have been canvassing all Chandra investigators in the US to see who might want to be local front people for this).

I can recall some absolute pearls of wisdom from the big EPO efforts. The ones I find most memorable aren't even products, but ideas. I have in mind, for example, the Hubble Heritage team's pointing out that there is an implicit visual vocabulary honed by centuries of artists, which we can employ to make the story of a picture clearer. (Jayanne English probably had something to do with this connection, as long as she's been working on visual display and interpretation).

One issue in which I suspect the formal EPO efforts are still finding their legs is in the level to pitch to (what the musicians call tessitura, more or less). We're fine at some levels, but I'm not too sure what pitch is effective for what our local writers call the "Joe Six-Pack" crowd. At the other end of the scale, we see a lot of clamor in the savvy web-watching crowd for more detail. NASA teams were a little slow to see the benefits (public and scientific) of putting out detailed information and even raw data on the fly, but there have now been excellent precedents (perhaps even fuelled by the clamor out here in WWWland, for all I know). Oddly (or not so oddly) enough, ESA does that niche pretty well - their PR releases are sort of pitched at the college grad or equivalently interested reader. And some levels for formal schooling are well handled - the RXTE "High-Energy Groove" music video has been a fabulous hit in middle-school classes.

And the big plum of EPO, informal science education, is still kind of a mystery, both as to what we as a community want to do and how well we know how to do it. The purpose is presumably not just explaining some particular facts from science, or even showing how science works, but fostering a more scientifically literate (and maybe therefore science-friendly) citizenry. Even when I ask people in the biz (Grace Wolf-Chase at Adler was the most recent victim, I think), there doesn't seem to be much information on how effective these efforts are. This is not to suggest that I think they are a bad thing or resources ill-used (as I said in a previous post, I do a good bit of this stuff as well), but that by currently fashionable standards of assessment, the goal may be so ill-defined as to lend itself poorly to the very kinds of measurement that we see being held up for EPO efforts.

So why do I seem so grumpy? There is a trend within NASA and the NSF to make EPO activities manadatory for grants above a certain level. And these mandated activities must be of certain kinds hewing to certain standards. That's why I worry that other, currently less fashionable or more personal, activities may be driven out of the marketplace by opportunity cost. I would be happy to be demonstrated wrong on this, of course.

Your turn!

Spacewriter
2005-Feb-28, 03:39 PM
NGC,

Anyway, beyond the problems with EPO, do you think that the increased EPO "presence" is a plus or a minus? I'll give you my thoughts if you give me yours. ;)

c


NGC,

Good food for thoughts here. Let me respond point by point.





Not that my thoughts are all that organized (maybe they need to hold a meeting or something), but here are a few:

Like remote observing and large collaborative projects, the professionalization of EPO has probably been unavoidable to some extent. [By the way - let me remind casual onlookers that this particular three-letter acronym comes from Education and Public Outreach]. The issue becomes how this happens to best serve the wider community, and preferably without local and individual efforts being steamrollered. (One nice example of synergy - the Chandra people are interested in celebrating the centennial of relativity, and have been canvassing all Chandra investigators in the US to see who might want to be local front people for this).



Yes, I've watching the Chandra efforts closely and I think they're hitting some important benchmarks -- namely what you describe, local interest, material written at several levels actually, and lots of backup information. HST has done this as well, although I know that it took them awhile to find a comfort spot to aim at.




I can recall some absolute pearls of wisdom from the big EPO efforts. The ones I find most memorable aren't even products, but ideas. I have in mind, for example, the Hubble Heritage team's pointing out that there is an implicit visual vocabulary honed by centuries of artists, which we can employ to make the story of a picture clearer. (Jayanne English probably had something to do with this connection, as long as she's been working on visual display and interpretation).



There's a lot of visual vocabulary we simply take for granted; that we don't even think about. Yet, when you deconstruct that, it lends much more meaning to a picture beyond the "well, the blue denotes oxygen and the green denotes hydrogen" or whatever colors the science teams assign in a given image.




One issue in which I suspect the formal EPO efforts are still finding their legs is in the level to pitch to (what the musicians call tessitura, more or less). We're fine at some levels, but I'm not too sure what pitch is effective for what our local writers call the "Joe Six-Pack" crowd.



Ah, now you're wandering into range of one of MY pet rants -- the levels at which some, NASA in particular, seem to pitch their stuff. I know EPO officers who have literally torn their hair out over NASA HQ assumptions about "Joe Six-pack" (which is a pejorative if I ever heard one and I try like hell not to use it). It's like NASA on high (and I hope NSF doesn't go down this road) has decreed that some words or phrases are "too hard" for the public to understand (sort of emulating Barbie and her "Math is hard" ** from a few years back). It's not clear on what basis NASA decided which things "Joe Six-Pack was not meant to understand." I often wonder if it's knee-jerk reactions to the uproars NASA has faced over the years over various missions and accidents, so they figured if they tell it in words of one syllable people will feel soothed and go away. I doubt it. But it's hard to change a monolithic mindset overnight.

When I wrote my thesis on media treatment and HST I ran into this mindset over and over again at high levels. Individual scientists on teams (Sandy Faber, for example) had NO problem explaining things to the public about spherical aberration. They found the words. But NASA ran the party line for too long, and then when their top scientist (and I won't mention names, but he has a great tan) at the time spoke to us about "the public" it was as if the unwashed masses (particularly the press) were the "enemy" and not people to whom explanations could be made convincing and understandable. To be sure, there WERE reporters out there gunning for blood, but they didn't represent all of us in the reporting community, nor did the critical scientists and public deserve to be treated as if WE were the enemy. (I was on both sides of the fence at the time -- as a graduate student and as science writer.... it made life interesting.)

However, beyond HST's original problems, I think you are correct that people are still finding their level. In addition, lumping together EPO in one big "happy family" puts educational interests (with very structured forms) into competition with media interests (which has its own structures and levels to hit). Just as an example, if an EPO puts something out for schools to use (and this happens all the time now), somebody somewhere in that organization has to do a little research into what levels the material fits in the science education standards. This is because teachers do teach to standards (and unfortunately to tests), and they fit what they get from anybody into those standards (whether they're for science, math, social studies, art, language arts, whatever). This is not bad, not bad at all. But all of us who produce materials for formal education get the questions like "What level's it good for?" and so on. And we need to know that and be able to tell the educational audience that.

On the other hand, the media requirements are much less stringent, and more governed by timeliness and news interest of some sort. In my view, applying ed standards to EPO handouts and materials actually benefits everybody, but it still is a bit of "strange bedfellows" feeling to have to create materials for two ends of the same spectrum.

I don't have time here to go into informal ed, which is it's own baby, and which is MORE what I'm in tune with in my own work these days. But you make a good point below which I'll address there.





And the big plum of EPO, informal science education, is still kind of a mystery, both as to what we as a community want to do and how well we know how to do it. The purpose is presumably not just explaining some particular facts from science, or even showing how science works, but fostering a more scientifically literate (and maybe therefore science-friendly) citizenry. Even when I ask people in the biz (Grace Wolf-Chase at Adler was the most recent victim, I think), there doesn't seem to be much information on how effective these efforts are. This is not to suggest that I think they are a bad thing or resources ill-used (as I said in a previous post, I do a good bit of this stuff as well), but that by currently fashionable standards of assessment, the goal may be so ill-defined as to lend itself poorly to the very kinds of measurement that we see being held up for EPO efforts.



Yes, informal ed has a different outcome and takes place in different settings. One problem (out of many) is that for too long we've tried to place some educational constraints on informal ed that just don't work because of the more "casual" nature of informal ed: boy scout troop visits to museums, planetarium shows, telescope nights at the school, star parties, etc. You can't measure the effectiveness quite so readily as you can in the formal setting. I think informal ed is still defining itself, and that's not all bad -- but I do think that some in the higher echelons of informal ed are doing a bit too much surveying, focus group activity, and so on, and need to refocus on what works that people "enjoy" about their informal ed experience (formerly known as "an afternoon at the science museum.")




So why do I seem so grumpy? There is a trend within NASA and the NSF to make EPO activities manadatory for grants above a certain level. And these mandated activities must be of certain kinds hewing to certain standards. That's why I worry that other, currently less fashionable or more personal, activities may be driven out of the marketplace by opportunity cost. I would be happy to be demonstrated wrong on this, of course.

Your turn!

Well, there's more I could say to the opportunity cost issue, but I'm late for a dentist appointment. I'll get back to you! But, excellent thoughts and I'm glad I asked. It's good to see it from your perspective.

c

Spacewriter
2005-Mar-01, 01:33 AM
I'm doing some background research for a project I've been asked write up that includes commentary on new technology in astronomy. No, this is not a homework assignment -- I've got a great deal of background, but am looking for feedback.... I've come up with some possible topics that I think represent new (or newish) aspects of doing Big Astronomy. They are:


adaptive optics (with laser guide stars)
software telescopes
virtual observatory
large arrays; unusual arrays (i.e. GPS arrays)
giant segmented mirror telescopes
increased interest in education and public outreach

I'm somewhat at odds about what to talk about in new technology and practices in amateur astronomy. Certainly the goto telescopes were new wave a few years back, but I'm wondering if that's old hat now. Amateurs have increased ability to go dimmer and dimmer with better and better optics, plus there are small radio telescopes out there (admittedly that don't reach out as far as the Big Boys), but what other "new wave" technologies are boosting amateur science these days?

Any feed back on that question, or even my list of BigAstro "new technology/practices" aspects would be helpful.

Note that I've left off the latest range of spacecraft doing BigAstro at various wavelengths -- these are all part of another aspect of the commentary; here I'm looking more for the "next wave" ideas.

One "little" item that has come up a lot, are the low cost H-alpha solar observing telescopes. A lot more people are getting into solar studies simply because they can now afford it.



And, it's safer!

Jpax2003
2005-Mar-01, 04:43 AM
If you guys think it is difficult educating groups of people about astronomy (telescopes, optics, sensors etc) try educating people about digital cameras one at a time. There are many similar questions and answers.