Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great World Wide Star Count

Schoolchildren, families, and citizen scientists around the world will gaze skyward after dark from October 20 to November 3, looking for specific constellations and then sharing their observations through the Internet. The Great World Wide Star Count, now in its second year, helps scientists map light pollution globally while educating participants about the stars.

The event, which is free and open to everyone who wants to participate, is organized by the Windows to the Universe project at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in conjunction with planetariums and scientific societies across the country and abroad. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.

"The star count brings families together to enjoy the night sky and become involved in science," says Dennis Ward of UCAR's Office of Education and Outreach. "It also raises awareness about the impact of artificial lighting on our ability to see the stars."

The 2007 star count drew 6,624 observations taken on all seven continents, and organizers expect the number of participants to double this year. UCAR used last year's observations to generate maps of star visibility across the United States and around the world. The results show a strong correlation between development and a lack of night sky visibility. Next year, the star count will be included in a cornerstone project of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization to promote interest in astronomy.

-----How the count works-----

Participants in the Northern Hemisphere will look for the constellation Cygnus, while those in the Southern Hemisphere will look for Sagittarius. They will then match their observations with
magnitude charts downloaded from the Great World Wide Star Count Web site (see below). The site contains instructions for finding the constellations and other event details, and it links to background about astronomy on the Windows to the Universe Web site.

Participants may make observations outside their homes or go to less developed areas where more stars are visible. Those in overcast areas who cannot see stars will be able to input data about cloud conditions instead.

Bright outdoor lighting at night is a growing problem for astronomical observing programs around the world. By searching for the same constellations in their respective hemispheres, participants in the Great World Wide Star Count will be able to compare their observations with what others see, giving them a sense of how star visibility varies from place to place. The observers will also learn more about the economic and geographic factors that control light pollution in their communities and around the world.

"Last year's results showed a strong correlation between dense development, where there is a lot of light, and a lack of star visibility," Ward says. "Without even being aware of it, many of us have lost the ability to see many stars at night. Part of our goal is getting people to look up and regain an appreciation of the night sky."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Open Access Day

Hope you all have a great Open Access Day. If you are interested, submit a blog post so you can enter a contest and win lots o' swag. It is simple, just answer the following questions in your post:
  • Why does Open Access matter to you?
  • How did you first become aware of it?
  • Why should scientific and medical research be an open-access resource for the world?
  • What do you do to support Open Access, and what can others do?
For more info on Open Access, take a look at posting from Peter Suber and John Wilbanks. You should also take a look at some of the great journals that are in the Directory of Open Access Journals. The Open Access Wiki is another great place to start.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes have been awarded!

The 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last night at the 18th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Recorded video is posted for your viewing pleasure, displeasure or indifference. Here is a list of the "winners".

Two interesting articles

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor, The Telegraph
"An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists."

Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy -- PLoS Biology, 6(9): e240
"Scientific discovery occurs in the lab one experiment at a time, but science itself moves forward based on a series of ongoing conversations, from a Nobel Prize winner's acceptance speech to collegial chats at a pub. When these conversations flow into the mainstream, they nurture the development of an informed public who understand the value of funding basic research and making evidence-based voting decisions. It is in the interests of scientists and academic institutions alike to bring these conversations into the public sphere."