This week the White House was the venue for the most high-profile Star Party of the year. To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, the President played host to over a hundred school kids and amateur astronomers. He gave a lovely opening address about the importance of science in society, his desire to reinvigorate maths and science education in the US, and he encourages the youngsters present to let their sense fo wonder and passion drive them in their pursuit for discovery. The man can speak.
Two excellent ambassadors for astronomy have been awarded a prestigious Swedish award for their accomplishments in astrophotography. Carolyn Porco, planetary scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Babak Tafreshi, Iranian science journalist, photographer and IYA enthusiast, were awarded the 2009 Lennart Nilsson Award for Medical, Technical and Scientific Photography, named after the renowned Swedish medical photographer.
Over at Professor Astronomy, Kurtis recently talked about an excellent citizen science project to light on the nature of mysterious variable star epsilon Aurigae. For almost 200 years, this run-of-the-mill star has been seen to dim periodically. This is not particularly remarkable in se – many stars dim at regular intervals, typically every few days, due to a companion star or planet passing in front of it. But in the case of epsilon Aurigae, the dip in its lightcurve occurs every 27 years and lasts several hundred days – around 2 years! The eclipse lightcurve (above) also shows that the dip contains quite a few bumps. So whatever movement is causing the eclipse is very very slow, and some interaction between the two bodies appears to be going on. [Read more...]
Last week I listened to an excellent podcast at Slate.com on how to get more women into science. I can’t find the podcast anymore but the transcript is here, with lots of interesting links. In it, Ray Fisman reports results of a study into academic achievement in maths and science at the US Air Force Academy. The study found that replacing male instructors with a female one has a dramatic impact on the performance of the female students in the class, bringing it level with that of the men. Specifically,
women on average obtain scores that are 0.15 grade points lower (half the difference between an A and an A-) than their male classmates, even after accounting for students’ SAT scores. The gap in performance was widest for women taught by men. When a female instructor was put at the front of the classroom, nearly two-thirds of the grade point gender gap evaporated.
Bottom line: hire more women. [Read more...]