Saturday, July 20, 2013

Launch Pad workshop: Day 5

We're getting toward the end of the workshop, and people are starting to feel it, that we're a little sad that it's almost over and that our brains are very full. Finally I have a photo to share of our Launch Pad class outside the business building on the University of Wyoming campus. We're waving at Saturn, though the camera caught me in an odd pose that makes me (far left) look more like I'm introducing a product on The Price is Right.

Black holes were the first topic of the day, and one that I'm fascinated by. We talked about how they're formed (when the mass of a neutron star passes a certain limit, it collapses into a single point, or singularity). We discussed black holes' escape velocity and the Schwarzchild Radius, and touched on Hawking radiation. Other points: spaghettification, time dilation, gravitational redshift and the gamma rays released in a black hole's creation. I'd get into more detail, but I don't have the time or inclination to transcribe pages of notes. Maybe later.

Next: galaxies. We discussed the formation of the Milky Way and why it looks like a spiral. Dark matter came up, which is mass not primarily created by stars (but beyond that we don't understand its nature). Bits and pieces:
  • Our galactic center is somewhere off toward the Sagittarius constellation.
  • The sun is about 2/3 of the way out from the center.
  • The total mass of the Milky Way's disk is about 200 billion solar masses.

The afternoon lectures were about science ethics, or rather the unethical or silly things that some famous scientists got up to in their research or personal life. After that, we talked some more on science-fiction applications for astronomy, in this case interstellar travel and worldbuilding on alien star systems. And we finished with a guest lecture from amateur astronomer Ruben Gamboa on what it is amateur astronomers do.

Today is the last day of class, and tomorrow is a travel day.

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