MJD calculation

I was attempting to find a simple way to calculate Modified Julian Day (MJD) from local observing time without having to re-invent the wheel. Someone MUST have done this before. Enter Astropy to save the day. Below is 4 lines of code that’ll do the conversion for you (note I’m using the Ureka installation of python). This was taken from this post on github.

$> python
Python 2.7.5 (default, Oct 20 2014, 18:43:08)
>>>
>>> from astropy.time import Time
#Make an array with various times you want to convert, format YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SS.SS
#Note the ‘T’ in between the calendar day and the time on the clock
>>> times = [‘1999-01-01T00:00:00.123456789’, ‘2010-01-01T00:00:00′]
>>> t = Time(times, format=’isot’, scale=’utc’)
#Now we can print out some answers really simply
>>> t.mjd
array([ 51179.00000143, 55197. ])

and done!

Hosts of York Universe

Recently, York Universe (the online astronomy radio program I co-host) celebrated its 200th episode. This video was put together by hosts Shah and Jen as part of the celebration. It introduces you to some us who work on York Universe, and also makes a pitiful attempt to embarrass us with trivia questions… it worked. Enjoy.

Science Slam: The Extreme Universe

[This post is co-written by Jesse Rogerson and Lianne Manzer.]

The Ontario Science Centre holds four or five star parties each year, in collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Toronto Faction). These are always free events, and are great for both newcomers to the world of astronomy, and also to seasoned vets interested in doing a little outreach. Included in a Science Centre Star Party is a chance to see through some great telescopes (thanks to RASC), participate in various small science experiments/demonstrations, and watch some experts give presentations on various astronomy topics. On 12 July 2013, the Science Centre added a new element to the Star Party equation: the Science Slam. The structure of a Science Slam is, rather than having 1 presenter give a public talk, multiple presenters compete for the most entertaining presentation (by audience applause). The Science Slam structure is growing in popularity (mostly overseas, watch this EinsteinSlam out of Germany). This format of public outreach forces presenters to think of what is not JUST educational, but also entertaining.

The theme of the Ontario Science Centre’s Summer Star Party & Science Slam was the ‘Extreme Universe’ (happily in accordance with their new planetarium show launching this fall). There were four presentations for the slam: Extreme Distances presented by Randy Attwood (of SpaceRef), Finding Exosolar Planets presented by Lisa Esteves, Globular Clusters presented by Ryan Marciniak (of Astronomy in Action), and finally, Gravity in the Extreme, presented by Lianne Manzer and Jesse Rogerson. Here’s the promotional poster for the event:

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

This is an advertising poster for the July 12th Star Party and Science Slam at the Ontario Science Centre

Both of us (Lianne and Jesse) do research in the field of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) (you can read Jesse’s Research Blog, or check his work here); AGN are powered by super massive black holes, which possess the most extreme gravitational fields possible. Since the the theme of the science slam was the ‘Extreme Universe,’ we decided gravity was a fun topic to cover. The presentation we designed was created to step people up from the gravity they know (Earth’s gravity), to the most extreme gravity possible (a black hole’s) by using simple demos and analogies.

The Presentation

We started by demonstrating Earth’s gravity (1g) by simply dropping two objects of similar size, but different mass, and explaining how gravity accelerates objects of different mass equally (check out the most ultimate version of this test here). We then compared Earth’s 1g to Kepler 22b‘s (roughly) 2g by creating what we called the Gravity Sim 22000; GS22000 was just ankle/wrist weights and two backpacks full of textbooks desgined to make someone of roughly 100lbs feel as if they were 200lbs. Our volunteer loved it! The next step was the Sun’s gravity (30g), and then on to a White Dwarf’s gravitational field, which is 10 000g. In order to demonstrate the difference in magnitude between 1g and 10 000g, we compared the difference in magnitude of a burning match, to the explosion of a hydrogen balloon. A Hydrogen balloon explosion gives off about 10 000x more energy than a match, which is the same difference in magnitude of the gravity of Earth compared to the gravity on a White Dwarf. Here’s a pic of me exploding the balloon:

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre's Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Exploding a balloon full of hydrogen gas for onlookers at the Ontario Science Centre’s Star Party & Science Slam. Photo Credit: Frankie Yau

Finally, we finished up our presentation by comparing Earth’s 1g to a black hole’s 1E16g (that’s 100 00 000 000 000 000g). That’d be the same difference in magnitude of a match compared to an atom bomb!

Why we do it

I loved the format of the Science Slam, because not only do I get to have a lot of fun with topics I find VERY interesting, but the audience has a bunch of fun as well. We all get excited about different things: some love movies, some love comics, some enjoy drawing, some like making models, some enjoy exercising, or hiking, or exploring, or geocaching…. I could go on. Everybody has SOMEthing. And what’s better than sharing that experience with others? It makes your own interests that much better when other people are enjoying it with you. That’s why we like talking about what happened in TV shows, or books…it’s why we have friends. This is exactly why I like presenting science to people. When I present, I’m telling people why I find astronomy so interesting. Hopefully, they will find it just as interesting as I do!

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

After the Science Slam, and after I got home, I tweeted this pic of all the cool stuff I got for presenting

Public Talk: A Tour of the Solar System

The title slide to my talk at the Pickering Naturalists club, 05 June 2014 @ 7:30pm. Click the picture, or here, for a PDF of the slides.

The title slide to my talk at the Pickering Naturalists club, 05 June 2014 @ 7:30pm. Click the picture, or here, for a PDF of the slides.

Visiting the Mayall 4 meter

The Steward Observatory’s Bok 2.3m telescope sits right beside the largest telescope on Kitt Peak Mountain: the Mayall 4 meter. I’ve posted pics of it many times, like here, and here, and here. I’ve walked up to it a few times and gone inside the visitor centre there, but an up-close look at the telescope is usually only afforded to those that are using the telescope. Happily, we met the operator of the telescope and he offered us a chance to see it. This is what it looks like when astronomers geek out over astronomy-type things:

The Mayall 4m was placed at the highest point of Kitt Peak, and is itself many stories high, making it the highest point on the mountain.

The Mayall 4m was placed at the highest point of Kitt Peak, and is itself many stories high, making it the highest point on the mountain.

Standing next to the telescope operator, I got to ask lots of questions.

Standing next to the telescope operator, I got to ask lots of questions.

Looking down the barrel of the 4m, it was turned on its side to fill up the instrument with liquid nitrogen (just like at the Bok). You'll notice in the mirror Pat is taking my picture...as I take his...

Looking down the barrel of the 4m, it was turned on its side to fill up the instrument dewar with liquid nitrogen (just like at the Bok). You’ll notice in the mirror Pat is taking my picture…as I take his…

From far away, the 4m looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Punch it Chewy.

From far away, the 4m looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon. Punch it Chewy.

Pat standing in front of the 4m on its side.

Pat standing in front of the 4m on its side.

Me at the prime focus of the 4m. helluva big scope.

Me at the prime focus of the 4m. helluva big scope.