A BLT and fingersteak basket later, Nina led us up the nine-mile winding road to Cambridge, where we were greeted by a few dozen Cantabrigians at the library. For about an hour, Karan and I described the upcoming event and answered questions from the public. As always, I was impressed by how engaged and interested everyone was, especially late on a Thursday evening.
After passing out eclipse shades to the attendees, we packed up our road show and drove back down to Boise, just as the Sun set in the cloud-strewn pink sky, a preview of the twilight effect we will experience during the eclipse in August.
The presentation I gave in Cambridge is posted below.
Just returned from my trip to Idaho Falls, speaking to hundreds of locals about the upcoming eclipse.
I was invited to give two presentations at the Idaho Falls Public Library, a library so beautiful and spacious it has an atrium with a fountain.
On Tuesday evening, I gave a presentation to the broader Idaho Falls community. A few minutes before the presentation, there were only about a dozen attendees, which made me a little nervous, but by the appointed hour, the space had filled beyond capacity, with nearly one hundred folks – an unexpected large but very welcome crowd.
Before my next presentation on Wednesday afternoon, I took a side trip up to the St. Anthony dune field. Since the dune field is likely to be a prime spot for eclipse-viewing, I was curious to see what preparations they were making.
Back to Idaho Falls for an afternoon presentation geared to the youngest eclipse enthusiasts. Here again, we had an unexpectedly large crowd, with easily 200 kids and parents cheerfully crammed into the presentation space.
After helping the kids make souvenir planispheres, I packed up my roadshow for the long drive back to Boise. The megaflood-carved landscape of the Snake River Plain combined with a Planet Money podcast about a flatware-crafting commune to make the time pass quickly.
The presentations I gave in Idaho Falls are posted below.
Idaho Falls Community Presentation
Idaho Falls Children’s Presentation
Visited with students at the STEMBus Summer Camp hosted at Bishop Kelly High School. Lots of enthusiasm and good questions from the students. The presentation I gave is below.
UPDATE: The stargazing event today went swimmingly – several dozen visitors came down to talk about the solar eclipse and look at the Sun. We even had crew from KTVB film some interviews. Some photos from our event below.
The event will take place on Sunday, June 18 from 12p till 2p in the plaza just north of the Multipurpose Classroom Building on Boise State’s campus.
Questions can be sent to Prof. Brian Jackson via e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
A quick visit last night to a city council meeting in Payette, just about an hour northeast of Boise. I gave a short presentation about the eclipse (below) and helped answer questions for the council and city residents, along with reps from Idaho’s Board of Tourism and Emergency Management.
One particular concern for Payette is traffic on the day of the eclipse. Lots of folks are expected to fly into Boise and the surrounding area for the eclipse and then drive up to the path of totality, which will take many of them along Hwy 95 and through Payette. City fire and police reps are trying hard to plan for any eventuality and seemed well aware of the unprecedented event headed their way.
Unfortunately, I was only in town for a few hours, so not any time to poke around. Maybe next time.
Today, in the first summer meeting of our research group, we discussed a recent paper from Prof. Guillermo Gonzalez of Ball State that explored observations from Babylonian clay tablets to estimate changes to the spin rate of the Earth.
Even though it seems like there’s never enough time in the day, it turns out that the Earth’s rotation rate has been slowing over thousands (and even billions) of years. Numerous effects, including tidal interactions with the Moon, reshaping of Earth via earthquakes, and the melting of glaciers, all contribute to slow down or speed up Earth’s rotation.
One good way to measure the change in the length of the day is to measure the positions of stars, planets, and the Moon in the sky and compare their positions with where you’d expect them to be based on the time. And going back to about 1600, astronomers have used telescopes to accurately measure the timing of celestial configurations to good enough precision that changes in the length of the day can be seen – for instance, the day was about 22 minutes longer when Galileo first pointed his telescope to the heavens.
But the change in length of the day is pretty small – the Moon’s tides slow the Earth about 2.3 milliseconds per day each century – and the change isn’t necessarily constant over time. Fortunately, even thousands of years of ago, humans were keeping track of the positions of objects in the sky, even though they didn’t know what the objects were.
In Gonzalez’s recent paper, he analyzes reports from ancient Babylonian astronomers of lunar occultations and appulses (i.e., close approaches). These reports extend back to 400 BC, giving an observational baseline of nearly 2500 years, and are replete with lovely and ancient descriptions:
“Year 7. Month IV, the 22nd, 64 degrees before sunrise, Saturn came out from the northern horn of the Moon.”
Gonzalez’s results mostly agree with previous work, although he finds that the Earth’s rotation has slowed a bit more slowly than other estimates suggest since the time of Babylon.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we hosted a workshop for volunteers with the Citizen CATE Project, an ambitious citizen-science project to make a 90-min long movie of totality during the solar eclipse on August 21.
For the August eclipse, it only takes about 2-min for the Moon’s shadow to pass over anyone point on the surface of the Earth – after all, it’s traveling about 1,000 miles per hour.
That way, as the Moon’s shadow passes from west to east across the US, from one site to the next, the images can be cut together to produce a totality that lasts much longer than that at any one site. The resulting movie will quickly be uploaded to the internet and made available to eclipse-lovers the world over.
Such citizen science projects go back at least to 1715, when the preeminent Edmund Halley, of cometary fame, predicted the apparition of a solar eclipse to a precision of four minutes. He enlisted the aid of his fellow citizens to record the eclipse duration at more than a dozen locations throughout the British Isles. Compiling these data, he was able to significantly improve the Moon’s ephemeris and make much more accurate future predictions.
And so on Sunday, May 28, the Physics Dept at Boise State invited groups from sites across Idaho to campus for a training workshop hosted by Citizen CATE. The day was hot and sunny – perfect for sunburns and sungazing – and I’ve posted photos from our work below.
Last week, I spent a few days in Ontario, Oregon, our neighbor just across the border.
I was invited to visit by Sam Castonguay, a geologist at Treasure Valley Community College (TVCC) as part of my American Astronomical Society Shapely Lectureship. I was allowed to interrupt an advanced calculus class to talk with the students about the upcoming eclipse and astronomy in general. Lots of great questions and enthusiasm for science amongst the TVCC folks.
In the evening of May 31, I gave a presentation to about 70 members of the broader Ontario community about the eclipse. I was really impressed by how engaged and receptive everyone was, and I was able to address concerns folks had about this historical event. People were also very excited to receive eclipse shades.
The next day, I visited with science students at Ontario High School. Even though the semester was nearly over, the students were very attentive and asked a wide range of questions.
And finally, on Saturday, June 2, I attended Ontario’s Global Village Fest at the invite of the local Chamber of Commerce. Good audience, and the clouds that moved into that morning were thick enough to keep the temperatures bearable but thin enough that we were able to set up a to-scale demonstration of the eclipse.
Although all the events left a very positive impression of Ontario, one thing really stuck out during my visit to TVCC. The school recently received a donation of mastadon and mammoth fossils dug out of a nearby quarry. Between my visit to the calculus class and the evening presentation, Castonguay showed me these amazing bones, pictured at left. One of the best things I’ve found about this part of the country is that there are a fair number of fossil deposits throughout. TVCC is in the process of setting up a display for their fossils, and so if you’re in Ontario anytime soon, be sure to visit their collection.
This visit and many others are made possible by support from the Idaho STEM Action Center and donations to the Pony Up Campaign from lots of generous donors, including Michal Martinez, Kathryn Scott, Debra Sklenar, John Freemuth, Keith Sander, Stuart Weiser, Tamsin Clapp, Dorothy A Snowball, Russell Wolff, Luanne Tangedal, Laurie Barrera, Mary Rausch, Steven Drake, Theresa Weiland, Earnest Harper, Brian Cronin, Robert Applequist, Darrell Palmer, Gay Pool, Garretta Reynolds, Lisa Marie Howell, and many anonymous donors.
Thanks to these folks and many others, we raised more than twice what we’d originally asked for, giving us $10k to do public astronomy outreach – an unbelievable outpouring of support from our Boise State community.
I’ve posted my presentations to the community and to the high school below.
UPDATE (2017 Jun 7): Some press coverage in the local paper – http://www.argusobserver.com/news/eclipse-explained/article_805c98f6-46eb-11e7-b41e-6b1b70b6b1d7.html.
Ontario Community Presentation
Ontario High School Presentation
Had a nice visit last night with the folks in lovely Garden Valley about an hour’s drive north of Boise at the confluence of the Middle Fork and Payette Rivers. In response to an invitation from the Chamber of Commerce, I gave a short presentation about the solar eclipse at the Crouch Community Hall. The presentation I gave is posted below.
Folks were really engaged and interested, and I was impressed by how thoughtful and forward-thinking everyone was when it came to logistics and planning for the eclipse. The Idaho Board of Tourism expects lots of people to come to Idaho, many of whom will visit or at least pass through Garden Valley, so being prepared for August 21 is key, especially for municipalities with limited resources.
After the talk, my hosts invited me to dinner at the Two Rivers Grill, where we enjoyed a pretty amazing cobbler made from marionberries, a berry I’ve only encountered after moving to the Pacific Northwest. At dinner, my hosts explained that the marionberry was developed by Oregon State University via crossbreeding between a smaller, flavorful Chehalem blackberry and a larger, better-producing Olallie blackberry in the mid-1950s.