Archive for November, 2011

Recording a podcast

Mazie recording her paragraphs for the podcast

I realize the last three blogs I’ve posted here have been about astronomy instead of the elements (although the elements are mentioned here and there). I tend to write about what’s been on my mind, and since I’m not teaching chemistry this year, but I am teaching astrobiology, you’ve been getting quite a bit about the Moon and now about Mars and the stars. I hope you don’t mind.

My astrobiology students are now hard at work creating podcasts for the 365 Days of Astronomy website. The first episode was uploaded this evening and is scheduled to “air” on Friday, Dec. 2. Three other episodes will follow, on Dec. 8, 14, and 19. Here’s a link to the website: http://365daysofastronomy.org/

Recording podcast audio

Cali records her portion of the podcast

This first episode was researched and recorded by Mazie, Cali, and Tia and is about how stars are named. They describe the four most common methods: Common names (such as Bellatrix or Rigel or Sirius), the Bayer naming system (such as Alpha Centauri), the Flamsteed System (such as 61 Cygni), and various star catalogs such as the various Durchmusterungs, the Henry Draper, Hipparcos, etc.

Title page of Uranometria

Title page for Uranometria by Johann Bayer

Rather than steal their thunder, I am attaching the audio file here:


And here is the transcript of their presentation:


Unfortunately, as I was preparing this post and gathering images (such as this one of Virgo taken from Johann Bayer’s Uranometria) I discovered that we made one mistake. We had listed the star Zuben Eschamali as being in Libra when it is really in Virgo. This was my mistake, and one I should have caught before now.

Virgo constellation

Virgo as drawn in Uranometria. The bright stars on the left are Zuben Elgenubi and Zuben Eschamali. The very bright star is Spica.

Hopefully that is the only mistake we’ve made. The students did the research, with notations and edits by me, developed it into a script, and recorded their parts this last week. We went through each paragraph (and sometimes each sentence) several times to get good takes. I also recorded myself at home doing the second episode, which is on my own take on the Drake Equation. I’ll have that one edited and transcribed by tomorrow evening.

I’ve also ran into a major difficulty in that my laptop’s hard drive died last week and I’ve been trying to recover files and software ever since. The Mac store I went to would only install the system software that originally came on my computer, even though I had upgraded to Snow Leopard. So now much of my software that I’ve reinstalled doesn’t work because I have to wait for the Snow Leopard disk to arrive in the mail to get my OS up to speed. Then there is the whole fiasco with buying Final Cut Studio off of e-Bay only to have it arrive without the installation disks. So I got a refund and have to mail it back tomorrow and wait for my new purchase (hopefully complete this time) to arrive. In the meantime, I’ve been editing these podcasts using iMovie and Audacity – not my first choice, but it is working.

The worst part of losing the hard drive is that I had literally thousands of photos on it from my research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and from visits I’ve made to mine sites since then that I don’t want to lose, so I will need to pay an extra amount to get the data recovered. Hopefully it can be. Now I know to back up all my photos as well as the video projects I had already backed up.

I hope you enjoy the podcasts. I’ll let you know how the data recovery goes.

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Mare Imbrium features

Mare Imbrium features, created using LOLA data in Daz3D Bryce

We’ve made it to the end of first term and are starting in to second term at Walden School. In our astrobiology class, the students have studied in detail the formation and evolution of the Moon according to best evidence as well as the history of lunar exploration and the Apollo program.

Apollo 15 landing site

Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley-Apennine

The students have drawn up storyboards of the animation we’re developing for the Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution. One of these storyboard frames is shown below. We will now pass these over to my 3D modeling class, who will soon start the process of planning and developing the models and scenes necessary to make the animations work. The multimedia students will then do the final assembly and special effects/post production work.

Southern Lunar Highlands

Southern Lunar Highlands around Apollo 16 landing site

In the meantime, I have been working on ways to get the Moon and Mars 3D elevation data to work in my favorite 3D modeling program (Daz 3D Bryce). If I can get the data into a grayscale image, then I can turn it into a 3D terrain in Bryce. I’ve discovered that the LOLA (Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter) data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the MOLA (Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter) data from Mars Global Surveyor can be imported directly into Adobe Photoshop using the Photoshop Raw format (as long as I know the exact size of the .img file). But I’ve encountered a problem: Photoshop has problems with the positive and negative altitude data, as there isn’t any such thing as a negative color. So the high areas are showing up as dark colors and the low areas as high colors, with the Lunar and Martian mean elevation (like sea level on Earth) represents the breaking point between.

Apollo 16 landing site

Apollo 16 landing site: Descartes Highlands

I’ve tried using the Exposure setting in Photoshop, with some success, but it always creates a border between the two areas that requires blurring and loss of detail no matter how careful I am. If anyone out there knows of a solution using Photoshop, such as how to automatically add a certain number to each color value in a selected area, then I’d appreciate you letting me know! I’m having one of my students, who is also in the 3D class and good at computer programming, develop a python script that can do this for us. I don’t want to use the automatic software on the data website, because it digests the data too much and won’t allow us to create our own textures and animations. Regardless, I have managed to do test animations in Bryce zooming in on the six Apollo landing sites, along with text showing the geographical surroundings. I’m including some images here.  My astrobiology class will create 3D images for Mars sections tomorrow and my 3D class will create animations flying around the Moon in the next week. I’ll be able to show these to the CLOE people as a progress report.

Storyboard on Solar System Formation

Storyboard for Solar System Formation

Now we’re beginning to study Mars and its potential as a source of life. We’re working through the Mars lesson plans I developed earlier this year for the Mars Education Challenge sponsored by Explore Mars and the National Science Teachers Association. On Monday, October 24th, I had the opportunity to share my lesson plans with other teachers through an online webinar hosted by Chris Carberry and Artemis Westenberg of Explore Mars. Howard Lineberger, the first place winner, shared his lessons this last Wednesday, and Andrew Hilt, the second place winner, shared his in September. The whole Mars Education Challenge has been a wonderful opportunity, not only to go to the NSTA conference in San Francisco this last March, but also to be a part of a larger community of educators interested in teaching Mars exploration in the classroom. I’m also not done with the opportunities this program has provided; I’ve been invited to the launch of the Mars Science Lab, but I don’t have the funds to go (and I have a large video project to finish). This coming March, we will have the chance to spend several days in the Mojave Desert with Chris McKay doing field research. Chris has confirmed the dates, and I look forward to the experience, even if it is somewhere out beyond Zzyzyx Road at the end of the Earth.

Physical model compared with terrain

Physical model compared with actual terrain

Making the clay model

Students in astrobiology making a physical model of a hidden terrain

As part of the Mars lessons, my students have used a graduated lollipop stick to measure the height of locations in a hidden terrain box (modeling clay in a pencil box with holes drilled in the lid in a grid pattern). The measurements were written down and typed into a word processing program separated by commas. This data was saved as a .txt file and imported into ImageJ, a program developed by the National Institutes of Health to analyze biological images. ImageJ can turn the numbers directly into a grayscale image. One group used the numbers to cut drinking straws to the right length and imbed them into a layer of modeling clay to make a physical model of the terrain. They did quite well. The grayscale image was imported into Daz3D Bryce and turned into a virtual model, as seen here. Now we move on to actual data of Mars instead of simulated data only.

Gusev terrain virtual model

A virtual model of the Gusev Crater clay terrain

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