Feb 12th 2000 - LA Public Library.
The following report was produced by Anna Kennedy - OCA Member
(note all photos by
Liam Kennedy - click on images for MUCH larger versions)
"A gourmet experience
for adults and children interested in Astronomy."
has made a significant contribution to the community in its sponsorship
of the LA AstroFest presented by the LA Public Library.
From avid members of astronomy
groups to interested outsiders, there was something for everyone.
The Fest blended practical astronomy and theoretical cosmology into a
nutritious soup of information.
tour starts outside with OCA's own Tony Obra's Celestron, shielded with
Mylar to allow viewing of the sun. Despite heavy overnight rain, the morning
was sunny, with only an occasional cloud to obscure the view of our nearest
On the orange disk in the eyepiece, many sunspots could be seen, two of
them large enough to show distinct umbra and penumbra regions.
Exciting as this was, don't try it at home. You need exactly the right
equipment for this activity.
Led by the inimitable
John Dobson, there were several Dobsonian telescopes on display. The Dobsonian
is a type of mount, rather than the telescope itself.
group were engaged in telescope building, from constructing the mount
and tube, to grinding the mirrors. These are 10" circular slabs on
glass, around 1" thick, ground initially with carborundum grit, using
a smaller glass disk as the grinder, creating a smooth, almost parabolic
surface. Jerry Heniger and Katy took turns at what appears to be quite
built her first telescope at 11. She's twelve now. Dad and Mum report
that she's the astronomer in the family and that they are just the drivers.
Dad's dream is for Katy to send him a postcard from Mars. In her lifetime,
it could happen. The postcard would no doubt be electronic, though. If
anyone could get to Mars, Katy could.
to the second stage of grinding, where fine aluminum oxide powder is used
to eliminate the minutest unevenness. Apparently there is a third stage
which involved some pitch that was bubbling in a tin can. I didn't quite
catch what was supposed to happen, but finally a coating of aluminum would
create the mirror. Even the uncoated glass is sufficiently reflective
to work for bright objects like planets. The mirror coating increases
the light reflection ten-fold.
passers-by from pushing their arms down the tube of a telescope, John
Dobson took us inside for his cosmology talk.
vires" (always green)
an introductory remark, a young member of the audience asked Jon if he
ground his own lenses. He replied that no, he didn't, but he did occasionally
step on his glasses.
John then proceeded
to not only turn our world upside down (for as he remarks, if you think
up is up, then you're not really seeing), but also our entire universe.
He gently castigated
the Big Bang Theory (you know the one. Big
chunk of radiation/ matter explodes hurtling matter, which forms galaxies,
in space and away from each other. The father away you look the faster
the galaxies are hurtling.)
progression of the theory as the successive application of band-aids,
plastered on to cover the series of problems it has encountered, John
clearly has no time for it.
How come there
was nothing and then there's something?
to the central tenet of creation, that dumps a load of matter randomly
in empty space to begin evolution. Somehow, it seems not to jive with
common sense. Even assuming something came out of nothing, the something
should then divide equally into matter and anti-matter. But it didn't.
At least, the observations indicate that it didn't.
enough anti-matter in the universe for the Big Bang to be true.
how physicists invented "X" and "anti-X" particles
which can convert matter to anti-matter and vice-versa. There is no physical
evidence that these particles exist and that's John's complaint. If they
did exist, "anit-X" would have to decay (radioactively transform
into something else) faster than "X". This would explain why
there was more matter. Unfortunately, there would also be loads of magnetic
monopoles around (the bits that the "anit-X" particles decay
into). But there aren't.
Wot, no monopoles?
another band-aid by picturing the Big Bang as a basketball with a pimple.
The pimple expands to become the visible universe, the monopoles stay
behind in the basketball. It's all too convenient (not to say contrived)
for John's taste.
The Big Bang
doesn't work if the visible matter in the Universe is all there is.
So there must
be around 90% of the matter in the universe that is invisible. Not only
that, it must be very strange, obeying only gravity, not the other physical
laws. John is not in disagreement with 90% of the matter being invisible,
merely that we should be expected to believe that it's strange. Surely
it's more likely that the matter outside galaxies, "the hovering
layers" as he calls them, are just material blown away by the stellar
winds of a forming galaxy. If you stretch your mind to conceive that the
Milky Way is 200 times larger than what you see, then you have a concept
of how big the hovering layers are. And why can't you see them? Well,
for a start, their density is the equivalent of 20 drops of water in a
box that is a billion cubic miles in volume ( a cube with a side of 1000
the time John has shown us the band aids, we're ready to rip them off
and really heal the wound. In his unique vision, he proposes a politically
correct "recycling" universe, where galaxies further away (at
around 15 billion light years) are traveling close to the speed of light,
they become invisible. Hence there is a boundary to the visible universe.
And what's beyond that? John declined to say, but he said what it was
not. If was not changeable, finite or divisible. Deftly using relativity
and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, he showed that the disappearing
materials reappers in visible space to begin the cycle again.
So his universe
has no beginning, no end, but change, finiteness and division as "mistakes"
in the sea of tranquillity that surrounds what we can see, a suportive
questions continue to give astrophysicists a run for their money. Long
may it continue.
A little nearer
Coffey, representing The Planetary Society, was joined by a large group
of children and parents from Sepulveda Middle School. Part of a program
for immigrant students, an excellent Spanish translator kept them enthralled
with Lu's slides and talk.
Lu took us on
a journey which we are caught up in but totally unaware of. A journey
of 5 billion miles circling round the galaxy as we follow it on its travels
through the universe. At the dawn of our space adventures, we have currently
only set foot on one other world. But we have sent robotic emissaries
to 7 out of 8 of our sister planets.
Society, founded by Carl Sagan, has 100,000 members in 140 countries.
Based in a pretty house in Pasadena, The Planetary Society funds planetary
and asteroid research and exploration as well as the SETI (Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence). With radio dishes in US and Argentina,
the incoming data is processed by countless personal PCs in the SETI@home
program, which uses spare processor time on your home computer.
Lu described the
Earth as a sort of planetary laboratory, where we can actually see the
effects of asteroid impact and translate these effects to the Moon and
also mentioned a story that her (then) four-year-old grandson told her.
"Before God created people, he created dinsosaurs who roamed the
Eath until a bog rock came out of the sky and they began to stink."
(She thinks he
meant extinct, but on second thoughts, maybe he was right.)
Will YOU go
the cast of "Mars and Beyond" a new Internet-only "TV"
Series, were mobbed by children wanting autographs.
Created by Herb
Wright, previously a director at Paramount, the story set in 2014 shows
an international team sent to explore the planet most like Earth. Each
episode is a progressive cliffhanger, as far from a soap as you could
get. Real space suits add to the authenticity.
is joined by Mark (left) , who wrote the business plan and sought funding
for this unique venture, and by Christian (right) , who is the webmaster
responsible for engineering the site, which is hosted in Las Vegas.
The crew were
run off their feet the entire day by hoards of excited children getting
their first look at http://www.cybersci-fi.net.
fiction to the real thing. The Mark Taper Auditorium was the venue for
a showing of Dan Wetherbee's film about STS86, the fifth Shuttle docking
with MIR. Dan and Scott Parazynski, who was flight engineer for the mission,
added personal reminiscences to the film, which was a riveting diarized
account of the 9 month preparation and flight itself.
Scott, who flew
with John Glenn in the famed 1999 mission, was too tall for an earlier
MIR mission, as he could not easily fit into the Soyuz module (He was
then given a new nick-name of Too Tall Parazynski). However, the 1997
STS86 mission (Atlantis) gave him the chance to space walk with Vladimir
Titov, who has spent over one continuous year in space, making him the
most experienced living astronaut.
Scott's new baby, Luke, visited Dad's workplace in Houston with his Mom
to try on Dad's space helmet. A few years needed to grow into that! Still,
maybe he'll join Katy on that Mars mission in 2023.
questions afterwards, Scott revealed that he is 6'3" tall and a medical
doctor by training. He has always wanted to be an astronaut and just pursued
that dream single-mindedly since he was at school. He applied along with
thousands of others and thinks himself very lucky to have been selected.
The training lasts a year and then you become an astronaut, available
for a mission.
He says the take-offs
aren't uncomfortable, because of the position the crew and lying in. The
take off lasts about 8 ½ minutes . He doesn't get sacred on the
flight as he's too busy with the job, concentrating on what he needs to
do. He said that he doesn't dream in space and that you actually need
less sleep, because the absence of gravity makes everything less hard
Scott is optimistic
that the public will be able to take a space trip in the foreseeable future.
Missions to Mars will clearly be scientific to start with, but even that
will come. With new technology, the journey would be down to 90 days,
which brings it within the reach of many people.
He still works
for NASA and is in training for a mission to the International Space Station
to work on the robotic arm.
There were many
exhibits and other talks to enjoy including the Mars RED ROVER (build
your own robot) program, which kept the kids enthralled. Something for
everyone at this excellent event.
For more information
on the continuing Astrofest 2000 activities in other LA area libraries
ca be found at http://www.lapl.org/ya/teen_events.html
(note - the link appears to no longer have the further
astrofest 2000 activities listed at that address - I am told by a representative
from the LA Public Library the information will be updated soon).