After a week on the go in New Mexico, my first ScienceCation ever is coming to an end. There would have been many pictures of the ethereal landscapes I’ve traversed and the people I have encountered, but I’ve been so wrapped up in this feeling of awe at where I am and the things I’ve seen that I have rarely touched my phone. Also when your camera is also your GPS and music source, taking pictures while driving can be a little problematic, if not dangerous.
The picture at the top of this post is Robert Goddard’s actual launch tower, which he used to test some of his smaller rockets after jump starting the rocketry efforts in the US. You can see the tower in Roswell if you’re so inclined, but experience tells me that you shouldn’t expect too much more in the way of engaging science.
Occasional minor disappointments like Roswell have done nothing to lessen the impact of the primary focus for this trip, which was to see the VLA. I can’t promise that it will always be as quiet as it was when I was there, or that the weather will be as cooperative, but there can only be a few places in the world as humbling, impressive, inspiring, and monumental as this virtually silent assemblage of sensors sweeping across the sky we can’t see for knowledge we don’t have. Yet.
In short, take a weekend to fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive out to the VLA. The NRAO takes good care of the facilities, and the scientists are highly qualified and mindful of the importance of the work they’re doing. In learning about the universe, we learn about ourselves and our planet. There are precious few higher callings than that.
Partway up a mountain in the northeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, there is a building that contains important artifacts. These artifacts are important in more than an American historical context because they are not all American, at least originally. The building is the New Mexico Museum of Space History, and the experience of it is rapidly tempered by the state of the place. A visit is not without merit, but it left this patron a little melancholy.
The first genuine science stop on ScienceCation 2013 was the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array. I spent the day there, taking pictures and marveling at how small we are individually, and how gargantuan our undertakings can be when we work together. The VLA is humbling beyond belief, so much so that I could hardly address the feeling while I was there. After I left, however, I grew quiet and contemplative, and really started to feel the impact.
I was constantly put in mind of this comic of indeterminate origin, which coincidentally also inspired the tattoo on my left forearm. Undertakings of this scale and for a purpose as pure as this one are far too rare, even in the space science world. The VLA is located in an area that is approximately 7,000 feet above sea level, which on balance isn’t really that much closer to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, but it’s located here because the extraordinarily distant signals we’re looking for lose quite a lot of their distinctiveness as they pass through Our protective shield. So here sit 27 radio telescopes, each dish 25 meters in diameter, slowly but intensely scanning the skies for radiometric data about the universe around us. Learning about the universe informs our history beyond the written records of our progenitors. It teaches us, bit by bit, where we ultimately come from.
Some readers might find this interesting: as I approached the array along the walking tour path, the antennae started switching to a new target. I recorded a video of the experience.
I have been absent from this place for awhile while I worked on other things, but I haven’t at all forgotten about it. Today I’m composing from Albuquerque, New Mexico, about to begin my triumphant return with an epic adventure: ScienceCation!
I’m in New Mexico primarily to see the VLA (Very Large Array), and in the process I’m making a few other space and science related stops. I’ll be taking pictures wherever I’m allowed, and trying my hardest to pass on the impression of each experience. Notes are being taken!
I’m heading from Albuquerque today for Socorro, where the VLA Operations Center is. In the days that follow I’ll be aircraft spotting by White Sands, visiting museums in the very heart of the nascent and dangerous jet and rocket programs that moved aerospace technology abruptly forward, and visiting Roswell to see a man about a probe.
Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t define “SpaceUp”, partly because combining two words does not always a new word make, but mostly because I suspect that if they tried to publish the definition in a medium that is vulnerable to flame, the volume would simply vanish into a cloud of soft smoke and ash as it prints. That is how exciting this event is.
So, because The Internet is fault-tolerant and thus able to cope if some parts of it come ablaze, I will take the risk of reprinting the description on the SpaceUp website:
SpaceUp is a space unconference, where participants decide the topics, schedule, and structure of the event. Unconferences have been held about technology, science, transit, and even cupcakes, but this is the first one focused on space exploration.
The concept is, to say the least, intriguing in written form, but as is sometimes the case, the words hardly do the act justice. A small group of like-minded individuals in Seattle gathered together this last weekend, listened to experts and laymen alike, and had a string of conversations the likes of which are far too rare in this amazing ridiculous world.
Using data from 73 sites around the world, scientists have reconstructed Earth’s temperature history for more than the entire span of recorded human history, in total some 11,300 years. We’ve known for awhile that Earth is warmer now that it’s ever been in the last 2,000 years, but it also turns out that current global temperatures are higher than 70 to 80 percent of the newly collected data.
The picture is even more grim when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses the data to predict temperatures as far out as the year 2100. According to the panel, under all likely carbon emission scenarios, global temperatures will rise, perhaps by as much as 11.5 degrees (F). At that point, Earth will be warmer than any time in the reconstructed data. One of the standard arguments against global climate change is that there are still aberrant localized weather events that seem to go against what one might expect from a warming trend (huge blizzards and such), but this new model takes a wider view of the issue.
As far as human influence goes, the data also indicates that temperature changes in the last 100 years have been faster than in any other period, lending some very credible weight to the theory that increased CO2 emissions from human activity is adversely affecting climate.
According to this report from News.com.au. an unnamed patient in the US has had a huge swathe of his skull replaced with a 3D printed plastic patch designed to promote the growth of new tissue and bone. The implant was approved for human use by the FDA. Turnaround time for your own implant, should you find yourself with a cracked cranium, is about two weeks, once Oxford Performance Materials receives a detailed scan of the affected area.