05/28/14

First BRO Fundraising Event Held at Mount Wilson Observatory

by Scott Kelley

 
If you are not a hiker or a science geek, you may not know that one of our local Los Angeles peaks holds a number of prominent astronomical observatories. I’m talking about Mt. Wilson. You know, the one above Pasadena with all the antennas sprouting off of it.

Photo from summitpost.org

Mount Wilson

Back in 1904 when LA was just a little town of about 250,000, our skies were very dark and an our inversion layer (that traps the smog) made it an ideal place for an observatory. These days most of the real science is done with the solar and interferometry scopes. But the big 60″ and 100″ scopes are still there. And get this, YOU CAN RENT THEM OUT!

Photo by Tom Varden

Photo by Tom Varden

So our intrepid leader somehow scored a Saturday night with no moon for Black Rock Observatory crew and supporters. We met at the gate and were escorted under the strict watch of our session director. After walking up the stairs to instrument level, there it is, BOOM, a giant telescope.

Photo by Scott Kelley

Photo by Scott Kelley

We had about five hours total with the 60″ scope and the close by 16″ scope that is used for educational outreach. The smaller scope seemed to me to have better images of the planets, but not the nebula.

Photo by Cathleen Cotter

Photo by Cathleen Cotter

Some folks were a little surprised that the images don’t look like those giant super saturated pics from a book. But you are also looking directly at the light from that distant object. No computers or other funny business. Straight from the stars, across hundreds of light years, into the scope, into your pupil, down the optic nerve to be burned into your brain forever. Or at least until your puny carbon based life body crumbles back to star dust.

bauhaus-ziggy-stardust

05/14/14

What makes us Wizards?

by Charles White

 

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This one sentence has done much to define who we are, because today we have so much advanced technology that we are able to open doors, turn on lights, start music, and do many other things from very far away at the simple push of a button.

Yet there is more to being a wizard than just technology… there is wisdom.

The author J. R. R. Tolkien wrote of five wizards whom the Elves considered “the Wise Ones.”

But wait, there is more… kindness.

In Gandalf the Grey we see his great kindness towards the Hobbits, the Elves, and the Humans in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Author L. Frank Baum wrote about a fellow with a very long name of Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (which was shortened to “Wizard of Oz”).  The Wizard of Oz was a kind and simple man from Nebraska, who had no magical powers except for his knowledge of technology, and his kindness was shown throughout the movie and the books.

But wait, there is more still…

In many cases throughout fiction, most every wizard ends up in a situation where they are at the limits of their powers. They must suddenly devise a solution on the spot and in the nick of time.  They invent solutions using methods in magic, or technology.

If you consider all these traits I have talked about above, then you can understand why the “Desert Wizards of Mars” is so appropriate a title for those who participate on the three projects to date; the Human Spirit, the Mars Rover Art Car, and the Black Rock Observatory.

I have seen amazing uses of technology, and devised inventions as well, among all the people who volunteer on these projects.  But the most important and touching aspect of the Desert Wizards is their unabashed use of kindness.

People are willing to help not just in building these projects, but also in helping clean up, fix things, and do projects that are not even related to the project at hand.  The Wizards prepare food and cook for each other.  We laugh together, we cry together.  We care for the welfare of each of us.

This is what truly makes the Desert Wizard of Mars such a great bunch of people to be surrounded by during these events.  And to me, it is funny to note that the Desert Wizards of Mars does not really exist when we are all apart.  It is only when we gather, put our minds together, raise our power tool magic wands and build things, that our sorcery is apparent.

We are Desert Wizards! …and Mars awaits us.

05/5/14

Interactive Art and Science

by Phoenix della Mare

 

I’ve always found it interesting watching children play, particularly the ways they move and manipulate the world to understand it. A few years ago, I worked at a children’s museum that would teach science through interactive exhibits. I loved seeing their faces light up as they would spend hours playing with the various exhibits. I worked at a smaller museum, but there are museums that do the same thing on a larger scale. The best example that I know of is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Spending a day in this museum, you can see children of all ages delight and learn through manipulation. More importantly this is about how interactive art, and specifically the Mars Rover Art Car, can engage children and excite them in STEM disciplines.

It’s hard to get most children excited about abstract concepts. It’s something that children don’t necessarily understand at a young age. Children start learning the ability to understand abstracts between the ages of 7-12, most falling in the median age of 9.5. Before that, most children start to understand the world through manipulation. How can they move this or touch that.

It’s during these early years that interactive art with a STEM bent can stoke a young child’s imagination. They’re capable of seeing concepts that you learn about in the hard sciences. Dropping a ball down the stairs, for instance, then doing the same with balls of two different sizes, to start teaching a rudimentary understanding of gravity. Playing with a Rube Goldberg machine at an interactive science museum… these are things that can engage younger children.

If a child can go up to something and see it, play with it, it can go a long way in getting a child to understand the hard sciences. It starts a child’s brain to begin to understand the physical principles that govern the world. In an era where some people still believe we live in a geocentric universe, making science more digestible to children is an ideal way to get them interested.

So, where do pieces like the Mars Rover Art Car come in?

It can easily act as an intermediary to showing children what engineering and science can create. They can appreciate in a real and physical sense what the hard sciences have to teach them. It’s part of what museums like the Exploratorium have done for many years.

The more that we create interactive art with a science bent, the more we can get children enthused about science.