07/6/14

What’s the big deal with the Black Rock Observatory?

by Anthony Lanni

 

Like many of us in the Desert Wizards, I’ve been talking about the Black Rock Observatory a lot lately; posting about the kickstarter, asking people to share, etc. At the height of it, one of my friends asked me why I’m so excited about it.

BROnMRAC

Well, where do I begin. Oh, yes… when I was 7 or 8, and I fell in love with space.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

I got a subscription to a NASA publicity junket that sent me patches and pictures from Voyagers 1&2, SpaceLab, and the great telescopes.

I learned all the Greek myths, and the names of the constellations.

I had a glow in the dark map of the sky on my ceiling, with all the names of stars and constellations, where I could look at it before I fell asleep.

I watched Star Wars.

I started reading science fiction: Bradbury, and Asimov, and E.E. Doc Smith, and Jose Farmer, and Niven, and countless others.

I watched Star Trek: TOS with my father, 5pm on channel 5 every Saturday and Sunday.

I toured a mock-up of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and got to watch the beginnings of the shuttle program, both triumphs and tragedies.

I watched Star Trek: TNG with my friends in college.

I still read every bit of science fiction I can get my hands on. I write it, too.

I subscribe to 9 different channels on YouTube about science.

I am, now and always, a space and science and science fiction geek. I love this stuff. And I’m really excited to share it with people that share my interest, and with those that are just learning to love it, and even those with only a passing interest.

So yeah, I’m talking about this project a lot; it’s important to me, as all the things we love are important to us. And holy cow is it cool.

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.

03/31/14

Black Rock Observatory: Yes, We Have a Model!

by Pat Rapp

 

The Desert Wizards of Mars are making great progress on Black Rock Observatory, the newest project for the crew that is known for its ability to create art that gets people excited about science. If you haven’t been over to blackrockobservatory.com yet, or are not yet following the project on facebook, prepare to be amazed. Black Rock Observatory (BRO) will be coming to Burning Man 2014, bringing the gift of the universe to the citizens of Black Rock City. The plan includes an architectural design by Gregg Fleishman, architect of the Temple of Whollyness, which appeared at Burning Man 2013. On Saturday, March 29, a group of seven Wizards got together to build a 1/6 scale model of the Black Rock Observatory. The model included about 300 pieces of 3-ply and 5-ply ultra thin birch. The router cut pieces each replicate what will be the full size components of the dome.

Architect Gregg Fleishman and Lead Artist Tom Varden lay out the pieces of the BRO model. Photo by Michael Tupá Engel.

Architect Gregg Fleishman and Lead Artist Tom Varden lay out the pieces of the BRO model. Photo by Michael Tupá Engel.

 

The BRO will be assembled on the playa using rubber mallets to fit the pieces together like a giant puzzle; no other tools will be required. Once assembled, the BRO will be a fully functioning observatory that will enable the residents of Black Rock City to see stars, planets, and deep sky objects.

Desert Wizards assembling the model observatory. Photo by Charles White.

 

Follow us over the next few months and watch this come together. Black Rock Observatory is going to be a beautiful site on the playa.