Major Nerd

So, I know the last time I posted something about a

N E R D A L E R T,
it was about liking field guides. Well folks, it gets worse…
We went to Hard Labor Creek State Park yesterday with some FUN volunteers and their families. Inside the park is an observatory run by the Georgia State astronomy program (http://www.chara.gsu.edu/HLCO/). They have a deal with the park, that if they hold open house once a month–and more often in the summer–they can own that tiny bit of the park, and use it for research. We’re lucky enough that Kristy’s (our boss’s) husband, Nole, is working on his PhD at GSU for Astronomy. He’s pretty legit…not only does he study big stars, he just got approved for Hubble TIME! That means he can use the HUBBLE TELESCOPE FOR HIS RESEARCH! This is awesome, not only because it’s the Hubble, but because the Hubble is an old man, and it won’t be around for much longer (sad).
Anyways, I digress again. We, Kristy, Reid, Nole, and I trekked out to the park and set up for night of trivia and spying on the stars. We bribed Nole’s astronomer pals with Papa John’s (free food will motivate most scientists…for the record), and so the night began. A lot of the volunteers either couldn’t come or didn’t show up, probably because it rained in Atlanta yesterday. The weird thing is, Rutledge, GA, has a weather shield that prevents it from acting like the rest of Georgia when there is bad weather. It was sunny all day! Speaking of sun, while it was up, we brought out a sun-scope to look at the sun…I got to see Prominences! That means flamey things that stick out off the surface of the sun! You could watch them flame-up! It was awesome!
Once the rest of the students got there, we started trivia, which, to be honest, was a hot mess. But, we managed to power through it, give moon-pies as prizes to the winners (clever…we know), and start up the telescopes. Now, this is not the tube that you stick your eye in, these telescopes are GIANT. Well, to the layman anyway.
The astronomers (who were a trip, by the way), showed us the Hercules Cluster Galaxy (looks like a big splat of stars), the Swan Nebula (looks like a fuzzy line), the Ring Nebula (looks like…a ring), Saturn (we saw it through a little telescope, then through the 20in telescope, where you could even see the atmosphere!!!!!!! THE ATMOSPHERE). It was, in case you haven’t figured it out, AWESOME.
I kept getting so excited I squealed. No kidding, I squealed. If you need help understanding why it was so awesome, look up the stuff I listed–do a Google image search. We didn’t see fancy colors, everything was black and white (to my eyes anyway), but it was amazing. To think that you are actually looking at light that traveled from so far away, you’re looking into the past…because that light left the nebula or star or planet years and years ago…it was unbelievable.
I’m sure I embarrassed myself by being way overzealous, but I don’t care. Finally getting a chance to see some of God’s most beautiful creations was worth the potential embarrassment. Had I gotten into a spiritual debate, I would have been alone in that excitement, but it still doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm. “Right-wing nut-jobs” might be kooky, but who cares? If my God can produce something that is that beautiful that “left-wing whatever-they-call-themselves” want to dedicate their lives to studying it…that’s totally fine with me.
Woops, I didn’t mean to get political there.
At any rate, last night was amazing. It was totally worth the sweat and the late night and the bug bites. We got to see some neat stuff, and then when all the kids left, we got to watch the astronomers work for a little while. Nole is studying a set of binary stars (stars that orbit each other and swap mass on occasion) that just had an upset in their orbit. The smaller star hit a disc of matter (think Saturn’s rings, except an extension of the star) from the bigger star and changed the shape of the disc. Apparently, this has never happened before, even though they’ve been orbiting each other for quite some time…so this is exciting for Nole. They take pictures through something called a spectrometer, which takes a picture of a certain portion of the light spectrum and separates the wavelengths. Through this process, they can determine where the majority of the mass/energy/whatever of the star resides. This is apparently important for something. The spectrometer photos we watched only took two minutes each, but sometimes they take pictures that last 1 hour!
Okay, so maybe I don’t get everything about astronomy. Why do these stars matter to humans? Not entirely sure, since our Sun isn’t a binary star…but who cares? It’s still neat to watch professionals get really excited about their research, even if I can’t understand it.
Speaking of research, it’s time to get back to preliminary research for my senior thesis.
N E R D A L E R T # 2
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