Astronomy Events

Sometimes doing astronomy related stuff from the warm interior of our home isn’t enough. What to do if we want to meet someone with the same interest in space and astronomy? I asked our panel what events/gatherings they would recommend attending? What’s the best place to meet another like-minded people?

Robert Novella (co-founder and vice-president of New England Skeptical Society, co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe)

I unfortunately haven’t attended any formal conventions or similar gatherings related to Astronomy. I do, however, recommend finding some trustworthy science news sites (Universe Today, Phys.org, NASA etc) to read up on the latest astronomy news. Many of the science cable channels offer far too many credulous shows but interspersed among them are wonderfully animated documentaries on the latest astronomical thinking hosted by respected astronomers. Also, find a local planetarium and visit often to watch their splendid shows. I frequently go to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This is an experience you simply can’t get elsewhere.

Be sure to listen to the Astronomy Cast podcast. Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain make a great team, asking the right questions and offering knowledgeable and detailed answers on many astronomy-related topics. I also recommend Phil Plait’s “Bad Astronomy” blog for accessible and amusing astronomy news and a great community of commenters who are astronomy enthusiasts.


Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

If you’re interested in astronomy, you should meet up with people in your local area. The best thing to do is seek out your local astronomical society using Google. There’s one in almost every metropolitan area in the world. Find their website, get their schedule of events and show up at their monthly meet ups. You’ll find nothing but welcoming people, glad to share your love of space and astronomy. You can also attend larger regional star parties and meet even more people to hang out with.

You shouldn’t do astronomy alone.

Asteroid Redirect Mission

Asteroid Redirect Mission is a potential future space mission proposed by NASA. The plan is to to bring a small near-Earth asteroid into lunar orbit, where it could be further analyzed both by unmanned craft and by a future manned mission.

I asked Fraser Cain about potential benefits that can come from that mission and does he think that we should spend our resources for such a complicated mission whils working on manned Mars mission?

Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)
I think that an asteroid redirect mission is a very worthy goal. It will teach us about travelling to an asteroid, how to operate in the low gravity environment, and how to redirect a dangerous asteroid if we discover one coming towards Earth. There are many asteroids which are closer to Earth and require less energy to reach than Mars or even the Moon. Asteroid will serve future human space exploration as bases and refueling stations, so it makes sense to learn how to work with them. And many of the technologies developed for a mission like this will help us when we do eventually send humans to Mars.

Influential scientists

We all have certain scientists that we look up to. I asked our panel about most influential scientists. Who did they look up to?

Nicole Gugliucci (“Noisy astronomer”, blogger, educator, post-doc)

Carl Sagan – because “Contact” had such a huge influence on me early on in helping me decide to become an astronomer. Also, his book “Demon Haunted World” was very influential on how I deal with extraordinary claims. Sadly, I never met him.

Joanne Attridge and Bob Phillips – my very first research advisors. I was a wee little undergrad doing a summer program at MIT Haystack Observatory. They took me in, taught me the basics (even when I’m sure I knew frustratingly little) and showed such great mentorship that I hope to emulate one day with my own students. Also, they were the first working lab/observatory scientists that I ever got to know, and found out that not only are scientists smart, but they are fun!

Phillip Plait – He’s been a big influence on me as a science communicator. Plus he’s been a really great friend, and I love sharing grad school stories with him! (We went to the same PhD program, though years apart.)


Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

I know it’s a common answer, but obviously Carl Sagan had a huge influence on me when I was younger, through his television shows and books. I couldn’t get enough of his inspirational work. As I got older, though, and got closer to real working scientists, I became inspired by the people working to extend our knowledge of the Universe and share this with the public. People like Dr. Phil Plait and Dr. Pamela Gay, whom I’m honoured to consider friends too.

Reducing the cost of spaceflight

SpaceX is attempting to recover its rocket’s first stage after every launch to lower the cost of spaceflight. If successful what is the next big step for private spaceflight companies?

Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

If SpaceX can successfully reuse the first stage of its rocket, this will be a quantum leap forward in space exploration, by significantly lowering the cost of reaching space. The next step, of course, will be to make the upper stage re-usable too. And this is something that SpaceX is planning to do. If everything works out, SpaceX will be able to re-use both the first and second stage of every rocket they launch, with the only expense being fuel. Once this happens, it lowers the cost of getting anything and everything into space. And with lower costs, it makes a vast range of missions feasible.

What to expect from the year 2015?

I asked our panel about their predictions of the year 2015. What to expect in astronomy, what will be top news, will we make any outstanding discoveries?

Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

2015 is going to be the year of the dwarf planets, of course. We’ll have our first close encounter of Pluto with New Horizons, and Dawn will visit Ceres. Pluto is going to be huge news, and the photos will finally allow everyone to throw out those overused artist illustrations and start using some real photographs. We’ll finally know what that big white spot is on Ceres. I’m incredibly excited for both.

The other big news will be the Elon Musk/SpaceX show. We counted 17 planned launches in 2015, including the new Falcon Heavy, which will be the most powerful rocket launched since the Saturn V. And if SpaceX can dial in the barge landing, they’re well on their way to cracking reusable rocketry.

Finally, I think this is the year that astronomers will announce an Earth-sized world, orbiting a Sun-like star in the habitable zone. We’ve had all the pieces, but not together, yet. Maybe this will be the year that we finally find another Earth.

Nicole Gugliucci (“Noisy astronomer”, blogger, educator, post-doc)

So I’ve been trying to think of “predictions” but of course, that’s a tricky business! But I think it’s safe to say that a few areas of astronomy will continue to see some exciting discoveries. For example, the exoplanet count will go up, especially as ground-based telescopes continue to follow-up on the candidate exoplanets discovered by the Kepler Telescope.

I’d also say to look from some new and exciting radio images to come from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array in Chile. As the entire facility comes online and data analysis techniques are refined, the imaging capability will only get better. We were pretty impressed by the image of a protoplanetary disk recently, but there is sure to be more of that to come.

Of course, we’ll have spacecraft arriving at dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto. To be honest, I have NO idea what we’ll discover there, but we’ll surely confirm much of what we already know from Hubble images and discover something completely baffling.