TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “Where Is the Science in Hollywood’s Sci-Fi Blockbusters?”

Saturday, February 16, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology, Syracuse NY

People often walk away from well-advertised Hollywood blockbusters, such as Avatar, Armageddon, Star Trek, Harry Potter or Hunger Games, believing that what they have observed on the big screen is real. Where do the fantasy and reality begin and end? Can life be found on other worlds? Is it possible to stop an asteroid on its way to impact Earth? What is warp speed? How do witches and wizards move from one place to another? Again, where does fiction end and reality occur?

People interested in learning more about the science in movies are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing jrcafe@tacny.org by Feb. 13, 2013.

Presenter: Walter L. Sharp, “Len,” MS, CAS, is a Member of the TACNY Board of Directors, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Education at LeMoyne College. Len was a science teacher for 40 years and enjoys sharing sci-fi films that are related to earth science topics with his students. Len is a Past President of the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA), and the National Association of Presidential Awardees in Science Teaching (APAST). He was a Presidential Awardee in Science Teaching, which was cited by President Carter in 1996, and a National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) Distinguished Teacher. Twice named a National Association of Geoscience Teachers Outstanding Earth Science Teacher, Len is also a Christa McAuliffe Fellow, a Fulbright Memorial Fund Fellow to Japan, and a two-time Earthwatch Fellow. Len was a presenter for Vice President Al Gore’s Project Climate. Len has hiked all seven continents, 21 foreign countries, and 114 National Park monuments, parks, historical areas, battlefields and the like. His hobbies include collecting sci-fi films (1902-present), hiking, photography, travel, fossil collecting, golf and pool.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique, a program for middle-school students founded in 2005, features discussions about topics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an informal atmosphere and seeks to encourage students to consider careers in these areas. Students must be accompanied by an adult and can explore the MOST at no cost after the event.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit www.tacny.org.

NASA Space Place – Doing Science with a Spacecraft’s Signal

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in October, 2012.

By David Doody

2013february2_spaceplaceMariner 2 to Venus, the first interplanetary flight, was launched August 27 fifty years ago. This was a time when scientists were first learning that Venus might not harbor jungles under its thick atmosphere after all. A Russian scientist had discovered that atmosphere during the rare Venus transit of 1761, because of the effects of sunlight from behind.

Mariner 2 proved interplanetary flight was possible, and our ability to take close-up images of other planets would be richly rewarding in scientific return. But it also meant we could use the spacecraft itself as a “light” source, planting it behind an object of our choosing and making direct measurements.

Mariner 4 did the first occultation experiment of this sort when it passed behind Mars as seen from Earth in July 1965. But, instead of visible light from the Sun, this occultation experiment used the spacecraft’s approximately 2-GHz radio signal.

The Mariner 4 experiment revealed Mars’ thin atmosphere. Since then, successful radio science occultation experiments have been conducted at every planet and many large moons. And another one is on schedule to investigate Pluto and its companion Charon, when the New Horizons spacecraft flies by in July 2015. Also, during that flyby, a different kind of radio science experiment will investigate the gravitational field.

The most recent radio science occultation experiment took place September 2, 2012, when the Cassini spacecraft carried its three transmitters behind Saturn. These three different frequencies are all kept precisely “in tune” with one another, based on a reference frequency sent from Earth. Compared to observations of the free space for calibration just before ingress to occultation, the experiment makes it possible to tease out a wide variety of components in Saturn’s ionosphere and atmosphere.

Occultation experiments comprise only one of many categories of radio science experiments. Others include tests of General Relativity, studying the solar corona, mapping gravity fields, determining mass, and more. They all rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network to capture the signals, which are then archived and studied.

Find out more about spacecraft science experiments in “Basics of Space Flight,” a website and book by this author, www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics. Kids can learn all about NASA’s Deep Space Network by playing the “Uplink-Downlink” game at spaceplace.nasa.gov/dsn-game.


Caption: In this poster art of Mariner 4, you can see the parabolic reflector atop the spacecraft bus. Like the reflector inside a flashlight, it sends a beam of electromagnetic energy in a particular direction. Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste. Click to see full-size version.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

Rockland Astronomy Club Hosts NEAF 2013!

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Barlow Bob (Rockland Astronomy Club member and Solar Observing guru) has sent an official invitation to NEAF 2013, hosted at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY (a leisurely 4 hour drive from Syracuse). Celebrating its 22nd Anniversary, NEAF is an annual two-day event featuring speakers, solar observing (neafsolar.com), workshops, and vendors, vendors, vendors!

At present, Ryan Goodson (representing New Moon Telescopes) and I are confirmed Syracuse attendees. As NEAF is THE vendor-focused daytime event in our area, it serves as a focal point (no pun intended) for many other local societies to attend and see other amateur astronomers they don’t get to see all year (and it even happens in the daytime, so you actually get to see what your nighttime cohorts look like).

I spent a large portion of NEAF 2011 attending the many astrophotography lectures (a highlight for me being Alan Friedman’s explanation of how he processed the print I later purchased) and accessorizing my own scope (“Ruby”) with Televue eyepieces. NEAF 2012 was a surgical strike with another observer looking to purchase his first high-end refracting telescope (also for imaging). In both cases – and amateur astronomers will recognize this point immediately – it is very difficult to find one location that has on display so much high-end equipment for your (1) direct questioning of vendors, (2) indirect questioning of happy (or not-so-happy) owners, and (3) general viewing pleasure. While we stress the importance of starting observing with nothing more than binoculars and a good star chart, amateur astronomy can become a VERY expensive habit depending on where you want to focus (no pun intended) your observational study. Beyond the educational lectures and workshops, NEAF provides you direct access to a wealth of equipment and information that is hard to collect from web searches alone.

So, if you’re fortunate enough to be collecting a refund on April 15th (or have been smart and saved up all year for a pilgrimage to the Televue booth), consider attending the largest indoor event in East Coast amateur astronomy.

Information about NEAF 2013 can be found at its website: www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf/index.html.

Show Hours:

* Sat. April 20 – 8:30AM to 6:00PM
* Sun. April 21 – 10:00AM to 6:00PM

Ticket Prices (at the door):

* $20.00 for adults (one day)
* $35.00 for two-day admission ticket
* Under 16 free with parent


* FREE parking for more than 1,000 cars and RV’s


ABOVE: a Dobsonian with everything on it!


ABOVE: 1/2 of the vendors at NEAF 2012.


ABOVE: more than just astronomy equipment for sale!


ABOVE: view of the 2012 Solar Star Party.