From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"See You in the Shadow"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 14 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Depending on when you read this, the Great American Eclipse will either be about to happen or will have happened. This incredibly rare event - the last cross-country total solar eclipse occurred in 1918 - is an amazing opportunity for the entire nation to celebrate and witness one of nature's most intriguing spectacles.

Along the path of totality, skywatchers will be treated to a rare celestial combination: the disk of the moon completely covering the face of the sun, blocking its light and allowing the corona, its tenuous but fiery atmosphere, to get its chance to shine.

Outside totality it's not too shabby either. Everyone in the continental US gets at least 65% coverage, with the worst spots in the northeast and along the Mexican border. Hundreds of millions of people will get to look up at the sky - safely! - and simply enjoy the show.

"The Scientific Community"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 07 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Most people aren't scientists, at least in the very strict sense of active researchers. But most people are curious about what scientists have discovered. That's great! Too bad scientists themselves have very little incentive to actually reach out and engage with the public.

The problem, as usual, is lack of time and money. Faculty at a university are tasked with 1) getting grants, 2) writing papers, 3) advising & mentoring, and 4) teaching. There's a large gap between 2) and 3) in the priority list, and Grand Canyon between 3) and 4).

When faculty do reach out to the community, it's usually on their own time and with their dime. They're typically not rewarded for it within their university; they do it because it's fun.

And that's where COSI comes in. COSI itself isn't a scientific institution, but it is a part of the scientific community, fulfilling a desperate need to share, communicate, and disseminate science. COSI team members play a vital role: educating and bringing science to the public, so that the public can enjoy and continue to support science itself.

"At Least We Don't Behead Astronomers...Anymore"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 31 July 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Solar eclipses have been happening for a long time. Humans have been around for a long time (not as long as eclipses, but pretty long nonetheless). And when folks see eclipses, they tend to want to record the event. Today we have our smartphones, and I'm sure the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st will generate plenty of social buzz, especially for those lucky enough to see totality.

We have records of eclipses in antiquity, but as you might imagine those records are a little sparse. The earliest possible recording is actually prehistoric - a petroglyph on a monument near Loughcrew, Ireland might depict a total solar eclipse from 3340 BCE.

Our first written record is actually a story - and possibly just that, a story - about how the Chinese emperor Chung K'ang was surprised by an unexpected solar eclipse in 2137 BCE. When he found out that his royal astronomers were out partying, and hence failed to predict the event, he had them beheaded.

The astronomers who served later emperors must've learned that valuable lesson, as after that we have nearly a thousand recordings of eclipses in China spanning fourteen centuries.

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