Category Archives: Extra Credit

Pluto, Mars, Moon, Earth

At the 2013 annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Michael Carr give the Shoemaker Lecture on “Geologic Exploration Of The Planets: A Personal Retrospective Of The First 50 Years.”  I was lucky to hear it, because he included this anecdote about Mariner 9’s arrival at Mars in 1971: The planet was engulfed in a dust […]

Posted in Extra Credit, Reflections

Stitching a Supernova

When John R. Whitman saw an X-ray image of the Cassiopeia-A supernova in Scientific American in 1975, he decided it would make a lovely needlepoint design, and when he wondered who he might ask to produce it, he immediately thought of his good friend, Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. “I met with Cecilia to inquire if she might have any interest in […]

Posted in Extra Credit

Exploring “Genius Day” with Annie Jump Cannon

This past Saturday, I co-ran a”Genius Day” workshop for a dozen or so middle school-age kids for a local non-profit organization, the Institute for Educational Advancement.  Previous “Genius Days” have focused on Darwin, Shakespeare, and William Strata Smith, and I helped out a friend last summer with some Galileo-themed activities.  At first, I was little skeptical of […]

Posted in Extra Credit, News, Reflections


I made this (hastily) for MESSENGER’s final pass around Mercury and impact just now.  Few spacecraft have dealt with heat o’ the sun and winter’s rages like this one! It has really been an impressive mission. The Cymbeline quote is all the more appropriate given that MESSENGER’s final resting place is near Shakespeare basin.

Posted in Extra Credit

“So You Want to Do Research”

I recently came across a brief article entitled “So You Want to Do Research” in the December 1943 issue of Pro Tem, a Radcliffe College campus publication.  Written by Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the column offers some advice to students considering a career in research and describes some of the astronomer’s views on the process of science.  Payne-Gaposchkin describes […]

Posted in Extra Credit, Reflections

Annie Jump Cannon in Her Own Words

I’ve been poking around the Harvard Library’s digital archives quite a bit this week, preparing for a “Genius Day” workshop I’m leading next month with the Institute for Educational Advancement.  The focus of the workshop is Annie Jump Cannon, an astronomer famous for developing the stellar classification scheme still used today and for personally classifying […]

Posted in Extra Credit, Reflections

The Not-So-Brief History of Climate Change Science

As part of my ongoing collaboration with NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 mission, I’ve put together this 4-minute history of climate change science.  Global warming may seem like a recent issue, but people have been investigating it for a long time.   Only by choosing to engage with the natural world and gathering information can […]

Posted in Extra Credit, TA Episodes

New Books in Astronomy: Bill Sheehan and Chris Conselice, Galactic Encounters

This past month has been really crazy with all of the podcasts, but I’m finally catching up with my New Books in Astronomy interviews. In the latest episode, I talked with William Sheehan and Christopher Conselice, co-authors of a new book called Galactic Encounters: Our Majestic and Evolving Star-System, From the Big Bang to Time’s End.  I really enjoyed […]

Posted in Extra Credit, NBN Episodes

Manh(a)ttan Brings Nuclear Physics to Primetime (Physics Central Podcast)

Of all the new television shows to premiere last fall, my favorite was Manhattan, a fictionalized retelling of the development of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos during WWII.  As a historian of 20th-century science and as the curator for the Tolman/Bacher House at Caltech (both Tolman and Bacher played large roles in the Manhattan Project […]

Posted in Extra Credit, Physics Central

New Books in Astronomy: David Rothery, Planet Mercury

With one spacecraft coming to an end of its mission in March, and another set to launch in 2016, it’s an exciting time for Mercury.  I sat down with David Rothery of the Open University last month to discuss his new book, Planet Mercury: From Pale Pink Dot to Dynamic World for New Books in Astronomy. The […]

Posted in Extra Credit, NBN Episodes