Day Six

So, you ask, “What happened to days 2 – 5?” Actually, I had to take a brief hiatus those days for a destination engagement. Please don’t ask. Suffice it to say it involved a trip to the west coast, the Redwood Forest is a strange place to propose, and that the “hills” in San Francisco are murder on an arthritic hip! But my son is finally engaged to the love of his life.

I have a lot of catching up to do. This program runs at a near manic pace, and is flexible enough to change and evolve with the students’ interests and questions. Missing four days means that what I knew to be the plan last Monday has changed, and I’ve got to get with the program.

Today, Don introduced students to magnitude, spectra and red shift so that they can do a project in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Data Release 9 (SDSS DR9). The object of their project is to discover the nature of galaxies. I could tell you more about what we hope they’ll come to realize, but that would spoil the fun when they do.

For me, it was a great day of new learning. I was introduced to and used SDSS Data Release 7 several summers ago when I participated in the Capstone program here with four of my students. They chose to investigate how nicely structured spiral galaxies eventually become the red smudges called elliptical galaxies. Data Release 9 is the most recent release, and contains more refined data. Today, I learned that these two galaxy classifications, spiral and elliptical, are being used less as astronomers find there are many more types of galaxies. The digitalization of images is revealing a lot more about astronomical objects than photographic images ever could, so what we thought we know about the Universe is changing rapidly. This goes right to the heart of the nature of science, that what we scientifically know is tentative, only to be revised or changed as our ability to observe, analyze and infer improves.

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