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The essential guide to astronomy

Frost Science

FaviconSpring Tree Trimming May Spell Trouble for Owls 19 Jan 2017, 1:22 pm

Take a quick sweep through Miami’s neighborhoods and one thing becomes pretty clear—we take a lot of pride in our lawns. Our beautiful landscaped properties not only attract an admiring onlooker or two, but they also call to a wide array of wildlife. Often, the wild critters are what we love most about our backyards. But if you’d like to continue hearing the hoot of an owl or watching a family of squirrels playing a game of chase around a tree, it’s important to understand how that landscaping impacts the places they’ve made their home.

Spring is coming

Spring is right around the corner and with it comes… babies! Right now, parents are finding their perfect mate and building nests in which to raise their families. Many animals—like squirrels, owls and various song birds—build their homes in the cavities or on the branches of trees. Even dead, leafless trees can provide suitable homes for animals of all shapes and sizes. Landscaping our properties during this vital time can be harmful to these animals and often lead to unnecessary injuries or deaths. Although landscapers don’t intentionally cause injury to wildlife, their lack of awareness can often spell trouble for these animals and their families. As biologists in a wildlife hospital, we at the Batchelor Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Center see a large number of cases this time of year in which animals have been cut out of trees. In these instances, the animals are often left homeless, orphaned, injured, or in the most serious cases, dead.

Here’s what you can do

The good news? You can help prevent it. Simply be aware of the animals in your backyard. If you landscape your own yard or hire a company, take the time to survey the area and know the places these animals live. Communicate with your landscaper and let them know the areas they should avoid when trimming trees and hedges. If possible, it’s best to postpone tree trimming until late summer, or even better, fall. If you have a tree that absolutely needs maintenance, but a creature has already made itself at home, call a local wildlife hospital or wildlife commission and get tips for relocating nests.

If you are in the Miami area and have an injured bird, drop it off at our clinic on South Miami Avenue between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. any day of the week. We do not accept mammals, but we can give you the necessary information to get the animal the care and help it needs. If you have a tree trimming or re-nesting question, call us on our clinic phone at 305-484-9575 or our emergency cell phone at 305-322-8887.


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FaviconThe Classroom as an Innovation Resource 12 Jan 2017, 10:35 am

William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet and a pillar of the 20th-century Irish and British literary establishments, once said: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Enter: Corpus Callosum, a program that merges art and science to explore how humans perceive the world through various senses. The effort is a collaboration between Alexandra Kuechenberg, Jonathan David Kane and myself.

Our first endeavor, “On a High Note,” is a collaboration between New World Symphony and Frost Science. The project combines classical music performances with advancements in neuroscience for a one-of-a-kind audience experience. The goal: to produce an entertaining and educational experience that would present a deeper understanding of how our brains work. In addition to that, our hope is to expose new audiences to the significance of complex music through an alternative concert viewing format (in this case, the full dome environment of Frost Planetarium).

Corpus Callosum received a Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2015 to develop “On a High Note” and, given the innovative nature of our effort, we’ve been working on the research and development aspect of it ever since. For that, we partnered with Kim Grinfeder, Director for the Interactive Media Program at the University of Miami’s School of Communication. The partnership materialized as a course Alexandra and I have been teaching. It’s based on an existing format in which a team of multitalented graduate students with different and valuable backgrounds undertake real-world projects with a partnering organization. In Grinfeder’s words, we were very excited to collaborate with Alexandra and Jorge from Frost Science in this semester’s CoLab course; this is exactly the type of creative partnership we were looking for that allows our students to grow alongside their community.”

On December 9, after five months of intense work, the student team introduced their prototype concept for a new type of user experience that merges symphonic performances, art and innovations in neuroscience to a fascinated audience, including New World Symphony’s President Howard Herring, who got to take part in a live demo after the presentation.

The team broke out the experience into three acts to include a pre- and post-experience that provide the necessary context to both enjoy and understand the ins and outs of “On a High Note.” One key element of their presentation was to prove that electroencephalography technology (i.e., EEG headset) can actually be used to translate neurological data based on our perception of classical music into fascinating visuals. Their work is carefully documented here.

While our students have done an outstanding job, and the course was arguably a success after they delivered a promising proof of concept, our journey to make it a reality is only beginning. In Herring’s words, “This is coming.”

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FaviconFlying Mangroves in Downtown Miami? A Curious Case, Indeed 29 Dec 2016, 8:58 am

If you happened to see a cluster of mangrove trees suspended in midair last month, no need to worry—your eyes haven’t gotten the best of you yet.

On December 6th, the first living organisms were ready to make their new home in our museum. Five red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle, as they like to be formally introduced), ranging from 14 to 19 feet and weighing an average of 2,500 pounds, were installed by a hundred-foot crane in our Mangrove Habitat. After much preparation with Skanska USA, Maxim Crane Company, and Tenusa, our biggest trees were ready to fly up to our Vista level.

Spoiler alert: wrangling a group of massive mangroves in midair is no simple feat. In fact, windy conditions that day made balancing the trees a particularly tough challenge. Along with this hurdle, the installation team had to contend with craning precision and a tight race against the clock. They had to install the mangroves before the company working on the aviary mesh finished their work and sealed the only opening in which the mangroves would be able to fly through. But thanks to our experienced rigger, we had the mangroves up in the air and flying through the opening in the roof and into their planters, right in the nick of time.

Next, it was time to install the biggest tree to the Vista level: a 22-foot gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) with a 19-foot canopy spread. Because of its size, this tree was the toughest to maneuver. Once we had it appropriately strapped in, our gumbo limbo made the successful journey into its planter in the hammock area. We wrapped up our tree craning journey with the installation of a paradise tree (Simarouba glauca) and Krug’s holly (Ilex krugiana) into the same hammock.

Soon, you’ll be able to visit our newest residents in our Mangrove Forest habitat. The exhibit is actually two worlds: above the surface on the Vista level, you’ll see birds such as green herons and cormorants perched amidst the mangrove trees—there’ll even be an American crocodile waiting to meet your acquaintance. Downstairs at the Dive level, you’ll explore the science of the mangrove system while watching snapper, grouper and snook make their way through the finger-like roots of the trees. And if the birds upstairs are feeling peckish, you just might catch them swooping down to snap up the food being released at the base of the mangroves. Instagram, anyone?


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Photo Credit: Barry Fellman, Center for Visual Communication

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FaviconWorld Science Day 2 Dec 2016, 11:04 am

November 10 was World Science Day for Peace and Development, and for the first time, this year celebrated the work of science centers and museums across the world.

I was lucky enough to be in Paris, France, at the UNESCO headquarters, with colleagues from around the world to explore how science centers and museums can have a greater impact on their communities and work towards the sustainable development goals established by the United Nations. Led by the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), this year’s International Science Center and Science Museum Day brought together science center networks across the globe. In opening remarks, Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO, expressed the importance of the links between science and daily life and how science centers play a vital role in raising awareness of the importance of science, encouraging a free exchange of ideas. Curiosity is a basic human trait and scientists need to find more ways of making their work known, across geographical, cultural and economic barriers.

It was an inspirational day, with more than 60 people discussing how best science centers can use and expand their resources to better the lives of people worldwide. Participants came from Asia, Africa, South America, as well as the US and Europe. Video links to Australia, Austria, South Africa and Washington DC illustrated some of the actions that were taking place over the whole world to celebrate this special day. Speakers covered topics as varied as health trends (one of the positive areas as infant mortality has decreased), to migration (data on positive income flow to developing countries), to concerns about the rising rejection of expert knowledge and the need for developing effective methods to co-produce and integrate the public in policy development.

World Science Day

Activities took place in science centers across the globe. Over 300 science centers were delivering special activities to celebrate the day. From Anchorage, US,  a program exploring life below the land, to a special event in Alexandria, Egypt on solar energy, a party for volunteers in Singapore and special science club event on clean water and the environment, or Buenos Aires, Argentina, where young people committed to the environment held a meeting to raise awareness of the challenges. People young and old gathered in science centers to demonstrate how science can help both face and solve the challenges ahead.

Students around the world had also participated in the GLOBE Observer, a citizen science global experiment to document cloud cover in collaboration with NASA. While pictures of clouds from space are tracked regularly, the corresponding pictures from the ground upwards are not available. Over 900 observations, corresponding to 3,000 images, were made and links to satellite transit was established for some of these. This experiment is a test to see if it can enable scientists to explore clouds from a different viewpoint, enabling them to refine weather projections.

What does this mean in practice for Miami? Many of these goals are directly linked to our work: for example one related to life under the sea, or another promoting quality education, a third for good health and wellbeing. At the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, the Aquarium aims to raise awareness of the importance of life under the sea. Another major initiative is MeLaβ, a gallery devoted to increase in wellbeing while also a research program supported by Baptist Health South Florida, in collaboration with the School Board of Miami-Dade County. Establishing global partnerships offers opportunities to expand our understanding of the challenges and potential solutions while also opening minds.

They call themselves the baby science center, The House of Experiments' in Bucharest, Romania just joined the ISCSMD.

The House of Experiments’ in Bucharest, Romania joined ISCSMD.

In developing countries, science centers rarely happen without leadership by government, so one step that came out of the meeting was to explore how we could better educate governments to recognize the important role of science centers. Frost Science is a great example of a public-private partnership, where popular support and individual major donors have made this possible.

One outcome from the meeting was to explore how to encourage links between young people at science centers: we have been lucky enough to participate in two such programs in the past, one with Bogota, Columbia, exploring water issues in these two very different environments, another with Jamaica exploring urban environmental restoration. These opportunities can have a major impact on widening young people’s perspectives and understanding the global nature of many of the challenges we face.

So what would be good initiatives for Frost Science? By next year’s World Science Day, we will be open and ready to join in the celebrations.

We are the fortunate ones. Professor Romain Murenzi, the Director of UNESCO’s Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building, was the chair for the meeting. He had been the Minister for Education in Rwanda in charge of rebuilding this sector after the civil war and genocide. He spoke about how education and especially science education was essential in that country to rebuild, to give young people other options than fighting. As he said on his appointment to the UNESCO position:

I am confident that many of us will continue to work together toward the goal that we all share: using science and engineering to support sustainable development and better lives for people everywhere.”

I think we can all work towards that.


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FaviconVirtual NASA Missions with Miami Students 14 Nov 2016, 4:57 pm

What do you get when you mash up 150 middle school students, an MIT astrophysicist, 3D exoplanetary simulations in a virtual world, and real NASA data? A program called vMAX (Virtual Missions and Exoplanets), an innovative and creative science learning experience run by the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

Funded by NASA, vMAX is a 3D virtual world environment and quest that puts middle school students and educators in NASA-related mission simulations to planets outside our solar system. As a scientist myself, I had the pleasure of watching my students (or junior scientists, as I refer to them) in a new environment, as they took on exciting intellectual challenges in a jam-packed week of exoplanetary fun! Throughout the week, students learned multiple scientific methods and instrumentations used by scientists to detect and study exoplanets. All hands were on deck as the junior scientists participated in hands-on activities that included designing and launching water rockets as well as airlift hovercrafts. Students also had the opportunity to interact with world-class professional scientists via virtual lectures and question and answer sessions.

This unique summer science program also occurred at several other locations simultaneously across the country including, Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, CA; U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL; Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center in Shreveport, LA; and New York Hall of Science in Corona, NY. This created a dynamic cross-sharing of ideas and experiences, while connecting students nationwide via avatars they created and used to navigate the virtual world environment. At week’s end, I heard many of the junior scientists express that they may now consider a career in science, which is the most exciting thing for me, both as a scientist and a educator. It’s a personal mission of mine to expose students to the extraordinary world of science, and vMAX even introduced other extraordinary worlds beyond our own.


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StarDate Online - Your guide to the universe

FaviconMore Fornax 20 Jan 2017, 1:00 am

There’s no fountain of youth to make people look younger. But there is one for stars. It’s a process that sounds like a story from a 1950s B movie — “stealing” life from another star.

A good example of a rejuvenated star is in the constellation Fornax, which is low in the south as night falls. It has only one modestly bright star, Alpha Fornacis, which is 46 light-years away.

To the eye alone, it’s not much to look at. Binoculars, though, reveal that it consists of two stars. One of them is bigger and heavier than the Sun. It’s nearing the end of its life, even though it’s almost two billion years younger than the Sun.

The other star of Alpha Fornacis is smaller than the Sun, and its surface is cooler than the Sun’s, so it glows orange. Yet it should be even redder than it is. And that’s where the story of rejuvenation comes in.

The star has been identified as a blue straggler. That means its color shifted to slightly bluer wavelengths as the star aged. It might have done so by merging with another star, which would rev up its nuclear reactions, making it hotter and bluer. On the other hand, it might have changed color by simply stealing gas from a third star in the system.

And there is some evidence of a third member of Alpha Fornacis — the corpse of a once-normal star. If it’s there, it may be about half as massive as the Sun, and quite close to the blue straggler — a dead star that gave part of its life to a stellar companion.


Script by Damond Benningfield


Friday, January 20, 2017
Drinking from the fountain of youth

FaviconMore Fornax 20 Jan 2017, 1:00 am

The constellation Fornax, which is low in the south at nightfall, has only one modestly bright star, Alpha Fornacis. Binoculars show that it consists of two stars. One is bigger and heavier than the Sun, while the other is smaller than the Sun.

FaviconFornax 19 Jan 2017, 1:00 am

Almost a century ago, astronomers partitioned the celestial sphere into 88 constellations. Most of them — the famous ones — date from ancient times. But 14 of them — none of which is famous — were created by a single man, in the 18th century.

Nicolas Louis de la Caille was a French astronomer. In 1751, he set up an observatory at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to study the stars of the southern hemisphere. Over the following year, he cataloged about 10,000 stars. And later, he used those stars to draw new constellations in regions of the sky that weren’t visible from most of Europe.

He called one of them Mons Mensa — table mountain. It honored a feature near la Caille’s observatory. He named all the others for tools that had scientific uses, such as the telescope and microscope, or artistic uses, such as the painter’s easel.

One of those constellations is Fornax, the furnace, which is quite low in the south as night falls right now.

It was originally called Fornax Chemica, after a small heater that was used for chemistry experiments. Another astronomer shortened the name a few decades later.

Fornax isn’t much to look at — at least not with the eye alone. It contains only one modestly bright star, Alpha Fornacis, which we’ll talk about tomorrow. But a telescope reveals many treasures within its borders, including some beautiful individual galaxies, plus a giant cluster of galaxies — fiery visions in the celestial furnace.


Script by Damond Benningfield

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Firing up a celestial furnace

FaviconGiant Storm 19 Jan 2017, 1:00 am

A sunspot forms a dark blotch on the Sun in this recent image from ALMA, a set of telescopes in Chile that look at the universe in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, a portion of the radio spectrum. Sunspots are relatively cool magnetic storms on the Sun's surface. The number of spots waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle. The Sun is currently on the downward slope of one such cycle, so few sunspots have been observed in recent years. This spot is roughly twice the diameter of Earth. [ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)]

ALMA view of a sunspot

FaviconFornax 19 Jan 2017, 1:00 am

Fornax, the furnace, is quite low in the south as night falls right now. Created in the 17th century, it originally was called Fornax Chemica, after a small heater that was used for chemistry experiments. The name was shortened a few decades later.

ESOcast HD

ESOcast is a video podcast series dedicated to bringing you the latest news and research from ESO, the European Southern Observatory. Here we explore the Universe's ultimate frontier with our host Doctor J, a.k.a. Dr. Joe Liske.

FaviconESOcast 93 Light: Kick-off for Mirrors and Sensors for Biggest Eye on the Sky 18 Jan 2017, 10:00 am

FaviconESOcast 92 Light: ALMA Starts Observing the Sun 17 Jan 2017, 9:00 am

FaviconESOcast 91 Light: VLT to search for planets around Alpha Centauri 4K UHD 9 Jan 2017, 11:00 am

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative.

FaviconESOcast 90 Light – Orion’s Cloudy Secrets 4K UHD 4 Jan 2017, 6:00 am

This video takes a quick look at a new image of one of the coolest bits of the night sky — the Orion Nebula. By observing in infrared light the VISTA survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile can see through the dust and this allowed astronomers to catalogue nearly 800 000 objects in this region, young stars, strange outflows and very distant galaxies.

FaviconESOcast 89: Chile Chill 8 – “A Bird’s Eye View of ESO Observatories” 29 Nov 2016, 5:00 am

Soaring through the cloudless Chilean sky might seem like something from a dream, but this ESOcast allows you to do just that. Incredible aerial photography of ESO’s facilities in Chile provides a new perspective on the world’s most productive astronomical observatories, showcasing their engineering ingenuity and spectacular surroundings from a whole new angle.

HD - NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

High-definition (HD) videos from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory feature the latest news on space and science findings from JPL and NASA. Topics include discoveries made by spacecraft studying planets in our solar system, including Mars, Saturn and our home planet, Earth. Missions also study stars and galaxies in our universe.

FaviconTitan Touchdown 11 Jan 2017, 3:00 am

On Jan. 14, 2005, ESA's Huygens probe made its descent to the surface of Saturn's hazy moon, Titan.

FaviconWhat's Up - January 2017 2 Jan 2017, 3:00 am

The moon, Venus, Mars and the Quadrantid Meteor shower ring in the new year!

FaviconFlight Over Occator 15 Dec 2016, 3:00 am

This video shows a flyover of the intriguing crater named Occator on dwarf planet Ceres. Occator is home to Ceres' brightest area.

FaviconWhat's Up - December 2016 1 Dec 2016, 3:00 am

See Mercury, Venus and Mars all month long and a New Year's Eve comet. With some luck, you may catch some Geminid and Ursid meteors, too.

FaviconCassini's High-Flying, Ring-Grazing Orbits 22 Nov 2016, 3:00 am

On Nov. 30, 2016, NASA's Cassini mission begins a daring set of ring-grazing orbits, skimming past the outside edge of Saturn's main rings.