“well, that’s astronomy!”

Not like I have a really huge readership just yet, but I wanted to share these videos which I encountered through various discussions with my new colleagues. First of all, it looks like some people are a bit snippy about how flashy and romantic astronomy is in the public eye:

This went around the Stromlo audience a few times; in fact, a non-trivial fraction of the sixty-odd views I count at the time I type this probably represent Stromlo astronomers. While they were careful in their wording, it seems almost like an attack ad (“some scientists spend their time searching for wonders we might never reach”), the implicit message being “who cares about what happens zillions of light years away?” It ran during The Simpsons, apparently — not sure what they thought they would gain by doing that — it’s not like astronomy funding is put up for public referendum. Also, even though funding is admittedly limited, it’s not like knowledge is a zero-sum game — you don’t have to establish that someone else’s field is dull or irrelevant in order for your field to be interesting and important.

Still, “who cares?” is a fair question and one I think we should have to answer on a regular basis to be sure we’re adding value to the intellectual ecosystem. As an answer, I think I need only link a video made by four of my Stromlo colleagues last year, and perhaps it’s not surprising that other fields might become jealous:

This video was made for a video competition in which ANU invited the different departments to advertise their field to prospective undergraduate majors. The participants estimate that the film took 800 person-hours of work to create, especially with all the CGI. But the results? Priceless. :)

As a reminder: Although this film is clearly just a dramatization, Skymapper is in fact the project I’ll be working on, and in fact I will be in charge of writing the software for the supernova search. You can bet that I’m not going to bother adding the fancy GUI or the lightsaber noises. :P Wolfgang Kerzendorf, the one who says “are you SURE?”, is Brian Schmidt’s graduate student, and also looking for jobs.  If you are a supernova expert or you know one who needs to hire a postdoc in the next year, let him know!

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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