We’re pleased to announce that the August Science Café will focus on the science of running. Join us on Thursday, August 4th, 6 p.m. at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

The program is free and open to the public. Free appetizers courtesy of Sigma Xi, our gracious sponsor, will be available starting at 5:45 p.m.

More details:

Barefoot or Traditional? The Runner’s Dilemma

What’s better for you? A traditional running shoe with lots of support and cushioning? Or a more minimalist approach, through either very nonsupportive shoes or barefoot running? As physical therapists and UNC researchers studying different running styles, Don Goss and Dr. Mike Gross and share insights from the scientists’ point of view.

Want to take the scientists’ running style survey? Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JGQN2F2.

Featuring:

Don Goss, PT, lead investigator, doctoral student in biomechanics

Dr. Michael Gross, PT, FAPTA

Thursday, Aug. 4, 6 p.m.

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Free Appetizers courtesy of Sigma Xi (while supplies last…)

Thanks! We hope to see you there,

Jonathan

Link to our page: http://moreheadplanetarium.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page&filename=current_science_forums.html

Jonathan Frederick works with the North Carolina Science Festival and he just bought new running shoes.

My family was traveling home from the beach — salty, sandy, tired. Just one hour from home, my dad pulled the station wagon off the highway under a bright orange sign: a Howard Johnson’s motel. He went into the motel lobby and talked to the manager at the desk. Moments later, he ushered all of us into the lobby.

Inside, the manager and a few guests were clustered around a small television, and we joined them. On the television screen, we saw a big room filled with men watching all kinds of monitors and gauges. They seemed excited. Everyone in the motel lobby seemed excited, too.

The television picture changed, and everyone in the motel lobby seemed to hold their breath. A pale image filled the black and white screen: a man in a big white suit and helmet, climbing awkwardly down a ladder onto a barren white landscape. He took the last step off the ladder.

Neil Armstrong descends the ladder toward the Moon's surface.

Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for [a] man … one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said as he became the first human to walk on the Moon. Everyone in the motel lobby cheered and applauded. Around the world, more than 600 million people watched that step with us.

It’s been 42 years since I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m. I didn’t understand much of what I saw then, but I knew one thing: This was something important, and my dad wanted to be sure I saw it.

Just a few years ago, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with Charlie Duke, who had been one of the excited men in the control room on the television screen. Gen. Duke served as CAPCOM for Apollo 11 and was the first person to speak to Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin after they landed the lunar module on the Moon. He became a Moon walker himself in 1972, and he tells great stories about his adventures as an astronaut.

Gen. Duke spoke at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center during the premiere of our “Destination: Space” planetarium show. I served as a guide during his visit to Chapel Hill, driving him from and to the airport and to media interviews. It’s probably one of my favorite Morehead memories. First, because it’s totally cool to have someone who has walked on the Moon sitting in my car, and second, because I know how much my dad would have enjoyed riding with us and listening to the conversation.

This is what I learned from my dad: When a parent is excited about science, his or her children are going to be excited about science, too. That interest, that passion, that enthusiasm — it’s contagious. I see examples every day at Morehead. Children, parents and grandparents are learning about science together, and they’re excited about their discoveries.

My interest in space exploration began in a Howard Johnson’s motel lobby in Jacksonville, N.C., 42 years ago. When and where did your parents inspire you to learn more about science?

Thanks, Dad.

Harry Potter would have needed magic to pass his astronomy exam in book 5.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, must be a bit of an astronomy buff. She named a number of her characters after stars or constellations, such as Bellatrix, Draco, Regulus, and Sirius. And in her book about Harry’s fifth school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling even gave Harry an astronomy exam.

What an exam, though! Harry appeared to have an impossible task that night—to note the location of the constellation Orion in the June sky.

Rowling had Harry successfully complete Orion on his star chart, but Orion wasn’t visible in the night sky from anywhere on the planet that month. In June, when viewed from Earth, the stars of Orion lie roughly in the same line of sight as the Sun. So Orion is above the horizon only in the daytime.

To see Orion in the middle of the night in June, Harry must have used some serious magic, possibly whipping the Earth to another place in its orbit around the Sun. Let’s hope he received extra credit.

This week, we’ll use Morehead magic to re-create the night sky on the planetarium dome for two programs about what you can see this summer:

Both programs are aimed at Muggles (non-magic people, in Harry Potter’s world) who want to learn to identify what’s overhead on North Carolina summer nights. Please register online in advance.

During the Summer Skies programs, we'll see Orion's enemy, Scorpius (another Harry Potter character, known to fans who have read to the very end of the series).

Bateman, biomedical engineer

A few Morehead folks had the chance to go down to watch the last shuttle launch and meet up with Dr. Ted Bateman, a biomedical engineer. He has a research project aboard STS-135 and is going to talk about it on Tuesday, July 12, at 6 p.m. at the Back Bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

If you’re at all interested in how space affects astronauts and how studying that might benefit us here on Earth, then this is the cafe for you.

Let’s get to know Ted:

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? I suppose I was being “trained” to be a scientist.  I won the science fair in sixth grade with a study feeding mice different diets and running them through a maze to see how it affected learning.

How did you get interested in science? My mom was a high school science teacher, and she always brought the lab projects home. I first got interested in NASA when I spent a summer at Kennedy Space Center doing space life sciences experiments while I was an undergrad.

In one sentence, describe your job: I run a lab where we research the effects of ionizing radiation on the skeletal system, trying to better understand what space radiation does to astronauts and how radiation therapy affects cancer patients. [My team's] Space Shuttle work with microgravity is a “hobby” that I have been fortunate to work with for more than 15 years.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? I used to be really, really good at brewing beer. I need to pick that up again.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? I would accelerate our clinical trials studying radiation therapy-induced osteoporosis. Women with gynecological tumors have a greater risk for hip fractures, and we can prevent this with existing treatments- we just need to prove the drugs work.

Or- thinking entirely NASA…

Build the habitats to fly mice on the replacement vehicles for the Space Shuttle. We have the opportunity to get mice up to Space Station for long-term experiments, but the animal habitats are not being built.

Great stuff, Ted. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions while prepping for the big launch.

Please join us this Tuesday at the Back Bar! Special thanks to Sigma Xi for their continued support of the Carolina Science Cafe program.

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He wonders what the astronaut mice are thinking about right now.

The Beehive Cluster [Atlas Image courtesy of 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Please “catch the buzz” and join us this Saturday, June 25, when Morehead hosts a Family Science Day with a theme of “Native Pollinators.”

We will have lots of free activities!  Play Pollination Jeopardy, dance like a bee, craft a pollinator or flower, listen to a story, examine a flower with a ‘Scope on a Rope, do a scavenger hunt in Coker Arboretum, see “Science 360: Flower Power,” and have your face painted with a flower or pollinator.

Also, with paid admission to a regular planetarium program this Saturday (Morehead members free), you get a bonus: the award-winning shortJeepers Creepers” and a pollination-related tour of the night sky.

Family Science Day happens rain or shine.  Events are inside and outside the Morehead Planetarium building from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Amy Sayle will tell the Cherokee Legend of the Milky Way (a story about a wind-pollinated food) during Family Science Day.

July's Science Cafe Speaker

Meet Myron Cohen, M.D., our special guest for July’s Carolina Science Cafe. He’s a busy man, so we’re grateful he took a few minutes out of his day to answer our questions.

Where did you grow up? Chicago

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A journalist

How did you get interested in science? After serving as editor of the high school paper, I started at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana wanting to study journalism.  My first year of college, a very good friend became ill and later died.  I spent a lot of time with him at the hospital, and I guess that’s how I first became interested in medicine and decided to study pre-med.  When I took organic chemistry, not only did I absolutely love it, but I was really, really good at it, and that helped me realize that I was on the right path.

In one sentence, describe your job: I’m a catalyst for synergy among biomedical faculty at UNC.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? Well, let’s see.  I can’t sing.  I can’t dance.  I can’t type.  I’m a pretty good skier.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? Redouble our efforts to cure HIV disease.  We’re pretty far along as it is.

Thanks, Dr. Cohen. That’s good stuff. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s efforts here.

Please join us on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. (NOTE THE NEW TIME!) for this special science cafe:

The Beginning (and End?) of the AIDS Pandemic: A 30-Year Journey

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Sponsored by Sigma XI

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He likes mango popsicles.

This weekend, Morehead will host a unique event — a “homecoming” of sorts for our alumni, a chance for reconnection and recreation among UNC graduates who used to spend hours together but now rarely see one another.

Morehead employs around 60 UNC undergraduate students (and sometimes a graduate student or two) every year. If you’ve visited Morehead, you’ve met our student employees. The person who greeted your school bus on your field trip, the person who rang up your purchase of astronaut ice cream, the person who invited you to volunteer for the Science LIVE! demonstration, the person who presented your planetarium show — all Morehead student employees.

Morehead alumni

Morehead student employees and UNC teaching fellows served as hosts and hostesses for the 2004 Jupiter Ball. Now, they're among our alumni.

They’re busy behind the scenes, too. Morehead student employees help write camp curricula, design flyers, train their peers to master new skills, work with teachers on field trip reservations, solve computer glitches, type and file and copy … there aren’t any departments within the planetarium, from the director’s office to front-line service roles, where you won’t find student employees at Morehead.

It’s a win-win situation. Morehead benefits from an ever-changing influx of fresh ideas and energy. These students are SMART. They’re hard working and enthusiastic, too. They relate well to our visitors, and they share new perspectives that strengthen Morehead programs.

And what do the students get from working at Morehead? Paychecks, an on-campus “family” away from home, a fun environment and unique leadership opportunities. Best of all, they learn new skills that translate into better job opportunities after graduation. At Morehead, they’re given a lot of responsibility and encouraged to learn as much as possible — and they do, in all kinds of activities. Event management. Retail marketing. Grantwriting. Curriculum design. Public speaking. Group project coordination.

Year after year, we watch Morehead alumni transform their experiences here into career paths. They now work at other science centers, creating educational programs and designing exhibits. They work in graphic design and public relations and nonprofit development. They work in public schools, in research labs, in business and industry. They are making a difference in the world.

We are proud of our alumni. Welcome “home,” everyone!

Once a Tar Heel, always a Tar Heel.

February 2008 lunar eclipse (credit: Jayme Hanzak)

The next time the Moon is full, it will pass into the Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse. The action happens early Tuesday morning, December 21, 2010, between 1:33 and 5:01 a.m. Totality is from 2:41 to 3:53 a.m. (All times Eastern.)

So seeing it probably means inconveniencing yourself unless you work the night shift or will be in another time zone. (Lucky folks on the West Coast, for example, get to subtract three hours from all the times above.) If the skies are clear enough, here’s why it is worth losing sleep to see the eclipse:

1) You will see the Moon turn a weird color.

When the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, rather than disappearing altogether, it will probably turn red. Or maybe orange, or gray, or brown. The Earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight and sends it into the Earth’s shadow, so in effect you see light from all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth. The exact color of the Moon depends on what’s in our atmosphere as well as how deeply into the darkest part of the shadow the Moon passes.

2) You can prove to yourself the Earth is round.

When the eclipse is in a partial phase, you can see that the Earth’s shadow is curved.

3) You can imagine a ferocious dog taking a bite out of the Moon.

According to a Korean myth, a lunar eclipse happens when a king’s “fire dog” attempts to steal the Moon and bring its light to the Land of Darkness. When this huge, fierce dog bites into the Moon he finds it painfully cold. His mouth freezing and his teeth singing with pain, the dog then spits out the Moon.

4) You haven’t gotten to see a total lunar eclipse in nearly 3 years.

The night of February 20-21, 2008, was the most recent total eclipse of the Moon visible from anywhere on Earth.

5) …and you may have missed that eclipse anyway.

That week I was presenting a stargazing seminar for public school teachers at the Ocracoke campus of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, where I remember good views of the eclipse. But members of the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) reported cloud cover during the early stages.

6) …and your NEXT chance to see a total lunar eclipse from here won’t be until April 2014.

And its timing during the night isn’t any more convenient for the East coast than this Dec. 21 eclipse, so don’t wait for that reason.

To witness a simulation of the eclipse with no loss of sleep, and to learn more Moon-related stuff, please join me at the Moon Myths planetarium program:

  • A 90-minute version designed for adults and teens happens this Wednesday, Dec. 15, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. In addition to spending time under the planetarium sky, we’ll do a hands-on “moon dance” (no actual dancing required) to explore how the Moon’s orbit is related to phases and eclipses. And if the weather permits, we’ll spend a few minutes outside looking at the real thing through a telescope.

Register for either program at the Morehead Web site.

Amy Sayle is setting an alarm to catch the lunar eclipse.

It’s a tough question: Which is more popular, “Scare-olina Skies” in October or “Carolina Skies: Valentine Edition” in February?

Here are my three reasons why “Scare-olina Skies” rules:

  • Those ancient Greeks and Romans created amazing tales about strange monsters, set among the constellations of the night sky. I love to hear those stories — they add a fun new element to skywatching.
  • There’s a special “Scare-olina Skies: Family Edition” version just for school-age children and their parents on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 3:30 p.m. (The version for adults and older teens is offered at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29, and on Saturday, Oct. 30.)
  • This planetarium show is a great alternative to the “same old, same old” Halloween activities. (And you can wear your costume if you want.)

Need another reason? Consider this: Since Morehead installed its new fulldome digital video projection system this year, October 2010 is our first opportunity to offer “Scare-olina Skies” as a fulldome show! So if you come this year, you’ll be part of our history.

See you this weekend!

There will be no "sports agent" Halloween costumes permitted on Franklin Street.

Phytoplankton Blooms

This image, from the NASA SeaWiFS project, shows the striking green colors produced by phytoplankton.

You probably already know that a hurricane has an eye, but did you know that hurricanes might actually display a preference for certain colors? New research from the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey suggests that hurricanes may be more likely to travel over green areas of the ocean than over more clear, blue areas. The ongoing study is attempting to improve hurricane forecasting models by looking at variables like ocean color which are not usually considered in tracking programs.

The study looked specifically at storms in the northern Pacific Ocean, where the predominant surface water color is green due to blooms of tiny plants called phytoplankton. These plants absorb sunlight, which increases the water temperature in that area. Increased surface temperature means increased “fuel” for hurricanes, which gain strength over warm water and lose strength over cooler water or land.  The researchers used a computer program to model what would happen to hurricane paths if the phytoplankton were reduced in number, thus changing the water color. As the water became clearer, the number of hurricanes traveling over that region of water was reduced by two-thirds.

These results suggest that if phytoplankton populations decrease, fewer hurricanes may travel north to highly populated areas like Japan or the East Coast of the United States. Several studies have suggested that in fact this may already be happening, as global warming has made some areas of the ocean less hospitable to phytoplankton. However, other studies have suggested that global warming is actually increasing phytoplankton populations, so more research is needed in this area. And of course, while it would be great to not have to worry about hurricanes outside of the tropics, removing phytoplankton could have a severely negative effect on marine environments that rely on the plants for energy.

The researchers are now planning to move their study into the real world by looking at actual hurricane paths and satellite imagery of real-time ocean colors to see if their preliminary results match up with real storm paths. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about hurricanes and other types of storms, visit Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to see Science 360: Predicting Severe Weather when it comes back on our Fall schedule September 4.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.


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