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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"CCAD Goes to Mars!"

Written by Paul Sutter on Tuesday, 05 September 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Recently John Youger, a professor at the Columbus College of Art & Design, asked me to come speak to his class about living on Mars. That's a bit of a challenge, since nobody lives on Mars and we have very little idea of how to go about it. But that was the point of his design class: if we were to show people in, say, a museum exhibit what a future colony on Mars would look like, what exactly would we show?

There are a few big challenges to living on Mars: there's almost no air (and the stuff you can inhale in pretty much pure CO2), all the water is almost entirely frozen, the dirt is laced with perchlorates, it's very cold, and the gravity is less than half the strength as on Earth. Oh, and it's really, really far away.

So it's a little bit challenging, but that's half the fun. The other half is imagining how to communicate these challenges to audiences, so for this semester John's class is teaming up with me and Erik Burdock, COSI's Director of Experience Design, to design a set of mock exhibits highlighting the difficulty - and adventure! - of living on Mars. Stay tuned!

"Rarity"

Written by Paul Sutter on Sunday, 27 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

I swear this will be my last memo about the eclipse. About a week before the big day, someone asked on my whiteboard what made this one so rare and special.

The deepest part of the moon's shadow touches the Earth about once every two years, but you may have noticed that most of the planet is uninhabited. The next total eclipse will occur on July 2, 2019. It will start east of New Zealand, cross through the southern Pacific over absolutely nobody, then slice across northern Chile and Argentina - cutting a path between Santiago and Buenos Aires - in the hours before sunset.

The next total eclipse here in Columbus won't occur until April 2024, where we'll be right at the edge of totality. A quick trip north to Mansfield or Cleveland will get you in view...assuming the clouds don't interfere. Carbondale, Illinois is especially lucky: not only were they near the point of greatest duration for this past one, but they'll also get a taste of the 2024 totality.

After that, Columbus won't get another chance at totality until 2099. So total solar eclipses are common...but also very, very rare.

"The Eclipse Science Festival"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 21 August 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Well after all the hype, anticipation, and preparation, the eclipse has come and gone. As usual for a massive event like this, there were plenty of excited people, frightened people, cautious people, reckless people, and so on. The usual mix. But the eclipse itself was a spectacular show, delighting and captivating millions. Hundreds of millions!

To me, one of the most overlooked aspects of the eclipse is how accurately and precisely we can predict it. Think about it: we could know the precise second when it was safe to remove our glasses to see totality.

That kind of precision doesn't come easily, and it's only after centuries of theoretical development (e.g., having a better understanding of complicated gravitational interactions) and experimental development (e.g., extremely accurate measurements of the gradual recession of the moon) that we were able to make such predictions.

Combined with satellite-based topographical maps and forecasts of local weather conditions, we could predict the best viewing spots well in advance.

So nature is doing all the work in putting on a show, but I think the eclipse rightly qualified as a nationwide science festival.

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