Robotic Telescopes in Education [CL]

The power of robotic telescopes to transform science education has been voiced by multiple sources, since the 1980s. Since then, much technical progress has been made in robotic telescope provision to end users via a variety of different approaches. The educational transformation hoped for by the provision of this technology has, so far, yet to be achieved on a scale matching the technical advancements. In this paper, the history, definition, role and rationale of optical robotic telescopes with a focus on their use in education is provided. The current telescope access providers and educational projects and their broad uses in traditional schooling, undergraduate and outreach are then outlined. From this background, the current challenges to the field, which are numerous, are then presented. This review is concluded with a series of recommendations for current and future projects that are apparent and have emerged from the literature.

Read this paper on arXiv…

E. Gomez and M. Fitzgerald
Fri, 17 Feb 17

Comments: 42 pages, 16 figures, 2 tables


Street lights as standard candles: A student activity for understanding astronomical distance measurements [CL]

Astronomers measure cosmic distances to objects beyond our own galaxy using standard candles: objects of known intrinsic brightness, whose apparent brightnesses in the sky are then taken as an indication of their distances from the observer. In this activity, we use street lights and a digital camera to explore the method of standard candles as well as some of its limitations and possible sources of error.

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M. Possel
Thu, 9 Feb 17

Comments: 7 pages, 7 figures

Strangeon and Strangeon Star [HEAP]

The nature of pulsar-like compact stars is essentially a central question of the fundamental strong interaction (explained in quantum chromo-dynamics) at low energy scale, the solution of which still remains a challenge though tremendous efforts have been tried. This kind of compact objects could actually be strange quark stars if strange quark matter in bulk may constitute the true ground state of the strong-interaction matter rather than Fe^56 (the so-called Witten’s conjecture). From astrophysical points of view, however, it is proposed that strange cluster matter could be absolutely stable and thus those compact stars could be strange cluster stars in fact. This proposal could be regarded as a general Witten’s conjecture: strange matter in bulk could be absolutely stable, in which quarks are either free (for strange quark matter) or localized (for strange cluster matter). Strange cluster with three-light-flavor symmetry is renamed strangeon, being coined by combining “strange nucleon” for the sake of simplicity. A strangeon star can then be thought as a 3-flavored gigantic nucleus, and strangeons are its constituent as an analogy of nucleons which are the constituent of a normal (micro) nucleus. The observational consequences of strangeon stars show that different manifestations of pulsar-like compact stars could be understood in the regime of strangeon stars.

Read this paper on arXiv…

X. Lai and R. Xu
Tue, 31 Jan 17

Comments: Proceedings CSQCD5, 23-27 May 2016 GSSI and LNGS (L’Aquila, Italy)

Teaching the Doppler Effect in Astrophysics [CL]

The Doppler effect is a shift in the frequency of waves emitted from an object moving relative to the observer. By observing and analysing the Doppler shift in electromagnetic waves from astronomical objects, astronomers gain greater insight into the structure and operation of our universe. In this paper, a simple technique is described for teaching the basics of the Doppler effect to undergraduate astrophysics students using acoustic waves. An advantage of the technique is that it produces a visual representation of the acoustic Doppler shift. The equipment comprises a 40 kHz acoustic transmitter and a microphone. The sound is bounced off a computer fan and the signal collected by a DrDAQ ADC and processed by a spectrum analyser. Widening of the spectrum is observed as the fan power supply potential is increased from 4 to 12 V.

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S. Hughes and M. Cowley
Wed, 18 Jan 17

Comments: 9 pages, 5 figures, published in Eur. J. Phys

Training telescope operators and support astronomers at Paranal [IMA]

The operations model of the Paranal Observatory relies on the work of efficient staff to carry out all the daytime and nighttime tasks. This is highly dependent on adequate training. The Paranal Science Operations department (PSO) has a training group that devises a well-defined and continuously evolving training plan for new staff, in addition to broadening and reinforcing courses for the whole department. This paper presents the training activities for and by PSO, including recent astronomical and quality control training for operators, as well as adaptive optics and interferometry training of all staff. We also present some future plans.

Read this paper on arXiv…

H. Boffin, D. Gadotti, J. Anderson, et. al.
Tue, 26 Jul 16

Comments: Paper 9910-123 presented at SPIE 2016

Sustaining educational and public outreach programs in astronomy [CL]

We advocate meaningful support of sustained education-outreach partnerships between regional metropolitan undergraduate institutions and astronomical clubs and societies. We present our experience as an example, in which we have grown a partnership between the University of Michigan-Dearborn (hereafter UM-D, a 4-year primarily undergraduate institution or PUI), Henry Ford College (hereafter HFC, a 2-year undergraduate college), and maintained a strong collaboration with the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club (FAAC), which is highly active in the Detroit Metropolitan Area. By allowing each organization to play to its strengths, we have developed a continuum of education-outreach efforts at all levels, with connecting tissue between the previously disparate efforts. To-date, faculty and staff effort on these initiatives has been nearly entirely voluntary and somewhat ad-hoc. Here we suggest an initiative to sustain the continuum of education-outreach for the long-term. There are two levels to the suggested initiative. Firstly, partner institutions should dedicate at least half an FTE of faculty or staff effort specifically to education and outreach development. Secondly, professional societies like the AAS now have a great opportunity to support the education-outreach continuum at a national level, by facilitating communication between institutions and clubs that are considering a long-term partnership, by acting as a central resource for such partnerships, and possibly by convening or sponsoring events such as professional meetings among the metropolitan educational community.

Read this paper on arXiv…

W. Clarkson, D. Bord, C. Swift, et. al.
Thu, 16 Jun 16

Comments: 3 pages, Whitepaper submitted to the American Astronomical Society Education Task Force, June 2016

The Importance of Computation in Astronomy Education [CL]

Computational skills are required across all astronomy disciplines. Many students enter degree programs without sufficient skills to solve computational problems in their core classes or contribute immediately to research. We recommend advocacy for computational literacy, familiarity with fundamental software carpentry skills, and mastery of basic numerical methods by the completion of an undergraduate degree in Astronomy.
We recommend the AAS Education Task Force advocate for a significant increase in computational literacy.
We encourage the AAS to modestly fund efforts aimed at providing Open Education Resources (OER) that will significantly impact computational literacy in astronomy education.

Read this paper on arXiv…

M. Zingale, F. Timmes, R. Fisher, et. al.
Wed, 8 Jun 16

Comments: white paper submitted to the AAS Education Taskforce call (this https URL)

Using graphical and pictorial representations to teach introductory astronomy students about the detection of extrasolar planets via gravitational microlensing [CL]

The detection and study of extrasolar planets is an exciting and thriving field in modern astrophysics, and an increasingly popular topic in introductory astronomy courses. One detection method relies on searching for stars whose light has been gravitationally microlensed by an extrasolar planet. In order to facilitate instructors’ abilities to bring this interesting mix of general relativity and extrasolar planet detection into the introductory astronomy classroom, we have developed a new Lecture-Tutorial, “Detecting Exoplanets with Gravitational Microlensing.” In this paper, we describe how this new Lecture-Tutorial’s representations of astrophysical phenomena, which we selected and created based on theoretically motivated considerations of their pedagogical affordances, are used to help introductory astronomy students develop more expert-like reasoning abilities.

Read this paper on arXiv…

C. Wallace, T. Chambers, E. Prather, et. al.
Wed, 23 Mar 16

Comments: 10 pages, 10 figures, accepted for publication in the American Journal of Physics

Demonstrating Martian Gravity [CL]

The surface gravity on Mars is smaller than the surface gravity on Earth, resulting in longer falling times. This effect can be simulated on Earth by taking advantage of air resistance and buoyancy, which cause low density objects to fall slowly enough to approximate objects falling on the surface of Mars. We describe a computer simulation based on an experiment that approximates Martian gravity, and verify our numerical results by performing the experiment.

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P. Pirkola and P. Hall
Wed, 24 Feb 16

Comments: 2015 Phys. Educ. 50 643

Science Learning via Participation in Online Citizen Science [IMA]

We investigate the development of scientific content knowledge of volunteers participating in online citizen science projects in the Zooniverse (, including the astronomy projects Galaxy Zoo ( and Planet Hunters ( We use econometric methods to test how measures of project participation relate to success in a science quiz, controlling for factors known to correlate with scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists believe they are learning about both the content and processes of science through their participation. Won’t don’t directly test the latter, but we find evidence to support the former – that more actively engaged participants perform better in a project-specific science knowledge quiz, even after controlling for their general science knowledge. We interpret this as evidence of learning of science content inspired by participation in online citizen science.

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K. Masters, E. Oh, J. Cox, et. al.
Mon, 25 Jan 16

Comments: 32 pages (9 pages of Appendix material). Accepted for publication in the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM; this http URL)

Everyday Radio Telescope [CL]

We have developed an affordable, portable college level radio telescope for amateur radio astronomy which can be used to provide hands-on experience with the fundamentals of a radio telescope and an insight into the realm of radio astronomy. With our set-up one can measure brightness temperature and flux of the Sun at 11.2 GHz and calculate the beam width of the antenna. The set-up uses commercially available satellite television receiving system and parabolic dish antenna. We report the detection of point sources like Saturn and extended sources like the galactic arm of the Milky way. We have also developed python pipeline, which are available for free download, for data acquisition and visualization.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Mandal, D. Agarwal, P. Kumar, et. al.
Wed, 13 Jan 16

Comments: 13 pages, 7 figures

Physics GRE Scores of Prize Postdoctoral Fellows in Astronomy [CL]

The Physics GRE is currently a required element of the graduate admissions process in nearly all U.S. astronomy programs; however, its predictive power and utility as a means of selecting “successful” applicants has never been examined. We circulated a short questionnaire to 271 people who have held U.S. prize postdoctoral fellowships in astrophysics between 2010-2015, asking them to report their Physics GRE scores (this should not in any way be interpreted as a belief that a prize fellowship is the best or only metric of “success” in astronomy). The response rate was 64%, and the responding sample is unbiased with respect to the overall gender distribution of prize fellows. The responses reveal that the Physics GRE scores of prize fellows do not adhere to any minimum percentile score and show no statistically significant correlation with the number of first author papers published. As an example, a Physics GRE percentile cutoff of 60% would have eliminated 44% of 2010-2015 U.S. prize postdoctoral fellows, including 60% of the female fellows. From these data, we find no evidence that the Physics GRE can be used as an effective predictor of “success” either in or beyond graduate school.

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E. Levesque, R. Bezanson and G. Tremblay
Mon, 14 Dec 15

Comments: 12 pages, 5 figures

Atomic beings and the discovery of gravity [CEA]

We aim to bring a new perspective about some aspects of the current research in Cosmology. We start with a brief introduction about the main developments of the field in the last century; then we introduce an analogy that shall elucidate the main difficulties that observational sciences involve, which might be part of the issue related to some of the contemporary cosmological problems. The analogy investigates how microscopic beings could ever discover and understand gravitational phenomena.

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G. Conto and G. Franzmann
Wed, 18 Nov 15

Comments: 16 pages, 2 figures

Astronomía al Aire: Media Convergence in Astronomy & Astrophysics [CL]

We describe the experience of running an Astrophysics outreach initiative involving traditional mass media like radio broadcast and new digital media like blog, microblogging and internet video channel. Some very successful preliminary results are also presented. This unique experience is helping to create new science informal education environments for Spanish speaking people in Latin America.

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L. Nunez and H. Rago
Thu, 29 Oct 15

Comments: N/A

A New Lecture-Tutorial for Teaching about Molecular Excitations and Synchrotron Radiation [CL]

Light and spectroscopy are among the most important and frequently taught topics in introductory, college-level, general education astronomy courses. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of observational data studied by astronomers arrives at Earth in the form of light. While there are many processes by which matter can emit and absorb light, Astro 101 courses typically limit their instruction to the Bohr model of the atom and electron energy level transitions. In this paper, we report on the development of a new Lecture-Tutorial to help students learn about other processes that are responsible for the emission and absorption of light, namely molecular rotations, molecular vibrations, and the acceleration of charged particles by magnetic fields.

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C. Wallace, E. Prather, S. Hornstein, et. al.
Tue, 8 Sep 15

Comments: 13 pages, 7 figures Accepted for publication in The Physics Teacher

Characterization of transiting exoplanets by way of differential photometry [CL]

This paper describes a simple activity for plotting and characterizing the light curve from an exoplanet transit event by way of differential photometry analysis. Using free digital imaging software, participants analyse a series of telescope images with the goal of calculating various exoplanet parameters, including its size, orbital radius and habitability. The activity has been designed for a high school or undergraduate university level and introduces fundamental concepts in astrophysics and an understanding of the basis for exoplanetary science, the transit method and digital photometry.

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M. Cowley and S. Hughes
Fri, 4 Sep 15

Comments: 8 pages, 7 figures, published in Phys. Educ

Numerical radiative transfer with state-of-the-art iterative methods made easy [IMA]

This article presents an on-line tool ( and its accompanying software ressources for the numerical solution of basic radiation transfer out of local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE). State-of-the-art stationary iterative methods such as Accelerated $\Lambda$-Iteration and Gauss-Seidel schemes, using a short characteristics-based formal solver are used. We also comment on typical numerical experiments associated to the basic non-LTE radiation problem. These ressources are intended for the largest use and benefit, in support to more classical radiation transfer lectures usually given at the Master level.

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J. Lambert, F. Paletou, E. Josselin, et. al.
Fri, 4 Sep 15

Comments: 8 pages, 5 figures – see also (and use!) this http URL

High energy astroparticle physics for high school students [IMA]

The questions about the origin and type of cosmic particles are not only fascinating for scientists in astrophysics, but also for young enthusiastic high school students. To familiarize them with research in astroparticle physics, the Pierre Auger Collaboration agreed to make 1% of its data publicly available. The Pierre Auger Observatory investigates cosmic rays at the highest energies and consists of more than 1600 water Cherenkov detectors, located near Malarg\”{u}e, Argentina. With publicly available data from the experiment, students can perform their own hands-on analysis. In the framework of a so-called Astroparticle Masterclass organized alongside the context of the German outreach network Netzwerk Teilchenwelt, students get a valuable insight into cosmic ray physics and scientific research concepts. We present the project and experiences with students.

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M. Krause, H. Bretz, L. Classen, et. al.
Tue, 18 Aug 15

Comments: 8 pages, 5 figures, Proceedings of the 34th International Cosmic Ray Conference (ICRC2015), The Hague, The Netherlands, PoS(ICRC2015)304

The Duhem-Quine thesis and the dark matter problem [CL]

There are few opportunities in introductory physics for a genuine discussion of the philosophy of science, especially in cases where the physical principles are straightforward and the mathematics is simple. Terrestrial classical mechanics satisfies these requirements, but students new to physics usually carry too many incorrect or misleading preconceptions about the subject for it to be analyzed epistemologically. The problem of dark matter, and especially the physics of spiral galaxy velocity rotation curves, is a straightforward application of Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, and is just enough removed from everyday experience to be analyzed from a fresh perspective. It is proposed to teach students about important issues in the philosophy of physics, including Bacon’s induction, Popper’s falsifiability, and the Duhem-Quine thesis, all in light of the dark matter problem. These issues can be discussed in an advanced classical mechanics course, or, with limited simplification, at the end of a first course in introductory mechanics. The goal is for students to understand at a deeper level how the physics community has arrived at the current state of knowledge.

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M. Reynolds
Thu, 23 Jul 15

Comments: 15 pages, 3 figures, submitted to the American Journal of Physics

The Quantitative Reasoning for College Science (QuaRCS) Assessment, 1: Development and Validation [CL]

Science is an inherently quantitative endeavor, and general education science courses are taken by a majority of college students. As such, they are a powerful venue for advancing students’ skills and attitudes toward mathematics. This article reports on the development and validation of the Quantitative Reasoning for College Science (QuaRCS) Assessment, a numeracy assessment instrument designed for college-level general education science students. It has been administered to more than four thousand students over eight semesters of refinement. We show that the QuaRCS is able to distinguish varying levels of quantitative literacy and present performance statistics for both individual items and the instrument as a whole. Responses from a survey of forty-eight Astronomy and Mathematics educators show that these two groups share views regarding which quantitative skills are most important in the contexts of science literacy and educated citizenship, and the skills assessed with the QuaRCS are drawn from these rankings. The fully-developed QuaRCS assessment was administered to nearly two thousand students in nineteen general education science courses and one STEM major course in early 2015, and results reveal that the instrument is valid for both populations.

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K. Follette, D. McCarthy, E. Dokter, et. al.
Thu, 16 Jul 15

Comments: N/A

From the Scale Model of the Sky to the Armillary Sphere [CL]

It is customary to employ a semi-spherical scale model to describe the apparent path of the Sun across the sky, whether it be its diurnal motion or its variation throughout the year. A flat surface and three bent semi-rigid wires (representing the three solar arcs during solstices and equinoxes) will do the job. On the other hand, since very early times, there have been famous armillary spheres built and employed by the most outstanding astronomers for the description of the celestial movements. In those instruments, many of them now considered true works of art, Earth lies in the center of the cosmos and the observer looks at the whole “from the outside.” Of course, both devices, the scale model of the sky and the armillary sphere, serve to represent the movement of the Sun, and in this paper we propose to show their equivalence by a simple construction. Knowing the basics underlying the operation of the armillary sphere will give us confidence to use it as a teaching resource in school.

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A. Gangui, R. Casazza and C. Paez
Fri, 15 May 15

Comments: Published version available at this http URL

Animating Fermi – A Collaboration Between Art Students and Astronomers [CL]

Undergraduate animation students at the Maryland Institute College of Art teamed up with scientists from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to produce a set of animations on several astronomy topics. We describe the process and discuss the results, including educational benefits and the cross-cultural experience. These animations are freely available online.

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L. Arcadias and R. Corbet
Thu, 14 May 15

Comments: 2 pages. Accepted for publication in Leonardo (Transactions). Main animations available at this https URL

A dimensao espacial das fases da Lua: contribuicoes para uma proposta de ensino [CL]

In this chapter, we present some reflections about the learning process -and its implications in the teaching- of notions related to the phases of the Moon.

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A. Gangui, E. Dicovskiy and M. Iglesias
Thu, 14 May 15

Comments: Article in Portuguese, PDF document including 11 figures. Published version available at this http URL in Ensino de astronomia na escola: concepcoes, ideias e praticas, edited by M.D.Longhini, Campinas: Atomo editora, Chapter 17, p. 339-358, 2014

Free the Globe [CL]

The parallel globe is an old, very simple and ingenious device that, when systematically employed in astronomy classes, becomes a teaching tool with great potential. Properly oriented according to the local meridian, this instrument allows us to follow the shadows in any region of the Earth that is illuminated by the Sun, as well as offering a clear view of the terminator, the fast-moving grey line that divides the day from the night on our planet. With knowledge of the shadows, it is possible to estimate the latitude of a site and to infer local solar time anywhere in the planet’s sunlit hemisphere. Furthermore, by using the parallel globe we may understand simply the existence of regions in which objects sometimes do not cast shadows, and also other regions which, on the contrary, sometimes become “long-shadow” countries. In this work, we first review the device and the basics of its assembly and operation. In the second part, we describe in detail some activities targeted to facilitate its use in the classroom, which our research group has been developing during teacher training workshops.

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A. Gangui
Thu, 23 Apr 15

Comments: Article in Spanish, PDF document including 14 figures. Published version available at this http URL

Simulating the Phases of the Moon Shortly After Its Formation [CL]

The leading theory for the origin of the Moon is the giant impact hypothesis, in which the Moon was formed out of the debris left over from the collision of a Mars-sized body with the Earth. Soon after its formation, the orbit of the Moon may have been very different than it is today. We have simulated the phases of the Moon in a model for its formation wherein the Moon develops a highly elliptical orbit with its major axis tangential to the Earth’s orbit. This note describes these simulations and their pedagogical value.

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E. Noordeh, P. Hall and M. Cuk
Wed, 11 Mar 15

Comments: 4 pages, 2 figures

Peer-review Platform for Astronomy Education Activities [IMA]

Hundreds of thousands of astronomy education activities exist, but their discoverability and quality is highly variable. The web platform for astronomy education activities, astroEDU, presented in this paper tries to solve these issues. Using the familiar peer-review workflow of scientific publications, astroEDU is improving standards of quality, visibility and accessibility, while providing credibility to these astronomy education activities. astroEDU targets activity guides, tutorials and other educational activities in the area of astronomy education, prepared by teachers, educators and other education specialists. Each of the astroEDU activities is peer-reviewed by an educator as well as an astronomer to ensure a high standard in terms of scientific content and educational value. All reviewed materials are then stored in a free open online database, enabling broad distribution in a range of different formats. In this way astroEDU is not another web repository for educational resources but a mechanism for peer-reviewing and publishing high-quality astronomy education activities in an open access way. This paper will provide an account on the implementation and first findings of the use of astroEDU.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Russo, T. Heenatigala, E. Gomez, et. al.
Thu, 29 Jan 15

Comments: 8 pages, Published, 2015, eLearning Papers #40 ISSN: 1887-1542

Introduction to the application of the dynamical systems theory in the study of the dynamics of cosmological models of dark energy [CL]

The theory of the dynamical systems is a very complex subject which has brought several surprises in the recent past in connection with the theory of chaos and fractals. The application of the tools of the dynamical systems in cosmological settings is less known in spite of the amount of published scientific papers on this subject. In this paper a — mostly pedagogical — introduction to the application in cosmology of the basic tools of the dynamical systems theory is presented. It is shown that, in spite of their amazing simplicity, these allow to extract essential information on the asymptotic dynamics of a wide variety of cosmological models. The power of these tools is illustrated within the context of the so called $\Lambda$CDM and scalar field models of dark energy. This paper is suitable for teachers, undergraduate and postgraduate students from physics and mathematics disciplines.

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R. Garcia-Salcedo, T. Gonzalez, F. Horta-Rangel, et. al.
Wed, 21 Jan 15

Comments: 15 pages, 2 figures

Crowdfunding Astronomy Outreach Projects: Lessons Learned from the UNAWE Crowdfunding Campaign [CL]

In recent years, crowdfunding has become a popular method of funding new technology or entertainment products, or artistic projects. The idea is that people or projects ask for many small donations from individuals who support the proposed work, rather than a large amount from a single source. Crowdfunding is usually done via an online portal or platform which handles the financial transactions involved. The Universe Awareness (UNAWE) programme decided to undertake a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign centring on the resource Universe in a Box2. In this article we present the lessons learned and best practices from that campaign.

Read this paper on arXiv…

A. Ashton, P. Russo and T. Heenatigala
Mon, 8 Dec 14

Comments: Published – Communicating Astronomy with the Public journal #16 (4 pages) (2014)

GrayStar: A Web application for pedagogical stellar atmosphere and spectral line modelling and visualisation II: Methods [SSA]

GrayStar is a stellar atmospheric and spectral line modelling, post-processing, and visualisation code, suitable for classroom demonstrations and laboratory-style assignments, that has been developed in Java and deployed in JavaScript and HTML. The only software needed to compute models and post-processed observables, and to visualise the resulting atmospheric structure and observables, is a common Web browser. Therefore, the code will run on any common PC or related X86 (-64) computer of the type that typically serves classroom data projectors, is found in undergraduate computer laboratories, or that students themselves own, including those with highly portable form-factors such as net-books and tablets. The user requires no experience with compiling source code, reading data files, or using plotting packages. More advanced students can view the JavaScript source code using the developer tools provided by common Web browsers. The code is based on the approximate gray atmospheric solution and runs quickly enough on current common PCs to provide near-instantaneous results, allowing for real time exploration of parameter space. I describe the computational strategy and methodology as necessitated by Java and JavaScript. In an accompanying paper, I describe the user interface and its inputs and outputs and suggest specific pedagogical applications and projects. I have made the application itself, and the HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Java source files available to the community. The Web application and source files may be found at

Read this paper on arXiv…

C. Short
Mon, 8 Sep 14

Comments: 23 pages, 2 figures. Necessarily includes some overlap with astro-ph submission GrayStar: A Web application for pedagogical stellar atmosphere and spectral line modelling and visualisation

Essays on Eclipses, Transits and Occultations as Teaching Tools in the Introductory Astronomy College Course [CL]

We occasionally include projects in our learner-centered introductory astronomy college course to enable non-science major students explore some astronomical concepts in more detail than otherwise. Such projects also highlight ongoing or upcoming astronomical events. We hope that students will feel more interested in astronomy through projects tied to astronomical events. In Spring 2012, we offered short essays focused on eclipses, transits and occultations to promote the rare transit of Venus that occurred on June 5th, 2012. We asked students to write two short essays from three that were offered. The essays contained descriptive and conceptual parts. They were meant to serve as teaching tools. 62% of 106 essays from 55 students earned A, B or C grades. 21% of 47 feedback survey respondents felt the essays increased their interest in astronomy. 49% of respondents felt that the essays were not educationally beneficial and should not be offered again. The most common written response to our survey indicated that students need more guidance and better preparation in writing successful essays. Since students found the conceptual parts of the essays difficult, in the future we will provide relevant activities prior to essay deadlines to help students create successful essays.

Read this paper on arXiv…

N. Dcruz
Wed, 6 Aug 14

Comments: 28 pages, including 2 figures

A Review of High School Level Astronomy Student Research Projects over the last two decades [CL]

Since the early 1990s with the arrival of a variety of new technologies, the capacity for authentic astronomical research at the high school level has skyrocketed. This potential, however, has not realized the bright-eyed hopes and dreams of the early pioneers who expected to revolutionise science education through the use of telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation in the classroom. In this paper, a general history and analysis of these attempts is presented. We define what we classify as an Astronomy Research in the Classroom (ARiC) project and note the major dimensions on which these projects differ before describing the 22 major student research projects active since the early 1990s. This is followed by a discussion of the major issues identified that affected the success of these projects and provide suggestions for similar attempts in the future.

Read this paper on arXiv…

M. Fitzgerald, R. Hollow, L. Rebull, et. al.
Fri, 25 Jul 14

Comments: Accepted for Publication in PASA. 26 pages

Self-force driven motion in curved spacetimeS [CL]

We adopt the Dirac-Detweiler-Whiting radiative and regular effective field in curved spacetime. Thereby, we derive straightforwardly the first order perturbative correction to the geodesic of the background in a covariant form, for the extreme mass ratio two-body problem. The correction contains the self-force contribution and a background metric dependent term.

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A. Spallicci, P. Ritter and S. Aoudia
Mon, 19 May 14

Comments: To appear in Int. J. Geom. Meth. Mod. Phys

Fourteen Years of Education and Public Outreach for the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer Mission [IMA]

The Sonoma State University (SSU) Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) group leads the Swift Education and Public Outreach program. For Swift, we have previously implemented broad efforts that have contributed to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate E/PO portfolio across many outcome areas. Our current focus is on highly-leveraged and demonstrably successful activities, including the wide-reaching Astrophysics Educator Ambassador program, and our popular websites: Epo’s Chronicles and the Gamma-ray Burst (GRB) Skymap. We also make major contributions working collaboratively through the Astrophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum (SEPOF) on activities such as the on-line educator professional development course NASA’s Multiwavelength Universe. Past activities have included the development of many successful education units including the GEMS Invisible Universe guide, the Gamma-ray Burst Educator’s guide, and the Newton’s Laws Poster set; informal activities including support for the International Year of Astronomy, the development of a toolkit about supernovae for the amateur astronomers in the Night Sky Network, and the Swift paper instrument and glider models.

Read this paper on arXiv…

L. Cominsky, K. McLin and A. Simonnet
Mon, 12 May 14

Comments: 7th Huntsville Gamma-Ray Burst Symposium, GRB 2013: paper 42 in eConf Proceedings C1304143

A Workshop that Works [CL]

The main goal of a scientific workshop is to bring together experts in a specific field or related fields to collaborate, to discuss, and to creatively make progress in a particular area. The organizational aspects of such a meeting play a critical role in achieving these goals. We here present suggestions from scientists to scientists that hopefully help in organizing a successful scientific workshop that maximizes collaboration and creativity.

Read this paper on arXiv…

N. Yunes and J. Key
Tue, 29 Apr 14

The University of Washington Mobile Planetarium Do-it-Yourself Guide [IMA]

The UW Mobile Planetarium Project is a student driven effort to bring astronomy to high schools and the Seattle community. We designed and built an optics solution to project WorldWide Telescope in an inflatable planetarium from a laptop and off-the-shelf HD projector. In our first six months of operation, undergraduates at the UW gave planetarium shows to over 1500 people and 150 high school students created and presented their own astronomy projects in our dome, at their school. This document aims to share the technical aspects behind the project in order for others to replicate or adapt our model to their needs. This UW Mobile Planetarium was made possible thanks to a Hubble Space Telescope Education/Public Outreach Grant.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Rosenfield, J. Gaily, O. Fraser, et. al.
Tue, 15 Apr 14

Examining Perceptions of Astronomy Images Across Mobile Platforms [CL]

Modern society has led many people to become consumers of data unlike previous generations. How this shift in the way information is communicated and received – including in areas of science – and affects perception and comprehension is still an open question. This study examined one aspect of this digital age: perceptions of astronomical images and their labels, on mobile platforms. Participants were n = 2183 respondents to an online survey, and two focus groups (n = 12 astrophysicists; n = 11 lay public). Online participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 12 images, and compared two label formats. Focus groups compared mobile devices and label formats. Results indicated that the size and quality of the images on the mobile devices affected label comprehension and engagement. The question label format was significantly preferred to the fun fact. Results are discussed in terms of effective science communication using technology.

Read this paper on arXiv…

L. Smith, K. Arcand, J. Smith, et. al.
Tue, 25 Mar 14

A field study of data analysis exercises in a bachelor physics course using the internet platform VISPA [CL]

Bachelor physics lectures on particle physics and astrophysics were complemented by exercises related to data analysis and data interpretation at the RWTH Aachen University recently. The students performed these exercises using the internet platform VISPA, which provides a development environment for physics data analyses. We describe the platform and its application within the physics course, and present the results of a student survey. The students acceptance of the learning project was positive. The level of acceptance was related to their individual preference for learning with a computer. Furthermore, students with good programming skills favor working individually, while students who attribute themselves having low programming abilities favor working in teams. The students appreciated approaching actual research through the data analysis tasks.

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M. Erdmann, R. Fischer, C. Glaser, et. al.
Thu, 13 Feb 14

A Thousand Problems in Cosmology: Interaction in the Dark Sector [CL]

This is one chapter of the collection of problems in cosmology, in which we assemble the problems that concern one of the most distinctive features of modern cosmology—the interaction in the Dark Sector. The evolution of any broadly applied model is accompanied by multiple generalizations that aim to resolve conceptual difficulties and to explain the ever-growing pool of observational data. In the case of Standard Cosmological Model one of the most promising directions of generalization is replacement of the cosmological constant with a more complicated, dynamic, form of dark energy and incorporation of interaction between the dark components—dark energy (DE) and dark matter (DM). Typically, DE models are based on scalar fields minimally coupled to gravity, and do not implement explicit coupling of the field to the background DM. However, there is no fundamental reason for this assumption in the absence of an underlying symmetry which would suppress the coupling. Given that we do not know the true nature of either DE or DM, we cannot exclude the possibility that there is some kind of coupling between them. Whereas interactions between DE and normal matter particles are heavily constrained by observations (e.g. in the solar system and gravitational experiments on Earth), this is not the case for DM particles. In other words, it is possible for the dark components to interact with each other while not being coupled to standard model particles. Therefore, the possibility of DE-DM interaction should be investigated with utmost gravity.
This version contains only formulations of 117 problems. The full collection, with solutions included, is available in the form of a wiki-based resource at The cosmological community is welcome to contribute to its development.

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Tue, 24 Dec 13

Imaging the Moon II: Webcam CCD observations & analysis (a two week lab for non-majors) [CL]

Presented is a successful two week lab involving real sky observations of the Moon in which students make telescopic observations and analyze their own images. Originally developed around the 35 mm film camera as a common household object adapted for astronomical work, the lab transitioned to use the webcam as film photography evolved into an obscure specialty technology and increasing numbers of students had little familiarity with it. The printed circuit board with the CCD is harvested from a retail webcam and affixed to a tube to mount on a telescope in place of an eyepiece. Image frames are compiled to form a lunar mosaic and crater sizes are measured. Students also work through the logistical steps of telescope time assignment and scheduling, keeping to schedule and working with uncertainties of weather, in ways paralleling research observations. Because there is no need for a campus observatory, this lab can be replicated at a wide variety of institutions.

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Mon, 9 Dec 13

Evaluation of a College Freshman Diversity Research Program [IMA]

Since 2005, the Pre-Major in Astronomy Program (Pre-MAP) at the University of Washington (UW) Department of Astronomy has made a concentrated effort to recruit and retain underrepresented undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This paper evaluates Pre-MAP in the context of the larger UW student population using data compiled by the University’s student database. We evaluate the Pre-MAP program in terms of our goals of recruiting a more diverse population than the University and in terms of a higher fraction of students successfully completing degrees. We find that Pre-MAP serves a higher percentage of underrepresented minorities and equal percentages of women compared to entering freshmen classes at UW. Additionally, Pre-MAP has a higher percentage of degree completion with higher average GPA’s and similar time to completion when compared to UW as a whole and other STEM majors, particularly with students that place into lower-level math courses (such as basic algebra or pre-calculus).

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Fri, 22 Nov 13

The occultation of Arcturus in the Vatican [IMA]

The dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica plays the role of the Moon during a stellar occultation and Arcturus is the target star. This occultation-like phenomenon is useful for introducing to occultation astronomy a class of student up to university level. It can be organized very easily at the convenience of the audience. Techical and didactical aspects are discussed; the video is available at this http URL and has been realized with an ordinary camcorder.

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Date added: Fri, 25 Oct 13

A Thousand Problems in Cosmology: Horizons [CL]

This is one chapter of the collection of problems in cosmology, in which we assemble the problems that concern one of the most distinctive features of general relativity and cosmology—the horizons.
The first part gives an elementary introduction into the concept in the cosmological context, then we move to more formal exposition of the subject and consider first simple, and then composite models, such as $\Lambda$CDM. The fourth section elevates the rigor one more step and explores the causal structure of different simple cosmological models in terms of conformal diagrams. The section on black holes relates the general scheme of constructing conformal diagrams for stationary black hole spacetimes. The consequent parts focus on more specific topics, such as the various problems regarding the Hubble sphere, inflation and holography.
This version contains only formulations of 97 problems. The full collection, with solutions included, is available in the form of a wiki-based resource at this http URL The cosmological community is welcome to contribute to its development.

Read this paper on arXiv…

Date added: Thu, 24 Oct 13