Category Archives: Writing

My Latest Astronomy Writing

ImageIt occurs to me that sometimes I’m not the best when it comes to pointing out my various non-travel articles that I publish, and the best way to fix this is to jot them down in a quick post so you can check them out.  So without much further ado, here we go…

Firstly, as the photo above implies, I have an article in the May 2014 issue of Astronomy- a rather long one too, all about the lives of supermassive stars.  To excerpt the first paragraph,

Supermassive stars are the true rock stars of the universe: they shine bright, live fast, and die young.  Defined as stars with a stellar mass of a hundred times that of our Sun or greater, these stars can be millions of times more luminous than the Sun and burn their fuel several thousand times more quickly.  As most people know, if you have a hundred times more money than your neighbor but spend it several thousand times faster you will run out of it more quickly, and the same happens for stars- while our Sun’s lifetime is about 10 billion years, supermassive stars die in just a few million years in explosions that can be detected more than halfway across the universe.  These are stars that lead unusual stellar lives, from beginning to end.

How could you not want to run to your nearest newsstand and pick up a copy of the magazine after reading that?!

Ok, if you are too cozy in front of your screen to run out into the real world, I just published an article today on Astrobites all about how Arecibo has detected a Fast Radio Burst.  What are they, and why should you care?  All is explained if you follow the link!

(Also, it occurs to me I likely forgot to link one or two Astrobites articles over the past few months.  So if you are particularly interested in them, my author page with all my articles for them is here.)

Over, and out.

On the Radio Friday March 14!

A quick note to say I’ll be on the radio tomorrow!  For anyone in the Amsterdam area, tune in to 99.4 FM for English Breakfast Radio– I am on from 8am on March 14 discussing radio astronomy.  How do astronomers use radio waves to learn about the universe?  What happens when a black hole eats a star?  And can I explain this well enough at an hour where I’m usually still sleeping?  Listen in to find out!

Also, for those of you who are from further afield than Amsterdam or missed it- that is to say, most of you- you can follow the link above where you can find live streaming and an archive of the show.

And finally, for a full dose of astronomy, I still regularly contribute to Astrobites where I summarize an astronomical paper every month or so.  Do take a look there if you are at all interested in mysterious fast radio bursts, or how the galaxy formed, or whatever else papers seem interesting around when I am facing a deadline.

Over, and out.

2013 in Review

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I found a neat website that lets you map out your travels as you can see above, and I put in everywhere I have spent a night in the past year to see how it looked.  Ye gods, I am tired just looking at it, but you don’t exactly know how things will turn out when they start…

A few notes:

– Most of my farthest-flung travels to the US were dictated in some part by my sister’s wedding this past summer.  Presumably she will only ever do this once, so I was more than happy to earn an elite airline status for this!

– If this year had a travel theme, it is somehow this year evolved into a year of exploring the Mediterranean.  I wasn’t planning on it, but I can pinpoint exactly when this happened: back in February I went to Lisbon on a cheap weekend fare after a breakup, and it turned out despite the dreary northern winter in the Netherlands it was sunny and 15C (~50s F) in Portugal.  Sunshine and scenery is good medicine for a soul trying to sort itself out, and it occurred to me then that southern Europe is a rather nice place to get to know. A combination of a godawful spring and work commitments finally ensured I kept going back to the Mare Nostrum.  Can’t complain!

– Similarly, as the Artie Aardvark posts show, it turns out astronomers travel a fair bit and this year work sent me to Belgium, Greece, the Canary Islands, and within the Netherlands.  It’s really hard to complain when your job decides to give you essentially a tour of European vacation spots for a decent part of the fall, but not all locations were equally exciting and it starts to get tiring when you’re away for the third week within two months (for a slog to the northern Netherlands in November, no less- vacation tours only last so long).

To writ, travel for work is almost always more interesting than working where you normally do, but it should not be confused with an actual holiday because you tend to arrive home exhausted.  Especially when your schedule is suddenly on a 7am-4pm sleep cycle during an observing run!

– Also, I should mention that back in the very first days of 2013 I went for a wonderful few days down to Moab, where I began collecting US National Park stamps (because this is clearly a good hobby to start when you no longer live in the US).  Despite a locational handicap I managed to get 29 stamps in four regions of the US this year, which sounds really impressive until you visit Washington DC and realize 16 of those stamps are from all the various memorials (and 6 from the various Boston National Historical sites).  Still, on the list of “incredibly geeky travel hobbies” I’d say I’m doing pretty well there!

So, what’s next?  Well I took the liberty of filling out the rest of the year’s route back to the US for Christmas (NPS stamp #30 should be picked up within the week at Cape Canaveral!)- a country that I’ve noticed somehow slid into more “a place I used to live” status than “home” when I wasn’t paying attention, but that sentiment is complex and outside the realm of this post.  Beyond that, well, nothing’s booked yet.  I have some checks from recent writing that I’m determined to spend on a nice spring break scuba diving because it’s really awesome to realize you made enough money writing to go on a diving trip.  I have realized that the summer after next will not exist for me because my thesis will be due, so I really need to spend some time on a good adventure during this one to someplace and am looking at my options.  And I know a large reason I wanted to live in Europe in the first place is how the list of nice places to visit is never-ending (Krakow! Norway! Porto! Nuremberg!), so no reason to assume that list will not be tackled.

Wishing a wonderful Merry Christmas and Happy 2014 to all who stumble across this corner of cyberspace.  Adventures are never as fun when you keep them to yourself, and it has been wonderful to share mine with you!

When it Rains, it Pours

If things are quiet here lately it probably correlates with how the off-blog writing is going well lately, and I have two things to announce:

1) I have a new monthly gig over at Astrobites, which is a site run by astronomy PhD students where we take new astronomy papers off the ArXiv and summarize them at an undergraduate level.  My first summary is up and is about “New Evidence of an Asteroid Encountering a Pulsar,” which is more or less exactly what it sounds like. (Meaning: awesome paper!) So that should be interesting, and we’ll see how it goes- if nothing else, I have a bigger incentive than ever to keep atop the latest literature.

2) The second and perhaps more important one is I’ve just had an article appear in the January 2013 issue of Sky & Telescope titled “Tuning In to Radio Jupiters.”  It’s all about how the race is on to detect the first extrasolar planet via radio, by way of interesting details on things like how Jupiter shoots radio lasers through its magnetic fields and how Nikola Tesla might have detected them.  Trust me, it’s cool and you should read it!

Over, and out.

As Seen in Astronomy Magazine

Working hard lately (Artie Aardvark Goes to Groningen, anyone?), but I wanted to check in and mention that you should go pick up the December 2013 edition of Astronomy to see my latest-and-greatest article.  It’s the one listed on the cover as “Super Graphic: Where are spacecraft now?” which is about, well, where spacecraft are now.  You know how you always hear about space missions like the Voyagers or the Vikings or whatever else, and then never hear about them again once their science results leave the spotlight?  Well this is a summary of humanity crashing spacecraft or flinging them into space or all sorts of things we deliberately or inadvertently do with them- researched by me so you don’t have to! (This is a classic example in science journalism of “if I’m wasting this much time reading up on this I can’t be the only one interested, so why not try to sell the article to someone?”)

Trust me, it’s cool, and in large part because the graphics are incredible– imagine the Solar System over several pages, with little planets and space missions and text placed where appropriate.  There is no way I am talented enough to do that part because my creativity does not go that way- Astronomy just has a wonderfully talented graphics guy- but I must say, it’s lovely when you have a vision for something and convince someone to make said vision despite your lack of talent to make it happen on your own.  Teamwork at its best!

So anyway, get yourself a copy of the December 2013 Astronomy if you’re interested, whether digital or print- it’s a good one!

In Which I Reveal I’m a Writer, Am Judged Insane

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So imagine this.  I was in the lovely American Book Center in the heart of Amsterdam (our flagship English language bookstore) about to buy an arguably trashy read I found in the bargain section.  The counter is right next to the giant news stand and while the clerk was ringing up my purchase I did a sudden double take when I saw what you see on the left.

I pulled the magazine out to confirm, with my heart beating rapidly- yes, this was the Astronomy magazine for which I wrote the cover article, sitting innocuously on the news stand with all the other magazines!

By this point the clerk wants the four Euro for the book and is giving me an odd look, so I feel obliged to explain.  “Sorry, but I wrote this cover article!” I say proudly.

“You wrote the cover.” He says this with a Dutch accent and a tone I’m not entirely certain of, but is very similar to one I hear if my native English pace of speech gets too fast and excited about something (which, let’s be honest, happens a decent amount).  So I explain.

“Yes, I’m an astronomer and I write, and I wrote this cover article.”  And I put the Astronomy magazine back on the newsstand- fun as it would be to purchase I have copies of the magazine already, and this is encouragingly the last one they have.

“I’m sure you did,” he says, with a funny look on his face.  It’s then I realize that the clerk’s tone is not the “I don’t understand” tone I assumed but rather one far more impossible to deal with- a tone that doesn’t just say “I don’t believe you” tone but downright “this girl is nuts!”

“The door is that way,” he says with the same tone and look as he points helpfully two meters behind us at a doorway that any sane, rational person can spot seeing as you have to walk past it to get to the counter.  And I realize at that moment you can’t actually tell someone you’re not crazy when they already think you’re making up being a scientist and writer for your own odd, perverted reasons.  So I go.

The funny thing though?  Though my pride took a hit the writer in me doesn’t really mind, as for the rest of my life I have a good story from it.

So my article made the cover of Astronomy Magazine…

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While I do a PhD in astronomy
And I write about what I know
I write about beauty, I write about truth
At a couple cents a word each go
But I’ve got all kinds of chills and all kinds of thrills
From what I just got to see:
That thrill that’ll greet ya when you see your feature
On the cover of Astronomy!

(Astronomy) Yep that’s my feature on the cover
(Astronomy) Gonna buy five copies for my mother
(Astronomy) Cause that’s my article
On the cover of Astronomy!

Ok, forgive me, because unlike other teenagers who dreamed about being on the cover of the Rolling Stone I happened to dream about writing for Astronomy.  So Almost Famous for geeks, but unlike most people my dream came true!

One gets a touch philosophical when achieving such dreams, but I will refrain from sharing them all here except to say that I wonder if I’m a writer now.  My conclusion is I think so, though certainly an astronomer first, so for now I will settle for being an astronomer-writer like a six-year-old who says she will be a rock star and the president and a pony.  It’s just like then, who’s going to tell you no?

Oh and of course, as you can all imagine from such a lovely cover the article inside is even better, so you should all go check it out in the March 2013 edition of Astronomy.  The article is about cosmic rays and the Pierre Auger Observatory which I visited two years ago while working on my master’s thesis- a nice souvenir from that time of my life!- and seems to be nicely received on social media and the like.  And hey, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t encourage everyone I know to go and check it out?!