Category Archives: Austin Astronomical Society

Dr. Andrew Howell shines at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Last week, I had a great time at Dr. Andrew Howell’s Hot Science – Cool Talk, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars:  The Past and Future of Our Universe.

Here I am after all the fun activities before the talk:

Let me tell you about them.

Making a Moon Lander

For my first activity, I made a moon lander at one of the stations.  I started out with cardboard, cotton balls, paper, straws, and lots of tape.  I also had two big marshmallows, which represented my astronauts.

I had to build a moon lander that would safely transport my astronauts to the ground.  My lander could not tip over, and I could not cover the top part where my astronauts were cowering.

After I built the lander, I dropped it from shoulder height.  It landed straight up and no astronauts were tossed out to their doom, so that’s was good.

Then I went to test it halfway up the nearby stairs.  At that height, I was scared that it would fall to one side, but I was very pleased that it landed straight up.  My astronauts were safe!

It was not so with some of the other astronauts.  Some landers flipped over and astronauts flew out…to their doom.  Some astronauts made it to the ground, but then they were eaten!  I decided to let my astronauts live.

Other Fun Activities

Our other fun activities included making and flying paper airplanes and drawing constellations.  There was also a trivia table where we could get stars for answering questions like:

  • How many protons are in hydrogen?
  • What gas is the most abundant in our atmosphere?
  • What gas does our sun burn on?

I’m learning about chemistry in my science class this semester, so these questions were a lot of fun.

Austin Planetarium

There were a lot of groups helping out with fun activities before Dr. Howell’s talk, including the Austin Planetarium.  (They’re hoping to build one soon!)

Here I am near their solar system exhibit:

Student Activity Center Auditorium

Dr. Howell’s talk was held in a different location than the other Hot Science presentations.  This talk was in the Student Activity Center Auditorium.  It’s a more modern building with fancier equipment, which was neat, but I still like the Welch Hall Auditorium.  Welch has a huge periodic table of the elements on its walls!

Here’s a picture of the Student Activity Center Auditorium before Dr. Howell’s talk:

There was also a Central Texas Model United Nations 2012 assembly going on in the building with high schoolers from across the state.  I met some students who were representing China as their nation, and from the UN program guide, I saw that St. Michael’s Academy and Westwood High School from Austin were also participating.  Cool!

And Now on to Dark Energy and Beyond!

Dr. Howell’s talk was awesome, and it was standing room only!  He showed a lot of cool clips from his National Geographic Channel TV series, “Known Universe”, including simulated explosions of a supernova using a large, gas filled balloon in an open area.  Dr. Howell set it off nearby with a trigger, and he said that even he was startled by how powerful it was.

It was amazing to learn about how when there are two stars nearby and one of the stars collapses into a white dwarf, it can pull energy from its neighboring star.  The collapsed star gets so much energy that it can’t handle it, and it explodes.  Dr. Howell and his astronomy team saw such an explosion from his Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.

Watch a video replay of Dr. Howell’s amazing talk

Dr. Howell had a really long week, working and presenting with the other scientists during the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Austin, but he was great staying long after his talk ended to answer questions from a long, long line of kids.

Thanks, Dr. Howell, Dr. Banner, and Dr. Tafuro!!!!

P.S. If you love learning about the universe, there’s another great Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation later this spring on Friday, April 13, 2012 asking if there’s “Life on Europa?”  I can’t wait to find out!

Learn more about past Hot Science – Cool Talks


Filed under American Astronomical Society, Austin Astronomical Society, Central Texas Model United Nations, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, National Geographic Channel, University of Texas

Intercepted Transmission to Dr. Andrew Howell for Hot Science – Cool Talks

Although pursued by an invasive species of unknown origin, Commander Ben sends an urgent transmission to Dr. Andrew Howell to get important news and a preview of his upcoming Hot Science – Cool Talk, “Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars:  The Past and Future of Our Universe”.

Don’t miss his presentation on Friday, January 13, 2012, 7 pm CT at The University of Texas at Austin in the Student Activity Center Auditorium. Be sure to get there early and join in the fun pre-lecture activities beginning at 5:45.

Dr. Howell is a staff scientist with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network and host of the third season of the National Geographic Channel series “Known Universe.” His talk is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin – Environmental Science Institute.

Learn more about the Hot Science – Cool Talks series, including four great video interviews with Dr. Chris Kirk’s on his presentation, “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye”.

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Filed under American Astronomical Society, Austin Astronomical Society, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Known Universe, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, My Eye Your Eye and the Eye of the Aye-Aye, National Geographic Channel, University of Texas

Flintknapping and Great Nature Activities at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Commander Ben joins flintknapping craftsman JC Pollard and Kim Johnson at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Earlier this month, I had a great time at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, learning all about flintknapping from JC Pollard, a talented craftsman.

He taught our group how to create an arrowhead from flint and talked about how heat treating a piece of flint in a kiln makes it easier to flake pieces of the flint off and shape your arrowhead. He also warned us not to put a piece of flint directly in a fire since it would just pop and break apart.

I created two arrowheads from larger pieces of flint. Mr. Pollard let us borrow his tools, and Kim Johnson, who is the volunteer and administrative coordinator at the preserve, also let us use safety glasses for the activity. Mr. Pollard said that copper is much better to use than other flintknapping tools since it is similar in density to a deer antler, which is what the native Indian tribes would have used.

Thanks, Mr. Pollard, for the wonderful experience! With my spearpoint, now I’m armed and ready for those invasives!

A nature jewel in the Texas Hill Country under siege by invasive species

The preserve helps to keep a wonderful part of Austin undeveloped and available for habitat and enjoyment. It’s part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), but it too is under siege by invasive species.

Mr. Mitch Robinson talked with me about how the preserve was being invaded by ornamentals that are not native to Texas. The invasive plants are moving in from properties surrounding the preserve, and these invasives crowd out native species, create dense monocultures, and present a fire hazard.

Fortunately, he’s helping to teach neighbors to the preserve about the harm that invasive species bring to our ecosystem and to encourage them to plant native species. A dedicated team of volunteers also come out during land management workdays each month to help remove invasive species. That’s great!

During the 2011 Texas invasives conference, I had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Robinson and found out which easy-to-grow ornamental is his least favorite invasive plant.

Many great activities at the preserve

I remember one of my first visits to the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve many years ago. My Dad and Mom drove down a dirt road from loop 360 in Austin to the main house at the preserve, and I spent the afternoon with a crowd of kids learning about insects. The entire open area was filled with different insect exhibits.

I think I remember touching a hissing cockroach. (There were a lot of bugs to look at or handle there!) I remember a bee keeper talking about the loss of bees because of a mite or some environmental problems which lead to the collapse of many bee colonies.

I’d encourage you to visit the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve and be a part of one of the many upcoming activities. I loved flintknapping, and in the future, I’m looking forward to stargazing on the preserve (which is hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society), removing invasives, and learning more about the wonder and beauty of our environment.

Commander Ben signing off…

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Austin Astronomical Society, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Flintknapping, Mitch Robinson, Ms. Kim Johnson, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve