Chasing Transits

CELESTE: How long this time? LE GENTIL: How long will I be gone? Three years. I swear to you, Celeste, on everything that’s holy: three years, no more. CELESTE: What if you miss it? LE GENTIL: The transit? I won’t. CELESTE: You missed the last one. Venus (the small dark dot) crosses the Sun. That […]

Why the eclipse mattered.

I have been hearing about Sunday’s annular eclipse for weeks. Earlier this month, I visited my parents in Albuquerque, and the eclipse was all my dad could talk about. Dad, known to the rest of the world as Dee Friesen, is President of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) and when I arrived at his house […]

Trust no one, and other lessons I learned from physics reporters

As I’ve been thinking about the challenges facing science journalism, a little voice in my head has been murmuring, “Yes, but isn’t all this navel-gazing a bit biology-centric?” Number one on my list of lessons from the “limits of DNA” story is that datasets are getting bigger, and few of us reporters are well-equipped to […]

The Woman Who Discovered the Key to Measuring the Universe

By the late 1800s, astronomy had moved on from simple human observation to the collection of images of the sky on photographic plates — pieces of glass coated with light-sensitive silver salts. At the time they were made, these plates could be analyzed only through tedious, labor-intensive work. A person had to scan and measure and compare […]

Guest Post: Auditing Astronomy Class

I’m not sure exactly where this story begins, but maybe it’s here: Sometime this summer, my mom decided to take an astronomy class. She had taken drama and philosophy classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley  and audited a history of theater course. She’d heard that this particular astronomy class was aimed […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Degeneracy

I was helping an astronomer write a sentence.  It was about disentangling the color a supernova has intrinsically, from the reddening in its color caused by cosmic dust.  He wrote he wanted to “break the degeneracy” between the colors.  Break the degeneracy.  I got so excited.  I’d always thought degenerates were people who didn’t, for […]

Is That Guy Really, Really Smart?

A friend I run into regularly says, “Hey, Ann.  Do you know that guy from around here who won that Nobel whatever?”  He means Adam Riess, and yes, I know Riess.  I’ve interviewed him, I say hello, he says hello back.  “I have a question for you,” says my friend. “Is your Nobel guy really, […]

Is passion for science a heritable trait?

My dad and I share an obsession with endurance sports. We don’t just love to get outside and ride our bikes, we actually feel antsy and anxious if we go too many days without working up a sweat. As I’ve written elsewhere, our compulsion for exercise has a genetic basis. Dad and I probably have […]