Thursday, July 23, 2015

A full week of Nerd Camp

Ah, that familiar hotel smell. It smells the same in basically every hotel in the US. I’m not so sure internationally, but it is the smell of travel to me here. I’m on the road again!

Again? Really? Yes. Really. But only for the weekend.  The Joint Space Weather Summer Camp, of which I am an attendee, has a weekend trip to a Lab and an aquarium. Three cities, three days and tons of fun.  The third city, by the way, is a ‘choose your own adventure’ sort of city, by the looks of the group schedule.

So, I promised more about the camp las time, and, having received the appropriate permissions, I shall cheerfully chatter away.

I am a part of the Joint Space Weather Summer Camp, a combined educational camp hosted by CSPARDLR, and UAH for undergraduate and graduate science and engineering majors interested in studying the very super interesting phenomena of Space Weather. And yes, there is weather in space, and for our local weather you can blame the sun. I should note, that’s both on and off the earth! On the Earth, of course, the sun drives the wind, which drives all sorts of other weather. In space, the sun drives a solar wind, which is produced thanks to magnetic fields on the sun, and how they move through space. It’s not just our sun doing it, but every star, and there’s even an intergalactic medium which is not produced by any one star, so far as I can tell, and which our solar winds might not pierce.  As a student of all this, I don’t really know the answers!

But I am having a lot of fun learning.

The speakers so far have been great. The majority of the lectures are aimed to an audience between a third year physics major and a lower graduate level. You definitely need to have, at a minimum, made it through the Electricity and Magnetism level of your 100 level physics course to have a good understand. From the sounds of the lectures so far, that magnetic field is perhaps the most important thing.  A basic understand of quantum, usually a third semester of physics course, is advised I think, though some of what you need to know, you likely already do from chemistry courses and the like.

If you are past a beginning or early graduate student though, you may be too advanced for the lectures, especially if your focus is Space Weather! Of course, there’s more than just wind, out there among the stars, and some of that more can affect people on Earth. Take the Carrington Event of 1859. I know what you’re thinking. What in space could affect Earth in 1859? We hadn’t even been there yet! But we did have electricity, and telegraphs. The Carrington Event was a huge coronal mass ejection that stuck the earth. It cause telegraph systems all over Europe and North America to fail, and sometimes shock the operators! Telegraph machines not connected to a power supply could, in places, still send and receive messages. All because of a coronal mass ejection.  One thought to be just as big missed the Earth in 2012. I don’t want to know about the margin it missed us by.

Given our reliance on electricity today, if it had hit us, we’d be upset. There goes the TV, computer, cell phone, fridge, microwave, and a host of other electronics. Research into space weather helps predict space weather, so we know if we have to turn every thing off in preparation for the next Carrington class Solar Superstorm.

This isn’t even the scariest thing in space weather. More powerful by far is a gamma ray burst.  If one hit the earth, well, my money is on the gamma ray burst, not the human race or any other life on this planet. Luckily, because of how Gamma Ray Bursts move through space, a direct hit fairly ‘close’ in astronomical terms’ would be super dangerous, but also so minimal it’s not really worth a panic.  Some concern is prudent, yeah, just like concern is prudent on a trip to the beach.  It’s probably not likely your car battery will die while you’re there, and a gamma ray burst hitting will happen even less than that ever will for you, but you should probably have cables with you, just in case. We should probably understand gamma ray bursts, just in case.

I’m having a lot of fun here. I think one of the best parts isn’t the lessons themselves, those they rock my socks. It’s getting to meet people who have never been to the US before. We went to Walmart to get groceries and a few things accidentally left behind, and wow. The reaction to ‘an American Supermarket’ was pretty cool. We went through the bakery, and one of our German students stopped, to admire the cakes, and how one had a camo pattern, and another was made of cupcakes. Our bread was examined and determined to be deficient in comparison, and the sight of the snack aisle, the candy aisle, and the soda aisle caused such wide eyes it was exciting to watch.

Last weekend, we visited Cathedral Caverns in Grant, AL. That was super exciting, and absolutely worth the trip. Our tour guide was super duper awesome. He was an older guy, a newer tour guide, and so enthusiastic about the caverns that you couldn’t help, but be happy to be there. Apparently, it holds a lot of world records, including biggest cave entrance.  Everyone enjoyed the ‘spelunking’ that was more guided tour on a concrete path that spelunking at all. It was a gorgeous place, and some of the formations there were mind blowingly beautiful, especially the cathedral cavern the cave system is named after.  Everyone was really impressed, and apparently caves like that just aren’t found in Germany. Or if they are, our Germans hadn’t been there!

We had a small pool party the next day too, and having a game of keep away in a pool with water over your head is fun and challenging, especially when you have about fifteen people there all playing. We varied from one in the middle to five at one point, and knowing who was in the middle was half the challenge. 

We’re on the next adventurous part on the American side of things now, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! The research I got to participate in as part of the camp was super fun. I think the main complaints from the ‘campers’ were how little time we got to do the experiments and then having to actually present at the end. That was a challenge of a different sort, but still not that bad. Nothing like nineteen college students all working until pretty late on a Summer Camp project though! Dedication, thy name is Scientist.

I’m getting a bit long now, so I’ll hush now, but next week I’ll have another, no doubt, super long post for you. After all, next week is another fun trip, and I have to tell you about this weekend!

One Final Byte: Other’s joy for things you like is infectious.

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