Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal and I accompanied one of our instructors, Jim, back to the physics building for the set-up to the planetarium show. The planetarium is located in the sub-basement of the physics building, and we were regaled by the stories of the legendary flood when a water main broke up on the fourth floor of the building and naturally all the water pooled in the lowest spot it could – the planetarium. They had a foot of water in there, and it took some heavy-duty rebuilding and refurbishing to get the thing running again… but their star ball is the old-fashioned mechanical kind, a thing of beauty in a sort of technopunk way full of gears and levers, but it is ageing and requires serious maintenance and refurbishment. Several things simply no longer worked – including the possibility to show the phases of the moon on the planetarium dome. Pity, I would have liked to see that.
Then we threw the rest of the official schedule out of the window because we were running very late and Mike Brotherton still had a lot to cover on stellar matters.
We learned about neutron stars, how they form, what they used to be, what they do, how they behave, what they are made of.
We learned about hypernovae, when supermassive red giants 25 times the mass of our sun implode at the core and send out a burst of gamma rays as they collapse from supergiant to black hole in *less than a second*. Now you see it, now you don’t.
We talked about black holes, Schwartzchild’s Radius, the event horizon.
We talked about binary systems and how pairs of stars affect one another. Sufficiently distant binary stars might each have a planetary system, or there might be a supersystem which is orbiting both stars at great distances… or, conceivably, both… This stuff is not only fascinating, it’s starting to MAKE SENSE TO ME which is, in a way, scary. I had a lot of ideas and basic knowledge but much of it was bare-bones or rather shaky – I am learning an incredible amount, but I barely have time to keep up with my notes which are chaotic and terribly disorganised – I will have to sit down and take a good look at everything later and let it settle before I test the new boundaries of my knowledge. But so far I am not only learning a thousand new things every day but I am having a ball doing it.
Tomorrow, we tackle galaxies. And then, in the afternoon, we get to hands-on fiddle with the images they took for us at WIRO last night, making them look like the pretty pictures that we’ve all come to associate with high-power telescope images. And we get to take those pictures home. And we get to tell people, if not that we personally took those photographs, that we were at the very least there when they were being taken.
Tomorrow night, weather permitting, we are going to go up to the roof of the physics building and scope out the heavens with small microscopes. Let’s hope that the clouds that gathered this afternoon sail away by then. But we got so phenomenally lucky up at WIRO when the heavens opened for us to peer inside that I wonder if we’ve used up our share of the goodwill of the gods. Ah, well, we shall see.
Another thing on the agenda tomorrow – a talk on SETI. I am looking forward to that.