FLA: Discovering New Planets

The discovery of new exoplanets has rapidly grown in past two decades. While there are three major ways of detecting these exoplanets in distant galaxies, two of these methods are indirect in approach. These two methods are Doppler and Transit. In the Doppler method, a giant planet’s gravity pulls the star it revolves around, which causes it to wobble. This wobble can be subtle, but can still be detected from Earth. This method reveals the mass of the exoplanets. However, it requires the orbits of these exoplanets to be in the plane of the Earth’s sky.

Doppler Method. Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

The second indirect method, Transit, detects exoplanets each time they pass in front of their stars. Passing in front of the stars blocks a portion of the light coming from these stars. This eclipse reveals the size and chemical composition of the exoplanets.

Transit method. Notice the drop in brightness when the exoplanet passes in front of its star. Source: NASA.

The third method, the direct method of imaging, is the most obvious but extremely difficult. The weak reflected light from the exoplanets is too low to be detected from Earth. On one hand, given the stronger direct light coming from the star makes it even harder to locate the exoplanet. On the other hand, if the exoplanet is further away from its star for it to be easily discernible, the reflected light goes down by twice the factor of the distance. Both these methods are examples of how difficult it is to directly image exoplanets, and requires complicated and precise models to subtract stars from the process of imaging.

Imaging method. Source: Wikimedia.

Thousands of exoplanets have been found this far. Kepler telescope has a dedicated mission to stare at a portion of deep space, searching for these planets. The more planets we find, the more similarities and differences we find between our solar system and these distant planet systems. First, both the planet systems have two types of planets: terrestrial and Jovian. Terrestrial planets are rocky planets, found closer to the sun, with a possible water world, for example: Earth. Jovian planets are gaseous, usually further away from the sun, for example: Jupiter. Each solar system has a habitable zone, which consists of an area at a distance from the Sun, where the temperature makes it habitable by providing affordances for several biomarkers, for example: water.

While there are some similarities between the two planet systems, there are also differences in the placing of these exoplanets and possibility of life. Some planet systems were found with massive planets very close to their suns. Jupiter’s presence in the solar system adds stability to our solar system. Jupiter is five times further away from Sun than Earth. When a massive planet is closer to its sun than Jupiter is to our Sun, it could make their planet system inhabitable.

Also, whatever chemical compositions is available on these planets, it is not necessary that these planets also support a carbon-based life form or oxygen generating microbes. We should be open to possibilities of alternate life forms on these planets.

For the Love of Astronomy: Telescopes in Space

Telescopes are tools to extend the human vision. The requirement of telescopes stems from two major limitations of the human eye. First, the aperture of the human eye is too small to register enough light to resolve between distant celestial objects. Second, the human eye is capable of detecting only the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum—which constitutes only a tiny factor of the entire spectrum. This significantly truncates the information that most of the electromagnetic radiation from the universe has to offer.

As a solution to the first problem, designing telescopes with larger diameter allows it to capture more photons of light per unit area, thus producing brighter images. In addition, the larger is the telescope, the smaller is the angle that can be resolved. This means that distant objects can be distinguished and seen in better quality.

40-meter-class European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) Source: ESO

As a solution to the second problem, even though we have telescopes that can register electromagnetic spectrum beyond the visible light, Earth-based telescopes can still not detect other electromagnetic waves such as infrared, gamma rays, X-rays, etc. This is because the Earth’s atmosphere acts as a natural filter to these and does not allow most of these electromagnetic waves to pass. What penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere are visible light, radio waves, portions of infrared band, etc. In addition, light pollution in most parts of the world limits the detail of the view from Earth, making astronomy extremely difficult. Finally, Earth’s atmosphere also creates turbulence for light, thus creating an effect of blurring, which affects the image created by the telescopes on ground.

Portions of the Electromagnetic Spectrum blocked by the atmosphere. Source: JCCC.edu

Given the limit cast due to the atmosphere, Earth-based telescopes are restricted to a tiny portion of information that light carries from distant galaxies. To solve this problem, astronomers launched and planted large telescopes above the Earth’s atmosphere in low orbits in space. These telescopes, liberated from the shortcomings of the Earth’s atmosphere, can now detect X-rays (Chandra space telescope), Infrared (Spitzer space telescope), and deep space (Hubble space telescope), etc. These telescopes can now register bright lights from distant galaxies, revealing information unbeknownst to the humankind before. This generates a tremendous amount of data for astronomers and physicists, and therefore opens a magnificent range of possibilities to answer some of the most pivotal questions about the existence of the universe and its properties. There is also a new telescope, James Webb, ready to replace Hubble, which will be able to detect the very first light in the universe. Thinking of the results of this telescope is just too exciting to comprehend.

Some of these large space-based telescopes work with specific band of spectrum. For example, the Chandra Space Telescope captures the X-rays and generates images with information that was earlier invisible to the naked eye. The Spitzer Infrared telescope, on the other hand, reveals the temperature across the universe. This is possible because infrared reveals the heat of each object that emits it, thus providing information that was not possible with the visible spectrum.

North America Nebula – by Spitzer Infrared Telescope. Source: CalTech

Launching and maintaining these telescopes in space comes at a great cost (in billions of dollars). But this cost proves its worth by producing a flood of data that could hold the key to most gripping questions of the humankind. If one could evaluate the cost and return of large space-based telescopes, the returns would out-weigh the cost each time.

This post included additional information, like the images, that were not included in the writing assignment

For the Love of Astronomy

My childhood love and passion for astronomy had its share of ebb and flow. While it peaked in 9th grade, when my friend and I ogled at images of deep space in our library encyclopedia, the zeal to pursue this passion was lost somewhere in the race for a “practical” education.

Fortunately, as my colleagues in the EPET program inspire me in different ways, my myriad disjointed conversations with them led to rekindling the remnants of some forgotten passions. One of the examples is how, with time, I got in tandem with pursuing an old interest in learning about astronomy.

From almost a year now, I have spent a handsome share of my leisure time reading about physics and astronomy. Recently, when I found a Cousera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on ‘Astronomy: Exploring Space and Time’ by Dr. Chris Impey, I jumped to the chance and enrolled myself for the nerdy fun I had waited for over 10 years.

pillars of creation - source es-static.us
Pillars of Creation

In this class, we look at the essential concepts in astronomy, physics, and chemistry that help understand the science behind some of most wonderful phenomena. The course requires some prior knowledge of the field–which reminds me to thank the turn-of-events that led to me choosing science and electrical engineering in school and college, respectively.

In the first two weeks, not only I have learned some of the most amazing facts and concepts that I had never understood before, I have also realized the profound importance of scientific literacy among general public.

Now, this course requires us to complete a bunch of tiny quizzes and three brief writing exercises. I think it would be a great idea for me to share these writing assignments on my blog here.

The next post is on Telescopes in Space. I will follow this introduction with this first writing exercise to share the fun that I am having in this course. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed the previous two weeks learning about

Multimodal Book Reviews

As a part of the Visual Rhetoric course taught by the awesome Danielle Nicole Devoss, last Fall, I got a chance to play with some multimodal composition and writing in my own work. I often find myself ruminating about the process of reading and understanding multimodal content such as video and online content. But lately, having swum through the discussions and readings in visual rhetoric, I could not help but further explore the process of writing and composing multimodal texts.
One of the projects that turned out to be fine examples of writing in new media was our group project where we reviewed some of the most engaging books in visual and media literacy and rhetoric. Without rambling further, please check out the website for our book reviews here, and my attempt at a multimodal book review here.

The Game is On

Part 1: The Realization

“There is no way this is possible in 4 days,” I declared, pacing up and down the living room, “No way!”

First, a series of gigantic quizzes were due in 4 days in this statistics course that I was taking. Although this was just one homework due this week, the amount of time you had to put in to reach the level of proficiency to successfully make it “bite the dust” was overwhelming. Second, several summer work assignments, including teaching and grading a course, consumed almost a quarter of my day, every day. Third, and above all, a conference deadline approached, for which I had to write a paper that I had not even started. Oh wait, funny story, I had not even started analyzing the data… no wait, I didn’t even have the data, so to speak.

In coming 4 days, I were to download, watch, and analyze 13 episodes of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and then write a paper on it for the coming AERA conference. Watching 13 episodes in 4 days was not the troubling part. To be honest, I was looking forward to it, besides writing it. It is the analysis part that daunted me.

Being a first year, going on second year, doctoral student in Educational Psychology, and coming from an engineering background, had had mixed effects on me in my first year. Where my confidence to write had increased, I still lacked the flair to approach qualitative research with necessary poise that I observed in the professional people around me. My approach was imbalanced and entangled with my other responsibilities. I was now looking at 4 days of stats, grading, and watching and coding Cosmos. The Game was On!

Part 2: The Game is On

source: bakerstreetbabes.com

This story starts on Thursday night. The deadline to submit the article was Monday night. Not that you care, but the stats homework was due Monday morning. I divided my days based on tasks. I assigned Saturday evening and night for stats homework. This was exactly as absurd as it reads. Sunday morning and afternoon went to grading. I left Sunday evening and night to writing the paper. This gave me Monday to review and rewrite the article with the two co-authors (which includes my advisor). I must acknowledge that my planning depended solely on my assumption that my co-authors will be available on Monday. You should know that this was the time when my advisor (a) was actually the busiest I had seen him in my first year at MSU, (b) was not in East Lansing, and (c) had no idea this was coming his way. Also, the second author was way busier than I pretend here to be. This arrangement was going down, I was certain.

With Thursday night through Saturday afternoon for me to watch the 13 episodes and analyze them, I put the episodes on download without hesitation. The second thing I did was send an email to my co-authors, informing them of my devious plan. Third, I kissed my wife goodbye, checked my parachute, and jumped off the plane.

Did I mention that at this stage I did not have a qualitative research software? Well, I could not afford one, and it was too late, I was mid-air, looking for a haystack to land. “A spreadsheet it is then,” I confirmed to myself.

Watching, pausing, coding, playing, watching, and pausing. There was a lot of this going on when I got an email from my co-author.

“You don’t have to finish the study by this deadline. When (and if) this paper is accepted, then you will have to submit the final study.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I think you should check the AERA website.”

She was right. I was an idiot. This changed everything. We were now looking at preliminary coding and writing. The first deadline needed a study in progress, which still needed some analyzed data. A proposal wouldn’t have done. The good news was that what I was doing was not a total waste of time, and I had more time on my hands than I had imagined. My eyes twinkled as I realized what this meant: a better conference paper.

The only thing between me and this paper was the fact that I had to write one.

 Part 3: The Evolution

source: kristanhoffman.com

As I finished coding a few episodes, I had what I needed to write a paper about a study in progress. I had coded enough data to observe a pattern and write about what we expected to see.

The first draft had everything the conference paper asked for. All sections were covered but the results. It was academic without being dull. The language was straightforward and easy to understand. I was all set. But, like every doctoral student, I knew this was definitely not the final draft. I expected some changes and input from the co-author and my advisor. “I don’t think there will be drastic changes this time,” I thought.

In a couple of hours, I got the second draft back from the co-author. There were some significant changes in language and a lot of rearrangements that I did not expect. To be honest, the paper looked a lot better. It had a voice. My first draft looked dull now.

Alright, this must be it then. “I should ask my advisor if we are good to submit,” I thought as I wrote him an email asking the same. I got some suggestions back in return. As I worked on the suggestions in the third draft, I could see the paper getting better. I had no concept of ego when I brutally chopped off what I had written to make way for better ideas. This time I knew it was over. We were ready to submit. I emailed a copy to both my co-author and my advisor. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Hours later, I get a similar email from both of them. Talking about the same things in different ways, they pointed out what they felt was missing. They drafted, I drafted. They agreed, I disagreed. They wrote, I edited. He wrote something, she edited it out, I waited. This went on for several drafts. All I can say is, the end result was not close to where we started, but you could still see how it may have evolved from the first draft.

The evolution of this research paper was significant. It evolved from an acceptable run-of-the-mill conference paper, to something that is interesting and meaningful. It was written under the usual pressure and amidst busy schedules, but collaboration and absence of ego took it to a stage where it would never have gone if I had written it alone. Paraphrasing what my advisor said, the lesson to take from here for every graduate student is:

(a) Not to lose your voice trying to be academic or scholarly (which fortunately returned in this paper through collaboration)

(b) Every paper is an attempt at convincing your colleagues why what you do is important.

We often miss these key points trying to meet the criteria before deadlines. Being scholarly is important, but so is not losing yourself in the process. I understand that this one experience will not be enough for me to gain that confidence, but this is one cobble on the road that we are building.

I will keep writing. The Game is so On.

A Promise to Keep or: Why should we write?

This is not my first attempt at blogging. I started using blogspot.com (now blogger.com) around 2006 (I guess) to write weird poems, and analyze songs I liked. It died abruptly, due to some external pressure (long story). Nevertheless, I started again in 2010ish, this time about something I love the most in the world: films. This was about the same time I was watching about 500 movies a year, and enjoying most of them, which gave me enough motivation to write. I like to call this time the iCheckMovies era.

During this time, besides watching 3-4 movies a day, I spent hours (whatever were left) talking to people all over the globe, on forums that some of us build, and Facebook, about films that we all loved to watch and talk about. These were not the “typical mainstream trash” (inside joke, no offense intended). These were the movies that could change the way you think about yourself and the world as you know it. At least I can say that about myself. I became deeply involved with films, and wanted to do something about it. There are several things about films that I love. From the art of making films to the sheer genius of critiquing them. I love it all. But the thing that I love the most is the power and influence of cinema (and any other form of visual media for that matter), and its educational implications. I knew I wanted to write about films, so my love for critiquing films got me into blogging after a hiatus. As you might have predicted, I failed to foster the excitement, since it did not satisfy any intellectual purpose for me. I was writing mainly about the things I hated, and eventually, the mere thought of a blog started to vex me. I realized soon enough that it was the educational aspect that could allow me to both cherish and respect films without starting to hate the process of analyzing them.

When I started the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program at MSU, even I did not think I’d do things this close to my interest. In short, I get to watch, analyze, discuss, think, and, finally, write about films and visual media. The best part is that I also get paid. Here, in EPET, I am surrounded by interesting discussions and topics of intrigue. Meaning making, neuroscience, cosmology, politics, theology, science, films, history, geography, we enjoy talking about it all. The ebb and flow of new ideas is more vivid than ever. While I get to academically write about some cool things that I like, there are still ideas that I wish to talk/write about. Everyday I promise myself, “I should write about this” or “This is so blog-worthy.” But as you can see from the blog, the last time I wrote was back in the good old days of 2013. I have been procrastinating more than ever, and this time I have no reason not to blog. So, this is it. I will blog regularly now (failure to commit is evident). Once a month (that’s more like it).

Consider this my first blog post of a new age of blogging (for me, that is). You must be thinking, “Who gives a sh*t?” Well, I do. Writing about the wonders of the world we live in is the best gift we can give to ourselves. Our words are all that will live on. If I do not start writing today, I am wasting another day. And why just me, everyone is. Don’t be like me. Start writing about the things you love. Science, Art, Math, Poetry, Language, Humor, Films, and all the things that make you happy. Things that you want to be remembered for.

This is it. This is all we have. Leave your mark. Bloggers will rise!

The Future of Learning

One of the most engaging topics of discussion can be talking about your school. While most people remember the good times and playful days, some remember miserable lectures and horrendous memories they’d prefer to forget. But one thing that often remains common in these discussions, at least amongst people in academia, is analyzing what went wrong when they were growing up. Varying in degrees of finesse, this discussion can sometimes take form of biting commentary, lead to groundbreaking research in education, or make people find innovative ways to make the system better for those to come. Continue reading “The Future of Learning”

Rise and shine: the daily routines of history’s most creative minds

Fellow grad students, worried about your hectic schedules? Having time management issues? I may not have a direct advise, but this blog post will take you to the daily routines of history’s most creative minds.

Let’s see if we are on the right track or insanely off.


Rules for Success in Academia

What if, at the very beginning of your career, somebody handed you a book with all the covert rules of your field in it?

Well, ‘Psychology 101 1/2: The Unspoken Rules for Success in Academia does exactly what it says in the title. This book by Robert J. Sternberg is somewhat of a self help book with all the things that you should know about the field of research for people who are starting their career in academics or are already in it from quite some time. Continue reading “Rules for Success in Academia”