Monday, September 17, 2007

Hey Buddy, Wanna Be an Astronomy Researcher (Again)?

Back in January, I posted my first Hey Buddy... post, introducing a service called systemic that allowed amateurs (like you and me) to contribute to astronomical research. I bring this up now to introduce a new program that will allow amateurs and school children to participate in a project to help map star visibility.

The program, known as the Great World Wide Star Count, allows citizen scientists and school children to record their observations of various constellations during the period of October 1-15. The event, which is free and open to everyone who wants to participate, is organized by the Windows to the Universe project at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), in conjunction with planetariums and scientific societies across the country and abroad. Funding is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Bright outdoor lighting at night is a growing problem for astronomical observing programs around the world. By searching for the same constellations, participants in the Great World Wide Star Count will be able to compare their observations with what others see, giving them a sense of how star visibility varies from place to place. The observers will also learn more about the economic and geographic factors that control the light pollution in their communities and around the world.

This is a great opportunity to get involved in scientific research by enjoying a fun, educational family activity with your kids. I know I plan to participate!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Garage Researcher Makes Possible Breakthrough Discovery

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I try to highlight opportunities for amateurs to help make advances in science and technology. A lot of people may think that the days of amateurs working on research in their basements or garages and making major discoveries is long past.

Those people would apparently be wrong. John Kanzius was trying to find a way to use radio frequencies to de-salinate saltwater more efficiently when he stumbled upon something rather surprising: the right combination of radio frequencies applied to the water caused the molecular bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen to weaken, releasing hydrogen gas. In other words, Kanzius found a way to allow salt water to become flammable.

The results were confirmed by Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, and now Roy is seeking funding for the Department of Defense to conduct research into the possibility of using saltwater--one of the most abundant and easily accessible resources on the planet--as a fuel source. The scientists want to find out whether the energy output from the burning hydrogen - which reached a heat of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit - would be enough to power a car or other heavy machinery.