Gears on the Brain

A couple of years ago I wrote about how failure is a learning opportunity. It is something I try to embrace as I learn new things and when I also fail to get things on the first go. Much like when I tried to fix the automatic mechanical pocket watch my partner got for me.

After it broke, she told me it was not all that expensive, which gave me the guilt-free pleasure of not only opening it up and poking around but also scratching a bucket list item off my list: learning about mechanical watches.

When the tools I had ordered arrived, I tore into the watch with delicate patience and glee. It was a marvel to take out the screws one by one, crown gear, balance wheel etc. I did my best to name and identify the parts, keeping them together as I had learned from various online videos.

The one thing I did not do was take pictures as I took the watch apart then cleaned the pieces. When it came time to put the whole thing back together I was left with a puzzle. It took me three days, but I was eventually able to piece it all back together between a combination of memory, logic and trial and error.

I was so excited to almost finish the project that I swapped in a right-hand screw for the left-hand screw that holds the crown gear. Then I lost the left-hand gear trying to put it in a right-hand threaded spot. I had sprung gears across the room several times during my tear down and put together, however this time I was not able to find it.

I eventually broke the right-hand screw out of the crown hear and decided to order a set of assorted screws for pocket watches. These came in a few months ago. I had been avoiding it in part because work was keeping me busy, but also I was still a little afraid of not being able to fix it.

With resigning from my work, I had some time between job hunting and writing to go get the screws and give it a go.  A couple of hours of tinkering and trying the various screws ended in me not getting any further ahead – none of them fit.

I am sad that I could not get the watch working again but am, as always, gleeful at the fun and learning I had during the process. Although I am not likely to get the watch fixed (a blog on repairing watches did warn me I was likely to break the first one I tried to fix) it has gotten my brain wondering about gears and gear ratios. I’m thinking I need to explore them further.

Stay tuned.

– KMSB

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Review of John Read’s 50 Things to See on the Moon

John Read sent me a copy of his latest book 50 Things to See on the Moon. I much enjoyed his last book, 50 things to See with a Telescope – KIDS and his new book does not disappoint.

Once again Read takes us through the basics of terminology and instruments that you need to observe the Moon. From there he walks through the 50 targets on the surface starting at the New Moon phase and picking out targets as the Moon’s shadow gives way to the growing lit surface of the Moon. By the time of the Full Moon, Read has walked us through his various targets.

Read supplies readers with views of his targets not only as seen with our eyes or binoculars, but also how the targets look when looking through different telescopes that can flip or rotate the image. This is something I have found useful when taking his book out under the Moon to explore.

Read also brings the Moon to life through interesting facts about how the craters or features got their names, how features were formed or about the many and various moon missions that have taken place. He also brings his wealth of experience and tricks and tips to make the experience fun and enjoyable. I have already found his approach of using a series of craters that form an L to remember that the L is for “landed” and points in the direction of the location of the Apollo 11 landing site.

Given that the book is again geared at new initiates to Moon gazing and likely a younger audience, there are at times technical terms or wording that is cumbersome, such as “Image of the same region on three subsequent nights.” instead of perhaps my personal choice of “Image of the same area over three nights.” This aside, the guide is accessible to both children and adults and makes for a great addition to any amateur astronomer’s library. I know I will be pulling it out again soon to go Moon gazing.

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The Darkest Black

Image of the black hole at the centre of M87 Image from: Akiyama, K., Alberdi, A., Alef, W., Asada, K., Azulay, R., Baczko, A.-K., … Ziurys, L. (2019). First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. II. Array and Instrumentation. The Astrophysical Journal, 875(1), L2. http://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/ab0c96

On April 10th The Event Horizon Telescope Collaborative released an image so exciting that I, like my parents with the Moon landing, will remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw it – which happened to be on my partner’s stationary bike in our garage watching the YouTube broadcast on my smartphone.

The image that popped up on the screen before me was a ring of orange hues, weighted and thicker towards the bottom left. A dark, gaping, empty, expanse of black sat inside the ring. I was looking at a black hole and the shadow its event horizon. The orange hues were ionized gasses dizzyingly swirling around it at speeds a fraction of the speed of light; sending out their blazingly hot swansong before crossing a frontier into an area of space so unknown we can only conjecture at what is behind the veil of the event horizon.

The light from that gas travelled incredible distances of time and space before reaching not our eyes, but a group of radio telescopes spanning the globe, interconnected through an ambitious and creative collaborate effort. The end result of which is nothing short of breathtaking.

Being so enthralled in the image, I missed a good portion of what the researchers announced about their findings so far. To get an idea, I turned to the five articles that were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and thumbed through them. Between the formulas, diagrams and interpretations, I quickly saw the incredible amount of collaboration and work that went into capturing and processing the images taken between April 4 and 11, 2017. Numerous radio telescopes across the Earth all had to simultaneously have good weather, the petabytes of data that had to be transferred, standardized, aligned and consolidated. New algorithms were created, faster data processing were invented and countless hours spent to produce an image of a dark region in space, the shadow of the black hole, at the centre of M87 that spans 19 to 38 microarcseconds!

If you are like me, you want to know how much that is in light years not arcseconds and you’re not worried about the margins of error. Let us have a little fun and work that out for ourselves. We’ll need a few things: the small angle formula, the distance to M87 and a calculator.

The small angle formula (SAF) is: arcseconds = 206,265(diameter of object/ distance to object)

The distance to M87 is about 53.5 million Light Years

Let us take the upper end of the measurement because who really wants a small shadow? 38 microarcseconds become … 3.8 x 10^-5 arcseconds.

We want the diameter of the shadow, that means we rewrite the SAF to become diameter of object = (distance to object x arcseconds)/206,265 then plug in the numbers.

diameter = (53,500,000 x 0.000,038)/206,265

We get around 0.01 light years which we can convert into km by multiplying by 9.5 x 10^12 … and voila! 9.5 x 10^10 km or 95 billion km! Not bad for a shadow.

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When Change isn’t Planned For

After several years of working in one career with the same employer, it was time for a change. I’ll be honest, I was not planning on making this change. Instead, I had failed to look after my own mental health and failed to keep a good work-life balance. The imbalance led to a slow, subtle slide back into my depression. This put a strain on relationships, friendships and work. With the help and support of my partner, I thought it best to resign and regroup.

Now having had some time to reflect and focus on my mental health, I am faced with the challenge of figuring out where to go next. STEAM communication is very much my passion, I just have to figure out how I can make that passion earn a little revenue.

I have a few ideas and leads. The first of course is to concentrate on my Blog and website. I’ve always enjoyed writing and have neglected it for several years.

The other is the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada conference that is taking plays from May 23rd to 25th here in Winnipeg If you have not heard about it or registered for the event, I encourage you to take a look at their offerings (https://sciencewriters.ca/2019program).

I am very much looking forward it – both to meet fellow science communicators, but also to get a fresh view of the current world of science communication.

Beyond that, I am seeing what topics in STEAM I may want to branch out into. The idea of going back to university and getting that math degree I never pursued pops up now and again, but so does the idea of going rogue, as my partner calls it, and trying to carve out a digital piece of the pie with YouTube and blogging. For the moment, however, it is time for a cup of tea.

– KMSB

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