The Bucket List Astronomy Tour (BLAsT) Class is officially off and running. Led by Sam Houston State University astronomy professors Dr. Scott Miller and Dr. C. Renee James, a frequent contributor to Astronomy magazine, the class is taking 10 undergraduate students with widely varied backgrounds and aspirations to witness some of the best astronomical events of a lifetime (hence the name). Here's what James had to say about the trip so far:
BLAsT student Megan Willmore was fascinated with the many saguaro cacti between Phoenix and Flagstaff, where the students began the class.
The students of the BLAsT Class are not astronomy experts, nor are they all world travelers. In fact, one student had never before been on a plane. The discovery that the color of a star is a gauge of its temperature was new to most of them. Yet they all have a keen sense of awe for even the simplest new experiences, as evidenced by one student's photographic journal of virtually every saguaro cactus between the Phoenix airport and our temporary home base just outside Flagstaff, Arizona.
From there, we journeyed to the Grand Canyon to witness the annular eclipse, and then we'll visit Meteor Crater, spend a night at the Lowell Observatory, see the petroglyphs of V-V Ranch, and then trek to the Karl Jansky Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico. From there, we will head to Sydney, Australia, to see what the skies look like there. We will be in Parkes, Australia (famous for its role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing), for the transit of Venus, the last one we will see in our lifetime.
As part of their assignments, the students will be writing a blog of what they discover about astronomy along the way.
The first day, they became acquainted with lunar phases and eclipses and volleyballs. After using the volleyball to simulate phases, the class (minus Dr. Miller) attempted to use it for its designated activity, but largely played fetch. We constructed our Galileoscopes after a brief introduction to lens optics. We found that in a bind, and without an official measuring device, toilet paper makes a great ruler (the roll states that each square is 10 cm, so we just went from there). We brought a few solar filters and then practiced lining a telescope on the Sun (without setting our eyeballs on fire, as warned by the Galileoscope safety sticker), and Adena bravely attempted the first sketch of sunspots. Thankfully, there are large groups, so the smallness of the scope isn't too much of a problem. Nick Macdonald figured out how to photograph the Sun's image through the telescope's eyepiece, so he's eager to get shots of the Moon passing in front of the Sun
Adena Crider sketched a large sunspot group using a Galileoscope.
Below are the personal mini-autobiographies of the students:
My name is Adena Crider. I am 20 years old and a senior at Sam Houston State University. I am a criminal justice major with a minor in mathematics. I came on this trip because I thought it would be a neat experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the Southern Hemisphere while learning about astronomy. As a child, I used to have a telescope and would try my best, as any 10-year-old can, to look at different stars and planets in the sky. The universe has always been an interest to me, but never something I could pursue. When I graduate college, I hope to go to graduate school to continue my pursuit of the criminal justice degree, and hopefully enter the FBI. If that doesn't work out, I plan on working with juvenile delinquents and helping them understand that there is more to life than committing crime.
I am Eric Webb. I'm a 23-year-old animation major, and I wanted to minor in physics — until I found out how many extra math courses it would require. I came on this trip to get as much physics knowledge a I could in a fun and interesting way. When I got into college, I thought I was going to go into the video game design field once I was done, but, now that I have been through most of the program, I’m not so sure that I qualify for that field anymore. My post-college focus has shifted from entertainment to a more educational form of animation. I believe now that I would be perfectly happy creating amazing visuals of the universe and its processes and presenting them to those interested in learning a little bit more about the reality they currently inhabit.
My name is Mallory Smith. I am a senior at Sam Houston State majoring in family and consumer science. I plan on getting into the event planning and hospitality industry after graduation. I decided to take this course because I have ever been out of the country and have always longed for travel and to see the different cultures of the world. I specifically chose this program because, since I was a young child, I have had a fascination with outer space. I can even remember telling my first grade teacher, “I am going to be an astronaut when I grow up!” Since life did not take me into the direction of my first-grade dream, I decided to take this course as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about astronomy and fulfill the sense of adventure I have always wanted to experience.
My name is Ernesto Del Bosque. I am a sophomore at Sam Houston State University. I am a business major, but I'm not sure exactly what in business. I was thinking something like economics, finance, or international business. International business is the part that I am most interested in because I would like to travel to a lot of places while working. I have always have had a fascination with astronomy, so I thought this would be the perfect chance to experience first-hand things like eclipses, transits, and travel and learn all at the same time.
My name is Laura Durham. I am a senior at Sam Houston State University, majoring in English-secondary education. I plan on teaching high school English and literature. I've had an interest in astronomy since I was little, but I've never really looked into it aside from collecting star charts from the Sunday newspaper. When I found out that the university was offering this course and it would be not only out of state, but out of the country, I thought it was a good opportunity to go and see the night sky from a different location. Seeing the transit of Venus and looking at the night sky from Australia is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I didn't want to pass up.
My name is Brittany Crowson. I am 17 years old and a sophomore at Sam Houston State University, majoring in Graphic Design. I want to use this major to design in the music industry, whether it be Web design, album covers, flyers, etc. I have an interest in astronomy because of camping trips I went on as a little kid. It is cool to have the awe of looking at stars as a kid and then learning about the hows and whys when you grow up. This trip is an amazing experience because of the different locations we will be observing from. I am really lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this trip.
My name is Kevin Mulcahy. I am a 25-year-old senior studying computer animation at Sam Houston State University. I am planning on working in either the 3-D animated movie or gaming industry. I came on this trip so that I could learn more about astronomy because it’s always been an interest of mine, but honestly the trip around the world was a pretty good selling point, too. The chance to learn about the stars and observe them seems pretty awesome, and seeing them from a different vantage point of the Southern Hemisphere seems like a pretty amazing experience as well.
My name is Megan Willmore. In the words of Max Lucado, I am as old as everything I have ever done and as young as everything I still want to do — otherwise known as 21. I’m an English major at Sam Houston State University with a minor in secondary education with the intention to teach high school English when I graduate. I grew up with the same wonder at the night sky that everyone generally experiences as a child, and that awe has never left me. Astronomy, traveling, and diversity have always fascinated me, so, of course, this trip was a new adventure waiting to happen for me, and I couldn't pass up such a golden opportunity.
My name is Samantha Toback. I’m a 19-year-old freshman majoring in history with minors in secondary education and Spanish. My goal is to go to South America — hopefully Chile — to teach English while studying ancient South American cultures. I've been interested in astronomy from a very young age and have wanted to experience a solar eclipse since I found out they existed, way back in elementary school. Traveling is also one of my passions, so the chance to witness such amazing once-in-a-lifetime events while traveling to such beautiful places was something I couldn't pass up.