Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chandra X-Ray Observatory event at Merril

The Merril Collection hosted a triple barrelled event on Friday evening and Saturday involving a presentation from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a book launch for Julie Czerneda, and a space art retrospective by Jean-Pierre Normand.

Friday's science summary of the work done by Chandra for the last ten years was presented by the Observatory's Lead Education Officer, Donna L. Young, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable speaker. One of the hightlights for me was the composite photo of M101 in Ursa Major -- a giant spiral galaxy seen nearly head-on from our vantage point, and historically used as a marker for establishing the cosmic distance scale.

Photo credit -- X-ray: NASA/CXC/JHU/K.Kuntz et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/JHU/K. Kuntz et al; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/K. Gordon. Image Scale -- Image is 18 arcmin (114,000 light years) across

The second half of Friday was a book launch and book signing, with a reading from Julie Czerneda, for her novel Rift In The Sky, the third book in a three book series written as a prequel to her Trade Pact Chronicles. Julie had some insightful things to say about the difficulties and pitfalls in writing a prequel trilogy for a trilogy that had already been written and published. I wish Geotge Lucas had considered these things with the same degree of care.

Saturday morning's activities started shortly after 9:30 with some introductory remarks by Professor John R. Percy of U of T and the RASC. Donna spoke some more, and then turned things over to Jean-Pierre for a space art retrospective.

Shortly after this began, Corwin experienced severe stomach cramping and vomiting, and had to be taken home by Jill. I carried him out of the building and across the street, until my arms gave out. Jill took over, while I tried to retrieve the car, from its parking spot underneath the Addiction Research Foundation north across College Street. What I discovered was that there were no regular entrances that allowed one back down to the parking garage, so I circled the building and walked down using the vehicle ramp. Jill and Corwin headed home, and I went back to the library.

Whatever Norwalk-like stomach bug had gotten Corwin continued to make him periodically sick over the next four or five hours until it subsided in the afternoon. By evening he was keeping down liquids and able to eat the official Lum family sick rations of macaroni and soy sauce.

Back at the library, Jean-Pierre concluded his space art slide show, and Donna ran a Stellar Evolution workshop, highlighting the various pathways along which stars could be born and evolve and end.

In the afternoon, Julie ran an Alien By Design workshop session. The lesson of evolution is that life adapts to its environment, and adapts again when things change. The physiological features that we see in life forms are there for valid environment-related reasons. For purposes of the workshop, Julie specified some environmental conditions, and our task was to design an alien being that could plausibly live in that environment and develop intelligence. I did this in conjunction with Michael and Chris, two of the Usual Suspects who also attended this event.

After the Alien By Design workshop, Jean-Pierre did a truly amazing retrospective of his cover and illustration art over nearly thirty years.

In the course of the afternoon, I got Corwin's copy of Orbiter signed by Julie, by Jean-Pierre, and by Eric Choi, author of one of the stories in the collection. I also got a couple of copies of Jean-Pierre's book of artwork, Science Fiction Illustrations, again signed, one of which will go to our friend Hicaru in Japan.

At the end of the day, Julie sent a package of alien-making materials for Corwin. By the time I got home, Corwin was well enough to appreciate it. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with when we (or he by himself) does this exercise.

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