Shark Week: Of Fins and Fiction

At the risk of sounding obvious — it’s Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s annual plug for the much maligned (but secretly awesome) top predators of the deep!

Started in 1988, as a way for the station to capitalize on the lack of summer competition for programming while aiding conservation efforts for the infamously finned and fanged fellows, the sharks and Discovery Channel have had what you may call a symbiotic relationship. Sharks get the station viewers and the viewers provide better ratings for the station while becoming better educated about sharks and the need for strong conservation efforts. Win/win/win.

Well, at least that’s how Shark Week started…

Lately, Shark Week has, well, it’s been a little disappointing — at least from a scientific standpoint. 

Most of the programming is seemingly centered on making the public at large even more afraid of sharks than they already are (even while these fears are generally not grounded in fact). They’re hyping up fears of getting eaten by one while making the shark from Jaws look comparable to a goldfish you’d take home in a plastic bag.

Here I’m talking about the megalodon, or Carcharodon megalodon

While it’s incredible that this positively massive species of shark ever existed (let alone that we now have the capabilities to find and date their fossils to between 28 and 2 million years ago) the folks with Shark Week have decided that the species wasn’t interesting enough on its own merit. Instead, they’ve now made two completely un-scientific “documentaries” about “scientists” “searching” for it (Click here for an in depth review of actual scientific theories surrounding megalodon).

You may also have heard that some restaurants have tried to capitalize on Shark week this year by serving shark meat on their menus. Really.It’s getting pretty clear at this point that the programming is seriously diluting the conservation message that Shark Week was originally meant to convey.

In a conversation on all things Shark Week with the International Business Times, Sonja Fordham, a marine biologist and founder of Shark Advocates International was asked about the positive and negative effects of Shark Week on the public’s perception of sharks. On this point she said:

“Well, it’s really hard to tell. There’s good things and bad things,Talking about sharks, providing all types of people and interest groups to get out their messages tied to this global event — one time a year we’re all focused on sharks — so that can be very positive if we capitalize on that. But then of course the negative image, the perpetuation of the fear of sharks, does not help shark conservation. It’s a pretty outdated view to see sharks as killing machines or serious threats to beach goers. That negative imagery doesn’t help in help of advancing shark conservation policies.” 

So it’s a mixed bag. But we can use the hype of Shark Week to start conversations about conservation, the need to protect sharks and ways change our perceptions of them.

It might be an uphill battle, but we’re still making progress.

If you have the desire to learn more about sharks (including the extinct megalodon) make sure you come to HMNS for our SHARK! exhibit, opening August 29.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: The Perseids are back August 12!

Star Chart August 2014

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on August 1, 9 pm CDT on August 15, and dusk on August 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high overhead. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left. From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest. Watch Mars close in on Saturn this month. The Great Square of Pegasus rises in the east, heralding the coming autumn.

This month, Mars is in the southwest at dusk this month. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind. Still, Mars rivals the brightest stars we see at night.

Saturn is also in the south southwest at dusk. Mars passes 3.4 degrees south of Saturn on August 25. 

Venus remains in the morning sky, although it now begins to approach the Sun more and more. Look east at dawn for the brightest point of light there; only the Sun and Moon outshine Venus. Venus remains a morning star for almost all of 2014.

Jupiter emerges from behind the Sun into the morning sky by late August. Venus is about 1/5 of one degree from Jupiter at dawn on August 18th. (Both are low in the east at dawn). 

The Big Dipper is left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the west at dusk.  Leo, the Lion, is setting in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southeast, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius behind it. The Summer Triangle is high in the east. The stars of summer are here. By late evening you can look for the Great Square of Pegasus rising in the east, indicating that fall is approaching.

Coming to an observatory near you, August 12: The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks next week, late Tuesday/early Wednesday (August 12-13).  As usual, we see more meteors towards dawn because that’s when we rotate into the meteor stream. 

The George Observatory is open 7:00 p.m. August 12 until 2:00 a.m. August 12-13 for the shower. 

 

Moon Phases in August 2014

1st Quarter: August 3, 7:50 p.m. 
Full: August 10, 1:10 p.m.
Last Quarter: August 17, 7:26 a.m.
New: August 25, 9:12 a.m.

Click here to see the Burke Baker Planetarium Schedule.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement. 

Clear Skies!

STEM & GEMS: BP financial analyst Lyda Marie T. Paragoso tells girls to stay STEM curious

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Lyda Marie T. Paragoso, Financial Analyst for BP’s Gulf of Mexico Operations Budgeting & Forecasting.

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Paragoso: I was five years old when I first became interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Paragoso: My parents and PBS inspired me when I was younger. My brother and I had a Popular Science subscription, and we always watched this PBS show called 3-2-1 Contact, which was an American science education show and taught scientific principles and their applications.

HMNS: What was your favorite project when you were in school?
Paragoso: In 5th grade, I made a 3-D model of the kidney organ which won an award and was displayed at the library of my elementary school. I also really enjoyed my sugar crystals science project, and in 8th grade for my Honors Earth Science project, I made a video acting as a weather forecaster using my homemade weather map.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Paragoso: 
My current job deals more with math; I interface a great deal with engineering and technology. Specifically, I’m currently a Financial Analyst at BP Gulf of Mexico Operations on the Budgeting & Forecasting team. I deal with a lot of financial data to create performance reports, analyze operations metrics and key performance indicators, and present them to the Operations Leadership Team and to the VP of Operations in order to formulate better financial forecasts and formulate more robust operations budgets.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Paragoso: The best part of my job is that I get to interface with many engineers, project managers, and other financial folks to better understand the BP oil and gas business in the Gulf of Mexico.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Paragoso: In my spare time, I enjoy traveling, cooking, playing the guitar and piano, people watching, training in Bujinkan Ninjutsu (I’m a first degree black belt), and going to the theater and movies. When time permits, I also like to volunteer for the Empowering Amputees organization, The Ronald McDonald House, and Notre Dame Catholic Church (my local church).

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Paragoso: Stay curious, focused and determined. Be open to opportunities that will get you challenged and involved.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Paragoso: It is very important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS because it is a source of inspiration and a way to feed that curiosity and hunger for knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math.

HMNS: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
Paragoso:
I’m an amputee and a cancer survivor (lost my left leg when I was 10 years old due to bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma).

Biography of Lyda Marie T. Paragoso:
Lyda Marie T. Paragoso is currently a Financial Analyst for Gulf of Mexico (GoM) Operations Finance Budgeting & Forecasting team in support of the Discipline Capability organization, Logistics organization, VP of Operations and overall performance management across the Operations Budgeting & Forecasting teams within Gulf of Mexico Operations.

Lyda’s prior role was Performance Analyst in GoM Logistics where she was responsible for the monthly quarterly performance reports (QPRs) for each of the Gulf of Mexico production assets. She joined BP in 2004 and has held a variety of Financial Analyst roles in both North America Gas and Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to BP, she was an Assistant to the Controller at the University of St. Thomas and Tax Associate/Consultant at Arthur Andersen, LLP. Lyda has a BBA/MBA in Accounting/Finance from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

 

A total eclipse over Houston: What color was last night’s ‘blood Moon’?

I hope you saw the eclipse last night and didn’t lose too much sleep. The weather was perfect and the Moon performed as predicted. The press excitedly dubbed it a ‘blood Moon,’ but we didn’t know what color the Moon would actually be.

Here’s the Moon entering eclipse and fully in the Earth’s shadow (taken from my front yard). Is it a ‘blood Moon’ after all? You be the judge.

Photo by Gary Young. All rights reserved.

Photo by Gary Young. All rights reserved.

These photos were taken by my husband, Gary Young. (I was the frozen assistant.) We used a Takahashi FCT-76 telescope and a Canon 60D camera to capture the photos.

It was a spectacular eclipse, with Mars nearby to the right and Saturn off to the left. Both planets were very bright and easy to identify. The star near the Moon (and just off the field of these images) was Spica in the constellation Virgo.