Get ready for cuteness overload: Tiny Giants 3D showing now in the GST!

Learn about the amazing trials and tribulations of a mighty chipmunk and a daring mouse from their own tiny perspective in Tiny Giants 3D now showing in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre!

Come on an extraordinary adventure into magical worlds beneath our feet that most of us never see – one where life is lived at an extraordinary intensive pace, where everything we know seems turned on its head. Experience the hidden kingdoms of the Enchanted Forest and the unforgiving desert of the Wild West. From BBC Earth, this is the story of a day in the life of two little heroes: a scorpion mouse and a chipmunk. For each of them this will be a day they never forget. It’s a story of drama, danger and courage, of insight and revelation, a journey to discover and understand a new and fascinating natural history. 


Wonder Women of STEM: Ada Lovelace, 19th century programmer

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series featuring influential women from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the lead up to HMNS’ annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015. Click here to get involved! 

The modern tech industry is currently dominated by men — a problem with its origins in the 1980s. While many companies have begun to reconfigure their goals and diversify their staffs in order to be more inclusive, it wasn’t always this way.

In fact, many, if not most, of the functions modern computing has taken on, were originally thought of by a woman in the 1800s — a woman who wrote the first computer algorithm. 

This woman was Ada Lovelace, or Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace born in 1815 as the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron. It might seem strange that a poet’s daughter would turn “techie” as such, but Lovelace’s computational genius was undeniable and encouraged from a very young age. 

You see, her mother (who was apparently not very fond of Lord Byron) wanted her daughter to be as unlike her father as possible, and thereby stressed mathematics and science, and left out poetry, in her tutoring.

However, Lovelace’s inner poet could not be extinguished, manifesting itself in her beautifully artistic approach to her field, calling it “poetic sciences.” 

When she was 17, Lovelace was introduced her to Charles Babbage, who was working on a prototype for the Analytical Engine, one of the predecessors to electronic computers. 

Devised as a way to solve complex mathematical formulas, Ada created the first algorithm for the engine. However, she saw past this function, envisioning a future where the machine could perform a variety of tasks and questioned how technology and society interact and affect one another. On this, she said: 

“[The Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

While the plans for the Analytical Engine were never fully realized, Lovelace wrote scholarly papers on the theoretical machine, along with her algorithm, which proved vital for those building the first computer a century later.

HMNS is highlighting females that made contributions to STEM fields leading up to our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015!

Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) is an event that showcases some of the great things girls do with science, technology, engineering and math! Students can present a project on a STEM related subject for the chance to earn prize money for their school.

If you, or a student you know is interested, apply for a student booth today!

Want to know more about the wonder women of STEM?
Click here for the first post in the series, Wonder Women of STEM: Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter



Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 1/12-1/18

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Behind-the-Scenes Tours
Tuesday, January 13
6:00 p.m. 
Samurai: The Way of the Warrior
Witness the exquisite objects related to the legendary Samurai warriors of Japan in the special exhibition Samurai: The Way of the Warrior. Museum master docents will lead you through the collection that includes full suits of armor, helmets, swords, sword-hilts, and saddles, as well as exquisite objects intended for more personal use such as lacquered writing boxes, incense trays and foldable chairs. 

Learn about the important roles sharks play in ecosystems and about their unique physical characteristics in the Shark! touch tank experience. Museum biologists will lead this special after-hours, hands-on tour. 

Adult Education Class – Japanese Tea Ceremony
Saturday, January 17
11:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. 
The Japanese tea ceremony tradition dates back centuries when samurai lords were among the few allowed to participate. A demonstration of the ceremony will be performed by Midori Mochizuki-master of Chado, the way of the tea. Tea master Heather Clary will provide commentary during this silent ceremony. A tea tasting for all course participants will follow the demonstration and lecture. Click here for more info.

Telescope Classes 
George Observatory 
Saturday, January 17
Do you have a new telescope that has never been out of the box? Need help learning how to set it up? Come let an expert astronomer teach you how to set up your scope so that it will work. It is not as easy as the box would lead you to believe! After you get help, it will be easy to use.
The astronomer will help you set up and learn some stars so that you will be successful. Bring all your parts and the instructions that came with the new telescope. If you want to stay later, you can allow the public to come look through your new scope and see how much fun it is to volunteer at the George Observatory.

Refractor And Reflection Telescope Class
1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Go-To Computerized Telescope Class
3:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Day Excursion – Battleship Texas – Behind The Scenes Tour
Sunday, January 18
9:00 a.m. 
Climb 60 feet above the water to the flying bridge or down 20 feet below the water into the engine room. Tour the restored sleeping quarters and medical facilities, engine room, guns and anchors with historian guides. Our group will also receive special access to parts of the ship not open to the public and enjoy a special presentation by director Andy Smith. Participants will meet at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. Click here for more info. 



Seeing Stars with James Wooten: See Comet Lovejoy this month, get a once-in-a-lifetime treat!

Star Chart - january 2015

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it moves through Aquarius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind. 

Jupiter is now up most of the night. It rises now at about 8:25, and by January 31 it will rise in evening twilight. Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night, so it will be obvious once it rises.   

Venus has emerged from the Sun’s glare, and is low in the southwest at dusk. Look for Venus to appear higher in the evening sky in the weeks to come.

Mercury is to the lower right of Venus in the southwest at dusk, but only for a little while.  The two are less than one degree apart January 8-12 (Venus is much brighter). After mid-month, we’ll see it head back towards the Sun and drop out of view. 

Saturn is in the southeast at dawn.

In January, the Big Dipper only partly risen at dusk. As the Big Dipper rises, though, Cassiopeia remains high. This is a pattern of five stars in a distinct W (or M) shape which lies directly across the North Star from the Big Dipper. Look for Cassiopeia high in the north on fall and winter evenings.  

Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus in the west at dusk. Taurus, the Bull is high in the south. Look for the Pleiades star cluster above reddish Aldebaran. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter takes center stage on winter evenings. Surrounding Orion are the brilliant stars of winter. Orion’s belt points down to Sirius, the Dog Star, which outshines all other stars we ever see at night. The Little Dog Star, Procyon, rises with Sirius and is level with Orion’s shoulder as they swing towards the south. To the upper left of Orion’s shoulder is Gemini, the Twins.

Also this month: Look for comet Lovejoy! 

Discovered in August 2014, Lovejoy now passes close enough to Earth for us to see. On January 7, the comet makes its closest approach to Earth — about 0.47 AU (a little less than half the Earth-Sun distance. However, Lovejoy is still falling in towards the Sun as it passes Earth; perihelion isn’t until January 30. As a result, it should continue to brighten slightly even after the 7th as it gives off more gas and dust during its approach to the Sun. 

Here is Sky and Telescope’s Lovejoy finder chart for this month. Note that you’ll find Lovejoy high in the evening sky to the west (right as you face south) of the bright pattern Orion, the Hunter. What’s more, the Moon, now past full, moves out of the picture right as Lovejoy is shifting northward in our sky, thus appearing higher each evening. Thus, if you are able to go far from city lights, you can see Lovejoy dimly with the unaided eye.  Observers are reporting a bluish/greenish glow, indicating that Lovejoy is producing little dust and that the gas tail dominates (dust would reflect sunlight, making the comet look whiter).

Our only chance to see this particular comet comes this month; once it’s gone it won’t be back for 8,000 years!

Moon Phases in January 2015:

Full: January 4, 10:53 p.m.
Last Quarter: January 13, 3:46 a.m.
New: January 20, 7:14 a.m.
1st Quarter: January 28, 10:48 p.m. 

At 1 a.m. on Sunday, January 4, the Earth came as close to the Sun as it will for the whole year. This was perihelion. 

Although the winter solstice is the shortest day, the earliest sunset occurred on about December 2, and the latest sunrise will occur January 10.

That’s because the Earth speeds up on its orbit as it approaches perihelion (closest approach to the Sun). This acceleration shifts sunrise, local noon, and sunset slightly later each day for the first part of this month.  The effect is smaller than that of the Sun taking a lower path across the sky, which normally dominates in causing earlier sunsets and later sunrises. But the Sun’s apparent path varies very little near the solstice itself, allowing the secondary effect of the Earth approaching the Sun to predominate until mid-January.  Most people, then, will notice that both sunrise and sunset are now happening earlier than in December. As we move farther from the solstice, the effect of the Sun taking a slightly higher path each day again predominates. 

Click here for 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!