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Happy Holidays from George and Kelly!


This is the story of how to take the twinkling
out of stars. Turbulence in the atmosphere of the Earth makes stars blurry when you look
at them through telescopes. People have sent telescopes into space to try and get around
that problem, successfully. But we do something different. We measure the turbulence hundreds
of times a second, and then we have a very small mirror that wiggles around it’s shape
hundreds of times a second to cancel out blurring of the turbulence. And we get pictures on
the ground just as clearly as if our telescope were in space. This is the story of how stars captivate our
imagination. And it involves the work of the Swedish playwright, painter, photographer,
August Strindberg. In the 1890’s he experimented and he placed a series of photographic plates
in the evening, during a clear sky and expected and believed that he could actually get the
images of the starry night. Like the stars themselves, they really provoke a lot of wonder. The Star Apple is the most beautiful fruit
in the world. It’s a dark purple, about the size of an orange and it has large seeds—each
of which is covered by a white aril that form a shape of a star. Every animal in the rainforest
loves to eat the Star Apple. The way that we reward students has changed
dramatically in the last, even 20 years. Where at one point we gave gold stars on students
papers as a tool to motivate, students will now, as young as 3rd grade, turn their work
in to a shared google drive. So there’s no place to put a star. So, this is the story of an unlucky star that
got so close to a supermassive black hole that it was ripped apart by it’s gravitational
force. And even though you would think, like okay, stars digested by black holes sounds
like science fiction we actually see them. They happen about once every 10,000 years
in a galaxy like our own. So by actually monitoring something like, tens of thousands of galaxies,
we actually see an unlucky star being digested by one of these black holes, you know, about
once a month these days. Which is pretty amazing. Stars have always been an inspiration to artists.
But incidentally, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by Mozart has nothing to do with stars.
Because Mozart originally wrote variations on a French song that had nothing to do with
stars, it had something to do with “My Mama Told Me.” You know, stars are wonderful things. But
stars are only a small portion of the universe. The protons, neutrons and electrons that comprise
stars only are about 6 percent of the mass in the entire universe. So stars, as bright
and wonderful as they are, are even more unusual than we might have otherwise thought. Like
a nova exploding in the midst of the Milky Way, UC Santa Cruz burst forth on the educational
scene fifty years ago. And our star has shone brightly ever since then.

Stephen Childs

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