A successful week in science
Firstly, I’ve been absent from this blog for the last couple of weeks so an apology is in order to regular readers. One week I was crook with one of those nasty little lurgies that are going around at the moment and the next week I was up to my neck in a secret mission, more details of which will be revealed later in the year. But along the way at RiAus, we have had some major successes and I just wanted to spend some time this week singing the praises of my staff and just generally sharing with you.
The recent highlight of the science calendar has been the transit of Venus which occurred on 6 June. Any science institution worth its salt made some effort to commemorate and get involved with this particularly rare astronomical event, and RiAus was no exception. In the preceding week we had an event in our Auditorium where Valerie Sitters from the State Library of South Australia and Nick Lomb from the Sydney Observatory explained some of the history and associated astronomy of the impending event as well as taking questions from the audience. As is our custom now, this event was relayed live to the internet and enjoyed by a worldwide audience. As one attendee commented to me at the close of the event, what a wonderful way to be able to engage with the minds of science, in a comfortable setting and with a glass of wine!
Come the day of the transit, we had prepared a live feed of images from Perth in case of cloud in Sydney. The intention was to make these available on our website. But my mind was dulled on the morning with news of cloud in Perth. Then, disaster! Our website crashed (although the livestreaming page was still available). There was some solace that the crash was caused by excessive demand from people trying to log onto the feed. And then we heard that even NASA had crashed for the same reason! If we weren’t performing, at least we were in good company!
Then, victory! Our talented and dedicated technical team, Petra, Bryan and Peter managed to not only get the website back online but patched together incoming material from Perth (where the cloud had cleared) and NASA to provide a stunning running commentary with images as the event unfolded.
It was a triumph with over 5,500 people logging into the livestream, 700 being from overseas. This represents nearly a whole month of online activity for us in a single day! No wonder the site crashed! If our mission is to bring people to science and take science to the people, this was a stunning example of how we can do just that.
Then we also had another very successful event last week with the Mawson’s Scientific Legacy evening held in our auditorium. While the evening began with four very interesting and engaging talks about various aspects of Antarctic science, the second half of the evening really took off when we had a live link to Mawson Base in Antarctica and we were able to quiz Base Leader Bob Jones and Deputy Base Leader Mel Fitzpatrick about all aspects of life in the Frozen Continent and what science they are getting up to down there. It was thrilling and enthralling and, once again, broadcast live to the world with many people logging in from across the country and as far afield as Denmark!
The week started with the launch of our latest art exhibition, Winning Sky Photos, the best entrants and winners of the David Malin Awards 2011. What’s inspiring about this exhibition is not so much the gob-smacking beauty of all the images, but the ingenuity and dedication of amateur astronomical photographers from across the country who made them. Of course, now the exhibition is open, feel free to drop in and have a look over the next couple of months – you’ll be amazed at how beautiful this universe is.
So it’s been one hell of a week! I’m one very happy Director watching our talented and dedicated team come together and perform near miraculous feats in order to meet our mission. RiAus is destined to become the Australian forum where science meets citizens. Last week I glimpsed that future.
By Paul Willis
Image credit: NASA_JSC_Photo
View the transit of Venus videos: