“Back Roads, Dark Skies” Update

One of the lifts at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, which raises and lowers the entire floor of the observatory. I made the image look like an old photo because it felt appropriate for the space.

My talk at ThirstDC yesterday went pretty well (as much as I can be an objective judge of such things), but since I still wasn’t fully recovered from my Midwest jaunt, I’m too dead today to write much. (Not to mention that I talked too much and I now sound like Leonard Cohen.) However, my book Back Roads, Dark Skies has hit a minor setback: my Kickstarter application has been rejected, with wording to make it plain they won’t accept any revised application.

Just to be clear: I will continue to write the book! I have invested too much both in the idea and in travel already to drop it now, so I’m looking into other funding sources. If you have any fundraising schemes for me, please feel free to leave those ideas in the comments, send me email, or via Twitter.

I also promise to resume a more regular blogging schedule next week, once I’ve caught up on sleep a bit more! If you miss my writing terribly, here are two Ars Technica articles I wrote this week:

  • Science offered up eight enduring mysteries in modern astronomy and cosmology. I put on my deerstalker to investigate them.
  • Spiral galaxies like the Milky Way contain many parts, which aren’t all of the same age. An astronomer has found a potentially useful new technique to date galactic regions using white dwarfs: he determined a relationship between white dwarf mass and the age of the star that made it.
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5 Responses to ““Back Roads, Dark Skies” Update”


  1. 1 Megan M. June 1, 2012 at 19:33

    Ah that sucks. I have no further thoughts at the moment I’m afraid.

    • 2 Matthew R. Francis June 4, 2012 at 11:04

      Thanks – it’s not going to be the end of the book if I don’t get funding, but it would be nice (and make life less stressful while I finish writing it). I’m writing this book one way or another!

  2. 3 dwellscho June 2, 2012 at 09:45

    Regarding your 8-Enduring-Mysteries posting to ArsTech, I was immediately thinking of one of the great mysteries that has been more-or-less resolved, which was: “What are gamma ray bursts (GRBs)? and How far away are they?” While I was in still in grad school, circa ’71 or so, I heard a colloquium by Edward Teller himself (bushy eyebrows!), in which he told us that Los Alamos had discovered these bursts, with rate about once per day and randomly distributed on the sky. For more than 30 years GRBs ranked high on any list of astronomy’s current mysteries. New telescopes were built, meeting after meeting was held, and the GRB issues remained open questions. But finally astronomers were able to show that GRBs are at cosmological distances, and are related to supernovas. My point is that any such list of “Enduring-Mysteries” does evolve, albeit slowly.

  3. 4 dwellscho June 2, 2012 at 09:56

    And there is a second example of Enduring-Mysteries being resolved: the Missing-Solar-Neutrino problem. This mystery began in the 1960s, when detected neutrino rates did not match solar interior model predictions. Again, for more than 30 years this issue ranked high on any list of astronomy’s current mysteries, alongside the GRB questions. The solar neutrino mystery was finally resolved, sort-of, by the demonstrations that neutrinos change their type while in flight. So, during my professional astronomy ‘lifetime’ two gigantic mysteries arose, were debated and studied, justified construction of new instrumentation, and were finally resolved, and so do not appear on this current list of “Enduring” mysteries. So we have good reason to hope that one or more of the current eight items will also be resolved in the next few decades.

    • 5 Matthew R. Francis June 4, 2012 at 11:09

      Yes, I’ve written extensively about neutrino oscillations: http://galileospendulum.org/2012/05/12/the-flavor-of-neutrinos/
      though I didn’t linger over the solar neutrino problem specifically.

      Actually, I just thought of another mystery that turned out to be a complete *non*-mystery. This is Planet X: the postulated high-mass planet lying beyond Neptune’s orbit. The hunt for Planet X yielded the discovery of Pluto, but while the original prediction was based on a supposed anomaly in Neptune’s orbit, better calculations showed the anomaly to be nonexistent. In other words, a flawed estimate led to a serendipitous discovery.


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