Hello Reddit!

Many of you know me for my astronomy-related comments on Reddit that begin with "astronomer here!" In real life, my name is Yvette Cendes, and I am a Hungarian-American radio astronomer who also writes for various publications like Astronomy, Discover, and Scientific American. I recently completed my PhD requirements (read: diploma not in hand yet, but done working on the thing) where my thesis focused on radio transients over long time scales- that is, things that vary in the radio sky over years, from supernovae to black holes. This time lapse of Supernova 1987A in radio is probably the coolest looking thing in my PhD thesis if you want an example of a long term radio transient!

Anyway, next week I start my research postdoc at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA, which I am really excited about! But I really wanted to do a Reddit AMA before the new job kicks in as thanks to you all for your support during my PhD. That might sound like a strange thing, but believe you me, there were some dark periods of my PhD in which the best part of my day was coming here to talk about the things I still loved about astronomy, and knowing I couldn't be as incompetent as all that if I could get others excited about astronomy too. So, thanks! :)

Finally, I should mention that I actually keep a sub-reddit if you're interested at all over at /r/Andromeda321. It's mainly astronomy and research related, but veers off into whatever else I find interesting at times. Cheers!

My Proof:

Here is my personal website, and here is my Twitter account. Also, for fun, here is me doing my very best Ellie Arroway impersonation from Contact at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, which is the second largest single radio dish in the world.

Ok, AMA!

Comments: 278 • Responses: 78  • Date: 

iammaxhailme100 karma

Maybe not the kind of question you're looking for, but do you think the PhD system needs a reform, considering that the number of PhDs produced is far in excess of the number of academic jobs?

Sincerely, a disgruntled recent PhD dropout.

Andromeda321173 karma

I definitely think the PhD system needs reform, but less for the reason you cite but because the system is so dependent on the adviser-student relationship that it's rife with abuse. I myself had to move to a different continent to finish my PhD when my relationship with my first adviser became toxic. And if you talk to others, everyone knows cases like mine, or often even worse in terms of mental health crises or even physical abuse. The system is antiquated, and needs reform.

I don't necessarily think more PhDs than jobs is a bad thing, because PhDs out in society can do many and interesting things. I do think academia is definitely not set up to make students aware of those other options, however.

Portarossa32 karma

Congratulations! I always love seeing 'Astronomer here!', and I hope it continues :)

I'd say you're one of a handful of Reddit users who are immediately recognisable for your posts here, and one of few who is openly a woman on a site that tends to get some pretty bad PR when it comes to female users. Do you find that it's really as bad as its reputation, or has it been less of a problem than it's sometimes made out to be? (You've been quite vocal on your Twitter about the same issues in STEM, but I'm curious how it also affects things like scientific outreach; 'public scientists' like Nye and Tyson and Cox are doing great work in getting people excited about science, but it does occasionally look a bit like a boys' club, especially at the top levels. Is the idea of scientific outreach something you'd be interested in as a post-PhD career?)

Also... punched by a gorilla?

Andromeda32135 karma

So, the most common thing I get from astronomers unfamiliar with Reddit is how bad it is towards its treatment of women. Invariably I point out to these astronomers that they hang out on Twitter, and have you seen some of the stuff that gets posted there? Do they go out of their way on Twitter to follow terrible people there and talk with them? Of course not.

I think the thing about Reddit is it's frankly the third most visited site in the USA, and even bigger than Twitter, and anything that big is just going to have all the good and bad of the Internet. Frankly, I don't go out of my way to check out the shitty stuff on Reddit, and have had a great experience with it. For every hundred positive comments I'll get maybe one negative one... but then other users jump in and downvote them.

Personally, if anything I've felt science Twitter to be a much more draining experience. It seems like most people with lots of followers there get there by being outraged over random things, and I find that attitude really draining. I can think of one person I won't name who sometimes posts on Reddit and then complains about that one in a hundred comment that's terrible, to hundreds of Twitter likes... and really, what's the point? It's hard enough to be a woman in STEM without spending your mental energy on trolls.

I hope that all answers your question!

enitlas31 karma

Of the science missions currently on NASA's timeline, which one is most interesting to you? What mission would you like to see that isn't currently scheduled?

Andromeda32154 karma

James Webb Space Telescope! I want to believe!

As for other missions, I think a mission to Neptune would actually be really cool because it's so far away that telescopes studying it is limited, and we only had one flyby of data from Neptune. To writ, I think we would learn a lot because Neptune is the smallest gas giant (just 4x the diameter of Earth!) and we think it formed much closer to the sun and migrated out. Second, we think it has several captured Kuiper Belt Objects as moons, so this would be an excellent way to study those objects too.

eveningsand15 karma

On a scale of 1 to your favorite number greater than 1:

How upset do you get when people mistake your area of expertise for "astrology"? Not that something like this would <twitch> grind my gears or anything...

BTW congratulations on your accomplishment and thanks for increasing the knowledge of mankind.

Andromeda32141 karma

My favorite number is 5, because I decided at age 5 that that would always be my favorite number. :) That said, honestly, I have to say 1 because I don't get upset so much as feel super cringey. My experience is people are very rarely willfully ignorant so much as uneducated, and I'm not a dick, so I hate to trample on people's beliefs. I also do not want to be the scientist that's rude to that person and turns them off of science!

So I just try to calmly explain that we don't think astrology is real, and try to get the topic on some legit science we can all get excited about. Honey is better for catching flies than vinegar.

Ajfman9 karma

While we're on the subject (not so much of a question), I always confuse Astronomy with Astrology because Astrology literally means the study of stars and that's always upset me. That is all.

Andromeda32136 karma

Well to be completely fair, astronomy and astrology were the same thing for literally thousands of years. People studied the stars because they assumed they affected our daily lives (and to be fair, if you're an ancient Egyptian predicting the flooding of the Nile based off the stars, who can blame you for taking it further).

TheApiary15 karma

I really appreciate this attitude! I'm a historian studying pre-modern people, and a lot of people tend to talk like everyone before the Enlightenment was an idiot. We know now that they were wrong about how a lot of things work, but they weren't dumb or crazy, they were just trying to explain the world using the tools available to them.

Andromeda32113 karma

I think it’s important (and fun!) to think about what you’d know about the universe if you had to start from scratch. Very little is obvious at first glance and frankly some of the stuff the Babylonians already figured out would have made that person the Einstein of their day. It’s just so long ago most people don’t remember it.

onearmed_paperhanger4 karma

I used to have fun trolling astrology people by asking them to guess my sign (since if it works it should also work backwards.) Except they usually get it right. :(

I guess I'm in the 8% of people who do match their sign.

Andromeda32113 karma

The thing about astrology that always grates me is it's not even based on where the sun is now- due to procession, the sun is now about two constellations out of whack from the dates defining the months. People are literally basing their lives on where constellations were 2,000 years ago!

Then when I get at it, I have a twin brother, who leads a pretty different life from me. Shouldn't we be the same if astrology was real? And who's to say ours is real instead of the Chinese system where everyone born in one years has the same traits? Argh!

AY-VE-PEA14 karma

Good day, hope you are doing well.

Great job on finishing your PhD.

What would you say is the best part of studying and observing our universe?

Andromeda32118 karma

Great question! I think it's different for everyone. For me, I consider the story of the universe the grandest story we have, and researching a part of that story yourself to share is just so magical and rewarding. I've considered leaving research after finishing my PhD (I think everyone briefly does), but realized I'm not done yet!

Perrozoso13 karma

I'm glad you stuck with it! Was not something I was able to do as I abbreviated my Astro PhD to a master's and went into tech. What kept you going on the days where it all just seemed out of reach?

Andromeda32126 karma

Honestly? There was just nothing else I wanted to do. Even if I leave academia someday I'm sure it would be to be a science writer or to work at a museum or something like that.

Plus, let's be honest, spite always works in a pinch. My hardest moments in my PhD were never the science but people treating me terribly for frankly no good reason. Who the hell wants people who think so little of you to define your life?

IndieGal_608 karma

Can you elaborate on any instances? I know of a few women who have changed their STEM majors because of things like that - so glad you pursued your dreams :)

Andromeda32130 karma

My first PhD adviser never took me seriously and the project wasn't going well. After five years of working for him, he decided I was "incapable of independent research" and would no longer extend my contract or promote my thesis, making it de facto impossible for me to graduate from that university. He also did not allow me to publish an important chapter of my thesis too, for bogus reasons, which had taken up about two years of my research at that point.

The man in charge of the department's PhD oversight only had the advice to "think about what makes you happy" and legit yelled at me when I decided what I wanted to do was finish my PhD, and to dare say I wasn't happy with what was going on.

Thank goodness I was able to transfer elsewhere and find people who supported me. Most people are not that lucky.

selepack11 karma

Congratulations on finishing your PhD work.

What’s the first thing you’d use the Square Kilometer Array for?

Andromeda32117 karma

Oh man, so many choices! :D The first that came to mind is to use old data from gamma-ray burst (GRB) satellites to look for the remains of old neutron star mergers. This is when two neutron stars, which are the core remnants of giant stars that exploded, smash into each other.

To explain why, we have now confirmed from gravitational wave merger data from LIGO that when two neutron stars merge you get a so-called short GRB that lasts less than two seconds. If the jet the merger creates isn't pointed at you, it's almost impossible to see much in radio because all you get is a peak years later as the shockwave and debris slams into the surrounding material. (If the jet is pointed at you, you do get a few years of radio emission from the jet.) This is then super faint emission, beyond the capabilities of radio telescopes these days really. It should be much easier to study that type of emission with the SKA though! It's important because we have learned neutron star mergers are the leading way heavy elements like gold are created, and this might be our only way to study how they then get distributed into their surroundings over time. So I'm sure we'd learn a lot!

Hope that answers your question!

nuno11ptt10 karma

Do you believe in the possibility of life in moon's like Europa? Any plans to dig and explore?

Andromeda32122 karma

I definitely believe it's possible! We find life everywhere on Earth there's liquid water, and life is essentially a chemical process, so I see no reason why that process shouldn't also happen elsewhere like Europa.

There are currently no plans to dig and explore because the ice crust on Europa is over 10 miles thick and this would be a challenge to do even on Earth- it took the Russians two decades to drill ~2mi to Lake Vostok in Antarctica, for example (link). Not really in the current space budget! Second, we are very careful these days about possibly contaminating life on other worlds, considering our awful record on Earth. As such, there are missions heading to Europa to study it, but we won't be drilling and we want to make sure we do it right.

nuno11ptt3 karma

Thank you so much for your reply! I admire your work!

Is there any solution besides drilling that we can do to analyse the possibility of life on Europa? Does it have erupting geysers we can collect samples of? and how can Europa have the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System?

Andromeda3216 karma

Check out the Europa Lander, which will hopefully launch in 2025. Its mission is to land on the Europan ice and look for biosignatures in the ice.

forgotmymainagain1 karma

Are we sure that the red stuff isn't biology? Can't wait for this mission. I hope I'm alive when the images return.

Andromeda3213 karma

Pretty sure- I believe the prevailing belief is they're colored from salts and other materials from the underlying ocean. But stuff like the Europa mission will help us know for sure what they are!

Two4ndTwois510 karma

Hello, Yvette! Thanks for this, and all that you do. I'm a third year PhD student in Space Sciences and I'm struggling to hone in on a single project for my dissertation, as I'm interested in so much, from planetary science and astrophysics, to fundamental physics. Any advice on how to go about this? I'm trying to spend as much time as I can devoted to 'solving this problem', but the more papers I read, the more interesting things I find!

A follow up question would be, do you have any advice on the transition from the dissertation year(s) to first year as a postdoc?

Thanks in advance!

Andromeda32116 karma

That's still a pretty diverse range! I would say, first off, I can't imagine all those topics are covered by one adviser, so I would highly recommend going for the person you think you can work with best. There is really no relationship more important to get right in a PhD than the one with your adviser and finding someone who will support you. Second, I think the important thing is to remember just because you are going to focus on one area doesn't mean you will stop thinking about the others- you can still go to colloquiua to learn about fundamental physics even if you become a planetary scientist. :) But ultimately, I think the question is what sort of questions you want to think about. Questions about planets, questions about debugging your code, questions about how stuff works in the lab? Because that is what will be taking up most of your research time!

And I'm just starting my postdoc next week, so maybe ask me in a year about that transition. :) Definitely plan for a month or two in your final year for job applications though- do a job talk tour, and make sure you give people time to read your statements.

Good luck!

Sam-Gunn6 karma

Great Job Yvette! Sorry, I mean (soon to be) Doctor-Astronomer Yvette! I've enjoyed reading a lot of your posts about what you do and some of the tools you do it with, like with the VLA (was it the VLA, or was it another LA.. sorry I forget).

Keep doing awesome stuff!

Oh, and a question.

where my thesis focused on radio transients over long time scales- that is, things that vary in the radio sky over years, from supernovae to black holes.

While years aren't that long in the grand scheme of things, how do you track particular events in "noisy" areas of the sky? if there are any, such as where events happened close together, and the resulting radio information is distorted because the radio telescopes are receiving both at the same time?

Are there radio signatures for each event? Or is it more of a guessing game? If you're looking at the long-time radio data, then is there a threshold where you can go "ok, it's too close to the background frequencies for us to try and still watch it now"?

Andromeda3213 karma

how do you track particular events in "noisy" areas of the sky? if there are any, such as where events happened close together, and the resulting radio information is distorted because the radio telescopes are receiving both at the same time?

Oh man, this is one of the frustrating parts of radio astronomy. I mean short answer is most people don't because it will be so hard to statistically confirm your signal is unique out of all that noise. Otherwise, there are some tedious methods which rely on really knowing your instrument and studying that patch of sky when there is no transient signal, and trying to subtract out the noise.

Are there radio signatures for each event? Or is it more of a guessing game? If you're looking at the long-time radio data, then is there a threshold where you can go "ok, it's too close to the background frequencies for us to try and still watch it now"?

There are not! The radio radiation I study tends to come from what is called synchrotron radiation, which is when electrons spiral around in magnetic fields. If you don't have strong enough magnetic fields, you won't see this radiation. Often you need something to happen to build up those fields, like time to pass, or for a shockwave to slam into material.

For an example, check out that SN 1987A video I linked in the intro. We don't see any radio emission until the early 90s, several years after the supernova in 1987, because the shockwave needed to hit a lot of material until it got bright enough to be detectable.

I would say it's not a complete guessing game, as you're not going to get telescope time without justifying why you think a source might be radio bright... but you do need a bit of luck!

TheVastWaistband6 karma

What sort of living do you expect to make at the end of this? It seems the vast majority of PhDs will never see a return on the investment they've made in their education on a material level(even if school is free that is years of missed income), is that right?

Andromeda32112 karma

Put it this way, no one goes into astronomy to become rich. I could be making a lot more money if I were to leave and go into industry (especially after my PhD, which has a lot of big data and problem solving skills), at least six figures. Instead, for reference, I was offered a few postdocs in the USA, and all were in the $60k range. In exchange though, I get to do research that really excites me, and have quite a lot of autonomy in my life and work.

I mean, let's be honest, if profit was the only motive no one would do astronomy. There are other reasons we do it.

TheVastWaistband2 karma

Were you able to get a lot of funding so you don't have to pay student loans until you die though? I know doctoral work is typically funded much differently than undergrad stuff

Andromeda3217 karma

You don't have to pay to attend a PhD program in STEM, and instead get paid a stipend in exchange for teaching/research. I actually did most of my PhD years in the Netherlands where you are paid as a civil servant, which was a nice but moderate income.

Thanks to a combination of scholarships and generous family, I very luckily did not have to take out loans for undergrad.

AwkwardSpread6 karma

What do you think is the most interesting (dwarf) planet in our solar system? Besides earth I’d say...

Andromeda32129 karma

Pluto is obviously cool because we have such wonderful pictures of it, but I really think more people should know about dwarf planet Haumea. This is because the light curve from Haumea shows it's rotating super fast, and its one axis is twice as long as its other, so it's basically a football-shaped rock 2000 km (1200 mi) across rotating every four hours. That's crazy, and unlike anything else in our solar system! Unfortunately, it's well beyond Pluto so we can't observe it directly.

brachester6 karma

During your PhD, how many hours a day/week are you actually productive? Also how much time did you spend on doing projects unrelated to your PhD/research?

Andromeda3219 karma

I think a big part of one's PhD process is learning time management and what works best for you. For me, I learned really quickly that I'm really not productive in the hour or two after lunch, and my peak productivity is from late afternoon until leaving around 7, and the morning. So my trick there was to save the random "unrelated to PhD/research" stuff for after lunch like responding to emails, checking out what new papers there were of interest, and the departmental colloquia/seminars usually were at that time too.

All told, in the final years of my PhD I never really worked more than 40 hours/week except for a few exceptions. (I should note that I did however switch advisers a little over two years ago, so am focusing on that period.) Every few months I'd spend a day or two on writing an article for some mainstream publication or another because that's something I enjoy though, and that's probably been my biggest outlay in non-research time at work.

tacoslaya6 karma


Andromeda3218 karma


capri715 karma

Maybe a silly question but have you enjoyed the maths side of learning astronomy?

Andromeda32112 karma

Honestly, math has never been my strong suit. I do too many dumb mistakes, and got Bs in all my undergrad math classes as a result. For me it's been more a tool to do the stuff I want to do rather than the part I like.

jetsdude5 karma

We going to find intelligent life out there when James Webb is up and running?

Andromeda3216 karma

Maybe! The big dream right now in exoplanet astronomy on how to do this is to find an Earth-sized planet that has free oxygen in its atmosphere. Free oxygen only exists a few thousand years in a planet's atmosphere unless it's replenished regularly, as it oxidizes quickly, and a sizable fraction of it likely points to life.

Granted, that doesn't tell you what kind of life is giving off the oxygen- it could be a bunch of bacteria, or a civilization much older than ours. But it would be a start!

Cosmic_Rage5 karma

Many academic departments seem to be interested in recruiting underrepresented student groups within various academic fields. However, it's common knowledge that base salaries for PhD students are extremely low and often near the poverty line in many geographies. Do you think these two forces are working against each other?

Andromeda3216 karma

I mean, we should be treating all PhD students with respect and with a livable wage, so I don't really see what one has to do with the other.

Cosmic_Rage2 karma

To rephrase it, are students from families less capable of providing them with financial support less likely to go into academia because the entry salaries are low for what types of jobs they're qualified for? Are grad student salaries so low that family financial backgrounds correlate to completion/success in grad school?

Andromeda3214 karma

So I don't want to speculate on this because I haven't studied this in great detail and don't know what the literature says on things like financial backgrounds and completion/success. Anecdotally, I know plenty of PhD students who were the first in their families to go to college, and know plenty whose parents were also professors (full disclosure, I am in the latter category). Grad student salaries are low, but not so low in all the places I attended that one can't support themselves on it (though I've heard horror stories at other universities), but as I said, the plural of data is not anecdote.

Cosmic_Rage3 karma

Yeah, that's fair. I personally left grad school with a Masters in part since I couldn't justify living with the low salary for multiple years in an expensive city, despite liking my project a lot, when my career goals changed and tech didn't require me to get a PhD.

Andromeda3216 karma

That's totally fair, and not an uncommon story. I hope you're enjoying what you're doing now though!

DeaderThanElvis1 karma

(I think you meant the plural of anecdote is not data.)

Andromeda3211 karma

Mea culpa, thanks!

unfazedmama4 karma

As an astronomer, do you watch astronomy documentaries? I just recently watched NOVAs Black Hole Apocalypse and Eclipse Over America which were awesome. Do you have any recommendations?

Andromeda32110 karma

I confess I don't very much, because when I get home after a day of doing astronomy I usually want to think of something other than astronomy. So my science documentaries tend to involve volcanoes and such.

I do love Nova though, and did go to the theater to see Apollo 11 a few months back! It was really cool to see how the normal stuff back then, like phones and what people were wearing, is now fascinating in itself.

unfazedmama4 karma

Can't blame you for that! I'd appreciate any science doc recommendations you may have! My science background is all medical related like bio and chem so physics and geology are a whole new universe to me!

Andromeda3218 karma

Well then. :) Interestingly one of the best volcano documentaries I've ever seen is this one, The Volcano Watchers. It's from the 1980s and follows a couple who chased volcanoes and ultimately died in an eruption, so you know they got recklessly close, but also got some of the best volcano footage ever!

AwakenedRobot4 karma

Can you share us the story where you were punched by a wild gorilla?

Andromeda3219 karma

I was traveling in Uganda after my MSc was done in 2011 and we were trekking to see the wild mountain gorillas. You could pay US$500 to do one hour with them, and it was well worth that once in a lifetime experience (I hear it’s more now though). You can’t go within 10m of the gorillas, but the gorillas can of course ignore that rule.

Anyway, one of the gorillas was a teenage male named Obia, which means “punchy” in the local language. Obia like teenage males of many species liked to play a game of “I punch you, you punch me back.” So the guides had us going in a row, and Obia saw us- knocked over the girl in front of me and did a “play punch” to my gut to see if I was interested. Didn’t hurt- the guards dragging me back lest he get the wrong idea hurt more.

So yeah, that’s how that life experience happened that I wasn’t expecting!

TheEnKrypt4 karma

I've been a software dev for the past half decade. What are some useful ways in which I can apply my skills to astrophysics? For eg. I'd imagine scope of using ML or AI on data from some of the big telescopes would yield interesting results.

Also I'm strongly considering to apply for a PhD program in astrophysics as well. Any advice on where to start if I want some prior research experience?

Andromeda3219 karma

Hmm, tough one. Probably your best bet is to get involved in some citizen science like Zooniverse and go from there. If you want to dive into data on your own, most public observatories have theirs online for free and you can play around with it to your heart's content.

If you're doing software development now full time I'm not sure how you'd get research experience beyond exploiting some contacts at a university or similar. Unfortunately, most universities/labs are not exactly set up to hire outside help in STEM on a part time/ contract basis. That said, I do think someone with several years of software experience would be seriously considered in a PhD program, provided you have a good undergrad degree! We are always short on people with great computer skills in astronomy, especially as data sets get bigger. As long as you can show you have experience in, say, AI, I don't think it matters much if it's on astronomy specific data or not. That's pretty easy to teach you in grad school.

I hope this helps!

TheEnKrypt6 karma

Holy shit, I cannot believe I didn't read your username when I commented.

I want you to know what an inspiration you've been to me. I think I can safely say that my decision to become a scientist from an engineer was mostly your doing.

As a child, I would watch the stars from my balcony. I noticed that some stars eventually "moved". I realized that those were planets! It was like I'd uncovered an intimate secret of the universe by myself and the spark was lit.

When I'd go on reddit, I'd find your 'Astronomer here!' comments every now and then explaining more and more such secrets, and before I knew it, I was infatuated.

I've seen the occasional posts through your journey as an astronomer and I remember seeing you with the meteorite collection thinking that this is the kind of career I eventually want when I'm older.

Thank you. I hope to one day be bigger inspiration than you have to me.

Andromeda3214 karma

Well, that's absolutely wonderful to hear. Good luck, and I hope your journey is rewarding! Give a shout if you need any advice with the PhD search or some such.

CODxxCITY3 karma

What music are you into?

Andromeda32112 karma

Mainly indie type stuff with a mix of folk and Broadway showtunes. I'm one of those people who goes around singing around the house without realizing she's doing it.

HB241 karma

Do you listen to John Prine and/or Todd Snider?

Andromeda3211 karma


HB243 karma

If you like folk, then it does not get better than those two guys...

Here is a science song by JP for ya!

Andromeda3212 karma

Love it. Very Schoolhouse Rock vibe to that video too!

mike_oxmall-692 karma

Hey Im 16 and Im looking at going to University here in the uk to study physics in a couple of years. I am unsure of what I would like to specialise in, for a while it was astrophysics but I am unsure now. What, in your opinion, would be the best thing to specialise into?

Andromeda3215 karma

Within physics, you mean? Honestly it depends on what you are interested in, and your university. For example, I have a Physics BSc and MSc, but it's in particle astrophysics (I did cosmic rays), which is really different from what I do now but was the most interesting thing to me at my uni.

I'd say right now the best thing is to not worry too much about choosing a specialty because you haven't really done physics yet. Instead what's important is to learn as much as you can and see what inspires you. You definitely have a few years yet to figure that out.

I hope this helps!

Thanato132 karma

Have you ever contemplated the possibility of time travelers with bad calculations just randomly floating around in space?

Andromeda3213 karma

Yes, I legit think that's probably the most difficult part of time travel and perhaps why no one's ever done it from the future.

CmdrNorthpaw2 karma

Do you need any special equipment to do light astronomy? I'm thinking of doing a GCSE in it but don't want to spend a fortune on telescopes and things.

Andromeda3215 karma

GCSE is high school level, right? I highly doubt your school would require you to buy much in the way of equipment, and already has it themselves. Plus, there is a lot you can learn just by eye about the universe- for example, I will bet good money that part of your course will be keeping a moon log for a month, where you record the phase of the moon and the time when it's clear.

If you're concerned at all, I would ask the teacher of the course what sort of equipment is required, and I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.

EntWarrior2 karma

Congratulations on finishing your PHD i may be late to the party,

My question is, on your journey of studying your universe have you come to find that the way our universe takes form in clusters, and super clusters that manifest in an almost neurological pathway image that some assume paints a picture akin to the mapping of our brain. Does this lead you to a curious question about this reality?

Andromeda3213 karma

I find it interesting for sure, but human beings are excellent at seeing patterns in places where they don't exist. So I wouldn't obsess over the connection too much.

lanclos2 karma

How would you summarize your own perspective and those of your direct colleagues on the ongoing controversy regarding the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea in Hawaii? I realize this may not have a direct impact on your own research and that you may not be well-versed in the particulars, but I'm curious to know how it has impacted your immediate peer group even on a discussion-over-coffee level.


Andromeda3216 karma

Sure thing. First off, I should note that I've never been to Hawaii, and am not well-versed in the details behind the controversy, so am hesitant to proclaim anything. That said, I do know that a lot of astronomers have historically and more recently not been really sensitive to the concerns of the native Hawaiian population, and this continued during the beginnings of TMT. They didn't really consider feelings about how it's a sacred site- easy to forget if you're not part of that culture, but remember how much everyone freaked out when Notre Dame was on fire and potentially going to be destroyed and how you'd feel if someone was disrespecting that.

I think ultimately most astronomers aren't dicks, and don't want to build TMT on Mauna Kea if it's going to cause pain to others. On a more practical level, the Europeans are now building a TMT-sized instrument of their own in Chile, so the longer they keep hoping to build there instead of the alternate site in the Canaries (which is also a damn good site only very marginally worse), the more the telescope loses its edge, so while the reason is unfortunate that might have to happen.

Ultimately though I should say it's a real shame it's come to this because there is nothing inherently incompatible here. For example, Kitt Peak National Observatory was built on a sacred mountaintop to the Tohono Oʼodham Nation. How did the astronomers get permission to build there? They invited the people to a star party with a bunch of telescopes at the University of Arizona to show them all the cool things in the universe. The Tohono Oʼodham then called the astronomers "people with the long eyes" and gave permission for KPNO to be where it is. It's very unfortunate a relationship like that couldn't be fostered at Mauna Kea.

ann1167542 karma

Hi, I'm currently finishing up my undergrad in Physics and am getting ready to apply for grad school for an Astrophysics PhD and I'm pretty nervous haha Do you have any advice for applying? And also how did you manage to get yourself to stay in school for so long? I'm a bit tired of school after 4 years but I really wanna go for my PhD

Andromeda3212 karma

I wrote up a post here on how to be an astronomer that includes PhD advice. I think the most important thing though is to get good letter writers who can really give specific examples of your capacity to do science. Ask them in person if they can write you a "strong recommendation" and see their reaction- you really don't want a wishy washy one if you can help it. Also, if there's anything like a bad grade to explain on your transcript, ask one of your letter writers to address it rather than doing it yourself- just looks like you're searching for excuses if you say it.

Oh, and don't start your essay with "I've been interested in astronomy since I was a little kid and..." because SO MANY PEOPLE start their essays like that it's ridiculous. Just don't.

As for staying in school that long, honestly the more you're in it the less it's like school and more like a job. You're probably only going to do classes the first two years or so of the PhD. After that, it's more just doing research in the lab.

Good luck! And feel free to PM if you have specific questions.

Zer0Summoner2 karma

Why can't we create some sort of big space-based shade between the sun and the planet to combat climate change, or move the planet like a hundredth of an AU further away from the sun?

Andromeda32110 karma

We don’t have the technology to do either. Technology costs money to develop. It would be cheaper to invest in tech that reduces emissions and does carbon capture.

Zer0Summoner8 karma

They did it in two different cartoons already. How can cartoon worlds have technology we don't have?

Andromeda32115 karma


UserOfChairs2 karma

What happens if dark energy interacts with a black hole?

I have been thinking recently that this interaction with a black hole at the center of a galaxy might produce results looking like dark matter locally. That is, the local expansion of the universe might slow down over the course of the rotation of the galaxy, and might mimic what we call dark matter. Any thoughts?

Andromeda3213 karma

Dark energy and dark matter are not the same thing at all! The only similarity is that they both have the word "dark" in the name, and that we don't know what they are. We believe dark matter is a particle that doesn't interact with normal matter electromagnetically, whereas dark energy is a bit more mysterious and is driving the expansion of the universe. They both have very different observational signatures, and it's highly unlikely one is the other.

KubrickIsMyCopilot2 karma

What developments in your field are you most excited about?

Do you see any potential applications of your work for planet-detection astronomy?

Andromeda3212 karma

I'm pretty excited right now about LIGO like many other astronomers. We've already learned so much about black hole mergers and neutron star mergers in just a few years, but we really need to find a few electromagnetic counterparts for the neutron star mergers to learn more!

For my own work, we do know Jupiter gives off radio flares that sometimes are very strong when pointed towards Earth, created by particles in its magnetic field, but not strong enough to be detected outside the solar system. There are some theoretical models on how some extrasolar planets might be detected this way, but there's huge uncertainties still in that. Still though, it'd be a great way to learn about magnetic fields of extrasolar planets!

yaron2601 karma

This may not be in your field but it certainly relates to astrophysics. What it your personal take on the Dark matter and Dark energy that comprises 96% (most of) the matter that exists within our universe? Do you think there's any chance that dark matter is in fact anti-matter, created from the 1/100,000,000 matter and anti matter particle separations? A substance that we cannot see but we know is there and which we can calculate, and not only that, but its what makes up for the vast majority of all the matter in the universe.

Andromeda3216 karma

We know antimatter is not dark matter because it would crash into normal matter and annihilate. You would see this all over our galaxy and in dwarf galaxies if it was true! Instead, we believe dark matter is some sort of particle that does not interact electromagnetically, but does gravitationally. A lot of experiments are set up hoping these particles also interact with the strong and weak nuclear forces, in the hopes of detecting one.

Dark energy is a completely different thing and all it shares with dark matter is they both have the word "dark" in the name. It's not a particle, but rather something all over the universe that is driving its expansion.

JustMakeMarines1 karma

How many of the stars we look at in the night sky are actually binaries/clusters? And also, how many of those stars might have Earth-like planets?

It still blows my mind that I'm looking at a really really far away "Sun", and just how few of the stars we can even see.

Andromeda3211 karma

We now believe the majority of stars are actually binaries, and our sun is actually the odd one out in terms of not having a companion! Most however are too close to distinguish unless you're using spectroscopy.

As for clusters, all the stars started in a cluster and drifted apart. A few are still in their home clusters but it can be hard to tell- the Pleiades are an obvious example. A less obvious example is most of the stars in the Big Dipper are actually part of the same cluster- it's just they're a bit more spread out so you wouldn't tell just looking at them!

magma831 karma

Do you have any words of advice for undergraduates whose passions lies in physics and science, but deal with a constant itch in the back of their heads telling them to switch to an industry/technical path because it would make life easier?

Andromeda3212 karma

At the end of the day, you only have one life. Imagine what it'd be like to reach the end of your life- what would you regret more?

Plus to be fair, a lot of industry people do science! Depending on what your interests are, you might not have to choose between the two.

EZpeeeZee1 karma

How would you explain in simple terms that the earth is round to someone who says the earth is flat?

Andromeda3218 karma

The Earth is large enough that its gravitational pull and rotation make it roughly spherical. We can also tell because of pictures from spacecraft, all of orbital dynamics, and the fact that you see the spherical Earth blocking sunlight during a lunar eclipse.

I confess I've never actually met a legit flat Earther, though the uptick in recent years of people asking about them has dramatically increased.

lambulis1 karma

Not related to astronomy but I'm currently studying physics at my university and my dad (also a physicist) keeps telling I'm going nowhere as a physicist without learning to code. How important was coding for you in your career so far?

Andromeda3211 karma

You definitely need to learn some coding these days to be a scientist. It doesn't matter how or where- I never took a course in it, which probably lead to some terrible habits, but too late now. Instead, I learned basically while doing various lab jobs.

In astronomy, our code of choice these days is Python. You can totally go onto open university and access some really nice free programs in it if you're keen. Good luck!

Cardus1 karma

If I add up the dianater of all the planets in the solar system + Pluto they come to about 200km short of the distance between the earth and the moon. Is this just a coincidence or is there some sort of mass content going on ?

Andromeda3213 karma

Coincidence. After all, the moon's distance has never been constant- it goes out about a foot every year.

emsot1 karma

What would happen if the entire universe disappeared apart from the Sun, Moon and Earth? Would we notice anything different other than the night sky being a bit darker?

Andromeda3212 karma

Well assuming the universe itself is here and just all the other matter is gone, nothing. We would just keep orbiting the sun as we always do. You would see some very minor changes in tides and our orbit if Jupiter is gone though but nothing terminal.

CrackaAssCracka1 karma

It has always been my dream to both go to the Everest base camp and get punched by a wild mountain gorilla. Do you have any advice on how I could accomplish such a thing?

Andromeda3212 karma

1) Go to Uganda and obtain a gorilla permit. Ask to see a gorilla named Obia, meaning Punchy in the local language. Tell him I say hi.

2) Go to Nepal and be prepared to walk two weeks, or secure a Tibet permit and take the road. Interestingly often the walking option is easier to do than the Tibet one depending on the political situation.

Life achievement unlocked!

idinahuicyka1 karma

holy cow that is awesome!!! does it pay a lot too?

Andromeda3214 karma

Define "a lot."

ArbainHestia1 karma

If you could meet any person from any time in history who would you like to meet and what would you talk about with them?

Andromeda3215 karma

Maybe not the answer you're looking for, but my paternal grandfather. I never met him as he died unexpectedly when my father was 20, but had a PhD in mathematical physics and a law degree (because there was no employment during the Great Depression), and loved to teach. I always wish I could have met him.

LonelyMolecule1 karma

My sister's name is Yvette. Anyway what was you SAT and gpa in high school and college. I'm assuming perfect scores.

Anyway, my question is how smart do you think you are compared to regular college students. And how smart are your peers rn? Thanks.

Andromeda3212 karma

Hahaha, no, I was not a great student! Never tested well! Seriously I could study for hours and just do miserably on exams. I made up for it by doing really well in lab work, and spending extra time on homework to pull up my grades.

But since you asked, I think my high school GPA was around a 3.0 (all honors and AP classes though), and I finished college with a 3.21. I'm pretty sure the SAT has changed a bit since I took it in the early 2000s, but I had a 700 verbal, 670 math, and 710 writing (I don't know if the latter is still a separate test or how that works- it was then).

I'm a fairly intelligent woman I suppose, but never think too hard about it. My experience is those who succeed in the field are not the ones who are the smartest, but those willing to work hard and have a bit of grit.

BeardedNebula1 karma

As our solar system rips through space, does it create any gravitational wake??

Andromeda3212 karma

Interesting question! We do have a gravitational wave emitted due to the mass in our solar system, which is of course why we orbit the sun. It’s not really close enough to other stars to affect them at present. But because those waves travel at the speed of light, I suppose there is some very tiny wake.

Line4091 karma

Congratulations! What a wonderful achievement.

What type of radiation does the birth of a star send out and how can something like that even be found?

Andromeda3211 karma

Young stars are quite bright in infrared wavelengths in particular as they are very hot, but a lot of dust is between us and the star so not much optical light makes it through. They’re also really bright in millimeter wavelengths.

Maxnwil1 karma

Ah, it’s my favorite reddit astronomer!

I’ve got two questions.

1) what’s your favorite little-known Fact about galaxies?

2) Would you rather fight one Earth sized Pluto or a hundred Pluto sized Earths?

Andromeda3212 karma

1) there are people studying dwarf galaxies and their orbits in an attempt to figure out WTF dark matter is and how it’s distributed, as there’s a lot more of it out where those dwarf galaxies are. I think that’s super clever.

2) Earth sized Pluto. That giant heart on its side shows it secretly loves us.

ididntseeyathere11 karma

Hello, I want to be an astronomer if I don't kill myself. What would be a good path to take(I'm dutch and I have middle school advise HAVO woch might drift me up to VWO)?

Andromeda3213 karma

Ok, I just checked with my Dutch husband about how the school system works to make sure I give the right advice. In short, you do have to go to university to be an astronomer, which means you will have to do VWO. It's an extra year for sure, but one year in the grand scheme of things isn't that big a deal if that's what you really want to do with your life.

I also wrote up a post here on how to be an astronomer you might find interesting- check it out!

a-doal1 karma

I've considered whether a PhD is something I'd be interested in, but honestly I don't know if I could handle it. I'm currently doing a BSc in Astronomy & Planetary Science.

Did you ever deal with imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you get through it?

And in terms of time management, what kind of system did you have during your PhD years? (This is one of my weaknesses, and something I'd like to work to improve).

Andromeda3213 karma

I think pretty much everyone has some imposter syndrome at some point in their career. If not, they're probably lying about it or are fairly self-involved.

Personally, I realized at some point I was ok with being the world's worst astronomer as long as I was an astronomer. That helped a ton. Eventually I realized I probably wasn't the world's worst astronomer which helped too. :)

As for time management, I think one of the biggest things in a PhD is figuring out your system for it. For me, the key was figuring out what parts of my day I'm most productive and arranging my schedule around that- my best hours are in the late afternoon until leaving work around 7pm, and mornings, and I never get much done immediately after lunch. So ultimately I save the lighter tasks like responding to emails or going through ArXiv for that time of day, rather than doing them in the productive time.

Also, I am a big fan of writing out my to do list so I can check things off, from big to small things, and letting myself do them in whatever order as long as they all get done. Somehow it helps to see everything in one place!

Good luck!

tatro361 karma

How did you get punched by a wild mountain gorilla?

Andromeda3211 karma

Check the answer here!

mjo54991 karma

Congrats!! That is so impressive!

I love learning about space but to be honest my mind doesn’t comprehend math/ science very easily. I am wondering what are ways that I can learn more about space and astronomy but in a simplified way that I can understand? I’m not sure if there are books/ tv/ magazines that are more for a beginning learner? Thanks!!

Andromeda3211 karma

Astronomy and Discover are great science magazines for more current stuff that assume no prior knowledge from readers. I've written for both and know they really do a good job trying to make knowledge accessible.


How do you stand on the flat earth?

Andromeda3215 karma

If it existed, I feel like the edge would be a serious tourist attraction!

Offal1 karma

At what point did you realize your career choice would doom you to working nights?

Andromeda3212 karma

It doesn't, we can do radio astronomy during the day too! That and frankly, like anything these days, I don't actually go to the telescope to collect data. Instead I go to the office during normal hours and download data off the Internet.

Froxly11 karma

Do you think it’s somewhat reasonable to have a stable Mars colony by 2040-2050?

Andromeda3211 karma

If we were to actually spend money on it, yes. If funding stays at current levels, that's pretty aggressive timing.

Froxly11 karma

Appreciate the answer! Thank you and all your colleagues of all the different fields for the hard work you put in. You’re all avoiding future extinction yet you all only get 1/10 of the recognition and respect you deserve.

Maybe I’m lucky enough to get this question answered too so, here it goes:

Do you think we will ever decipher the differences between general relativity and quantum mechanics, in order to have the full mathematical equation solved to explain how the universe was created in the first place, etc etc?? If so, any rough estimates on the timeline?

Thanks again!❤️

Edit: spelling

Andromeda3212 karma

I sure hope so, but I have no idea how long that will take. The problem is GR and QM have fundamentally different maths at their cores, so it's tough to see where to reconcile the two. It might take another Einstein to sort it out, and I can't even say if that will happen in my lifetime (but I sure hope so!).

moepplinger1 karma

What’s for you the biggest unexplained thing about our own solar system?

Andromeda3212 karma

I think Planet Nine, the hypothetical planet really far in the outer solar system, is a really interesting theory. What I find especially interesting is new objects have been discovered since the theory was first proposed that fit the model.

tommygunz0071 karma

If you can bend spacetime around, mathematically, what happens at the connection point? Would it essentially be an open door frame, with stuff 'leaking' between both sides of the universe? Also, if it's time-based as well, how do we have a geographic universal center to create some reference of maps? (I think of the Back to the Future paradox in which they travel back in time and wind up in the same mall parking lot, when based on the earth's rotation, they would probably cross the time bridge and wind up geographically in Jupiter). What are your theories on the 'open door' idea between two joined areas of spacetime?

Andromeda3211 karma

I'm sorry, but I really don't understand what you mean by mathematically bending around spacetime.

owlgirl161 karma

Hi! I'm thinking about pursuing astrophysics so I have kind of a broad question. What's your favorite part of your career? What's your least favorite part/biggest challenge? Do you have any advice for aspiring astrophysicists? Finally, do you need to be really good at math to pursue this field of study?

Andromeda3212 karma

I really love learning about the universe and seeing how it fits together, and sharing that knowledge with others. As such, I might not be a researcher forever, but right now I'm still loving the thrill of figuring things out so why not keep at it? :)

I wrote up a post here on how to be an astronomer that is most of my advice on the topic. It might interest you. Honestly, I was never the strongest math student- I got solid Bs in the subject in undergrad due to silly mistakes. I'd probably be in trouble if I wanted to be a theorist, but as an experimentalist I can triple check my calculations when they're needed so that helps a lot!

frodosbitch1 karma

If we collapsed the entire earth down to be a neutron star, how big would it be?

Andromeda3212 karma

Really small- maybe a few hundred meters in diameter, I think.

echoGroot1 karma


Andromeda3213 karma

Go up to professors and ask them if they have any research for undergrads to do- it's that simple! (You can email too, but asking in person is often better.) I did my BSc and MSc thesis both with the prof who taught me my first undergrad physics class. :) Now at the beginning of the academic year is a great time to ask around, and then again in spring to ask about potential summer positions.

Asking older undergrads in your program is also a great way to learn which profs tend to hire students, and who is good to work for.

echoGroot1 karma

I more meant when applying to grad school, or looking to network at labs and places like that (places like STSci, etc.). Sorry, I must not have been specific!

Andromeda3212 karma

Ah, I see! Check out REUs if you qualify and definitely try to do one. It's an awesome way to do science somewhere away from home for the summer, and they pay pretty well. Otherwise, the best way to network with labs etc is ask your profs at your undergrad uni for advice on where is good for your interests, and just email the profs there saying you're interested in applying and with a few good questions about their lab etc.

Good luck!

funkcreep1 karma

When do the acting classes start?

Andromeda3212 karma

I took a few improv classes over the years; does that count?

Stephen0a01-3 karma

How did Nixon fake the moon landing?

Andromeda3213 karma

He didn’t.