Astronomer here! Some of you may know me from around Reddit for my posts about astronomy that start with that catchphrase. In real life, however, my name is Dr. Yvette Cendes, and I am a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where I focus on radio astronomy in general and gigantic space explosions (supernovae, star eating black holes, etc) in particular. I began that job a few months ago, when I completed my PhD requirements, but did not yet undergo the formal ceremonial defense to get the title of "doctor"... and then coronavirus happened... so I'm happy to announce it happened yesterday! Here is a pic of me right after the virtual defense. :D

I wanted to celebrate a bit on Reddit because honestly, this community has meant a lot to me over the years- there were some moments in my PhD that were difficult, and I literally found myself thinking "I can't be as bad at astronomy as some people claim if literally thousands of others disagree." And honestly, it's just so nice to come here and talk about cool stuff going on in space, and ponder things I wouldn't normally think about thanks to questions from Redditors. I even put you guys in the acknowledgments for my thesis, so you know I'm serious.

After all that, I thought an AMA would be a great way to celebrate. So, if you have a question about space, or getting a PhD, or anything else, ask away!

My Proof:

Here is my English degree certificate for the PhD I got this morning (which honestly I thought sounded super cool)

Here is a link to my Twitter account.

Ok, AMA!

Edit: Thanks everyone for the kind wishes! :) The rate of questions has died down a bit, so I'm gonna go for my daily walk and keep answering questions when I return. So if you're too late, please do ask your question, I'll get to it eventually!

Edit 2: I am always so blown away by the kindness I have experienced from Redditors and today is no exception. Thank you so much everyone for your support!

Comments: 863 • Responses: 102  • Date: 

Juzstanley438 karma

Congratulations Dr. Cendes. I've just finished my first year as a Physics (Cosmology focus) grad student UPenn. I found course work to be really challenging (like considered quitting multiple times challenging) and am honestly really excited to focus on my research. What were the toughest parts of your specific journey through graduate school, and are there any highlights you'd like to share with incoming astronomers to keep in mind for when our own journeys get tough?

Andromeda321674 karma

Well, now that they can't take back the doctorate...

I started my PhD in 2011 in Amsterdam, working for an adviser who in hindsight didn't take me seriously as a scientist for a variety of reasons, and on a project that was not successful. About five years in this adviser decided it was my fault nothing was going well, and in fact I was incapable of independent research and would never work at a research institute, and tried to kick me out of the program. He was department head so there was little I could do, and in fact I have research he forbade me from publishing because then I could use it for my thesis and it would undermine his claims of my incapability of independent research. (He said that paper would never be accepted, and I couldn't' submit it alone because it was proprietary data. I sent it to a few colleagues with no back story and they all said they would accept it if the referee at a journal with minor corrections, so yeah.)

Luckily during this period I reached out to a lot of people and was able to work with a wonderful astronomer in Toronto, where I basically wrote three first author papers in two years, and maintained a connection with a prof in Leiden so I could defend my thesis there. But wow, I'm leaving a ton out, but I do not wish that experience on anyone. I keep hearing stories similar to mine since from others in academia, and my blood boils every time.

CaptainSur190 karma

Canada to the rescue. UofT has always had a very active astronomy program as does UofWaterloo. Good schools for physics to my best knowledge.

Andromeda321249 karma

Canada actually took in my family after WWII when they were refugees- my father is Canadian and I guess I have the right to be one too, and I still have relatives out in Mississauga (as does everyone, amirite?). So yes, we are always obliged to Canada in my family. I would love to live there again someday. <3

FolkmasterFlex17 karma

This warmed my heart. We would love to have you, and once travel is back up I hope you are able to visit the GTA again

Andromeda32122 karma

Me too! I haven't had good poutine in like a year! :(

turtle_flu63 karma

Oof, I can relate. Worked for a horribly narcissistic advisor for 5 years. Found a new mentor in a related field and will hopefully defend in August. Writing is pretty damn tedious assay the moment though! Congrats on your successful defense!

Andromeda3217 karma

I’m happy it’s worked out for you! Good look writing up and with the defense!

holytriplem23 karma

Jesus, I'm really sorry to hear that, I had a shitty supervisor that I fell out with as well so I totally feel for you. Are you worried about what would happen if your former supervisor saw your post, given that you're not anonymous?

Andromeda32182 karma

No. He can't threaten me anymore and keep me silent like he did for years. And I think it's important to share these stories else vulnerable people will keep having this happen to them (just look at how many people in this AMA have responded in this thread).

ggg73013 karma

Man, fuck that dude. Have you had any contact with that douche canoe since that time? I'd love it if you saw him at a random science dealy and he was like oh hello /u/Andromeda321 and you were like that's DOCTOR /u/Andromeda321.

Andromeda32162 karma

No, sorry. My new adviser saw him last year though and was really tempted to say "Yvette is having trouble right now deciding between a postdoc at [another cool university] and Harvard..." But we decided he'd hear about it anyway.

Poiuytrewq09876509876 karma

He likely wouldn't concede anything. I wouldn't give a shit either way if he knew of your achievement (not that I'm saying you do!).

Andromeda32141 karma

Oh I’m 100% sure he thinks he wasn’t at fault and that he bent over backwards to help me, etc. And I’m spreading “lies.” No one is the villain of their own story.

Amazonit233 karma

Were there any moments in your viva when you wished for just a brief outage in wifi signal? :P

More seriously, are there any common misconceptions that people earlier on in their academic career (like at high school or undergrad) have about astronomy as a career or just as a subject?

Andromeda321521 karma

Actually... right when they were conferring the degree as doctor, my promoter's Internet cut out for his entire neighborhood and still wasn't restored as of last night. That kind of sucked because he was supposed to say a little speech about our time working together. :(

I think the biggest misconception people have is if you don't have straight As you aren't cut out for a career in science or astrophysics, or if math doesn't come "naturally" to you it's impossible. I was definitely a solid B student in high school and undergrad, and had a tough time with math! And even Einstein needed a math tutor to figure out general relativity- the myth that some people "get" math without working hard at it is a dangerous one.

Belostoma71 karma

I think the biggest misconception people have is if you don't have straight As you aren't cut out for a career in science or astrophysics, or if math doesn't come "naturally" to you it's impossible.

I have to disagree about this being a misconception, at least with regard to astrophysics. (Other areas of science are accessible to those who struggle with math.) I'll share my experience not because I want to discourage you in your career -- I truly appreciate what an incredible thing you've accomplished! -- but because I think encouraging others to pursue this route is not always the most helpful to them, and it might be useful to hear the kind of advice I wish I had received.

I had a laughably easy time with math and physics in an average high school, and it didn't take much work to grade near the top of my engineering-track Calculus I-III classes at an Ivy League college, even as the engineers complained about them as weed-out courses for their majors. Yet I was hit like a freight train by the honors physics track there en route to an astronomy major, working 4-8 hours per day on a single class, in study groups with friends who tested out of Calc 3 as incoming freshmen, all so we could be prepared to score 60 % on the physics tests and get curved to a B+.

There were a couple people in each class working far less hard and scoring 95+ on all the tests. Those were the supergeniuses with the real talent to do the kinds of things I wanted to do in astrophysics. Nobody told me about them beforehand. All I heard from parents, teachers, advisors, and mentors in my early pursuit of a career in astrophysics was encouragement. I wish somebody had been willing to speak up with a reality check about the kind of innate talent it takes to really excel in that field.

I realized in my last few semesters that I didn't want to continue on this track, and that was really difficult. Partly, I think the problem was that I was conditioned in high school to enjoy being one of the best at what I'm doing academically, and working my ass off to figure out things that some of my colleagues could figure out 10-100X faster and easier just didn't seem appealing. There isn't a theoretical problem I could solve in 10 years that Ed Witten couldn't solve in 10 minutes.

I finished my degree as a math major and went on to a Ph.D. in biology and a math-heavy career in ecology. I love the substance of my new field, but I also love that the same mathematical skill level that would have made me a mediocre astrophysicist allows me to do really innovative things in ecology, and to me that's way more fulfilling. I'm grateful that my start in the direction of astrophysics is part of what prepared me for what I can do now -- but the transition was traumatic, it took years to feel completely good about it, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to go through the same thing.

On balance, I do wish there'd been some voice in my early life to temper all the generic, feel-good "you can do anything you set your mind to" advice with a clearer picture of the difficulty involved and realistic expectations for what I might have achieved in a field that attracts some of the smartest people in the world. Since you're giving that kind of feel-good advice, which might be just what some people need to hear, I figured this story might be some good food for thought.

Andromeda321109 karma

I will disagree. I have known many astronomers who, like me, were B students in math and are now successful career astronomers (including many with me at Harvard). I'm not saying they are theorists in string theory or something, but plenty of astronomers were not always getting A+ exam scores. I will note though that yes, you will need to work hard to succeed... but I don't know anyone who didn't work hard to become a professional astronomer. (Personally, I'm an experimental radio astronomer, and no I couldn't solve a problem Ed Witten can in a million years.)

Have a nice day!

jacash13174 karma

What would a good telescope be for an elementary age kid whose shown interest in stars and space for the last few years?

Andromeda321274 karma

First of all, this is a tough one because I don't deal much with these types of telescopes, so the folks at /r/telescopes may answer better than I can.

Second, I think the main thing is don't choose one that's too big, as your field of view is smaller and it's harder to find stuff. (I think a 60mm is the minimum, but keep it under 6" for the size- we measure telescopes sizes in diameter of the mirror/lens btw.) Make sure the mount is sturdy too, because it sucks to have a wobbly mount.

Third, I always recommend to new telescope buyers the book Turn Left at Orion, which is a great resource to show you what to find in the night sky, how to find it, and realistic pictures of what those things will look like. So whatever telescope you get, pick up a copy of that for sure!

FollowerofReddit128 karma

Hi Dr. Yvette Cendes.

I have a question, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen throughout your career?

Andromeda321194 karma

That I worked on? Definitely working on radio observations of SN 1987A, which is the closest supernova to us since the invention of the telescope despite being ~170k light years away. Here is a gif of it! The reason it was weird is because if you compare the radio to other wavelengths like optical or X-ray, the emission is lagging behind- that is, the picture of what it looks like is delayed a few years in terms of the shape of the ring structure. Still not sure why.

FireHart28 karma

Hey cool, I study 87A light echoes, but I know nothing about radio studies on it. Can you see those finger structures on the ring in radio?

Andromeda32129 karma

You mean those outer spots?

Either way, we are dominated by the ring emission right now, as in radio we're looking at synchrotron emission created by the shockwave interacting with particles. Check out Figure 1 in my paper.

pilgrimlost-9 karma

Your statement about SN1987A being the closest since the invention of the telescope is wrong. It is the closest since the advent of multiwavelenth observations (multi messenger even).

As a radio astronomer you should be familiar with Cas A and G1.9+0.3, which are approx 350 and 100 years old, respectively. Both occurred since the invention of the telescope in 1609.

Andromeda3217 karma

Yes, I've studied G1.9+0.3. However, in the cases of both of these, they were discovered when they were remnants, and as such SN 1987A is considered the closest supernova since the invention of the telescope since we actually saw the darn thing, as the others were obscured by dust and thus we have no data on how the supernova event unfolded.

davethecave65 karma

Hey Dr Astronomer,

Congratulations !

Do you ever look up and say "Wow Venus is bright tonight" or something similar?

Andromeda321149 karma

Omg ALLLL the time. If I'm out with friends and family they're pretty used to me saying "look at the moon, it looks so cool!" while I'm talking if we happen to step outside right then or something.

Btw, for those not aware, Venus in particular is REALLY bright right now in the western sky right after sunset- go outside and look! I even got my toddler niece hooked on looking for "the planet" as a bedtime delay tactic right now, it's that easy to spot. :)

poshupnorth51 karma

Hi, I was wondering what the general consensus is in the scientific community. Do you think we will have stations on the moon, and subsequently Mars in our life time? Also congratulations👏

Andromeda321105 karma

I definitely hope for the moon- I applied to be an astronaut in the NASA Artemis program in fact, which aims to send people to the moon! :)

I think the moon is much more likely than Mars, just becasue there are a lot of things we don't know technologically yet about living on another world that would be far better to sort out on the moon that's only a few days journey from us/ a second light speed away, versus Mars that's a year's journey and six light minutes away minimum. People ignore the challenges of that when talking about Mars too much.

I_Smoke_Dust2 karma

Wow, hearing that Mars is 6 light minutes away is just dumbfounding imo, I never would've guessed it would take light that long to reach Mars from Earth!

Andromeda3212 karma

That’s actually at its closest. It can be a few light minutes more if we are say at the opposite points of the sun during orbits.

Skwurls4brkfst44 karma

Who is an astronomer that you admire/look up to?

Can you recommend any good books on radio astronomy for an astronomy enthusiast?

Also I love reading about your work!

Andromeda321106 karma

I have been lucky enough to meet Jocelyn Bell Burnell a few times now, who discovered pulsars during her PhD research and then famously didn't get the Nobel Prize; her adviser did. Despite this Jocelyn is just about the most delightful and inspiring person you can imagine! Most recently, I was lucky to have Jocelyn chat with me about my research in my office in early February, and gifted her an embroidered pulsar plot profile of the first pulsar she discovered, so I feel like I reached peak geek with that one! :) Pic

I unfortunately don't know of any good books on radio astronomy for the laymen (unless fiction counts, then definitely read Contact by Carl Sagan). I would really love to write that book because I think radio astronomy is just about the most magical thing you can do without a wand and a box of salamanders, and wish I could share that with more people.

scJazz9 karma

Dr. Yvette Cendes, the comment "a wand and a box of salamanders" is a brilliant quote (it alludes writing by several sci-fi authors as basically "Niven's Law") regarding the almost magical nature of what you do. Given how much of the research and science in in Radio Astronomy deals with things that are very large and very far away...

What in your field or studies could apply to things that are very close in an ELI5/Science way? What is the simplest, closest, easily describable thing from your field that the rest of us would understand?

Andromeda32117 karma

I discovered that the shockwave in Supernova 1987A slowed down when it hit a ring of gas, then re-accelerated once it went to a less dense material. It's the most classic example of shockwave physics in space we've seen up close! :)

Otherwise, radio astronomy is really useful on Earth to think about signal processing problems. The most famous thing is wi-fi was possible thanks to radio astronomy!

weirhamster6 karma

Jocelyn Bell Burnell actually conferred my MPhil back in 2013. I'm currently waiting to sit my PhD viva with bated breath! Any tips for me on the whole virtual side of things?

Andromeda3217 karma

Good luck! Make sure you have an alternate wi-fi source if possible (we had a cell phone tether ready to go just in case), for peace of mind if nothing else. And wear comfy shoes- might as well. :)

weirhamster2 karma

Thank you, and thanks for the tips. I love the idea of being able to do it wearing a pair of shorts 😂

Andromeda3216 karma

My adviser 100% wore a suit and tie top yesterday, and shorts on the bottom. :)

K3R3G341 karma

Congratulations, DOCTOR! Your posts are great and I'm happy for you!

What is, in your opinion, the most mind-blowing concept in physics?

What is, in your opinion, the most mind-blowing occurrence in the cosmos?

(Feel free to name multiple, I know it can be hard to choose one)

Andromeda32169 karma

Dark energy. It's really insane to think that we might not know what the majority of the universe is.

I mean, I'm biased, but supernovae are really amazing things. They are the biggest explosions we really know of in the universe, where one single star's death can outshine an entire galaxy. How can you not be impressed by that!? :D

defaltusr30 karma

Hey, thanks for the opportunity. Congrats to your doctor title. My questions:

  1. How and when did you decide that you want to become an astronomer?

  2. Have you ever taken an IQ test (whats your score) or do you think you are way smarter than others?

  3. I am thinking about studying astronomy. What career choices do you have when you are done. Are there many jobs?

  4. What was your studying technique? I imagine you have to be good at studying because astronomy is tough.

Thanks for your time and have a good day :).

Andromeda32195 karma

1) I decided I wanted to be an astronomer when I was 13 years old and read a book about it (I had a long school bus ride home, and would pass the time by reading). By the time I finished that book I knew I wanted to be an astronomer, and was so excited to think that technically any 13 year old could grow up to be one, even if you lived in Pittsburgh.

2) Beyond the fake Internet ones everyone tries around 6th grade, no. I am really hesitant to answer this question because there are many types of intelligence out there, and anyone who hangs out with scientists will know the stereotypically "smartest" people out there can be incredibly stunted in other kinds of intelligence. I mean, I'm probably not dumb, but my ability to work hard has helped me far more than any innate intelligence I might have shown up on the planet with.

3) I actually get asked this question so much on Reddit that I wrote up a detailed post about it! Check it out here- "So You Want to be an Astronomer." I think I address your follow-up questions there but please respond here if you have further questions about this!

4) I was actually a terrible student because I couldn't take exams, so my study technique relied on "make sure you do good homework and understand that so it will be perfect because if you fail the exam, it averages out to a B/C." It turns out that is far more useful in doing a PhD than regurgitating exam material.

AislinKageno3 karma

Oh, you've gotta share what that bus ride book was!

Andromeda3219 karma

From the Big Bang to Planet X by Terrence Dickinson. Now out of print, but it was a great survey of astronomy type book in the late 90s... with a fetching picture of the Andromeda galaxy on the cover. :)

AdditionalShallots25 karma

So what's next, who are you going to work for? What fields are there in astronomy?

Andromeda32153 karma

I started working a few months ago already actually as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. My primary research right now focuses on a black hole that ate a star many years back, but the blast wave is still going outward, and as it does it interacts with material around it and this releases X-ray and radio waves. It's really cool because I have always wanted to study this object since it was discovered (I mean come on, it's a black hole that ate a star!) and now I get to do so! :)

slickt0mmy11 karma

That sounds super cool! Pardon my ignorance, but what does your research actually entail? Like, literally, what do you do for that job? What’s your typical day look like? Do you have smaller projects you have to work on too or does this one take up all your time?

I guess I’d just love to hear what an astronomer does all day :) Sounds interesting!

Andromeda32110 karma

It depends where I am in a project, but there is proposing (writing a few pages of a good case on why I want to observe XYZ), data reduction (making radio images), analysis (Python codes with equations to make plots showing how things are working), and then writing up what I've found. Insert a random number of meetings and dealings with students too.

ryebot300025 karma

Where did you get the super sweet glass galaxy pendant you are wearing in your last picture?

Andromeda32127 karma

I got it from my sister for Christmas one year! (I believe it was made by an artist in Alexandria, VA.) I wear it as my good luck necklace on days when I have big presentations. :)

ryebot300027 karma

I’m pretty sure I’m the artist, there might be a signature on the back, I sell my work in dc during the holidays. Glad to hear it’s a good luck charm, congrats on the doctorate!

Andromeda32120 karma

No signature, just blue (it's glass so guess you'd need to etch the signature?). But thanks, it's served me well! :)

ryebot300021 karma

I don’t always get around to signing them but if I do it’s with a titanium scribe so it’s a tiny tiny metallic signature, usually upper right corner if you’re looking at the back of the piece. Anyway I was super excited to see one of my pieces in the wild on the internet so I had to comment

Andromeda32124 karma

Ah cool, well I've gotten many compliments over the years! :) Do you have a website that I can pass along next time someone asks?

gingerbeard30317 karma

I’m always in awe every time I look at the moon and think how we have sent humans there. What is something in the sky that makes you in awe of?

Andromeda32147 karma

I love to look up ISS passes for my location and catch them going overhead because it blows my mind to see that light and know people are up there. I wave. :)

Not quite in the sky, but the other one that leaves me in awe is going on an observing run to a mountaintop with a lot of telescopes, and watching the sunset as all the telescope domes open and the telescopes get ready for the night. It's just such an incredible thing to see, and makes me feel like even if this is all there is I'm ok with that.

djgucci15 karma

What advice would you give someone with a BS in math and wants to go back to school to ultimately study Cosmology? (It's me the person is me.)

Andromeda32117 karma

First of all I wrote a lot about how to be an astronomer here that applies to going into cosmology that I recommend you check out!

Do you have a math degree but just not have much physics background? Because I think theory-based cosmology is so math heavy that you could probably apply to grad school with that. In the USA the MSc is wrapped into the PhD so if you can be accepted they'd let you see if you can sink or swim the physics classes. If you're based in Europe, I'd say apply for a Physics MSc program outright as they're separate there.

Good luck!

mielchouette12 karma

congrats! as someone going to be starting grad school for astronomy in several months, I have a lot of questions about how to approach the next 5+ years of my life and I'm already worried about the next steps after that. My two foremost concerns are 1. picking a good advisor. By good I mean in addition to being competent, is also a human and will care about my needs and emotional wellbeing and 2. picking a dissertation topic in a field that has longevity both intellectually and monetarily. Any advice regarding these?

Andromeda32125 karma

1) Do not work for the department head unless you have a co-adviser also involved in your research. The power differential is just too big to overcome if things go south. Beyond that, I think asking questions is so important- how often do they meet with students? What do they do if a student is struggling to help the student? (RED FLAG if they say their students don't need help or some such BS.) Talk to others in the lab/group as well, and ask how they like working for the person.

2) There's a few approaches to this, and firstly I don't think any good adviser would leave you to think of all this on your own- you are there to learn how to become an expert. :) Usually your first project you have some idea of what interests you, and then learn where to go from there. So yeah, don't stress about it much, because my experience is the more you learn about a topic the more fascinating and interesting you find it and the better chance you find of having a good subject to work on! I'd say the main thing is find an area that you are interested in enough NOW to spend a lot of hours on.

Finally, I'd say if you're in doubt about the science, consider approaching it another way- how can you learn good tools that you can apply to a lot of good science? I mean, I never chose one type of object to be an expert on- I just learned how to use radio telescopes and keep applying it to different interesting objects as they come up!

Jake_JAM10 karma

Congratulations Dr. Cendes! I virtually defended my dissertation 2 weeks ago, so I know the senses of happiness and delight you are likely feeling!

Also super congrats on the post-doc. I'm not in your field (I'm a [human] neuromuscular physiologist) but your position sounds prestigious. What is your next step? Are you going the academic route?

Andromeda32122 karma

Congrats to you too, Doc! :D

My ideal dream job in life would be to be the next Carl Sagan or NDT type person. I enjoy my research now, but I also just love sharing my passion for astronomy with others, and love to write. I decided to do a research postdoc because I'm not done with research, but not sure if I'll stick with research specifically forever. I'd love to write a book someday for example!

legendstaff218 karma

Congrats Dr. Cendes,

A few questions

  1. What kind of research do you do?
  2. How difficult was the process to get your PHD?
  3. My friend told me to ask you "Whats your favorite color? these are the important questions"

Andromeda32131 karma

1) I do radio astronomy, where I use radio telescopes around the world to look at transients (things that change in the sky over time). Most of my transient research can be summarized by "space explosions," so exploding stars or black holes that tear apart stars, etc. :)

2) I probably had one of the most difficult PhD journeys it is possible for someone to have. I talked about it a bit here. I think it's unusual to say the hardest part of your PhD wasn't the science, but for me it was.

3) Yellow. You know how when you're a little kid you have to always do activities based off the first letter of your name? Well if you have a cool first letter you get to do cool activities about things like ice cream or dogs, but if your name starts with "Y" you are left with boring stuff like yak and yo-yo. So when I realized yellow started with a Y, I got SUPER excited that there was one cool Y word, and decided yellow would be my favorite color forevermore!

vigilantcomicpenguin6 karma

The favorite color is an important question, but here's an arguably more important question - what's your favorite sandwich?

Andromeda32117 karma

I think I answered this elsewhere- I would love a lox, cream cheese, and capers on a toasted bagel right now because I haven't had a good one since lockdown began. :(

rockhoward8 karma

Congratulations. Do you think that elements created by kilonovae are evenly spread out or fairly lumpy among current and recent star forming regions? I wonder if the abundance of gold and other heavy elements in our solar system might be higher than average compared to other Milky Way star systems formed in the last 5 billion years.

Andromeda32115 karma

Hah, well that is a million dollar question right now in astronomy!

For those who don't know the lingo, a kilonova is a neutron star merger, and we have seen to date one really good one detected by LIGO and then found by other radio telescopes. As such, it's really tough to say much with a sample size of one... but that doesn't stop the theorists! :) We now realize that while heavy elements like gold are produced in a small fraction by supernovae, the majority probably originates in kilonova events.

I believe the latest on this is yes, gold would not be perfectly distributed in the universe- you'll have trace amounts because supernovae are much more common, but then bigger chunks. I think a good analogy is likely a chocolate chip cookie- if a galaxy is one, you'd have some sugar sprinkled in it throughout, but then big chunks in the form of chocolate chips. I hope that makes sense!

EngineeringDevil5 karma

Do you think the cons in terms of your field out weigh the pros of an alternative high speed internet provided by Starlink?

Andromeda3217 karma

I think this question isn't the best because I don't think there's a reason why we can't have both high speed Internet from satellites and more minimal effects. The problem is right now there are no restrictions on them doing so, and it would cost them money to figure it out, so why bother?

andcoup5 karma

Hi Yvette, fellow astronomer here! I just finished my qualifying exams at a university is the US and am now transitioning to full time research for the remainder of my astronomy PhD program. Any tips for handling this transition from classes to now suddenly a full time researcher? I’ve heard of many others struggling with this switch, and I’d be curious to hear your experience.

Andromeda3217 karma

I think the big shift is learning how to manage your time, and figuring out what works best for you. This involves by nature some trial and error- I noticed a big part for me is when I'm more productive during the day on different tasks.

I literally did that btw by writing down what I had to do that day, and letting myself work through the list in whatever order I wanted. So yeah, that's my tip. :) Good luck!

brucejtaylor3335 karma

Woot! Congratulations on the doctorate.

Hmm, an AMA question - let's see...

Why does the measurement "parsec" (parallax second) even exist?
I know what it is - I just don't know why.

Many thanks, and congrats again.
I'm sure that it was hard and you deserve a lot of credit

Andromeda3213 karma

Basically we wanted a unit in astronomy to define distance that you can purely get from observations. We already spend waaaaay too much time in astronomy converting between units.

A_Nerd_With_A_life5 karma

Hey Doctor, congrats on your achievement! I know for a fact that it took countless hours of gruelling work for you to be where you are right now.

That said, I wanted know your advice and opinion in regards to a couple things.

How should kids currently in high school navigate their years and what skills and things should they keep in mind if they want to pursue astronomy in the future? Does the field favor people with specific quirks or experiences?

Thank you for your time.

Andromeda3216 karma

I wrote a post here that has a LOT about my advice on how to be an astronomer. To reiterate, in high school I think the most important part is to make sure your basic math skills are solid- algebra, trig, etc. This is because honestly most of physics in undergrad is one line that's physics, and the rest algebra, and it's so frustrating to grade students who get the physics right but do badly because the algebra doesn't go well.

frank_stills5 karma

Congratulations on your successful defense! I always look forward to your posts and responses. Its refreshing to see your enthusiasm for your chosen profession.

My wife is going back to get her EDO this fall at 35 years old. Do you have any advice for her? Things you would do differently?

Andromeda3217 karma

I think a big part of a grad degree is figuring out how you work best, and managing your own work. The reason it's tough is what works best for some people doesn't work well for others. Personally, I spent some time figuring out my peak productivity hours and trying to arrange my schedule around those- I work best on research in the morning or late afternoon, so try to save stuff like emails or papers I want to read for just after lunch.

I also don't work weekends unless it's a serious deadline approaching. I learned the hard way that you can work weekends and still not be rewarded for it, so all you're left with is burnout.

Equoniz4 karma

Can you post a list of what you think are your most interesting, fun, or important publications?

Andromeda3216 karma

I actually write a fair bit for various places online for the public! Probably the coolest recent one was about my experience flying on SOFIA, an airborne observatory for Scientific American, where we went as far south as the Antarctic Circle. I also had a piece about a week ago on about the discovery that FRBs may be from magnetars- link.

TrueFigure13 karma

Is there a god?

Andromeda32112 karma

I haven't seen any evidence of one.

Mr_Suzan3 karma

You don't have to answer this, but what's your age?

Do you have your own telescope?

Is full color vision essential for what you do? Would someone who is colorblind have a difficult time?

Last question! I was browsing your twitter and you said you had been kicked out of your PhD program. What happened?

Andromeda3215 karma

I'm 34.

I do! I have had it since I was a teenager, and it is a 8" reflector. We've had fun using it in quarantine. :)

It definitely doesn't matter for me, because I do radio astronomy, and we can't see radio so it's all artificial colors anyway! I'll usually use color as an intensity scale, but obviously you can just use whatever colors work for you.

I just wrote out most of the details about being de-facto expelled from my original PhD program here.

pyriphlegeton3 karma

First of all - congratulations!

Slightly silly question: provided the opportunity, would you want to live in a mars colony? If yes, what would be the conditions (maximal duration, minimal colony size, etc.)

I started asking this questions to my friends a couple of weeks back and was fascinated by the broad spectrum of replies. Let's see what an astronomer thinks :)

Andromeda32112 karma

Mars, no. There are too many people I love on Earth to leave them all behind, and frankly I think any Mars trip would be one way due to restrictions. I would love to go to the moon though!

abhisheknnaik3 karma

Might be a stupid question..but what do you mean by successfully defended ?

Andromeda3214 karma

They gave me the title.

Scoundrelic3 karma



Just saw your DOCTOR Andromedia photo...what with nobody wearing pants for virtual meetings anymore?

Anyway, what's your personal library look like?

Are there any living authors whose work you appreciate and that you would like to correspond with?

Andromeda3215 karma

Hey, nothing wrong with a pretty dress! I confess I was wearing slippers the entire time though. (My adviser though actually wore shorts for the Zoom call with a suit and tie top...)

I read a lot, and it tends to focus on historical fiction and sci-fi.

I would really love to correspond with Margaret Atwood someday (I did meet her once at a book signing!). I actually had to submit ten thesis propositions- statements I was defending- and the last one was "nolite te bastardes carborundorum." Bill Bryson would also be a cool guy to chat with, you can just tell!

Knallhatt3 karma

Eh, whatsup doc?

Andromeda3215 karma

The sky!

ChickinJoe3 karma

Do you have names picked out for a supernova if you get to name one (like baby names for big ol’ space explosions)?

Andromeda32111 karma

Unfortunately you don’t get to name them. Supernovae are named by year and letter in order of discovery- for example the first supernova in 1987 is SN 1987A.

Astronomers can be pretty uncreative sometimes. :(

Sancv3 karma

Similar to how an Infectious Disease Expert might've suggested a highly contagious respiratory infection as their number 1 fear a few years back, what do you believe is the greatest threat to human life via outer space?

Andromeda3215 karma

Death by meteorite. I mean it's astronomical odds but the other things are even more long odds.

oviforconnsmythe3 karma

What was your typical day like in grad school in astronomy? Im assuming a lot of it is data analysis from your telescope time. I'm in grad school as well (molecular bio) and just can't imagine what grad school is like outside of a wet lab.

Congrats btw!

Andromeda3213 karma

Yeah, it's a lot more sitting at the computer and analyzing your data. I didn't even need to go on observing trips for my thesis work, all the data was downloaded after an observer there took it.

aaathomas2 karma

Hey Doc!

Congratulations! Kind of a typical question, but do you think humanity will ever fully inhabit a planet similar to Earth?

Thanks :)

Andromeda3212 karma

Maybe in the very far future. But then I do wonder if we'd still be homo sapiens- maybe as tech evolves that far we'd also evolves ourselves?

Szoreny2 karma

Congratulations Dr. A321! And thank you for pursuing a field that moves our species forward in such interesting ways.

Is it appropriate to wonder about what surrounded the pre-big bang universe?

I mean, considering all space and time as we know it was inside its singularity - is it even relevant to think about what sort of 'space' it was contained in before it started expanding?

Andromeda3212 karma

Wondering is always allowed! But scientifically, we can't really say much about it because the laws of physics break apart when you get too close to when the Big Bang began.

Aotoi2 karma

What solution is there for light pollution? Unfortunately i rarely get to see much for stars where I'm at, and I was curious if you know of any research into the subject. Thanks for being such a wonderful person who takes so much time to help others.

Andromeda3213 karma

You can't 100% get rid of it, but it can be mitigated. For example, Arizona has a ton of telescopes and thus has statewide light pollution laws for the types of lights for streetlights in directing them to the ground, making sure it's wavelengths that can be filtered, etc.

HeartyBeast2 karma

What was the question that you were oh-so-grateful that they didn’t ask?


Andromeda3213 karma

Something really technical like the signal in the baselines of the telescope and how my algorithms are affected by that, or something.

LasagnaFarts922 karma

Which do you like better. Waffles or pancakes?

Andromeda3214 karma

Waffles for sure. Better holding of the syrup.

ClumsyValkyrie2 karma

What is your favorite ‘nickname’ for astronomy’s founding fathers (Galileo, Hershel...)?

Andromeda3213 karma

Are there examples of this? I don't know if I've heard of such nicknames before, sorry...

Prcrstntr2 karma

Would you rather fight 1 horse sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses?

Andromeda3216 karma

We've had an aggressive duck in our yard lately that makes me choose 100 duck sized horses. He's annoying enough now when he's duck sized, I wouldn't want to deal with him as a horse.

Metro_Star2 karma

Could you explain the story behind your Twitter bio, getting punched by a mountain gorilla?

Andromeda3213 karma

I was trekking to see them in Uganda, where you can get a one hour permit to see them- it's how they raise money so the gorillas are more valuable to the locals alive than dead (it was $500 when I did it, but even more now). One of the gorillas in our group was named Obia which is Punchy in the local language, and he did a game called "I punch you, you punch me back." So he did a "play punch" to see if I was interested when he first saw us- frankly the guards dragging me back hurt far more!

lookingrightone2 karma

[question] do you believe in astrology?

Andromeda32122 karma


kmurph722 karma

Is it plausible to rename black hole to something like black mass?

Andromeda3216 karma

Not by now. The term's been around too long.

demondrum2 karma

Have you done any work on gravitational waves created by black holes colliding?

Andromeda3216 karma

My group was actually involved in looking for gravitational waves from the latest LIGO run! However, we are more interested in the neutron star mergers, because black hole mergers aren't really expected to release electromagnetic radiation. Unfortunately the latest LIGO run underperformed in terms of what people were predicting for electromagnetic follow-up, so we got a ton of alerts but didn't really have anything worth triggering our telescopes.

iamnnyu2 karma

Congratulations Dr. Cendes.

What advice(s) would you give someone who is considering going for a doctorate?

I did my master's in Materials Science two years ago, and wasn't able to accomplish anything meaningful. This has made me seriously doubt my abilities, and if I'm even cut out for academia.

I think it'll be too late for me if I don't apply by the end this year, but even the very initial step of selecting a field, a college, and a guide seems immensely daunting. Any pointers on how to get started, and which one of the three to prioritize?

Thanks in advance!

Andromeda3216 karma

First of all, I think it's important to consider why your MSc wasn't successful. Was it because you weren't interested in it, or the project just didn't turn out well, you didn't get the right support, etc? Be honest with yourself in what the mistakes were, and what you would need different to be successful in a PhD.

As for choosing a program, first of all I don't know how things are in materials science but in astronomy you should be applying to more than one program as it's such a crap shoot on where one gets in- I applied to about 10 I think. I found those schools by talking to my advisers and then doing a ton of research on departmental websites to see what they had to offer program-wise (ie, do they do interesting research) and if it was somewhere I was ok living- it doesn't have to be more complicated than that for a PhD. I did email a few specific profs to see if they were planning to have openings in their lab though if I thought it was an issue.

fey_plagiarist2 karma

If you couldn't be an astronomer, what would you do instead?

What is your favourite and your dream Lego kit?

Was your career path more difficult because you're a female? If so, do you think there are changes for the better?

Is there any age treshold for people with no degree who would like to get into science?

Congrats and sorry if any question is silly. Have a nice day! (:

Andromeda3215 karma

I think geology is really neat, and maybe something in that direction would be cool.

Favorite Lego kit I have/ have built: the Saturn V rocket. Dream Lego kit: either all the fancy amusement park ones together for a mega amusement park, or if it was a single kit I'd love a zoo. Not sure why but I always love building Lego zoos with the various animals.

Yes. It was. I do think the main change for the better is we are now talking about the issues at hand, whereas even when I was in undergrad it was all swept under the rug if a prof was "creepy." (aka, doing really inappropriate stuff)

No! I think it's more that when people get older many aren't interested in the tough work that goes into getting, say, a PhD, with everything else going on in life. But I've known people older than me going back to school to do astronomy who think it's worthwhile. And even if you're not interested in something that rigorous, there are a lot of citizen science programs out there that would LOVE your help! Example:

newpua_bie2 karma

How would you compare the American and Dutch higher education, having studied in both? I'm also involved in two different systems, but only as a student in the EU and only as an educator in the US. I can't compare the two systems apples to apples, and am very interested to hear perspectives from those who can.

Andromeda3217 karma

The biggest difference on the ground is the MSc and PhD are separate in Europe but combined in the USA. I actually had my MSc in Physics before applying for my PhD in Europe and wouldn't have qualified otherwise.

Mentality-wise I think the biggest difference is the Dutch system is definitely more formal, and there is a "time and place" mentality if that makes sense. For example, if we had a student interview for a PhD position in the Netherlands who was over ~35 you'd hear people casually saying "well this is why we do these in person interviews, to weed out people who wouldn't fit!" which I found horrifying (and open to bias). And VERY illegal in the USA, of course.

icausedisappointment2 karma

I have read that if our Sun was replaced by a Black Hole of equal mass, none of the orbits of the planets in our solar system would be affected. My question is this: does a Black Hole not "suck in" objects unless they cross the point of no return? Second question: How can a Black Hole affect an object's gravity without sucking it in? (like the Black Hole in the center of our galaxy).

Andromeda3218 karma

This is correct! A black hole is just a LOT of mass in one area, and they don't suck in anything any more than our sun doesn't suck anything in. It's similar to how if a comet got too close to our sun, it would be trapped and eventually fall into the sun. The only trick about black holes is the mass is so big light is one of the things that doesn't escape either.

VeraLumina2 karma

Hi Dr.! Truly wonderful accomplishments. Your friends and family have cause to celebrate! I see in the thread that your field is in radio astronomy. Would you happen to have anything to do with the Green Bank Observatory and Telescope? If so, could you speak about the importance of this wonderful facility? Also, could you explain how phenomenal the James Webb Telescope that will be launching in 2021 is and what it’s capabilities are?

Andromeda3212 karma

Unfortunately I've never used the GBT- I do arrays of radio telescopes, and that of course is a single standalone. :(

idreamtthis2 karma

Congratulations! How was the process of doing your defense virtually? Did everything go smoothly or were there any hangups? Did you feel more or less pressure presenting remotely?

Andromeda3213 karma

The most frustrating hangup was right when I was declared a doctor my promoter's Internet went out for everyone in the neighborhood. After a few awkward minutes of waiting and it was clear he never returned, we kinda wrapped it up, but I missed out on the speech he had prepared of our time together. :(

I think the pressure was honestly about the same, except I totally would have cried more if it was IRL!

GenghisLebron2 karma

Congrats, Dr. Cendes.

  1. What's a field or subject you'd like to see astronomy in general put more resources into checking out, besides your own field of course?

  2. What's your favorite space based book, show, or movie? Or least favorite if that's more interesting.

Andromeda3214 karma

  1. Tough one. But I'd really love to see another probe visiting Uranus/Neptune someday. I legit think it's not on the radar because astronomers don't want to deal with the Uranus jokes.

  2. Contact by Carl Sagan, both the book and movie! :) Honorable mention: look up The Dish if you haven't heard of it.

TheQuirkyReader2 karma

Do you have any recommendations on cool astronomy resources in the Netherlands? 🇳🇱

Andromeda3213 karma

Astronomy on Tap in Leiden is pretty cool! (There might be others now in other areas, but that's the one I know best.) Basically, space talks and beertjes, together at last. :)

lynyrd_cohyn2 karma

Are you familiar with software-defined radio and if so do you think it creates any new possibilities for amateur radio astronomy?

Also congratulations.

Andromeda3212 karma

Not much, sorry!

tdomer801 karma

Are you a fan of Carl Sagan and/or Stephen Hawking?

Andromeda3213 karma

Yes but I was always more a Carl Sagan fan over a Hawking one. Just because Ellie Arroway was such an inspiration for me in becoming a radio astronomer. :)

Jalatina1 karma

How smart were you in highschool? Do you have to be extremely smart in math to do the job you’re doing today?

Andromeda3213 karma

I wasn't the best student- I had a pretty solid B average- because I wasn't very good at taking tests. I also don't think you have to be extremely smart in math (note the B average part)- most people are not innately smart in math, and have to work hard at it! I think it's more a question of "are you willing to work hard to learn math to use it as a tool to do the cool stuff you want to do?"

I will say though what I was doing in high school was never letting my schooling interfere with my education- I already loved astronomy so was learning about it, building my own little electronic projects at home, and whatever interested me. I learned a ton from that. :)

Drorta1 karma

Congratulations! Here's my questions:

Do you play any astronomy-related games, like Elite or KSP?

What's your favorite constellation? And if it isn't Andromeda, why did you pick that as your username?

Andromeda3212 karma

Not much of a gamer, sorry!

I really like Lyra- a lot of cool stuff packed in a small constellation. But I chose Andromeda because that's the best galaxy. :)

wwarnout1 karma

OK, here is what may be a question with an obvious answer, but I'll ask anyway - how can we see stars? Even the largest are far too small for our eyes to resolve (I believe the human eye can only resolve 1 arc-minute, and stars are far smaller than that). So, how can we see something that is too small to see?

Andromeda3212 karma

Just because you can't resolve something doesn't mean your eyes can't detect light there that's bright enough for your nerves to pick up if its surroundings are dark enough- it just won't be a fully resolved object. In the case of a star, it's way brighter than the dark sky at night in that 1 arcmin radius, so you see one there.

GlowInTheDarkSpaces1 karma

congratulations Doctor Astronomer. Can I call you Astrodoc?

Andromeda3212 karma

Sure why not. :)

No1_4Now1 karma

What kind of work did you need to do to get where you are (like the defending part), how long did it take and was it hard?

Andromeda3212 karma

I had to write three first author papers and one "to be submitted" paper. It took me about eight years for reasons described elsewhere in this AMA.

DarkAvenger121 karma

Congratulations Doctor!

I'm about to hit the postdoc job market this Fall and plan to apply to CfA. I noticed there are a few different fellowships available including CfA, Clay, and ITC. How did you decide which one to apply for?

Andromeda3212 karma

Do you know anyone at CfA you can discuss this with?

I applied for the one specifically for people within the year of finishing their PhD, because that's the least competitive one. ITC definitely has a LOT of stuff going on to consider too, but I'm not a theorist so can't advise there as well, sorry!

snowbellsnblocks1 karma


Are there any stars that are close enough to us that could supernova ( I don't know if I used that correctly) and have some kind of impact on us? Or are all of the stars big enough to do that not close enough. Is it possible we could ever witness one in the night sky, that would be wild.

Andromeda3212 karma

We don't see any stars close enough to affect us that are going to go supernova "soon." I hope we'll have one that we can see with our naked eye someday!

Ammieboterhammy1 karma

Eyyy Leiden! Ik heb geen vraag, ik wil je gewoon feliciteren!! Oke ik heb toch een vraag: hoe was het om hier te komen? Hoe ben je veranderd en gegroeid door je studententijd en PhD?

Andromeda3212 karma

Well I married a Dutchman, so obviously I liked living there. :) But mijn Nederlands is niet goed, sorry...

cluckfuck_mcduck1 karma

What are the most interesting mysteries of fundamental astronomy?

Andromeda3213 karma

I think Dark Energy and the fact that we don't know what most of the universe is made of is absolutely insane.

Another one I find crazy is the fact that we know a lot about pulsars and how they spin, but we still don't really know what mechanism is creating the radio beam a pulsar emits in the first place!

resident_slacker1 karma

How do you feel about this picture you posted on r/pics that drew a lot of backlash?

Andromeda3217 karma

I think you can't spend too much time getting worrying about the few who disapprove of your actions on the Internet when the majority agree with it. If it sucked, it wouldn't have been so upvoted, and people who bitch about these things make me wonder about how much free time they seem to have.

Muthafuckaaaaa1 karma


Andromeda3213 karma

Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers on a toasted bagel sounds awesome right now. I haven't had a good one since quarantine started. :(

rogercopernicus1 karma

Who is your favorite eccentric astronomer and why is it Tycho Brache?

Andromeda3212 karma

Well I dunno, there was a fun book a few years back about how Kepler killed Brahe, so I feel like maybe one should go with the guy who came out dominant...

AHappyLurker1 karma

Congratulations on your monumental achievement!

I was wondering, do you have any advice for a physics undergraduate who is unsure what path to pursue? I'm split between taking on the PhD research route and just finishing my undergrad degree and moving on into the wider world.

Andromeda3212 karma

How far are you into your degree?

I would say the biggest thing you can do is get some experience in a lab, either on campus or doing a summer internship. That's because it's the closest thing to what a PhD is like, honestly, and if you don't like the lab work grad school and doing that full time would suck.

itsnotyourmama1 karma

Congratulations! What an amazing profession! Universe certainly makes me feel so small and my problems so insignificant that it is therapeutic to just stare in the night sky.

I don’t believe we are alone, are we? One of my favorite movies is the Contact. There was a very humbling for a human moment when the scientists installed a restrained system despite the instructions. It’s just showed how “limited” we are by our understanding of interstellar physics, I guess. My understanding is that your specialty is how they discovered the signal, is that right?

Andromeda3212 karma

While we don't have data either way, on a personal level I find it hard to believe that life doesn't exist elsewhere. It is after all a chemical process, and we see every other process we can measure repeated elsewhere in the universe.

mrmonster4591 karma

Where do you stand on Pluto being a planet; yes or no?

Andromeda3214 karma

Pluto will always be a planet in my heart!

intelligent_chimp0 karma

Statistically, an average swe makes more than a PhD, how does it make you feel?

Andromeda3212 karma

No one becomes an astronomer for the money.

intelligent_chimp0 karma

Thought you'd say that. Why do they become an astronomer?

Andromeda3211 karma

Because I get the tradeoff of loving my job and being excited to do it! I've really never wanted to be anything else.

soniabegonia0 karma

Congratulations, doctor!!

The kind of science outreach you've been doing on Reddit seems to not only be a duty but a joy to you, which is so nice. What kind of science outreach do you think you will do in the future as you advance in your career? Will you stick to digital media like this, would you consider writing a book, would you run workshops with kids or partner with museums ... What kinds of outreach get you excited?

Andromeda3211 karma

I'd love to write a book! But the opportunity just hasn't come up. I would also love to maybe work at a museum someday but just haven't seen the right thing come along. I do give regular public lectures, and always enjoy them.

Dic_Pic_Of_Muhammad-5 karma

Is the earth flat?

Andromeda3217 karma

No. The views would be too cool at the edge for Illuminati-affiliated developers to not sell as real estate if it did.