What Whales Look Like from Space

The photos below might look like images of distant galaxies observed with Hubble Space Telescope, but they’re actually whales here on earth observed from space.

British Antarctic Survey and DigitalGlobe

British Antarctic Survey and DigitalGlobe

The Atlantic has an interesting article today about the only two animals on our planet that can be seen from space – elephants and whales. If you’d like to read the full article, click here. If you would like to examine the complete essay from Plos One, click here.

-Dr. Michael West


Nantucket Science Festival- 2 Days Away!

temp_logoThings are coming together for the first ever Nantucket Science Festival. There will be cheerio beading and play-doh constructing for the little ones, electrical circuits and mechanical mayhem for older kids and amazing nanotechnology activities for everyone.

Everyone is a scientist at the Nantucket Science Festival!

This is a drop in program so come anytime between 10am and 2pm this Saturday March 28.  The event will be in the Middle School cafeteria- the best entrance is directly off the parking lot behind the school.

Nantucket Science Festival 2015

Thank you to all our sponsors who have donated great door prizes or donated provisions for the dedicated volunteers!

Dan’s Pharmacy
Dreamland Threater
Kitty Murtagh
Marine Home Center
Mitchell’s Book Corner
Nantucket Bakeshop
Nantucket Cottage Hospital
Nantucket Toy Company
Peach Trees Nantucket
Petticoat Row
Zach Dusseau


Corned Beef and Cosmic Rays


Here’s an interesting historical tidbit you might not know about.

On this date (March 24, 2015) 50 years ago, astronaut John Young reached into his spacesuit and pulled out a corned beef on rye sandwich that he’d smuggled aboard the Gemini 3 spacecraft before its launch. If you’d like to know more, including the problems of crumbs in space, then read on here.

-Dr. Michael West

2015 REU Students Selected

Dr. Michael West is delighted to report that all six of the MMA’s REU offers have now been accepted. We’ve got an amazing and diverse cohort of students that truly reflects the goals and spirit of NSF’s REU program. Our summer REU students for 2015 will be:

Elizabeth Apala (East Central University, Oklahoma)
Patrick Drew (UMass Amherst)
Missy McIntosh (Harvard University)
Rayna Rampalli (Wellesley College)
Madison Smith (New College of Florida)
John Weaver (University of St Andrews, Scotland)

As you’ll see, 4/6 students are women, and 3/6 attend universities here in Massachusetts. All are American citizens or permanent residents, as required by NSF. We look forward to welcoming all of them to Nantucket this summer!

-Dr. Michael West, Director of Astronomy

Spiders: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

WHEN: March 9, 6:00PM – 8:00PM
The Rose & Crown

Have questions about spiders?  Or maybe you want to know what kind of spider you threw outside into the cold last night?  Here is your chance to learn about spiders on Nantucket and get all your questions answered.  Director of Natural Science, Andrew McKenna-Foster, will give an entertaining presentation on the world of spiders from 6 to 8 pm at the Rose and Crown on March 9th.

Argiope trifasciata

The garden spider Argiope trifasciata, photographed on Muskeget Island.

Science Pubs on Nantucket are a series of informal presentations by island scientists, hosted by the Linda Loring Nature Foundation and the Rose and Crown.  Join in for good food, beverages, and science the second Monday of every month.

Nantucket Science Festival


March 28, 2015  10am – 2pm   Middle School Cafeteria, 10 Surfside Rd.Nantucket Science Festival 2015

The first ever Nantucket Science Festival is right around the corner!  This hands-on and interactive event is full of activities for all ages from preschool to adult.  Hosted by the Maria Mitchell Association and the Nantucket Community School, the Nantucket Science Festival is all about connecting people with their inner scientist.  There will be fun and gooey substances to play with, mechanical machines to dismantle, electrical circuits to build, robots to build and program, and experiments in nanotechnology to perform.

While many activities are geared towards kids, adults will have an equally exciting experience.  I often hear people say something along the lines of “I’m not a scientist, but here’s my opinion.”  This statement is seriously inaccurate!  Your opinion is based on the Nantucket Science Festival 2015same information a scientist would collect.  In reality, we are all capable of doing what a ‘scientist’ does and we do it every day.

A scientist observes, questions, deduces meaning, and experiments.  Here is an extremely simple example: When you see someone slip and fall, as I did recently, you immediately question why, observe all the ice on the ground, and deduce that the ice is slippery and that maybe you should be careful too.  Unlike me, hopefully you put that knowledge to use as you hurry over to help.  I hurried over and promptly slipped myself- that was my experiment.  This may sound like too simplistic an example, but if you apply the ‘observe, question, deduce, experiment’ technique to Nantucket Science Festival 2015bigger questions, you are doing the same thing that led to the discoveries of vaccines, electricity, pasteurization, flight, lasers, and modern medicine.

Since we all are capable of being a scientist, no matter what a person’s background, everyone will learn something at the Nantucket Science Festival.   Bring the whole family!

Nantucket Science Festival 2015

New York Times Op-Ed in line with MMA renovation of Eco-Lab

“Specimen libraries are vital for biology.
So why are museums being forced to cut their funding?”

Nantucket Moths at the Natural Science Museum

Today’s NYTimes op-ed piece points out the importance of maintaining specimen libraries.

This is just another reason why the Eco-Lab project is so exciting for us here at the MMA, as we will be upgrading our collection preparation, storage, and display capabilities as part of the project, enabling us to better preserve and analyze Nantucket’s natural history.

-John Daniels, President of the Board of Directors and Interim Executive Director

Dr. Michael West talks about Hubble Telescope on WCAI

If you’re interested, Dr. Michael West’s latest interview with WCAI (Cape and Islands NPR radio station) aired this past Friday. It is available to stream anytime from WCAI’s website.

The 5-minute interview with Steve Junker discusses what astronomer do when the weather is lousy like it has been lately. West and Junker mostly chat about Hubble Space Telescope and observations that West’s colleague and he did with it last week to learn about how galaxies change when they move from ‘rural’ environments in the universe into teeming ‘galaxy metropolises’ that are the equivalent of cosmic cities.


-Dr. Michael West

Stellar Flyby


An interesting new study provides evidence that a star zipped through the outer part of our solar system about 70,000 years ago. If you’d like to know more, you’ll find additional information here:

Popular Science: When We Weren’t Looking a star passed within .8 lightyears of Earth

NBC NEWS: Alien star missed us by less than a year, scientists say.

Global News: Astronomers find star buzzed outer solar system 70,000 years ago

-Dr. Michael West