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Another introduction

Hello everybody, it’s Vera.

I’ll be giving you some science later, but first, something about me. I’ve been preparing for qualifying exams lately. I’m taking them next week. These are mildly terrifying exams. I have to take two written exams, three orals, and do a presentation on the research I’ve done so far. This is terrifying, because if I don’t pass, I am asked to leave the PhD program. I’ve never had so much riding on a single set of exams. While I do have a second chance, in six months, it’s still nerve-wracking. To take a break from studying for exams, I have some books on the ocean to read. (These are related to my work, but I find them very interesting.)

Here are some interesting scientific words relating to the ocean. (Good for trivia!)

syzygy: three astronomical bodies in line. Ex. When the sun and moon are in syzygy with the Earth, there are spring tides (higher than usual tides)

quadrature: astronomical bodies making 90 degrees. Ex. When the sun and moon are in quadrature, there are neap tides (lower than usual)

abyssal plains: The basically flat part of the bottom of the ocean

floc: a clump

celerity: speed

amphidromic system: a system where the crest of the tide moves around an amphidromic point (where there is no tidal range) The tide is not the same at the same latitude. Since the oceans are basins affected by the Coriolis force, the tidal wave is deflected, and moves in quasi-cicular paths. The paths set up in this manner compose the amphidromic system

I think that’s enough for now. Science words can be very strange. I haven’t gotten over syzygy yet. It has no vowels!

Also having to do with tides, one of the books I was reading had many mistakes. First, it showed apogee (when the moon is furthest from the earth) and perigee(when the moon is closest to the earth) to be 90 degrees apart from each other in the orbit. According to Keplers laws, they are 180 degrees apart, since the earth is at a focus of the orbital ellipse. The author of the book had displayed the earth at the center of the ellipse. Focus and center are not the same thing for an ellipse.

here is a link
that gives a good explanation.

You’ll probably be hearing more about errata in books from me. There are several more examples coming up from that book alone.

edit: fixed perigee/apogee closest/furthest thing

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  1. [The Bad Astronomer said,

    January 24, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Vera!

    Uh. You know I love all skepchicks unconditionally…]

    So, BadAstro, does this now include Sam…?

  2. It's sad that I know all those words (except for amphidromic system!) from various role playing games I've played over the years and not from any science training… Ah well.

    I only discovered 'tholins' recently, that's a great word. I think floc is easier to get into a conversation though.

  3. I thought the abyssal plane was where you went to fight Tanar'ri in Dungeons & Dragons :P

    Oh, and I think my old Ventrue clan vampire had 3 dots in celerity…

    … and those are the only tabletop gaming references I can get out of your post.

    Hi everyone, am I the only gaming nerd here? :D

  4. Thank you Badastronomer for correcting my astronomical dyslexia in such a kind way. It's fixed now.

    Sam: If there's enough y's you can use syzygy in any scrabble game with me.

    Slashnull: Maybe your next RPG can involve an amphidromic system, and you can teach it to others.

    Ron: I admit they are technically vowels. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  5. As Ron, above, says, "syzygy" has "y"s for its vowels.

    And even if you want to make an argument that "y" isn't really a vowel, when you come to say the word you are forced to insert vowels because of a combination of what phonologists call the "sonority profile" and the "obligatory contour principle" forcing us to create syllables out of a bunch of consonantal sounds.

  6. Oh, somehow I missed slashnull right before me- my question is answered. Somehow, I don't think I should be surprised. :)

  7. Vera, could you please record yourself saying the word "syzygy", and use it in a sentence? I want to know how to pronounce it!

  8. Mikhail:



    At syzygy of the sun-moon-earth system, scientists predict spring tides.

    At syzygy of sun-mars-earth, astrologers predict war.

    Unfortunately, both have been correct during recorded history. The difference being, spring tides end, while war continues.

  9. I'll tell you what I tell all graduate students: if your committee didn't have confidence that you would succeed, they wouldn't let you schedule the exam.


    Someone would take you aside for a little chat, and suggest you put it off.

    So cram your head in confidence!

    And it could be worse–you at least don't have to diagram and label the name and position of all the hairs on a fly's butt.

    That was my little prelim surprise.

  10. Welcome Vera – wow what a line up we are getting! I'm excited.

    And I love your avatar bug_girl, very clever.

    I guess I will have to find a little photo but I'm not sure I am ready for my face on the net. We'll see.

  11. I really hope that somewhere out there is a rock band called Syzygy. Except they spell it with Heavy Metal Umlauts.

    m/ SŸZŸGŸ m/

    … I'm gonna have to start it, aren't I?

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