- Immediately: take an introductory astronomy course at a local community college or continuing education program at your local university to demonstrate your interest,
- Then: assess your IT skills, and apply them directly to the support of an upcoming large ground- or space-based observatory. This is an especially sensible route if you do any database related work. The future of astronomy is big data and massive virtual observatories which collect together and make useful petabytes of information from a wide variety of facilities.
- Check the job listings at the American Astronomical Society, looking in particular for IT support positions where your domain knowledge would outrank that of PhD-trained astronomers (who learn to program "on the job" and rarely master grittier back-end systems). Realize that almost all existing and (especially) new astronomical facilities have substantial IT/engineering staff, and that your skills do not exist among traditional PhD scientists. Example: the LSST will produce 30 TB of data per night, which needs to be processed in semi-real time. Example #2: the incredibly successful Sloan Digital Sky Survey partnered with Microsoft database engineers to build its (at the time) state-of-the-art public-facing data archive. The late Jim Gray was instrumental in building the Sloan backend, and said his favorite thing about astronomical data is that it was "worthless" (by which he meant the usual access control layers were not necessary, freeing him to focus on much more rewarding and useful tools).
- Relocate to a mission control or operations center for the facility. These are often located at major research universities, or equivalent national facilities like the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the National Radio Observatory in Charlottesville, VA, the Gemini Observatories (Hawaii/Tucson/Chile), etc. Advantage? You will very likely be immediately mixed in with groups of professional astronomers. You will be strongly encouraged to learn to speak their language, and to become more involved in the scientific aspects of the project. You will learn a great deal just through osmosis. You will likely be able to attend seminars, sit in on classes, bend the ear of willing faculty, etc. And the most significant advantage? You could be contributing directly to the forefront of astrophysics research within 3-5 years. Disadvantages: the pay might be somewhat less than similar background applied in the financial or health industries. Often the intellectual rewards bring talented engineers anyway. Also, may projects are time limited, so you positions are typically not permanent (but new projects are coming online all the time).
All the scientists I know (myself included) would correctly indicate that the sun will not grow cold, but will, after exhausting its core hydrogen fuel, vastly increase its luminosity, and swell in size past the Earth's orbit, essentially vaporizing it. All this, in roughly 5 billion years.
Modern humans as a species are 0.0002 billion years old. Yes, that's three zeroes to the right of the decimal. Do you really believe that we'll care about a couple thousand years worth of exemplars of humanity after we've evolved 25,000 times further than since we separated from proto-human homonids? Will we even be humans at that point? Are there any other conceivable disasters our species or its descendants could suffer during those billions of years, which colonizing space could not prevent?
The article is wrong on many levels. The key word here is "direct". The 2002 transmission spectra you mention (and others like it) consist of light from the host star, passing through the atmosphere of the planet as it passes in front of it, which imprints spectral signatures of the planetary atmosphere on that stellar spectrum. So in this sense, its not a direct spectrum of the planet's own light, but of the star, modified by the planet in front of it.
The first spectrum of a planet, consisting only of planetary light, came from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which used a differencing technique:
planet + star [out of eclipse] - star [when planet eclipsed] = planet only
The star and planet could not be resolved (separated) by the telescope, but by using the known orbit of this eclipsing planetary system, and timing the observations carefully, a spectrum of the "planet's own light" was obtained.
The novelty of this latest result is that no differencing of this sort was required. Using adaptive optics to correct distortions due to Earth's atmosphere, the light from a star and the light from its associated giant planet where physically resolved, and a spectrum of the planet, all by itself, was obtained. Even with adaptive optics, however, very few systems have star-planet separations on the sky large enough to permit this technique.
From one viewpoint, there is no fundamental difference between them. They scale linearly between two temperature points, assigning values of 0 and 100:
- Celsius: [freezing point of water, boiling point of water]
- Fahrenheit: [a cold solution of brine, human body temperature (approx)]
I argue that degrees F offers a more suitable range, and better resolution, than degrees C for temperatures encountered in everyday life. The smallest temperature difference I can detect? Roughly 1 degree F. That's 0.55 degree C. It's also why you often see forecasts in fractional degrees C. A day so cold you have to protect skin? 0 degrees F. A day so hot that wind actually warms you up? 100 degrees F. The advantages of Celsius in the lab are clear. For weather? Not so much.
Over 30 thousand gigabytes (30TB) of images will be generated every night during the decade -long LSST sky survey.