Saturday, December 17, 2011

LoveJOY to the world - Astronomers get their christmas present!


I have been following this comet for a couple of weeks now, ever since Dec 2nd, when Terry Lovejoy had his confirmation and it was excitedly announced that the humble astronomer from Australia's Gold Coast had become the first observer to discover a comet from a Space Based telescope and an earth based telescope. I'd love to hang that plaque on my wall!

Comet Lovejoy is one of the largest Kreutz class (Sungrazing) comet detected since the SOHO program began, completed perihelion on December 16th and was not expected to survive its passage around the sun at 1.8 Solar radii. one told Comet Lovejoy it was supposed to conk out near the sun. It has surprised everyone by surviving the close pass and stunning the SOHO team with a birthday present.

As the saying goes "16 and never been kissed" - December the 2nd was the 16th birthday of the SOHO mission and what better way to celebrate than Lovejoy "kissing" the sun and emerging from the other side. Sungrazing comets are so-called because they pass so close to the sun that they rarely survive the passage. Multiple satellite instruments have picked up the comet exiting from behind the sun with its tail gyrating wildly in the solar wind. Latest Lasco instrument photos now show it moving away, still very bright and a partially visible tail that is still mostly obscured by the pixel bleed from the CCD camera.

Comet Lovejoy has lived up to its expectations as being one of the brightest Kreutz Class (Sungrazing) comets of all time.

These images following the passage through the FOV of the LASCO C3 camera and follows the comet's path for 80 hours at approx one hour per half second.

There are three things you really must look at:
1)How long the dust tail persists on the inbound path before is is blown away by the solar wind
2)How the tail swings around after perihelion displaying a prominent Ion Tail (the straight one) that was barely visible before perihelion
3)How prominent the Coma is after perihelion.

There are a number of astronomers scratching their heads today - but generally Lovejoy has followed the basic rules of comets:
1) No two are the same
2) they are highly unpredictable in terms of brightness

Much will be learnt from this one as the space based telescopes have very high resolution images in a variety of spectra.

In the top right hand corner you can also see some meteors apparently emerging from a radiant, the Geminid show is currently in play, but I am unsure if it is this shower that can be seen.

It a little early yet to claim it as a naked eye comet during the Christmas festive season, we hope so, as the world could use a little more Joy ....or LoveJOY ;-) at the moment.

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to the SOHO Team for making the data available.
"The SOHO/LASCO data used here are produced by a consortium of the Naval Research Laboratory (USA), Max-Planck-Institut fuer Aeronomie (Germany), Laboratoire d'Astronomie (France), and the University of Birmingham (UK). SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Comet Lovejoy's sunny death dive! Strike that - It lives on!

UPDATE: 2011/12/16 11:00 UTC one told Comet Lovejoy it was supposed to conk out near the sun. It has surprised everyone by surviving the close pass and stunning the SOHO team with their birthday present.

As the saying goes "16 and never been kissed" December the 2nd was the 16th birthday of the SOHO mission and what better way to celebrate than Lovejoy "kissing" the sun and emerging from the other side. Sungrazing comets are so-called because they pass so close to the sun that they rarely survive the passage. Multiple satellite instruments have picked up the comet exiting from behind the sun with its tail gyrating wildly in the solar wind. Latest Lasco instrument photos now show it moving away, still very bright and a partially visible tail that is still mostly obscured by the pixel bleed from the CCD camera.

Comet Lovejoy has lived up to its expectations of being one of the brightest Kreutz Class (Sungrazing) comets of all time.

Blazing at mag -3 and out of view for all "earthbound" observers, it is expected to cease to exist sometime in the next 12-18 hours as it approaches within 1.8 Solar radii.

This spectacular sequence from the LASCO C3 instrument on the SOHO observatory records the final death plunge. Note the horizontal artifact is due to the brightness of the coma which overloads the well count of the CCD camera causing pixel bleed.

In the highly unlikely event that the comet does make it round the sun it will be even more news worthy!

"The SOHO/LASCO data used here are produced by a consortium of the Naval Research Laboratory (USA), Max-Planck-Institut fuer Aeronomie (Germany), Laboratoire d'Astronomie (France), and the University of Birmingham (UK). SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA."

UPDATE: Lovejoy appears to have survived its passage, scientists noting with interest the presence of an Ion Tail in a addition to the dust tail, this has apparently not been seen before in a Kreutz Class comet. SOHO website and NASA having been live blogging and its a little early to know yet if we are going to get a great Christmas comet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

FS Aur is back!

Well, that highly erratic variable cataclysmic variable star FS Aurigae (FS Aur) is back in season and has not disappointed so far with two great outbursts already.

The quiescent duration between outbursts does seem a bit longer than the previous season - so far, but as we saw in the last northern winter, it was prone to springing a few surprises.

More on this soon, Vitaly has a nice slide deck now which he presented at a conference recently.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

A picture says a thousand words

On my way to the AAVSO Centenary Meeting, I took a little side trip....not really much more to add than that!!! After taking more than a thousand images, I finally got to visit my scope.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Carnival of Space 218

Photo: - Jekert Guapo

Yes its that regular event that comes around once a week which has a webpage hit count that resembles a Cataclysmic Variable Star's light curve....or perhaps a crazy roller coaster.

CARNIVAL OF SPACE!!!! .....and this is a bumper issue.

So Welcome! This week I am live blogging from the AAVSO's Centenary Meeting, celebrating an amazing 100 Years of variable star observations from an incredible organization of dedicated amateur and professional astronomers who have collected and archived 20.7 Million observations (as of yesterday afternoon) since 1911. I cover this event in more depth (below) in my Blog, but just let me share with you this incredible video of the 100 year light curve of SS Cygni.

Its Carnival Time!

Super Novae Buffet!

After the past month's supernova excitement, Laura Chomiuk discusses how Pan-STARRS is shedding light on a new, ultra-luminous type of supernova.

Gianluigi at Doc Madhatten Blog traces the history of supernova research. Starting from the supernovae of Brahe and Galilei, to describe the importance of the supernovae in astronomy research and to tell the Nobel Prize in Physics 2011.
On a side note congratulations to my fellow Australian Brian Schmidt (and Riess & Perlmutter) for the recognition this week from the Nobel committee. Aussie, Aussie Aussie!!!.....ah sorry you have probably heard that too many times in all the wrong places already.

On the same topic - the Minute Physics Channel Guest narrator Sean Carroll of Caltech describes dark energy and the acceleration of the universe, the discovery of which was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics on October 4th.

Space Mission Update!

Riofrio Space Time Blog reports on the October 4 anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, an event that affected humanity in ways too numerous to count. Replicas of Sputnik hang in museums like the National Air and Space Museum. At San Francisco's Beat Museum we hear a fascinating tale, that pieces of Sputnik may have been recovered.

At the Weirdwarp Blog - Space Expedition Curacao plans to fly space tourists on sub-orbital trips starting in 2014 at about half the price of Virgin Galactic. Check the safety instructions on the card in the back of the seat here.

Last week, scientists announced findings based on data from the SPICAM spectrometer onboard ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. Ray Sander's on Universe Today Blog discusses the findings reported in Science by Maltagliati et al (2011), reveal that the Martian atmosphere is super-saturated with water vapor.

Beyond Apollo Blog discusses what self-sufficiency in outer space might look like. In a paper presented in October 1989 at the 40th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation, two veteran space scientists proposed a 10-year program aimed at establishing a self-sufficient science outpost that would serve as testbed for space settlements.

The Urban Astronomer reports on data released by NEOWISE shows that there are fewer mid-sized asteroids in near-Earth orbit than we perviously thought. This means that the risk of a city-busting impact are lower than we thought. Not that that's any reason to become complacent!

With gold at record prices, find your own nuggets and dig for gold in the Chandra archive.

Over at Dr. Kaku addresses a question posed by Steven Lee Spall: Can we build a space elevator?

Space Coalition is running a competition - Dream about space? Make a video and enter to win an iPad 2. The Coalition for Space Exploration is hosting this video/blogging contest.

Vintage Space looks at what really killed the Dyna-Soar: a brief history covering its roots, life, and eventual cancellation. That might be a different Dinosaur to what you're thinking ;-)

Finally in Mission Update a call to action from Habitation Intention explaining how the Apollo age was not the age we where most tempted to quit space exploration, but now is.

ALMA is up and running!
Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA)

Weird Warp
opens our coverage of a new telescope starting to look at the universe. ALMA is the most powerful millimetre/submillimetre wavelength telescope in the world. These are longer wavelengths roughly about 1000 times longer than visible light wavelengths. Using these wavelengths ALMA allows astronomers to study really cold objects in the universe such as dense clouds of cosmic dust and gas from which stars and planets form as well as distant objects in the early universe.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Discovery News also covers the first image from the ALMA array.

Bente from Planet Bye also features a number of the first light images.

Credit: NRAO/AUI and J. Hibbard

Armagh Planet visits the Paranal site of European Southern Observatory. Well, if you have ever seen James Bond movie Quantum of Solace then you will have seen a glimpse of this amazing facility! If it’s good enough for Bond, then it must be quite a place, Armagh Planet updates us on exactly what it is, where it is, and what work is done there! (A LOT!)

Solar System(s)!
Next Big Future looks at possible causes of CMEs including whether a comet may have caused a coronal mass ejection. This also relates to an article form Jan,2010 at nextbigfuture which examined the future threat of man made solar explosions causing a super massive coronal mass ejection.

Smaller Questions examines Kepler trends and finds it turns out, Earth-sized planets in habitable zones around low-mass stars are not as rare as Kepler initially led astronomers to believe (not Kepler the guy--he's dead--but Kepler the exoplanet-scouting satellite).

Astronomy Media!
The Space Show: welcomes Dr. David Whitehouse of the UK, the world’s most cited science journalist, to the show to discuss science and space journalism, space policy in the UK, the U.S. and much more.

PortaltotheUniverse is where the whole space community comes together in one place; connect your blogs now for live feeds of your blogs into the Astronomy Community.

Big Think discusses career opportunities in the 21st Century. In this video, Musk describes how he has come to recognize opportunities as an entrepreneur in the space industry, which is one of the core skills necessary for success in the 21st century.

So that is it for Carnival 218! Thanks for dropping by AARTSCOPE where our mission is to - "create the sense of anticipation and discovery that keeps us asking questions".

I leave you with my unique, personal tribute to the AAVSO's 100 years of service to the Astronomy Community!

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact carnivalofspace @ to be added to the editorial circulation list.

For a guide on how to prepare an episode of Carnival of Space Habitation Intention has produced a GDoc as a template guide.

Friday, October 7, 2011

AAVSO Centenary Meeting

Legacy, what is it, the heritage you create for those that follow may well be one way of looking at it. The AAVSO's legacy and history is legendary. Today I met with some of those legends, and heros of the AAVSO for the first time, although I have worked with a number of them for a few years already without having ever met them.

The first day of the AAVSO meeting kicked of with the official opening of the new headquarters, and the dedication of the Thomas and Anna Faye Williams archives and Dorrit Hoffleit conference room. What an amazing day!

The ribbon cutting ceremony used a large pair of scissors that were specially made to cut up the original star charts by hand after they were printed.

I heard stories from Charles Scovil who described the first star charts hand drawn on transparent linen with India Ink before being etched by a unique process that involved cynide and would surely not be legal today......amazing. We are talking pre-Xerox days.

Photo: Gerry Samolyk showed off some of his original charts

Charles Alcock from the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gave a fascinating keynote on the history and the future of Variable Star Astronomy, where he posed the question are all stars variable if your SNR is good enough?

Perhaps that question will be answered by those who dig up the 50 Year Time Capsule that we prepared for burial. Yes, thats right a copy of the book Advancing Variable Star Astronomy was signed by all attendees with some even writing down messages for their kids. A number of the leaders of the AAVSO wrote personal reflections and questions we posed to see if they have been answered by the next generation of AAVSO members who will open the time capsule in the October meeting 2061.

By far the highlight for me was the 100 year light curve of SS Cygni that circled the walls of the Dorrit Hoffleit Conference room. Incredible - the worlds longest lightcurve with 100 years of observations.

No birthday would be complete without cake and ice cream, and so we caught up, shared stories, met our heros, and compared notes on different observing campaigns.

HAPPY 100th Birthday AAVSO !!!!!!

Become part of the next century's activity and join the AAVSO today!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

100 Years of Astronomy - Congrats AAVSO!!!

This is my personal tribute to the AAVSO, the legacy of an incredible organization, the history and the membership.

Happy 100th Anniversary - See you in Woburn!

Yes we are coming to America.....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Transient Nova in Scorpius

There was a bit of excitement this week when John Seach set up his camera gear and identified a Transient at magnitude of 9.8 on September 6.37 UT at 16:36:43 -41:32:46 and the AAVSO fired out an Alert.

The notification was posted on the CBAT (Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams) Transient Object Confirmation Page

However, it quickly became apparent that the Japanese researcher Nakamura also posted a Transient event at 16 36 44.40 -41 32 34.0 (about 12 pixels away) and noted that the accuracy residuals were within 30" (arcsecs).

Southern observers starved of attention with all the excitement around "northern hemisphere only" SN 2011fe, were quickly on the job. With Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Giovanni Sostero on the Faulkes Telescope and Seiichiro Kiyota on Global-Rent-a-scope's G9 telescope between them they confirmed the "halfway mark" at 16:36:44 -41:32:37. By about 10pm (local)Sept 07 there was quite a flurry of telescope activity, and I grabbed some photos and data as well and recorded the object at 10.4 in the V Johnson filter.

All subsequent data has been tied to Nakamura's CBAT telegram and a formal announcement is being constructed. [Formal Release Sun 11 Sept 09:07 UTC - a very detailed document, the object is to be reported as Nova Sco 2011 No. 2 in all observations to AAVSO]

(Note: not all of the above are southern observers ;-) but they visit so frequently we give them honorary southern hemisphere citizenship)

So we have a bright transient in the Southern Hemisphere for all those who are missing out on SN 2011fe action in the north.

The weather itself has been a bit transient so I was unable to get additional data on the 8th. The AAVSO are collating reports and working with CBAT and will post some details shortly.

Preliminary analysis suggests that it is a typical Fe II type Nova. Its important to note that Fe here refers to the presence of strong Fe Lines in the spectra and has nothing to do with the naming convention of the recent Supernova 2011fe.

Still its nice to have our own "Fe" to chase in the southern hemisphere.

Type Fe II Nova's are associated with sudden interstellar reddening.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Stars and Stripes - Supernova and Comet Garradd

Two of the great great favorites of amateur astronomers are Comets and Supernova, Both are stunning all this week, with Garradd and 2011fe now both in reach of binoculars and small telescopes.

In a very busy week, I managed to nab a couple of shots of Comet Garradd and run them through Maxim DL and Photoshop.

A pretty good result, promising to be the best comet of the year.

You can follow some regular updates over at GRAS.

Its also been an amazing week in M101 with a Supernova on the 23rd now pushing magnitude 10.5 and nearing its maxima, the rate of brightening seems to have slowed, I'm expecting it will top out around 10.3m.

This was the shot in the V Johnson filter today with the data submitted to the AAVSO. Over 600 observations from 73 observers now make up the most remarkable light curve ever thanks to the early detection by the Palomar Transient Factory.

M101 is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere, so you'll have to enjoy SN2011fe from here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Latest Aircraft Contrail Meteor Hoax, Cusco, Peru

CBS is carrying footage of a supposed Meteor streaking across the skies of Cusco, Peru.

Its great footage, but its not a meteor and its not setting fire to the forests in Peru as is being suggested by other sites.

Its all about angles and perspectives, and reflected sunlight.

Contrails are created by aircraft traveling at cruising altitude and causing the moisture in the atmosphere to condense into a denser state, whereby the light reflects off them, lighting them up where they can be seen for many miles.

We have all seen them, but at dawn and dusk the angle of the sun is very low and this is when they light up and look like what you see in this footage.

Lets pay some credit here, it is really interesting footage and very spectacular, but its a jumbo jet.

Hohmann Transfer website regularly collects images of illuminated contrails and I made my own contribution to their collection back in 2005.

In this photo below you can see three such contrails in the one photo. I was fly fishing at dusk about 30-40 klms east of the main flight path between Brisbane and Melbourne.

As someone who has personally seen a bolide travel across 30% the entire sky and cross the horizon line in less than five seconds, any thing that you can photograph for that long that hasn't moved much is traveling pretty slowly (by comparison).

So thanks for the great footage, but lets not get too over excited.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Lion King!

Image Credit: Oleg Maliy/ESO
Just waiting for an Elton John sound track, this 35 million light year distant galaxy, is the best of the pride....... in the constellation Leo. See I was getting around to the Lion thing....or should I say king.

At 50 lights years across NGC 3521 is quite bright but was not included in Messier's list, even though it was the same brightness as others included in his list compiled in the 1700s.

Oleg Maliy, who participated ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition, selected the data from the FORS1 instrument on ESO’s VLT at the Paranal Observatory in Chile that were used to create this dramatic image. Exposures taken through three different filters that passed blue light (coloured blue), yellow/green light (coloured green), and near-infrared light (coloured red) have been combined to make this picture. The total exposure times were 300 seconds per filter. Oleg’s image of NGC 3521 was a highly ranked entry in the competition, which attracted almost 100 entries.

Image Credit: Iztok Boncina/ESO

The most distinctive features of the bright galaxy NGC 3521 are its long spiral arms that are dotted with star-forming regions and interspersed with veins of dust. The arms are rather irregular and patchy, making NGC 3521 a typical example of a flocculent spiral galaxy. These galaxies have “fluffy” spiral arms that contrast with the sweeping arms of grand-design spirals such as the famous Whirlpool galaxy or M 51.

Image Credit: ESO/H.Zodet

This view of the FORS1 astronomical instrument, installed at the Cassegrain focus of UT1. It was mounted in September 1998 and has since produced a long series of excellent observations, both images and spectra. Some of these have resulted in spectacular views of astronomical objects, cf., e.g., ESO Press Photos eso9846 and ESO Press Photos eso9857. The second FORS1 commissioning phase was carried out in late December 1998.

ESO's innovation in providing access to archival photos for amateurs has been a feature of their brilliant outreach program, that makes them, today, the Lion Kings.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Comet Garradd - Color Photo

So here it is, its taken a few nights to process the color data, I was a little hard on the processing on my last attempt. It takes time to do a good quality color photo, and get the colors right and the stars nice as well. I am pretty happy with this ...but its left me thinking I really should have gone to the advanced imaging conference on the Gold Coast a couple of weekends back.

Here is another picture of the "spectrum"....well kind of....its the RGB image stacked for the stars -with the comet moving. It consists of 6x120 sec images in each color.

Enjoy.....Garradd will be around for a while yet and will be a real treat!

And finally the movie version.

Clear Skies!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Comet Garradd

Here is today's photo of Comet Garradd. This shot is 20 Min exposure in the luminance channel and is most interesting as its passing a very tiny galaxy, and looks a pretty picture!

Finally the weather cleared and I got the nice color data I was after. The comet is moving quite swiftly at the moment and working up a stunning full color image is pretty hard work.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garradd Lights Up!

Comet Garradd C/2009 P1 is making nice progress towards its perihelion (closest approach to the sun) on Dec 23rd. Its a lovely comet and should brighten further of the coming months and has the best chance of becoming our next "naked eye" comet. I hope to have some better images soon.

It had a nice little double tail going about a week ago, but that seems to have swung away from us a little. My attempt to get a nice full color version was foiled by cloud knocking out the blue channel on the 24th, so I added some shorter luminance into the Blue channel. [Below]

This image, is 600sec Red, 600 secs Green and 360 secs Lum ....with comets you kind of need to get it all in one night to match it up with the background stars. I am playing with a new technique to process the stars and the comet seperately in two different layers and this can be quite tricky....and when you are missing the blue channel - I'll reset and try again another night.

However for now the image is stacked for movement of the comet against the background stars, which appear in each color channel. Comet Garradd is currently around magnitude 8.5 (according to other observers, as I haven't done any photometery on it).

UPDATE:29th July.

I finally got back to try and grab the blue channel that I missed the other night.
You actually have to start again, as the stars of course, will be in a different place. The Weather foiled me again so I jumped on board our Scope in Nerpio Spain, G17, and grabbed another color run. Here I have 40 Mins of RGB stacked for movement of the comet. G17 also has a tighter FOV so the Coma is larger here.

Image: Comet Garradd from Nerpio, Spain. 29th July 2011. (c)P.Lake

Now, thats where the fun really starts. Once you have good color you have to then create a superb image by seperating out the background stars from the Comet itself. So you do two stacks 1) a color combine in Maxim DL stacked for the coma of the comet and 2) another color combine stack of the same frames but stacked to the stars (with the comet trailed.

Then you use Photoshop>Filter>Noise>Dust and scratches (increase the Pixels to suit) and remove the trailed stars from the Comet Stack, Then use Photoshop>Select>color range to pick out (only) the Stars (and the Comet Coma) and copy to another layer, erase the Coma then add the two separate layers back together. I put the Stars on top (as they are the only thing in that layer, the comet next in its starless sky and then add a solid black background underneath and back the the opacity of the comet layer off by about 5-8% just to soften it up a little, and assist the layers to blend.

If you have done well you should have a stunning comet, and individual star colors that give real depth to the photo.

Its an amazing result, you can then treat each layer with curves and levels to make sure you have it just right.


You can take your own photo here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiction comes to life, as Dawn approaches orbit around Vesta

Image Credit: Gregory J. Whiffen JPL

I'm not sure what is more impressive - the scientific feat, or the sense of humor with which it has been carried out.

This excellent (and funny) video outlines the development of the Dawn mission control center and the use of an Ion Drive in the mission, and where the Ion drives first ....ah... connects with our scientific cultural heritage. [Star Trek Movies]
The actual concept of ion propulsion was first put to paper in 1911 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky with Harold Kaufman testing the first prototype drive in 1959 after decades of research. Ion Drives have been used in a number of recent missions including Deep Space 1 and Hayabusa.

Image Credit: NASA JPL Dawn Mission

Chief Engineer Marc Rayman like all good Trekkies keeps a "ship's log". On July 13th Dawn was about 23,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) from Vesta, and approaching it at 37 meters per second (83 mph). Dawn remains on course as it continues ion thrusting to reach its first science orbit this weekend.

The Dawn spacecraft, on its way to Vesta then Ceres, will be the first spacecraft to enter an orbit around a main belt asteroid, it carries a scientific payload, with four experiments.

- Framing camera for guidance
- Infrared and visual spectrometer
- Gamma ray and Neutron spectrometer
- Gravity science

Mission controllers are looking for return of the following data:

1) Images of Vesta and Ceres in three colors and black and white

2) Full surface with mapping spectrometer in three bands, 0.35 to 0.9 micron, 0.8 to 2.5 micron and 2.4 to 5.0 micron

3) Neutron and gamma ray spectra to produce maps of the surface elemental composition of each asteroid, including the abundance of major rock-forming elements (O, Mg, Al, Si, Ca, Ti, and Fe), trace elements (Gd and Sm), long-lived radioactive elements (K, Th, and U), and light elements such as H, C, and N, which are the major constituents of ices.

4) Radio tracking to determine mass, gravity field, principal axes, rotational axis and moments of inertia.

Scientists hope to learn about the makeup and composition of main belt asteroids, study their elements, identify any metals, trace elements and ice.

Recently main belt asteroid Scheila exhibited a brief cometary outburst (photos here) providing further possible evidence that some asteroids could carry significant amounts of ice.

The ten Kilogram GRaND - Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrograph, perhaps the most complex of the instruments, will detect what radiates off the asteroid as it is hit by cosmic waves. The Mission "Splat Diagram" explains the different forms of radiation that are emitted and how this is captured by the instrument.

Based on the data the mission controllers hope to learn more about how the asteroids in the belt were formed.

Image: Data control interface for Ion Drive.

The data could also be also very useful, it we ever decide to paint an asteroid in an attempt to divert its path over a number of years. It would be good to know which color to use, and any additives. ;-)

Congratulations once again to the NASA JPL team.

UPDATE: July 16. Dawn has successfully entered orbit around Vesta.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Comet C/2009 P1 Garrad

Comet Garrad C/2009 P1 photographed today moving trough Pisces and Aquarius. It should be a real treat after the full moon passes.

This is a single 300 sec image I took with a Clear filter on GRAS' 17 Inch Planewave in Spain.

Garrad promises to be one of the best of the comets of the year, and already is brighter than Comet Elenin which is not currently visible to northern hemisphere viewers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Blondes in Space!

Image: The APEX Telescope, Chajnantor, Chile. Credit: J. Vieira/APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO)

I am going to have so much fun with this, and as a blogger, my role is to make the science "fun and engaging" for a whole new generation of non-sciency people!

I could have gone with any of:-

Blondes in Space!
Hair Salon at the end of the universe!
So long and thanks for all the perms!
The hairdresser's guide to the galaxy!

Photo Credit:

Ah.....where do I start.

Reece Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, showed us how important it was, - you can win lawsuits with a good knowledge of haircare products.

Australian cricketers know they are about to loose the Ashes when the English cricketers start spending more money on hydrogen peroxide - yes those blonde tips. There is a mathematical relationship between confidence and expenditure on hydrogen peroxide.

However, life on this planet depends not just on a good stylist, hydrogen peroxide also plays a key role in the chemistry of water and ozone in our planet’s atmosphere. Ozone protects us from harmful radiation, but can fluctuate in our upper atmosphere and this chemistry is widely studied here on earth. So want about Space - is it out there?

Submillimetre astronomy is a relatively unexplored frontier in astronomy and reveals a Universe that cannot be seen in the more familiar visible or infrared light. It is ideal for studying the "cold Universe": light at these wavelengths shines from vast cold clouds in interstellar space, at temperatures only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) today announced
that astronomers had detected Hydrogen Peroxide - H2O2 in a gas cloud in our own galaxy, near the naked eye star, Rho Ophiuchi in Ophiuchus. This is a beautiful area of the night sky instantly recognizable by keen astro-photographers.

Image Credit: ESO/S. Guisard (

How did they do that - flux capacitor hooked up to a hair dryer?

An international team of astronomers made the discovery with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX), situated on the 5000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. They observed a region in our galaxy close to the star Rho Ophiuchi, about 400 light-years away. The region contains very cold (around -250 degrees Celsius), dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. The clouds are mostly made of hydrogen, but contain traces of other chemicals, and are prime targets for astronomers hunting for molecules in space. Telescopes such as APEX, which make observations of light at millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelengths, are ideal for detecting the signals from these molecules.

Image Credits: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

Now that is one serious telescope, APEX is a collaboration between the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and operated by ESO.

We were really excited to discover the signatures of hydrogen peroxide with APEX. We knew from laboratory experiments which wavelengths to look for, but the amount of hydrogen peroxide in the cloud is just one molecule for every ten billion hydrogen molecules, so the detection required very careful observations,” says Per Bergman, astronomer at Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden. Bergman is lead author of the study, which is published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries.

Hydrogen peroxide is thought to form in space on the surfaces of cosmic dust grains — very fine particles similar to sand and soot — when hydrogen (H) is added to oxygen molecules (O2). A further reaction of the hydrogen peroxide with more hydrogen is one way to produce water (H2O). This new detection of hydrogen peroxide will therefore help astronomers better understand the formation of water in the Universe.

So why all the fuss you ask?

We don’t understand yet how some of the most important molecules here on Earth are made in space. But our discovery of hydrogen peroxide with APEX seems to be showing us that cosmic dust is the missing ingredient in the process,” says Bérengère Parise, head of the Emmy Noether research group on star formation and astrochemistry at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and a co-author of the paper.

The new discovery of hydrogen peroxide may also help astronomers understand another interstellar mystery: why oxygen molecules are so hard to find in space. It was only in 2007 that oxygen molecules were first discovered in space, by the satellite Odin.

Congratulations to the international team on another great, exciting discovery, using the ESO/APEX telescope at Chajnantor.

So I'll sign off with - do Astronomer's really have more fun? Absolutely!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

KOI 256 Transit

Tonight's run on KOI 256b.

The target is well place for a good long run targeting the 73 minute transit and a good hour of data each side.

The observation plan from Penultimate on my iPad outlines the key ingress and egress points we are looking for. My friends up at Pulkovo are awaiting my next run with anticipation. I was hoping to get the transit on the 29th, but missed it as the Telescope was fully booked. I forgot to put in a reservation ;-).

So any way we are underway and some early clouds have flitted through but all is looking good now as we get into the business end.

Looks like we got to reduce the data and upload to TRESCA.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Carnival of Space - Episode 204

Welcome to the Carnival of Space where we feature the very best of Space and Astronomy blogs each week. Also, I thought I'd share with you the latest fancy internet widget from Infomous [above]. Check it out, but make sure you come back and read our great line up today, with lots of great Solar System articles, and entries from a number of Continents. As it hosted from Australia this week - lets start in Sydney.

Astropixie this week covers the Astronomy conference in Sydney "Supernovae and their host galaxies". The event was sponsored by the AAO Australian Astronomical Observatory and the CSIRO. Amanda provides overviews of the conference presentations, top of mind was the very recent Supernova in M51 and the methods of observation required after such events.

At the Next Big Future, true to form, Brian covers all the stuff our grandchildren will take for granted. Keith Henson's studies of space-based solar power issues. Henson recently published a proposal to reduce the cost of getting payload to orbit by orders of magnitude . In an interview with Sander Olson, Henson describes using skylon rocket planes to release payloads at high altitudes. Are launch costs of $100 per Kilo possible - Henson thinks so!

NASA Engineer John Chapman has an aneutronic fusion reactor scheme, a commercially available benchtop laser starts the reaction. A beam with energy on the order of 2 x 10^18 watts per square centimeter, pulse frequencies up to 75 megahertz, and wavelengths between 1 and 10 micrometers is aimed at a two-layer, 20-centimeter-diameter target. Each pulse of the laser should generate roughly 100 000 particles. Read the article and find out just how you might generate 1 Megawatt per second.

Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) is targeting mining the moon. CTO Barney Pell gave a talk about the vision recently. Sounds like its only a matter of time before we have protesters throwing themselves in front of space tractors. ;-)

Speaking of Moons.....Jupiter is just showing off. The Urban Astronomer reports on the discovery of two more Jovian satellites taking the total to 65! That's enough for whole inter-lunar football league, with enough left over for an Ice Hockey league! I can see it now....the Europa Enforcers! Seriously though, the new moons are S/2010 J1 and S/2010 J2 and are unusual, so you have to visit the blog to find out why.

Still on Moons, Enceladus - now there is a place you could play some serious Icehockey! The Meridiani Journal looks into further evidence that salty oceans exist beneath the surface feeding its famous Geysers.

[Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]

Onto Mars now, and Vintage Space reports on Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society suggesting that we are more ready to go to Mars now than we were to go to the moon in 1961. A closer look comparing lunar readiness then and Mars readiness now suggests that maybe we aren't.

Enter these co-ordinates into your Stargate: SAO + NASM = FETTSS @ SI, or you can just go to the Chandra Blog for a great report on the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and National Air and Space Museum's "From Earth to the Solar System" - a stunning photographic journey through the solar system. Ameé Salois even discusses iceskating on Europa (See... you thought I was being silly before!).

Photo Credit: Megan Watzke

The Panstarrs Blog covers some of their science strategies. Harvard postdoctoral researcher Darin Ragozzine describes the search for icy bodies in distant reaches of the solar system using Pan-STARRS1.

On a side note to this, the ubiquitous platform for Citizen Science - Zooniverse has added IceHunters to search for a suitable Kuiper Belt object for the New Horizions mission to go to after it passes Pluto. (So if you are bored with the ice at your local rink ..... alright enough on the Ice hockey analogies already!!)

The big news of the week, which made the mainstream media, was the close passage of tiny asteroid 2011 MD which passed at a very close distance of 1.8 earth Radii. Astroblogger provides commentary and discusses some of the images and techniques for capturing the near earth visitor.

Universe Today also covered Asteroid 2011 MD's approach. The article was linked by a number of main stream media houses. Senior Editor Nancy Atkinson also compiled a list of images here as well.

Ian O'Neil writing for the Discovery News asks the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger question" protesting that he wished that 2011 MD had hit us, yes he's serious. He goes to great lengths to explain why - perhaps then there would be more serious funding from governments to address the problem.

Just in from our Spanish Desk: Vega 0.0 reports on the co-ordinates and skychart for observing Comet Elenin in October. Elenin is now a tough assignment as it is only about 30 degrees above the horizion at sunset.

Indian space entrepreneur, Susmita Mohanty gave a talk on the end of the Shuttle era at the American Center in Mumbai, India. Pradeep's Blog Pradx takes a look at the talk and the response from the Mumbai crowd. Thanks Pradeep, great to get some local news from Mumbai.

Weirdwarp poses the question, "What could an alien civilisation be able to do"? Well, as we have not found any alien civilisations then everything is guesswork based on the laws of physics and our experiences here on earth. This could be completely wrong or it could be completely right or it could be somewhere in between. Only Chris can stack rank an alien civilization!

Cheap Astronomy delivers a podcast, a highly summarized overview of astronomy at the various different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum..

Finally I leave you with my own video of 2011 MD as we wrap up this Solar System oriented webisode of Carnival of Space - 204.

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact to be added to the editorial circulation list.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Afternoon fog rolling into Melbourne

I thought I was in San Francisco for a minute.... an afternoon "pea-souper" rolling in.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Asteroid 2011 MD a VERY close approach

Its not every day, that an asteroid misses by less than 3-5 earth Radii. Photographed here on Sunday evening 26th, it can be seen streaking across the sky. The photo was taken on a 20 inch telescope in New Mexico controlled by my iPhone.

Its close approach is being followed with great interest, more for honing the skills and techniques of the Minor Planet Center and the network of asteroid hunting Astronomers, rather than because it posses any real danger.

Hi-Def Youtube Version.

It will pass inside the orbit of many of the Geostationary satellites, hopefully with out hitting any of them.

In 2008 an asteroid of similar size, 2008 TC3 slammed into Sudan lighting up the night sky. A team of researchers subsequently recovered over 10 Kilograms of fragments, which further research has found contained some amino acids.

I managed to grab 10 x 120 sec images and put together this short video.


[Apologies the title says should read 2011]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The inevidible draws closer!

OOooppss.Click Here for latest data.

The Iceland government has been warning europe for some time to prepare for the eventual eruption of Katla volcano under the Myrdalsjokull icecap.

The coming eruption looms ever closer. We'll find out soon if anyone in Europe has been listening.

Caution: This is just one could go on like this for some time.

Remember the onsite Geologists are the only ones who are really qualified to give opinions.

UPDATE: July 18 There was a flood on the 9th July 2011after a harmonic tremor.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunar Eclipse 15th (16th)AEST June 2011

And so as the moon sets in Melbourne, the trailing limb is just starting to brighten and the eclipse zone moves on across Asia towards Europe..... I bid you farewell....Have a great day! Thanks for visiting.

Thats a deep eclipse I'm down to ISO6400 and 1/10 of a second now....and its getting "scraggly" when I crop it tight. Can see some stars there now as well.

The eclipse has now entered totality, which will be quite long this morning, as the Moon is passing very close to the center of earths shadow. In Melbourne its only about 25 degrees above the horizion now so we shall get some deeper color as it catches a bit more of the volcanic ash just before dawn.

Wow...Now we are talking!!

The Eclipse is now in full swing as the umbral stage draws to a close.

Seen one lunar eclipse - seen them all? Most certainly not.....every time I ask myself that question, I also ask ..... How many have my kids seen? It always gets me out of bed one more time.

After all, the excitement our kids get from the awesome realization that the shadow of the earth is going to creep across the Moon, is quite infectious, and seeing it through their eyes once more is great.

This year the prospect of seeing it with a lot of volcanic ask (nearby Melbourne) and in the upper atmosphere generally, in both hemispheres makes this one of some extra scientific interest.

So is 4:30am is 2 degrees centigrade and the eclipse has begun.


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