Monday, December 31, 2012

Carnival of Space 281/282

My final honored task for 2012 is to host the Carnival of Space. What a year it has been! From the Transit of Venus, the successful Curiosity landing, the SKA being jointly awarded to Australia and Europe, the Higgs Boson the emergence of +Virtual Star Parties in Google Plus Hangouts, its really hard to know where to start.

Its been an amazing year. Astronomy has in someway led the charge in the Social Media/Science Catagory through strong leadership, mentoring and driving new horizons literally!!!!

To all readers and contributors I hope and trust that 2013 will bring you, and those close to you, a happy, prosperous new year that expands your understanding of the Universe around you, and all the players in its magnificent symphony.

On with the show!!!!!

Cheap Astronomy launches the e-book Astronomy Without a Telescope - which is surprisingly cheap (podcast). eBooks are great and with recent upgrades to smart devices and tablet software you can usually download them really easily into your reading device of preference.

How was born the Moon? Doc Madhattan replies to this quest starting from the Earth-Moon Theory and the works of George Darwin. I also translate some quotations from the short stories by the italian writer Italo Calvino.

The Chandra Blog gives us our first new year's resolution :- Never Give Up And Trust Your Intuition. In fact they push the boundries even further with From Super To Ultra: Just How Big Can Black Holes Get?

The Meridian Journal reports on the Cassini probes discovery of an alien version of the ‘Nile River’ on Titan.

Next Big Future brings us a report on how Orbitec has flown a radical new engine technology that promises to cut the size, weight and therefore the cost of putting a rocket – and payload – into space. Regular rocket engines get incredibly hot, reaching temperatures upwards of 3,000C (5,400F) or more, hot enough to melt the metal chamber in which the rocket fuel mixes with oxygen and burns. At these extremes, even rockets with sidewalls made of heat-resistant superalloys would fail catastrophically. Orbitec’s alternative approach keeps the hot burning gases away from the chamber surfaces altogether. The company’s patented designs create a cyclonic swirl, or vortex, of fuel and oxygen that holds the searing gases and fumes in the very centre of the cylindrical combustion chamber, away from the vulnerable sidewalls.

The meticulous chronicler of all things relating to Space Missions - Amy Shira Teitel discusses the story of how being on the Moon inspired Apollo 17's Jack Schmitt to write some holiday poetry. I'm sure its better than Vogon poetry!

From the Links through Space Blog you can follow Astronomy Club Toutatis on it's trip to Morocco. A series of posts and photos on Moroccan astronomy and personnel experiences through out Marrakesh and the Sahara desert night sky. Read about the observatory of Marrakesh, Asteroid Toutatis, see the Geminid meteor shower from the desert, Step in the Sahara sky hotel in the middle of nowhere in the Sahara desert for deep sky object photographing.

We occasionally see the magnificent photographer Thierry Legault sneak into Australia for magnificent outback shots. Today he sent Universe Today some images from an aurora-hunting trip to Finland and Norway. As you can guess, the images are awesome!

Finally my own AARTScope contribution of the top five highlights of my Astronomical year, a list which runs to many more than five, but the top five are biggies!

It s been my priviledge to continue the mission of the AARTScope Blog to Create the sense of anticipation and discovery that keeps scientists asking questions once again in 2012, and also host the Carnival of Space a number of times. Thanks for joing us again.

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.

2012 - That's a Wrap!

Happy New Year to all the Space and Astronomy lovers.

2012 has been a great year and contained many highlights. The most significant was my new found skills in G+ Hangouts thanks to +Fraser Cain and +Scott Lewis mentoring me.

I always try and bring fresh, original and live content at the Astronomy webs.

The highlights of the year were:

5) My article on Astronomy 3.0 was published by the Variable Stars South Newsletter. (Page 14) The newsletter is always an excellent read and can be downloaded in PDF to your tablet of a relaxed read.

4) Hangout on Air coverage of the Comet Hergenrother outburst including an interview with Carl Hergenrother the discoverer of the comet.

3) Asteroid Hunt for OSIRIS-Rex Target Asteroids in front of a live audience at a Learning in the Laneway Session at the Little Mule Cafe in Melbourne.

2) A live outside broadcast of the Transit of Venus from Siding Spring, NSW.

1) A live Exo-planet Transit of Qatar-1-b broadcast in a G+ "Hangout on Air" for #deSTEMber

All in all, its been a great year, thanks for everyone who has visited my blog, over 3000 per month now.

We have had visitors from nearly every continent on earth. I hope you all feel welcome, I have added the Google Translate widget to the Blog this year, and whilst its not always perfect with the many scientific terms we need to cover, I hope that you embrace it as a genuine attempt to relate in your native tongue.

I hope and trust that 2013 will bring you, and those close to you, a happy, prosperous new year that expands your understanding of the Universe around you,and all the players in its magnificent symphony.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Live Exoplanet Transit of Qatar 1b to celebrate #deSTEMber

Today we bring you a world first.

A live extra-solar planet transit of Qatar-1b.

We are just about to get started. I won't have much time to update the blog as we go but sit back and watch the +Google Plus Hangout on Air feed.

Thanks for those who joined us LIVE. Here is the replay if you couldn't.

Thanks to +Scott Lewis, +Shahrin Ahmad, +Tamara Hudgins for your assistance in a highly successful event.


Midtransit data from VPHOT

Past the mid-point

However the "shot of the day" came from the all sky camera itself with a stunning meteor just before the broadcast started.

So the final wrap up - we sorted out the little glitch towards the end, and restarted the scope and captured the last part of the transit ok - PHEW. Here is the reduced data and final lightcurve of the transit.

Also here is the reduced data submitted to TRESCA.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sensational Singapore Photostudy

Taking a brief detour from my usual fare of Astronomy.

Recently I have been exploring the various epub and document publishing "iHouses". There are some very interesting approaches, methods and websites.

Here is my first foray, a photographic study of one of my favorite cities -SINGAPORE!!!!!

There is lots to consider, the tools you use to tell the story, the platform you want to publish on, and what the ultimate purpose is (getting it out there vs revenue). Depending on whether you want to just stick a PDF on your blog with a paypal button, "go Apple" through the iTunes store, or get a company like Bookbaby to go the whole way with ISBN Numbers and distribution channels - there is something for everyone.

This time I'm using the ISSUU Website which seems to have a large user base with a broad range of content.

Let me know what you think.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Near Neighbor

Image Credit: (c) Peter Lake - Southern Cross and Pointers - SSO, Cannon 550D SLR

One of the most prominent stars is the southern hemisphere made headlines this week as a team of astronomers, using the ESO Harps Instrument on the 3.6m La Silla observatory in Chile, announced the discovery of an earth sized planet around our closest star.

“Our observations extended over more than four years using the HARPS instrument and have revealed a tiny, but real, signal from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days,” says Xavier Dumusque (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), lead author of the paper. “It’s an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit!”

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (

Much of the recent news of Extrasolar planet discovery has centered around the Kepler Space Telescope mission, only this week Chris Lintott's & Meg Schwab's team at also announced the first citizen science discovery of a planet in a 4 star system....come to think of it that has a nice ring to it. ;-)

Back south though, at Siding Spring Observatory which has an exceptional dark southern horizon, Alpha Centauri never sets, as the brightest star in the "Pointers" near the Southern Cross, at its worst it grazes the southern horizon.

Alpha Centauri is a great small telescope target that I regularly show school students. The double take gasp that occurs, when they look at one star visually then suddenly realize, through the telescope, there are actually two stars usually gives way to a comment like "No way!" or the these days "What the?", as they back away from the eye piece and look again visually and take another look through the eyepiece - as if they are a scientist with two irreconcilable datasets. See there IS little bit of scientist in us all! Finally it all gives way to an extended WWWOOOooowwww!

Image Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

Now we can tell the students that there is a little "earth sized" planet, (but really more like an earth sized "Mercury") orbiting the fainter of the two stars Alpha Centauri b. Of course Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star system, but the much fainter (again) third star, Promixa Centauri is not resolvable in small scopes.

Emerging Kepler data shows us that planets around stars are pretty much the rule not the exception and its interesting to see the different techniques for detecting them.

“This is the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a star like the Sun. Its orbit is very close to its star and it must be much too hot for life as we know it,” adds Stéphane Udry (Geneva Observatory), a co-author of the paper and member of the team, “but it may well be just one planet in a system of several. Our other HARPS results, and new findings from Kepler, both show clearly that the majority of low-mass planets are found in such systems. This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun. We live in exciting times!” concludes Xavier Dumusque.

So next time you use the "pointers" to point out the southern cross and south celestial pole, remember you are also looking at what will always be the closest earth sized planet - our near neighbor, or as we still reserve the right in Australia to reject US based spell checkers, not only is it upside down it can also be - Near Neighbour!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Comet Hergenrother in Outburst

Today we are broadcasting live an interview with Carl Hergenrother and several astronomers across Asia.

Comet 168P Hergenrother has gone into outburst, and brightened several magnitudes. We take a look at a number of great images of the comet and discuss with Carl why this might have happened.

Carl was on the Catalina Sky Survey team and is now the Co-Lead Staff scientist on the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroid mission.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Astroswanny at Siding Spring

Joining us virtually in a Google+ Hangout live from South Australia was Dr Ian Musgrave who caught the grazing Occulation of Jupiter by the Moon early in the morning.

A great interview with Peter from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the ANU.

Here is our first live cross on the mountain as the guys took over the most amazing "office space" in the southern hemisphere.

The wonders of truly dark sky are simply breathtaking!

As a young boy, I went on camping trips with the family to some of Australia's most amazing and remote national parks. Armed with a banged up old pair of binoculars, that my Dad bought to watch Greg Chappel's magnificent cover drives at the Gabba, I would sit for hours sweeping the heavens, marveling at the majesty above.

Warrumbungle Ranges National park was my favorite, although very hot during summer, which limited some of the walks we did, it had the additional advantage of being the Astronomy Capital of Australia.

Nearly four decades later, as I sit on top of the mountain near the 3.9m AAT, I marvel at the fact the skies are still as dark and amazing as ever, yet perhaps I appreciate them even more now.

On this trip I bought my 14inch Skywatcher which has a whole lot of light pulling power! Not that you need it, with some Messier objects being naked eye standouts, I was again blown away by the incredible beauty. The Tarantula Nebula almost filled the entire field of view.

The purpose of me being here, this time, is to assist with the Siding Spring Observatory Open Day tomorrow the 6th. Like me four decades ago, hundreds will descend on the SSO tomorrow and many will capture the passion of Astronomy for the first time.

With the new observatory nearing completion a new chapter will begin making the mountain more accessible to everyone, promoting the great work of everyone at the Anglo Australian Observatory, the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the ANU, creating great opportunities and pathways into the grad programs for the next generation of scientists. observatory will bring great photographic opportunities to the southern skies, better coverage of the Variable star catalog, more eyes on the approaching asteroids.

Last night I spent hours out under the stars, not doing anything in particular, just bouncing around to various Nebula and globular clusters. Playing with my DSLR and fine tuning things. This photo shows all the trials and pit falls of astro-photography.

Image Credit - Peter Lake - M17 Swan Nebula Dobbie and a DSLR ;-)

You can see the collimation of the telescope is not the best, the focus is slightly off and the 15 sec image shows some traking issues. Not surprising for the type of dobbie, and given I threw it together as fast as I could. Having taken some test shots, I can fix the collimation, and get the camera in better focus.

All this off course is easy (most of the time) on my other telescope the magnificent beast that is iT11. You can see the difference that the tried and proven routines of the scopes bring, why it takes alot of the pain out of the process. Sometimes its fun, just to tinker and refresh your skills at the eye piece, see what you can actually get out of a DSLR that isn't chilled to -35 degress, but just relax and take the time to soak it all up.

Image Credit: Peter Lake - M17 Swan Nebula iT11
So, I'll be out again tonight, and see if I can improve on last nights efforts. If you are around tomorrow and want to come up to Siding Spring and enjoy the open day - come say hi.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

(CCD) Chips .... are happy to see this Seagull !

Image Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 - Davide De Martin

Seagulls, amazing birds, they make a lot of noise and seem to have an uncanny sense of who makes the best chips.

At the MCG in Melbourne, they soar into the night and catch little insects attracted to the bright stadium lights. They have to be chased away by Eagles trucked in to make sure they don't interfere with the precious television rights of footy broadcasts.

In the IT industry, consultants who swoop in with a special solution right about when money is up for grabs, but don't actually tap into the value created by the long suffering hardworking souls how already know what is required, are often referred to as Seagulls also - but I digress.

Somehow we have connected Seagulls to the idea that they are always out to pinch something, yet they are very cheeky, sociable birds that seem to have a lot to say about everything.

So here's one that will pinch your attention, but fill you with awe, without making a single noise.

Stuart Sharpless was a member of the Naval Academy at Flagstaff station in 1953 and proceeded to catalog over 300 emission nebulae. Many of these are in other catalogs already, the distinguishing features of the entries in Sharpless' 2 catalogs completed by 1959 was that the were all emission nebula that were high in HII - Ionized hydrogen, or as we would say today - Astro-photography paydirt!!!!

The eye of the Seagull is entry SH 2-292 - Sharpless Catalog 2, number 292. The "Eye of the Seagull" is actually part of the much larger Seagull Nebula. It really does look like a seagull.

Image Credit: ESO La Silla 2.2m Telescope

ESO in its 40th Anniversary year, has today released a new stunningly detailed image of the "Eye of the Seagull" taken from its Wide Field Camera on the 2.2m Telescope at La Silla Observatory. This image is perhaps the deepest ever taken of this amazing object, and features an equally stunning video of the object that zooms in from the "whole of sky" milkyway.

"This new image shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula It is just one part of the larger nebula known more formally as IC 2177, which spreads its wings with a span of over 100 light-years and resembles a seagull in flight. This cloud of gas and dust is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth. The Seagull Nebula lies just on the border between the constellations of Monoceros (The Unicorn) and Canis Major (The Great Dog) and is close to Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The nebula lies more than four hundred times further away than the famous star. The complex of gas and dust that forms the head of the seagull glows brightly in the sky due to the strong ultraviolet radiation coming mostly from one brilliant young star — HD 53367 [2] — that can be spotted in the centre of the image and could be taken to be the seagull’s eye. The radiation from the young stars causes the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow with a rich red colour and become an HII region. Light from the hot blue-white stars is also scattered off the tiny dust particles in the nebula to create a contrasting blue haze in some parts of the picture."

Image Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

Of course many of you familiar with the AARTScope Blog would remember my previous (seemingly under done by comparison) effort on SH 2-292. I was very happy with it and it is still one of my favorite images today.

Image Credit: Peter Lake - 18Hrs L, Sii, Ha, Oiii in the Hubble Pallet.

So next time you are at the beach trying to eat your fish and chips in peace, or at the football watching them dodge footballs, athletes and eagles - give a thought to IC 2177 / SH2-292 and remember the Seagull that the chips love - CCD chips that is!!!

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. 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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Armstrong Appreciation Asteroid Hunt

The unique and renowned, Neil Armstrong will be remembered on Sept 13 in a number of official NASA led events.

His family encouraged us to look at the moon and give it a wink and think of Armstrong's great contribution to the space exploration program over decades - not just that one small step.

In the spirit of that iTelescope.Net will be holding its very first ever Google+ Hangout On Air, where we will (weather permitting) photograph the Asteroid (6469) 1982 PC Armstrong as a tribute to the great man. We will also create a "word cloud" in Wordle based on all your comments based on the attributes of the man.

So help us celebrate the life of a truly great "pioneer" - there you go, there's our first word.

Place your "one word description" for our word cloud in the comments below or underneath the video stream on Youtube. Also the direct link to the Videostream is here

Saturday, September 8, 2012

2012 QG42 - Coming past a planet near you!

This shouldn't be unusual, but it is a little bit!

Whilst it is not unusual for a sizeable asteroid to wander past outside the lunar orbit, it is very unusual for something that big to wander past only 17 days after it was discovered!!!

Yes, on the evening of 26/27 August the Catalina Sky Survey picked up 2012 QG42, and follow up confirmation observations confirmed a close approach of just over 7 Lunar distances on Sept 14th. Whilst we like to think that over 95% of objects this size have been found, as someone asked me recently "that's 95% of how many?". "How do you know how many are out there to find 95% of?". Thats largely a statiscal projection based on the size distribution and frequency of discovery.

Asteroids can be easily missed if the are in a busy field of background starts, zip through during the full moon when the survey, or artifacts in the photos mask their position.

Well, 2012 QG42 was picked up this time, and it currently the subject of study by the Arecibo and Goldstone Radar observatories.

After a really busy week at work I was sitting outside the Thai takeaway dinner restaurant and logged on to find the weather had finally broken and logged onto iT11 with my iPhone and grabbed the One line element from the MPC and bingo I was up and running, collected our dinner and went home to wait for the images to download.

I took 30 x 20 sec images which resolved the asteroid beautifully. Its currently travelling pretty slowly but will get up to a pacey 45 arcsecs per minute next week. However, its actually at its brightest in the next couple of days.

All 30 positions have now been reported to MPC.

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.41990 23 07 07.03 -05 30 34.5 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42046 23 07 06.60 -05 30 32.3 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42102 23 07 06.19 -05 30 29.7 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42156 23 07 05.80 -05 30 27.3 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42212 23 07 05.38 -05 30 24.9 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42267 23 07 04.98 -05 30 22.5 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42323 23 07 04.57 -05 30 20.2 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42378 23 07 04.15 -05 30 17.6 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42433 23 07 03.76 -05 30 15.1 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42488 23 07 03.34 -05 30 12.7 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42544 23 07 02.93 -05 30 10.2 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42604 23 07 02.49 -05 30 07.7 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42660 23 07 02.09 -05 30 05.3 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42716 23 07 01.66 -05 30 02.8 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42772 23 07 01.25 -05 30 00.3 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42828 23 07 00.85 -05 29 57.8 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42883 23 07 00.45 -05 29 55.4 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42939 23 07 00.03 -05 29 52.9 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.42994 23 06 59.62 -05 29 50.7 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43049 23 06 59.22 -05 29 47.9 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43104 23 06 58.82 -05 29 45.4 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43160 23 06 58.41 -05 29 43.2 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43215 23 06 58.00 -05 29 40.7 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43271 23 06 57.61 -05 29 38.5 13.5 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43326 23 06 57.18 -05 29 36.1 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43381 23 06 56.79 -05 29 33.6 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43436 23 06 56.37 -05 29 31.1 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43492 23 06 55.96 -05 29 28.3 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43547 23 06 55.57 -05 29 26.1 13.4 R H06

K12Q42G C2012 09 07.43603 23 06 55.15 -05 29 23.5 13.4 R H06

The above video is of the first 10 frames and shows the movement against the background stars.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Citizen Science - Astronomy 3.0

Citizen Science is the engagement and leverage of the broader community, who have an interest in science, to accomplish tasks, build community, for outreach, education and research.

Even Amateur Astronomers participate in Citizen Science.

My experience in a Citizen Science project (Skywatch FMO Program) in 2004 re-connected me with my love of astronomy after 24 years of corporate life.

So please enjoy my "thank you letter", my story of my experience with Citizen Science and what's up with the world of astronomy today.

On June 10 I delivered this talk to an audience of non-astronomers with an interest in the topic during a "Learning in the Laneway" session in a Melbourne Cafe.

So Citizen Science, Astronomy 3.0, the new normal, and OSIRIS-REx and Cosmoquest were all covered before the camera filled its memory and conked out.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Astroswanny joins the 1000 club

In Australia, I have a friend who wrote a very famous song called "I made a hundred in the backyard at Mum's".

Its a sporting analogy about the dreams we wish for - in this case as they relate to the game of Cricket, which reaches its height every 4 years when the "Convicts" play the "Ye olde Country" in the ashes.

Not all dreams relate to cricket, ...... so today I was very excited to receive a Certificate recognising 1000 observations of Variable Stars to the AAVSO, which apparently they were gracious enough to send me even though I didn't show up for the meeting in Big Bear California. ;-)

So ..... "I bagged a 1000 in the front yard of our universe" ;-)

Thanks Arne, Mike Simonsen & everyone at the #AAVSO.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top Ten Tweets after Melbourne/Vic Earthquake

Well did the earth move for you?

Melbourne, Victoria had a 5.5M Earthquake between Moe and Leongatha tonight, the earth has been moving out there for a while now. The Geoscience website listed the earthquake as the strongest in 109 years in Victoria.

Ironically we were watching "Big Bang" theory not long before and one of the daughters came in and said did you feel those vibrations?

Well the earthquake wasn't the half of it: the whacky Aussie sense of humor wasn't far behind - So I bring you the top ten Tweets about the Victorian earthquake.

10) The lame, and over used, (common guys its being going around for over a year) - toppled over garden chair Memed with "we will rebuild"

9) Some helpful people actually supplied a map ;-) However 9th place goes to Coles Supermarkets who tweeted "RT if you were in a Coles Supermarket" - clearly there's a "prices are way down, deeper down" angle going on there somewhere".

8) "We're restaurant staff we were too busy to feel the earthquake" - (but apparently not to busy to tweet about not feeling it)

7) Photo of spilled bottle of red wine on carpet.

6) "The penny just dropped @theage #fairfax #media"

5) "NOT all quiet on the western front @westernbulldogs #footscray"

4) Dog photo Meme "I like the earthquake better when it was an underground movement"

3) Photo of State Library street art in Swanson st -"Entire building swallowed in Melbourne earthquake"

2) "I asked for that Martini STIRRED not shaken"

And wait for it.....yes .....fell on the floor laughing at this one!!!

1) "Millions of dollars of improvement done to Federation Square in Melbourne earthquake"

Follow the madness here:

Sleep well Victoria!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Asteroid 2012 LZ1

Asteroid 2012 LZ1 was discovered by Robert McNaught on the evening of the 12 June 2012. An asteroid moving past earth at 12 lunar distances is not necessarily noteworthy even for a potentially hazardous object (MOID= < 0.05AU).

What was noteworthy is the professional surveys have already found over 90% of objects over 1 klm wide, this one at 500-700m is very large for a new discovery, basically because it is in a highly inclined orbit and was detected at -61 Declination in the southern hemisphere - ie in Robert's favourite comet hunting territory.

What does this mean - basically that it is on a highly inclined orbit, not un-heard of but not common. The inclination is why it would not have been picked up as part of the more than 90% of big asteroids already detected, more commonly along the plane of the solar system.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Transit of Venus - Have a Captain Cook!

And so it was, what a great day. Hundreds of people visited Siding Spring. 13,000 watched it around the world. Despite some backend technical hitches - All were happy. We got all 4 contacts despite having a bit of a close call with weather and having to move the telescope 20 mins before contact 3. The highlight for me was a 12 year old at the eyepiece of the main scope calling contact 4 at 2:43:50 pm Local time - another generation of astronomers is born!

On Wednesday 6th June (Australian time....5th Elsewhere), it is the last chance to observe a transit of Venus in front of the Sun till the year 2117.

Due to the tilt of the orbit of Venus relative to earth of 3.2 degrees, Transits of Venus come in pairs 8 years apart separated by 105 years and 121 years in a 234 year cycle.

Captain James Cook was dispatched by the Royal Society for the transit in 1769 which was observed from Tahiti. Next stop was Terra Australis Incognita where upon he fulfilled the rest of his journey's goals.

The transit of Venus has been a traditional way of measuring the size of the solar system with a number of useful calculations performed by early astronomers. Today thousands of astronomers, amateurs and citizen scientists, will measure the four contact points and report the timings from their location through social media, smart phone apps, and tweets, giving us perhaps the most accurate measurements recorded.

Elsewhere other astronomers will be looking at the spectroscopic analysis of the atmosphere of Venus as it passes in front of the sun and others will use the near full moon as a mirror and measure the changes in the specra of light reflected off the moon.

Many people will be observing and streaming the transit live online, so there is no need to go to far to get your view of the transit.

I should give the standard safety disclaimer: DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN - unless you have the specialist equipment required to do this.

You can safely enjoy the transit by following the above embedded broadcast of the Transit brought to you live from Siding Spring, thanks to the ANU, AAO and You might even see a few familiar faces!

So in the time honored tradition of Aussie rhyming slang - Have a "Captain Cook" at this - he did, so should you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Asteroid 2012 KT42 buzzes earth!!

Asteroid 2012 KT42 Buzzes the earth, the sixth closest approach on record!! inside 30,000 Klms. (2 Hours ago) Everyone's on this tonight our good friends over at Remanzacco Observatory have an excellent article on the passage.

I took two 20 Sec images, taken about 40 minutes apart , the second image is very close to MOID (closest approach) where it was traveling at a phenomenal 890 arcsecs per minute, it was just over ~200 Arc secs per minute in the first image. NOTE: the platescales are the same - checkout the acceleration in just 40 mins. Actually I took 15 image of which only three had the asteroid in them - that's how fast it was going. I'm sure someone else will have a tracking image, unfortunately I didn't have time to set that up properly, so I just have two nice trailing images.

Images are time stamped in UT & the positions are: 2012 KT MOID-40m 15:58:31 -16:08:15 2012 KT MOID 15:38:05 -12:20:50 Observatory H06 (note the MOID is just in the file name for the position at the top of the hour of MOID and not the exact MOID)

It amazing what a robotic telescope can do while you are driving home in city traffic!!!!

"But officer I was on hands free" ;-) !!!!

Seriously though it was all pre-programed and I downloaded the images when I got home.

Later tonight observers in South Asia may be a chance to see it transit the sun in a warm up for the Venus Transit next week.

[Updated: European's have an interesting definition of "South" Asia ;-) it missed by 2 degrees - anyway we got good photos at closest approach]

If my good friends in India manage to capture it at 10:10 UT, We'll bring photos here

Peter Lake "Astroswanny"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

SKA Decision ....its a tie!

Image Credits (c) SKA Organisation/Swinburn Astronomy Productions

(Subject to Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 un-ported licence).

Australians all let us rejoice for we are girt by Science!!!!

Well Finally!!!! Its done, the site selection decision for the SKA was announced by the operations working group in a meeting on the 25th May. The committee jointly awarded the Australian/NZ and South African bids with the right to host the worlds largest Radio Telescope and divided the science goals between them.

Already the key players are celebrating with drinks suggestions buzzing around twitter. Phil Diamond (@casschief) suggesting Sambucca, Kalua, Amaretto with lemonade on the rocks but Brian Boyle (@brianboyleska) preferring a line up of 3 single malts from the houses of Scapa, Knockando, Ardmore. Its good to know they, haven't lost their sense of humor and can still spell after all the hard work!!!

As an outsider with no specific knowledge of what was going on, but a keen follower of the details of various discussions, it seems that the bids were both of such high quality, that if some of the key aspects differentiating each bid were lost the overall project might have suffered.

From an Australian perspective it appears that the brilliance of the CSIRO research into the concept of the "phased array" might have kept us in the hunt.

The site selection committee always said they would make the decision based on the best science, what they have essentially done is divided the science goals between each site, yet still fund the full development of the Telescopes at each site. The fear was that if a so called "Compromise solution" was found that, it would be a lose/lose and mean a scaled down telescope at each site - this seems not to be the case in the commentary I have seen so far.

This excellent article by Bryan Gaensler discusses why the SKA is a win/win for everyone.

Also worth a read, is this article by the project scientist Lisa Harvey-Smith who worked tirelessly on the project.

Esssentially the science goals have been divided according to the strengths of both bids: Australia/NZ will perform the surveys and go after the Low Frequency targets (the high red shift galaxies) and the South African's will target the mid spectrum frequencies projects and more individual observations of galaxies. In layman's terms - The Australians will look at the oldest galaxies and survey the dark matter, the South African's will look at the characteristics of individual galaxies and would be more likely to find the "airport radar" on a planet with intelligent life.

[Updated: over lunch my 13 yr old daughter protested this strategy is fundamentally flawed as "everyone knows the most intelligent life will be found in the oldest galaxies" - however she glazed over when I started to explain the difference between wideband and narrowband imaging]

There is a stunning list of science goals that will be enough to keep everyone busy for two decades and beyond.

The bids seemed inseparable on the following criteria:

- Radio quietness and remoteness

- Governmental support and commitment

- Strong science communities

- Significant investment in Fibre and Pathfinder projects

The proximity to Europe and the lofty (and worthy) contribution to raising Africa out of poverty was a "non-scientific" but often discussed factor. Also the South African bid team gathered a lot of respect for how they had mobilised and built a radio astronomy community.

Remembering the work of John O'Sullivan, the Australian Radio Astronomer who created the codec that lead to the wireless internet (and earned the CSIRO $400m), the Australian bid team played to their strengths and relied on their skill and expertise in ground breaking research. The concept of a "phased array", where different observers can "zone in" on different parts of the sky at the same time was the "Zinger" that seems to have kept them in the game. Whilst I am sure there is probably much more to it than that, from what I have read from the commentators closer to the action, it was a key factor.

So happy campers all round!

The work begins on the design of the instruments, don't expect anything amazing to show up in your twitter feed next week, this is a 20 year project!!!!

Congratulations to every single person involved in this great win for Astronomy in Australia and New Zealand.

Science doesn't cost - it pays!


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jeff Wood's Master Mosaic on M81 & M82

The only thing that gets you more excited than having a 0.5m Telescope and doing real science, is when someone else logs into your scope and does this.......

Jeff Woods is a regular user, and an important part of the team. He has just finished tuning up T11 with a new improved pointing model that required great patience and sitting out in sub-zero temperatures for about 8 hours.

I'm not sure what excites me the most about this image the sheer size of its field of view, the brilliance of the image or the fact that it separates perfectly a double star with a tell tale double diffraction spike.

It is a mosaic image of 4 panes stitched together combining M81 & M82 into one FOV.

A stunning result, what I am growing to love about Jeff's images are the very deep natural colours of his galaxies, that are not overstated in any way. A good sign of a quality image is the way the imager treats the stars in the photos, you can see here the variation is star colours is great! The most difficult aspect of any deep, deep sky object is the treatment of the star.

Congratulations Jeff and awesome work!

See More of Jeff's great work here and a full Hi-Res version of this amazing work.

Count the galaxies in this amazing image, I counted at least 18 each perfectly formed some tiny and very distant. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Roadtesting the Orion Steadypix adapter for the iPhone

Well it finally arrived, not because they were slow in delivering, but because I finally got around to ordering the quintessential adapter/tool/dongle.....(its not really an app) for the iPhone - The Orion Steadypix camera adapter.

Well folks, you know when you lie awake at night thinking "what could I invent, get made up in China for a couple of dollars and sell 50,000 of before anyone else thought of it". Well the Steadypix is just one of those things.

Regular readers of my blog will remember my ham-fisted attempt to create one myself.

Remember all those cartoons about "as the architect designed it, as the engineer built it.....and how the customer got it.

Well this is what it looks like, when someone who knows what they are doing, designs and builds it (queue free plug for Orion Optics).

Silly me (after trying to collimate my telescope with a laser collimator and the barlow still in....d'oh) I had realized I'd also forgotten to charge up the battery so the dobby was unable to be guided. So not a bad result at all considering there was a little drift of the image to account for.

The moon is so bright through a telescope you need a lunar filter to kill off some of the light. Most entry level telescopes come with this filter included. Also, you soon learn that the full moon is not the best time to look at the moon through a telescope. Targeting limb of the shadow zone gives the best results as the suns rays are hitting the surface at a low angle and illuminate all kinds of detail, from the edges and centers of craters to impact trains, valleys and ridges. Its almost like being in the command module of Apollo 11.

Diligent observers have also witnessed transient events where gases escape from fissures in the surface and are illuminated as they rise through the shadow zone.

More recently some observation programs look for meteors in the "dark of the Moon" when meteor showers are in progress. The science of the moon is very much alive!

All in all a pretty good result - Enjoy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Carnival of Space 236 - Feb 10 2012

Welcome to Carnival of Space 236!

What a webisode we have for you this week. Its been a busy week, so lets see if we can drag you away from your social media and blogs for a few minutes to check out what's going on in your community - Space and Astronomy.

Next Big Future explores propulsion systems this week. The key to Spacex reusable rockets, at least for the first stage. Its all about the price per pound, for the Falcon Heavy, that would mean a price per pound to orbit of less than $500."

Other alternatives include a water-electrolysis propulsion system for 3U CubeSats is proposed that could fill the gap in the available propulsion systems at this scale

NASA has a nuclear-propulsion project with a budget of US$3 million.

The Lithium Lorentz Force Accelerator (LiLFA) as one of the most promising candidates for planetary exploration and heavy payload orbit raising missions. It can have an exhaust velocity of 50 km/second and a thrust density of 100,000 newtons per square meter

In an interview with Sander Olson, fission propulsion advocate Tabitha Smith argues that fission rockets could be rapidly developed and become the enabling technology for opening up the solar system for human exploration. Tabitha is in charge of the Bifrost project.

The Cosmic Log
found skywatchers on Earth oohed and ahhed over the northern lights that were sparked by January's solar activity, but a new crop of videos makes it clear that the astronauts on the International Space Station had the best seats in the house.

Commercial space ventures are taking small steps toward giant achievements ranging from suborbital space flights to trips around the moon.

After struggling through some legal glitches, skydiver Felix Baumgartner and his team say they're back on track for a 120,000-foot jump that will break a record that's stood for 52 years and blaze a trail for future space adventurers.

Simostronomy reports that 88 years after it was initially discovered, Hubble's 1923 nova in the Andromeda galaxy has erupted again, making it one of a rare class of recurrent novae.

Discovery News takes us through a spaghetti diagram. OK, so it's not real spaghetti -- it's a computer visualization of the complex magnetic field that creates Earth's magnetosphere -- but it sure looks tangled.

Guest contributor Pat Galea discusses how a starship may transmit signals across the light-years between the stars.

The Urban Astronomer checks in on JAXA's announcement that they will be launching a successor to the embattled Hayabusa probe, with the same mission goals but hopefully using more reliable technology!

Emma from We're all in the Gutter outlines her plan for improving the popular TV show MasterChef with a technique commonly used in astronomy.

Links Through Space launches to the Moon which has been in all facet's of culture through out all the Civilisations on Earth and there is no doubt that it affects us in a way or another. Here is a documentary of the BBC that let us see how the Moon is so important to us in so many ways.

Gadi Eidelheit from the Venus Transit blog, describes why the moon brightness is so variable during a lunar month.

Vintage Space grabs a brush and describes a brief history of the paint scheme of space race rockets inspired by my recent introduction to the world of model building.

The Chandra Team are no "flash in the pan" a long term contributor to COS, report on a new study suggests mysterious X-ray flares caught by Chandra may be asteroids falling into the Milky Way's giant black hole.

Announcing the reboot of a long defunct blog: the Astronomy Word of the Week (AstroWoW). Starting with the letter 'A', this week's entry is brought to you by the word 'aberration'.

Starry Critters reports on Sea mon­sters, birds and mys­tic moun­tains hiding in this highly detailed infrared image of the star-making Carina Neb­ula from ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

For the A-Z of all things space ZME Science looks at the longest drought on record - 600 million years on Mars. Others have been playing with water droplets on the International space station. Water droplets orbiting a knitting needle - take a look!

Armagh Planetarium brings us the legend - centuries ago a Chinese official named Wan Hu attempted to visit the Moon. His spacecraft was a large wicker chair to which were fastened 47 large rockets. His underlings rushed forward to light the fuses then retreated. A moment later there was a mighty bang and flash accompanied by thick clouds of smoke. When the smoke had cleared, Wan Hu was gone without a trace. This story is repeated time and time again but is it true?

Finally here at AARTScope (below also) I cover one of the southern beauties that many of you eclipse hunters, planning a pilgrimage to Australia for the Solar Eclipse in November, will want to take a look at. The ESO released last week a new image of the Gabriela Mistral Nebula NGC 3324.

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.

[Photo credits listed in the relevant articles]


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