Wednesday, December 10, 2014

classic astronomy question

i did a live radio show tonight, welcoming callers to ask any space-related question they wanted. the first caller was an 8 year old girl who asked "are stars made of gas?" (yes.) then she said her brother was with her and wanted to ask a question and was that ok? (sure.) the brother grabbed the phone, took an audible breath, and TOTALLY snuck in "how big is uranus?" LIVE ON AIR! haha! props, kid!

what would your answer have been?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

bouncing on a comet.

humans landed a robot on a comet last week for the first time.  yeehaw! a collaboration of scientists and engineers from 20 countries made this happen through the european space agency.

the rosetta spacecraft traveled through the solar system for 10 years, getting gravity assists from earth a few times and mars before reaching its destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

space craft selfie with its solar panel and comet 67P

the philae lander drifitng away from rosetta on its way to comet 67P

the philae lander spotting its landing site

unfortunately, philae did not stick the landing and drifted and bounced twice across the surface. scientists werent exactly sure where philea drifted to at first, but this morning released this compilation of images from Rosetta's camera OSIRIS. WOW! at the time, Rosetta was 15.5 km from the comet's surface. the images have a resolution of 28 cm/pixel and the enlarged insets are 17 x 17 m.

Credit: ESA
this is what philea saw upon settling still.  captions by emily lakdawalla.

philea now rests still, in hibernation.  it landed in a spot that doesnt have enough sunlight to supply energy to its working solar panel.  luckily, the little robot managed to collect all the data it was designed to collect during its short initial lifespan, AND it successfully sent all the data back to earth.
it's an exciting time for all those scientists.  i hope they got some sleep after a few days of incredible activity.  lots of science to do now.... i cant wait to hear what they find!

for your entertainment, watch the event as is played out through randall munroe's live-comic-blogging!  relive the experience here:

Friday, November 14, 2014

but i didnt mean it like that

i'll be posting about the exciting robot landing on a comet for the first time ever very soon, but i want to quickly address an aspect of the comet landing relating to the "what not to wear to a comet landing" fiasco.

of course most people arent purposely trying to offend others with their words or actions, but sometimes it happens unintentionally and needs to be acknowledged, not ignored. it's easy to say “Oh I didn’t mean it like that” or “You’re interpreting it the wrong way,” but the intent doesn’t really matter because it’s a matter of intent versus *impact*.

As chescaleigh says brilliantly in this video (posted below),

"It doesn’t matter in these instances what you meant. What matters is what's the outcome of what you said or what you did. I use the example of stepping on somebody’s foot. I might step on your foot and break your toe. I didn’t mean to break your toe, but your toe is still broken and it still really hurts, so instead of talking about what you meant to do, talk about what you actually did."

so how should you respond if you or someone you know unintentionally offends someone? watch this video and listen to her words, or read the transcript here.

why we shouldnt ignore instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc...

just because someone doesnt intend to do harm doesnt make it permissible for them to do so. i've talked to people who were unintentionally making others uncomfortable. they didnt realise their behaviours were doing so and felt awful once they realised. they changed their behaviours (even if its as simple as changing some specific words they use) and everyone was much better off. these things shouldnt be ignored. 

the only way racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. will get any better is if people other than just the victims recognise, acknowledge and speak up when injustices happen. we can be easily blinded by privilege.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

light as a feather

Physicist Brian Cox visited NASA’s Space Power Facility in Cleveland, Ohio (!!!) to perform a fantastic science experiment!

did anyone ever tell you that a bowling ball and a feather would fall at equal speeds if it weren't for air resistance?  i didnt think it would be so interesting to watch the actual experiment, but they did a great job with this short clip!

Monday, October 20, 2014

watching comet siding spring approach mars

i work with a very interesting doer-of-all-astronomy-tech-things steve lee (of "Steve and the Stars" fame).  over the last couple nights, as comet siding spring has rushed towards mars at 56 km/s, steve has been taking images using two of his own telescopes that live near siding spring observatory in new south wales, australia.

the distant astronomical objects i study in the universe do not really change or move noticeably in the time that i've been studying them (or even over a human lifetime).  so i find it very exciting to be able to watch a comet zoom across a field of view over the period of 24 hours!

here are two images of comet siding spring, mars, and milky way dust taken 24 hours apart using the same setup (90mm refractor + Canon 6D, 7x1min exposures summed), but cropped slightly differently. you can clearly see the motions of both the comet and mars again the background stars and dust contours of the milky way galaxy.

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 18 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee
Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 19 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee 

now for a different comparison - here is an image of the same region of sky, but captured through a different telescope setup and exposure detail (31cm f/5 Newtonian + Canon 6D,  single 2 minute exposure).

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 19 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee
cool stuff.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

comet siding spring and mars

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will pass within 139,500 km (86,000 miles) of the surface of Mars at 5:51 tomorrow morning (Monday 20 Oct, Sydney time - or 19 October at 18:51 UTC).  This means Comet Siding Spring will pass 10 times closer to Mars than any (recorded) comet has flown by Earth!  But it will be traveling at 50 km/s which is too fast to be captured by Mars's gravitational pull.

Comet Siding Spring was discovered by Rob NcNaught at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales on 3 January 2013.  Last night Steve Lee took this beautiful image of Comet Siding Spring and Mars against the dusty backdrop of the Milky Way using a 90mm refractor and Canon 6D camera, from a location VERY CLOSE to siding spring observatory!

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust (Photo by Steve Lee (AAO))
The comet is still composed of the pristine material the solar system was made from, which will give insights into the formation of planets!

more info about the comet from Dr bruce betts:

For a list of ways to view the comet (if you dont have your own telescope or are covered in clouds), see The Planetary Society blog by the great Emily Lakdawalla here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

steve and the stars

i'm SO EXCITED to finally get to reveal this short film "steve and the stars" to everyone. i worked with the bluebottle group to produce it for the AAO. i think it captures the excitement and wonder, that cosmic vertigo that comes when thinking about our place in this unfathomably huge universe of ours. so lucky to be able to do this as my job!

the official blurb and behind-the-scenes shots while filming in july 2014!

Ever wonder what it's like to stay up all night using a world class 4-metre telescope?

In celebration of 40 years of discovery with the AAT, the AAO has made a short film, Steve and the Stars. 
The star of the show is Head Telescope Operator, Steve Lee, who has worked at the AAT for almost its entire 40 years of operation. 
Steve guides this video tour of working with the AAT, exploring how observational techniques have changed from the 1970s to today's digital age, and the AAT’s exciting future pursuing more world-class discoveries.

The live footage was shot and edited in July 2014 by Bluebottle Films with time-lapse material by AAO's Angel Lopez-Sanchez.

just hanging with the tarantula nebula and the large magellanic cloud :)

danielle and james from bluebottle films.  great to work with them!

Never tire of sunrises on siding spring observatory

with david malin, one of the stars of the show!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

an eclipse triptych

for the three eclipse visible in australia this year, geoff sims (beneath beyond) managed to rush away from most clouds to film each event! he gorgeously captures australian landscapes, cloud motions, and lunar and solar eclipses in this time-lapse video. 

- Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15th) near Byron Bay
- Partial Solar Eclipse (April 29th) on the edge of the Blue Mountains
- Total Lunar Eclipse (October 8th) near Lithgow

An Eclipse Triptych from Geoff Sims on Vimeo.

the final eclipse shown, which took place last wednesday evening, was happening when i busted my knee playing soccer. more news on that after i visit the sports medicine doctor tomorrow. my guess: not good at all :(