Yesterday I discovered the website for Big Occulting Steerable Satellite (BOSS) - who comes up with these. It seems that it is a planned 70 m2 sheet of polyimide that will be able to occult stars etc. on demand. However, I noticed that it will be placed at L2 (the second Lagrangian point which is on the other side of the Earth to the Sun) and if this goes ahead it will be getting busy at L2 in a few years time. WMAP is already there but Planck will be going there around 2008, the James Webb Space Telescope in 2011, GAIA in 2009 and Darwin (an ESA mission to look for Earth like planets) in 2014. Hopefully they won't all get in the way of each other.
Well it seems that the Manchester Evening News are a bit more positive about the fate of the Lovell Telescope than The Times were. The article is a bit vague on the future of MERLIN though - it is being upgraded to eMERLIN in the next few years so it would be a big waste if it got moth-balled in 2009. At least Jodrell is getting fully involved in the 'super' telescope that is the Square Kilometer Array.
I have just rediscovered a rather cool JAVA applet that demonstrates the scale of the Universe, starting with galaxies and working its way down to an artistic impression of single atoms and quarks. It is created by Florida State University.
Well it seems that The Times is at it again; hardly a year goes by without them insisting that Jodrell Bank is is about to shut down. In their final paragraph, in a sentence about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the article states that the ageing (their wording) Lovell telescope will stop being used for science in 2009. The implication is that this is because it will not be able to compete with the SKA. What is not mentioned is the fact that if the SKA ends up in western Australia - which is probably the most likely place although South Africa and China are also trying to get it - it will be positioned at about 30 degrees south and therefore will not have the same sky coverage as telescopes in the northern hemisphere such as the Lovell telescope (53° N) or Greenbank telescope(38° N).
This was really a footnote to an article about the proposed Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL); the 100m optical telescope proposed by the European Southern Observatory. My final gripe is that the first sentence of the story is factually incorrect it claims that OWL will be the world's largest telescope when in fact the existing Greenbank Radio Telescope is 100 by 110 metres.
As I write this there are just under 24 hours to go until the next total solar eclipse. Unfortunately, this eclipse is only visible from the Antartic so very few people will have the chance to see it there is a Russian base at Mirny and a group of German, Indian, Japanese and Russian bases near the western limit of the eclipse on the Antarctic continent. It seems that at Mirny the weather prospects look like they will offer a 36% chance of seeing the eclipse with temperatures around -7.2 °Celsius.
A couple of weeks ago I got in contact with RailTrack to see if I could get something done about the Manchester Longsight railway depot - they have five large floodlights to illuminate the depot but these also light up most of East Manchester.
I received a letter, from the Community Relations Officer at RailTrack, giving me contact details for Alstom, the company that is sub-contracted to run the depot. The person in charge at Longsight seemed quite happy to see me and we arranged a meeting for this afternoon.
I eventually managed to find their reception and was greeted with "oh, so are you the star-gazer". The man in charge was very friendly and willing to listen to my complaints. I gave him copies of the House of Commons Select Committee report on light pollution and a picture of the offending floodlights as seen at night from the University of Manchester's telescope dome on the roof of the Physics Department. We had a quick tour of the site and I saw the very badly angled floodlights. I suggested that they could put covers on them to better angle the light - this would reduce spill-over light and illuminate their site better at the same time.
The result is that he said he would look into adjusting the lights, however this involves turning off overhead power lines and things like thatso isn't straightforward. I left my contact details with him and he said he will get back to me in a couple of weeks, once he has managed to adjust them, to check that they have not been made worse.
Just before I left the office I was approached by some of the other people who work in the reception. They had heard that I was an astronomer and had some questions. I was asked if Orion's belt existed, what the Seven Sisters were and about buying land on Mars and the Moon. It just goes to show that people (whether astronomers or not) have an interest in the night sky - it is a pity that they are deprived the chance to see it properly.
Deciding to do even more about light pollution, Megan and I started a campaign, against light pollution in the North West, on BBC ican. This is a new website from the BBC that allows people to get organised about issues that concern them. Even though it is in beta tests at the moment (and so there are few people using it) we have now have 13 people who have registered their support. Well if you discount us and the people we already know it goes down to 6 but you have to start somewhere.
The UK's Beagle 2 is currently on its way to Mars. The lander is named after HMS Beagle - the ship which Charles Darwin travelled on and helped lead to the theory of evolution - as it will run several tests to check for life on the red planet.
Beagle 2 is being carried to Mars by Mars Express and will be released as they approach the planet. Beagle 2 is expected to land at about 3am on Christmas morning.
Most transmissions will be relayed back to Earth by Mars Express as Beagle 2 doesn't have a very strong transmitter, however, as Mars Express will take a few days to get into a suitable position, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank is being used initially. This will allow Colin Pillinger and the rest of the Beagle 2 team to know if it landed safely and survived the first night on mars. The first signal should be transmitted - all being well - at 10pm on Christmas evening.
Well it seems that people other than me are now getting annoyed about light pollution. I have seen articles in the Metro and The Scotsman as well as an item on North West Tonight (BBC1) last night. The Scotsman article mentions that the Campaign for Rural England as well as the British Astronomical Association are calling on people to complain about local light pollution this weekend. This is supposed to tie in with the lunar eclipse this Saturday night. APoD have a nice animation of what the eclipse will look like.
Not content with having the 'sound' of a solar flare (which sounds like some squirty cream) the BBC have also got the 'sound' of the big bang (it sounds a bit like a van driving past). The 'sounds' were created by John Cramer of the University of Washington using data from the WMAP probe. The sounds are actually oscillations in the early universe (within 760 thousand years of the big bang) but shifted to higher frequencies so we could hear them. He also managed to get a plug in for Mathematica. The University of Washington have a link to his article but they seem to have been overwhelmed by BBC listeners so now provide a link to another page (to catch the message you'll have to be a quick reader).
It seems that the Cassini spacecraft which is currently about 240 days away from Saturn managed to record the 'sound' of one of the latest solar flares as it went past the probe. The 'sounds' are actually radio waves produced by electrons moving out of the flare and so take only 69 minutes to reach Cassini which is 8.7 times further from the Sun than the Earth.