Watch again

For some time it has been possible to listen again to BBC Radio for up to seven days after broadcast. This is a fantastic facility as it means you can catch up on programmes you have missed because you were busy doing other things.

The TV side of the corporation hasn't been so forthcoming as they have to deal with copyright and royalty issues that are very complicated. Despite this, the Sky at Night now provides all its previous programmes since December 2001 online. This is fantastic as I no longer have to struggle with the poor scheduling that usually means I miss it. As far as I'm awair, this isn't publicised except on the BBC Space website - I don't think Patrick even mentions it during the show. For those that don't like to watch a pixelated version, the next episode is on January 4th at 11.40pm on BBC 1.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 31st Dec 2003 (00:03 UTC) | Permalink


NASA have renamed the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SITF) as Spitzer after the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer, Jr. This is the newest "Great Observatory" following Hubble, Compton and Chandra.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 30th Dec 2003 (17:01 UTC) | Permalink

JPL Backup

According to, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have created an Emergency Control Centre at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver which will act as a backup if JPL goes offline. This is just in time for NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers which will land on 3rd and 25th January respectively.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 30th Dec 2003 (16:53 UTC) | Permalink

More on Mars

Despite the fact that Beagle II may be lost, it has had lots of positive articles here, here and here. The Times have an article on possible reasons that there is no signal.

At the moment we are keeping to the traditional success rate for Mars probes - 1 in 3. Nozomi (Japan) was aborted before Christmas, Beagle II is currently missing and Mars Express has worked perfectly so far. Luckily NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers are due to land in a week or so, so we have a good chance of a working lander on Mars in 2004.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 29th Dec 2003 (01:47 UTC) | Permalink

No life on Beagle II?

Jodrell Bank has been trying to 'listen' for the weak transmissions from Beagle II on the surface of Mars since Christmas day. Beagle II is about as powerful as a mobile phone and would only have been transmitting for 10 seconds of every minute, making it quite difficult to detect at the distance of Mars. To make it even harder, it is not transmitting at a stable frequency but is shifting about in frequency. Jodrell has failed to detect Beagle II over the last few days and has now given up as the landing site will not be suitably visible from Cheshire while Mars is above the horizon.

It seems that Jodrell is not alone though; Mars Odyssey (a NASA Mars orbiter) also failed to pick up Beagle II as did the Stanford telescope. The BNSC in Leicester now has a team set up to try to work out what has happened to the lander. Hopefully it has not met a fate similar to the Mars Polar Lander back in 1998. Everyone now has their fingers crossed in the hope that Mars Express will be able to make contact when it gets into a suitable position next weekend after New Year.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 29th Dec 2003 (01:20 UTC) | Permalink

Mars on the Tube

While on the Central Line (London Underground) on Friday afternoon, it was nice to see that Beagle 2/Mars Express made the front page of London's Evening Standard. Unfortunately I could only read the front page as it was the newspaper of the person sat opposite me, so I don't know if the article mentioned the Lovell Telescope being used on Christmas day.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 21st Dec 2003 (13:46 UTC) | Permalink

Hubble Space Telescope

I was just randomly surfing the web when I came across a page of images from the STS103 mission to fix the pointing of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1999. One of the photos nicely shows 'squashing' of the Moon due to refraction in the Earth's atmosphere.

I also found a video of Michael Foale replacing the onboard computer with a 486!

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 12th Dec 2003 (20:05 UTC) | Permalink

Bad Astronomy with Frost

This morning on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost, Sir David Frost interviewed Michael Foale who is currently on the International Space Station. At the beginning of the Interview Sir David commented on the fact that they use Greenwhich Mean Time on board the ISS. He seemed quite suprised at this as he points out that they could use any time as they circle the Earth once every 90 minutes. However if you can pick any time, especially in an international project, the most obvious one is Universal Time (UT) which is more commonly known as GMT.

Michael Foale was born in Lough, England so is one of Britain's few astronauts (the first was Helen Sharman). He talks, in the interview, about having afternoon tea with the Russian cosmonaut, carrying out some scientific experiments and checking his email.

My only problem is with the bad astronomy that Sir David Frost uses when he asks "Does the earth seem smaller, less important, when you're looking at it from so far away, like just another planet?". Thinking that space is a long way away from us on the surface of the Earth is a common misconception as people don't realise that the ISS (and the MIR space station before it) is only a couple of hundred kilometres above the surface of the Earth. In fact at the moment, the ISS is only about 370km above the surface (somewhere over Papua New Guinea as I write this) so it is only slightly further away from the studio in London than Manchester is! The worst thing about the question was that it came right after Michael Foale had told him how far above the surface they were.

Perhaps this misconception was helped by the talk of the 'zero-g' environment which is another misconception. Most people seem to think that there is no gravity when you are in space and that is why astronauts are weightless. In fact the force due to Earth's gravity at the ISS is only 0.9 times the force of gravity at the surface (using a radius of 6378km). The reason that things float around inside the ISS is that both the ISS and the people are in free fall towards the Earth - just like a skydiver. The only difference is that they are moving sideways at the same time (at about 17,000mph) so never actually reach the surface as it is curved.

Despite the bad astronomy, it was good to see Michael Foale interviewed 'live' on BBC One.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 07th Dec 2003 (23:26 UTC) | Permalink

Asteroid Morison

Recently, Ian Morison of Jodrell Bank Observatory had an asteroid named in his honour by the IAU's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. Apparently it is 5km in size and was named after him due to the work he has done in the promotion of astronomy over the years. This is an offical name unlike the dodgy star naming companies that trick people into buying star names that are only recognised by the company they buy the certificate from.

Talking of naming objects, the Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature has given names to 11 newly discovered satellites of Jupiter. It seems that satellites in direct orbits have Latin names and those in retrograde orbits have Greek ones. They are all named after the entourage of Zeus/Jupiter. The WG on Planetary System Nomenclature shouldn't be confused with the WG on Solar and Interplanetary Nomenclature or even the Committee on Small Bodies Nomenclature.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 03rd Dec 2003 (23:37 UTC) | Permalink

The Earth is not Enough

The Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge is organising a one day astronomy conference for schools on Tuesday 23rd March next year. It is aimed at 15 to 18 year olds and will allow them to get a taste of astronomical research. I guess that most teenagers don't realise that there is such a thing as a career in astronomy.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 02nd Dec 2003 (14:42 UTC) | Permalink

Visitor Centres

Over the last year, the closing of the Jodrell Bank Science Centre and Planetarium has caused much frustration amongst staff in the Observatory. At the moment there is an 'interim' centre (which consists of one small room and a 3D theatre) and the money for the new spangly centre has not been secured yet. As the University of Manchester states that it is committed to providing an enhanced centre, it has built a path to let visitors walk around the telescope and get a better view.

It seems that the Jodrell Science Centre is not the only one being closed though. The Visitor Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh was closed down on 1st September this year. Their website says that they are concentrating on supporting science education in Scotland. Armagh Planetarium was also closed in August but luckily this was only for three months so that it could be restored.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 02nd Dec 2003 (14:37 UTC) | Permalink
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