Astronomy Revision

If you are revising for an exam it can be a good idea to look at some past papers to see what type of questions you can expect. I chanced across an A-Level Physics paper while looking for information about the Mark V telescope at Jodrell Bank. It is from 2003 and is titled "Nuclear Instability: Astrophysics Option". I'm sure it was called "Astronomy and Optics" in my day but that was when the AQA was the NEAB.

It is good to find out what sort of things A-Level students are expected to know as I can then expect 1st year undergraduates to know them as well! So they should know about absolute and apparent magnitudes, half-lifes (not the game), resolution and sensitivity, the Balmer series....

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 25th Feb 2004 (22:32 UTC) | Permalink

Build your own Solar System

I have just chanced across a good resource for people wanting to do practical demonstrations about the size of the solar system. It is a page that lets you specify how big you want the Sun to be and then it calculates the size of the planets and their distances, relative to this value - something I have done myself with a calculator many times. It is part of San Francisco's Exploratorium website which also has some other pages that let you calculate your age and weight on other planets. A quote comes to mind:

"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." - the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Perhaps our immediate space isn't that big though.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 24th Feb 2004 (04:24 UTC) | Permalink

Trouble at the top

Mauna Kea on Hawaii, is home to many telescopes including the twin 10m mirrors of the Keck Telescope. However, back at the start of 2003, the summit was in dispute as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs had sued both NASA and the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. It seems that NASA have agreed to an environmental impact statement for the proposed extra mirrors that would extend the Keck telescope.

It is interesting that the environmental group KAHEA say that observatories generate "millions of dollars in revenues ... through renting out viewing time." Quick, let's all go into the astronomy business and make loads of money! They do have a serious point though as there are now quite a few telescopes and associated buildings near the summit which is sacred ground.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 24th Feb 2004 (04:08 UTC) | Permalink

Surreal Award of the Day

In a rather surreal gesture, Star Trek Voyager have presented NASA with a 'Voyager Award'. This is to honour "...the real life heroes - both those who go into space and those on the ground.". They go on to say that "with the success of the Mars landings and the President's call for renewed space exploration, we felt this was the right time to salute them." The award consisted of a commemorative DVD of all things.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 24th Feb 2004 (03:48 UTC) | Permalink

More hits than people report that NASA's web server has had more hits since the Spirit rover landed on Mars than there are people on Earth. Hits are a terrible way to record the number of people visiting your site especially when you realise that there are about 54 different images on the Rover homepage each generating their own hit. To give them credit, the NASA press release does mention that the number of web pages downloaded is around 914 million. So almost 1 billion then - not bad.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 24th Feb 2004 (03:40 UTC) | Permalink


Over the weekend I have been listening to a series of programmes about Mars that were broadcast on BBC Radio 4 last August/September. It gave many people associated with the Mars Society a chance to put the case for Mars. Although they seem fairly committed, the person in charge of updating their websites isn't - apparently the European Mars analogue research station is currently in week X with crew Y. I wonder how long it will take them to dig a hole Z metres deep?

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 23rd Feb 2004 (00:04 UTC) | Permalink

Another Plutino?

Astronomers Mike Brown (Caltech), Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory) and David Rabinowitz (Yale) have discovered a new Kupier belt object. The Kupier belt is a disk-shaped region that contains many small icy bodies and it beyond the orbit of Neptune at roughly 30 to 100 AU (1AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun = 8 light minutes) from the Sun.

The object is called 2004DW which signifies the year (2004), fortnight (4th=D) and the object (23rd=W). It is somewhere between 840 and 1800 km across and is currently about 45 AU from the Sun. Although it is currently much further away than both Pluto and Neptune (30 AU), its orbit is pretty similar to that of Pluto's which is not very circular which could make it a Plutino (NOTE: The Wikipedia is certainly up-to-date!).

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 21st Feb 2004 (00:04 UTC) | Permalink

Not just some astronomers whingeing

I couldn't resist taking the quote from this Observer story on light pollution, March 2003. I have just read the Hansard transcript of the debate from yesterday. Before the debate the Select Committee were given an award from the Campaign for Dark Skies. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab) said he thought it was the first time a Select Committee had won an award. I never realised that Westminster Hall debates could be so entertaining! Dr. Gibson really seems to care about light pollution and he pulls no punches with the Government.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con) followed him but went off on a tangent complaining about aircraft emissions - a worthy topic but not quite the one at hand. I guess airline emissions must be his personal bugbear. They mentioned recent reports, such as those by Dr. Paul Marchant of Leeds Metropolitan university, show that an increase in lighting does not necessarily deter criminals. The debate even mentioned a poem from the Macclesfield Astronomical Society (read their submission). At the end there were several concerns raised about the fact that when DEFRA finally respond, it will not be to the liking of the Committee. Here are a selection of quotes that I liked:

"I am sure that the Minister ... will explode like a star from the firmament when she rises to speak"

"Do the Ministers ever sit down together and discuss this issue? Have they ever seen a star?"

Dr Ian Gibson MP

"Each year, a handful of stars disappears from our night sky. That is a tragedy; not just for astronomers, but for every person who believes that it is important to inspire young minds to wonder what is out there."

Mr Tom Harris MP

"...brought us in to contact with the astronomical community, both amateurs and professionals, of the United Kingdom. It was impossible not to be caught up with their infectious enthusiasm for their subject, and quite a lot of that star glitter, or star dust, rubbed off on us all."

"When we visited Greenwich, it was ironic that we could stand at the Royal Observatory and not see a single star."

Dr Desmond Turner MP

I do not think that so many officials have attended a Westminster Hall debate before.

Yvette Cooper (Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

The picture from the Royal observatory at Greenwich on the front cover of the Committee's report shows two galaxies colliding. They are 420 million light years from earth and are seen against a backcloth of galaxies so distant that the light from them has taken nine tenths of the total age of the universe even to reach our eyes. Yet some invisible local authority or Highways Agency bureaucrat, with the inspiration of a marker pen and the impunity that only ignorance can bring, shines his light up into the sky, so that our children will never view the stars in awe and wonder, as is their birthright.

MP Bob Spink

On a related note I see that even RAF Fylingdales have decided to cut light emissions by three-quarters. Perhaps councils or architects, such as Will Alsop (who doesn't seem able to build a navigable/accessible website - Warning: requires Flash), seem to have no concept of light pollution. Will Alsop came up with halo of light around Barnsley as part of its regeneration which aren't helped by the council's attitude (page 5).

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 13th Feb 2004 (20:31 UTC) | Permalink

SALT in the news

I have just had chance to read an article on SALT/SAAO from last week's Life section in the Guardian. I visited SAAO in Sutherland last September and got to see SALT for myself. It is a big project and hopefully will benefit the local area like the article says. SALT is based on the Hobbey-Ebberly 10m telescope in Texas but with a redesigned optics system. Lessons learned from these telescopes will no doubt be useful for the proposed Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL - still looking for a nest) which would be 100m in diameter. It is difficult to image an optical telescope that is bigger than the Lovell telescope!

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 13th Feb 2004 (17:45 UTC) | Permalink

Star Formation

The Star Formation Newsletter (and the BBC News) reports:

Julian W. McNeil II, an amateur astronomer from Paducah, Kentucky, reports the appearance of a new cometary reflection nebula 1.1 arcminutes in diameter in the Lynds 1630 cloud in Orion. The nebula was found on several images taken on 2004 Jan 23 UT with a 7.6-cm Takahashi refractor CCD, and it is not present on seven sky survey images from POSS-I, POSS-II and UKSTU taken between 1951 and 1991. Coordinates for the new optical nebula are: R.A. = 5h46m14s, Dec = -00o05'.8 (J2000). McNeil's Nebula is apparently associated with IRAS 05436-0007, which consequently may have erupted.

They urge people to observe this object as Orion will soon become a day-time object and we won't be able to see it for several months. This just goes to show that with dark skies, amateurs with small telescopes can contribute to astronomy. Let's hope that the House of Commons realise that today and take some action to combat light pollution.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 12th Feb 2004 (14:15 UTC) | Permalink

Light Pollution

Tomorrow is the day that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on Light Pollution (try saying that without taking a breath) is finally discussed in Parliament. Will they decide anything positive? You knows?

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 11th Feb 2004 (23:04 UTC) | Permalink

Record Breaker

According the the BBC's Sci/tech pages, the Spirit rover has broken the record for the longest travelled by a rover on Mars in one day. It managed to rack up an incredible 21200mm (sorry I was trying to make it look more impressive) which is almost as much as 70 sheets of A4 paper end to end! Opportunity only managed a meagre 4m.

NASA also seem to be playing pop songs to the rovers to wake them up in the morning. Spirit got Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" and Opportunity got "Slip Sliding Away" by Paul Simon.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 10th Feb 2004 (21:50 UTC) | Permalink

Farewell Hubble

Despite what Peter mentioned last week, it seems that Sean O'Keefe has finally decided not to keep the Hubble Space Telescope going any longer. As you can guess, the HST Science Institute aren't too happy about it. Now there is going to be a big gap until 2011 when (hopefully) the James Webb Space Telescope - Hubble's replacement - is launched.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 10th Feb 2004 (21:40 UTC) | Permalink


I got bored this afternoon as nothing is working at the moment. So I decided to create a tour of astronomical observatories around the World. I will add the rest when I have time or am equally bored.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 06th Feb 2004 (18:08 UTC) | Permalink
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