Changing Perspective

This evening I was watching a 2006 TED talk by Penelope Boston about the possibility of life on Mars. The talk itself is an interesting look at life in caves on Earth, but it was one specific comment that I want to mention here. It is the idea of viewing the Earth as a planet.

Penelope says that every time she sits in the window seat on a plane she looks out with her head tilted sideways. It is surprising how the simple act of making the horizon vertical can so easily make it look as though you are peering down on an M-class planet in a Star Trek episode.

View of Earth from an aeroplane window rotated by 90 degrees. CREDIT: Stuart

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 30th Dec 2008 (20:42 GMT) | Permalink

The Cosmic Diary

One of the key projects during the imminent International Year of Astronomy is the Cosmic Diary. Perhaps inspired by Quantum Diaries during the World Year of Physics in 2005, Cosmic Diary plans to give an insight into the lives of over 50 astronomers, educators and students from all over the world. Not only will these appear in blog form throughout the year but extracts will be used to make both a book and a documentary during 2009. The blogs will officially begin on 1st January 2009. Here are the diarists so far:

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 30th Dec 2008 (15:36 GMT) | Permalink

2008: My year in travel

This evening I decided to work out roughly how far I've travelled during 2008. Not including walking and occasional car journeys that I've not remembered, it turns out that I've travelled a total of 21126 km (13127 miles). That is quite a long way and is almost equivalent to a complete circumnavigation of Mars! Below is an illustration of my journeys broken down by form of transport.

Travel around Mars
My travel during 2008 broken down by form of transport. Mars has a radius of 3397 km and therefore roughly a circumference of 21344 km. CREDIT: Stuart
Looking at the breakdown, I'm pretty ashamed by the total distance that I've travelled by plane even if I have always attempted to use other forms of transport where possible. I wonder if I'll travel less during 2009.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 24th Dec 2008 (01:06 GMT) | Permalink

A change for US science

With less than a month to go until we see a change in leadership of the US, President-elect Barack Obama has made an address about his views of science. It sounds quite promising. He has even appointed some good scientists to some top jobs. Have a listen.

Barack Obama, surprisingly for a politician in the early 21st century, seems to understand what science is about. My favourite part of that speech is:

"Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources; it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us."

Now that makes a pleasant change.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 21st Dec 2008 (16:23 GMT) | Permalink

Happy Winter Solstice 2008

At 12:04 UTC tomorrow (21st December) we reach the winter solstice. This is the point in our annual perambulation around the Sun when our local star appears the furthest south in the sky. This will be the day with the shortest amount of daylight for people in the northern hemisphere and the longest for those in the southern hemisphere. It is perhaps quite interesting to note that although the day is the shortest for those of us in the UK, the earliest sunset was back on 13th December and the latest sunrise will be around 29/30th December.

This year, if you have Windows Media Player and assuming it isn't cloudy, you can watch live streaming of the winter solstice from Newgrange between 08:30 UTC and 09:30 UTC. Newgrange is 5000 year old Neolithic passage tomb that was specifically designed so that at dawn on the days around the winter solstice sunlight would penetrate into the inner chamber. If you want an idea of what to expect, you can watch the video from 2007.

Of course we shouldn't forget the reason for the season. It is all due to the wonderful 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's rotation axis relative to our orbit around the Sun. Life on Earth would be quite different without it.

Happy Solstice everyone.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 20th Dec 2008 (22:28 GMT) | Permalink

Carnival of Space #83

Head over to Ian's blog for this week's Carnival of Space from the southern hemisphere.

I tried to write this upside down (inspired by Will) but it didn't work.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Dec 2008 (09:15 GMT) | Permalink

And now our Feature Presentation

I'm getting worried because the real world is starting to mirror some of my crazed ramblings. A while ago I wrote some silly first contact messages that we might receive from alien civilizations. It seems that number three on that list might not be far off.

Going by a news release I received this evening, Twentieth Century Fox plan to broadcast the feature film The Day the Earth Stood Still into space this Friday. This follows a series of similar publicity stunts this year that included NASA transmitting The Beatles to Polaris and a crisp (chip if you're American) manufacturer sending an advert to 47 Ursa Major. Both of these made me uncomfortable because I have concerns about shouting in the jungle even if the music is good.

Fox will be using a rather tiny 5 metre dish to transmit the film. Although small, the dish goes by the impressive sounding Deep Space Communications Network which is suspiciously similar to NASA's much better Deep Space Network. The limited power of their signal will get massively diluted over a huge volume of space centred on the Alpha Centauri system. Rather than shouting in the jungle this will be more like an ant tapping it's foot next to jet liner engine. It is mostly a rather inexpensive gimic.

All this does raise a question in my mind. Will FACT and the MPAA start transmitting law suits towards unsuspecting exoplanets? I expect the first manned mission of lawyers is already in training.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 10th Dec 2008 (00:41 GMT) | Permalink

Undercover at the Carnival

The 82nd Carnival of Space is a very special one. This week Dave Mosher brings us the round-up of the space and astronomy blogs and he does it in glorious technicolor. I would like to say a big thank you to the person that submitted my blog to the Carnival (it may even have been Dave himself). I don't submit my own blog posts to the Carnival so it may be the first time I've ever been included.

Through my blogger stealth powers I've managed to appear under a different name. It is Cumbria-based Stuart Atkinson that gets the attribution for my post. It is probably because we share the same first name and it isn't the first time that someone has got me mixed up with that Stuart (or the other one). It's mostly my own fault for only using my first name on this blog. That level of annonimity was deliberate when I started even if people like Andy and Aaron have revealed my full identity since.

If you want to tell me apart from Stuart Atkinson, he looks like this and I don't.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 09th Dec 2008 (10:38 GMT) | Permalink
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