Astrochemist Markus Hammonds (aka Invader Xan) has made a nice graphic over on Supernova Condensate showing the relative sizes of a bunch of spacecraft. As you can see, the International Space Station is really huge these days. He has also made another graphic that shows them in comparison to the Enterprise.

A comparison of spaceships CREDIT: Markus Hammonds/Supernova Condensate

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 20th May 2012 (02:09 BST) | Permalink

Sunspots and flares

As we head towards the maximum of the Sun's 11 year cycle of activity, the Sun's surface is becoming much more interesting. Although here in the UK we've had awful weather for the past month or two, the sudden improvement of the past couple of days has meant we're able to see huge sunspot 1476 which is launching solar flares in our direction. Here is my photo taken a few minutes ago:

The Sun seen at the eyepiece of a Coronado PST 12 May 2012 CREDIT: Stuart
It isn't the best picture ever but you can see the sunspot to the left of centre as well as some prominences around the edge. For a sense of scale, the prominences are several times larger than the Earth.

Will Gater has posted a much better series of shots of the prominences and sunspot and Pete Lawrence took this high resolution image of sunspot AR1476 yesterday and this white light picture today. In the Lake District Stuart Atkinson took this image about an hour ago. In Australia, Ian Musgrave has been taking images of the Sun using binoculars and safe solar projection.

WARNING: Remember that it is very dangerous to look directly at the Sun especially with binoculars and telescopes. You could seriously damage your eyes. Either view the Sun via a projection technique or use safe solar filters.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 12th May 2012 (13:51 BST) | Permalink

Multilingual, multi-wavelength sky

One of the projects I've been working on in my spare time for the past few years is Chromoscope. It originated in an idea I had with Rob Simpson (Zooniverse fame) and Chris North (Sky at Night fame) to let people see how the sky varies across the electromagnetic spectrum. Even as we launched Chromoscope at .Astronomy in 2009, we realised that we should make it available in languages other than English.

As of today, Chromoscope is available in 12 languages: English, Cymraeg (Welsh), Deutsch (German), Español (Spanish), Français (French), Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic), עברית (Hebrew), Italiano (Italian), Polski (Polish), Português (Portuguese), svenska (Swedish), and Türkçe (Turkish). Another two languages - Danish and Hindi - are partly translated. These translations are due to a bunch of really nice volunteers. Thanks Huw Waters, Janine van Eymeren, Marie O'Sullivan, Tom Kerss, Lizette Guzman Ramirez, Dave Jones, Bruno Maffei, Evan Keane, Avi Shporer, Esti Sidley, Amruta Mehta, Pradeep Mohandas, Mike, Lech Mankiewicz, Ana Cabral, Robert Cumming and Arif Solmaz.

In the early days, the translation process was quite involved as the language had to be broken down and non-Latin characters had to be specially encoded. In the past couple of weeks I've been working on the first right-to-left/non-Latin-character language with Avi and Esti - Hebrew - so I decided it was about time I made it easier for both the translators and myself. I created a translation page that lets people work in their native script and then creates the appropriate encoded output that I need. I'm pretty happy with it as it has definitely made it much easier than it used to be.

Over the past year we've also been fortunate to gain improved gamma-ray and new near-infrared views of the sky too thanks to the Fermi and WISE teams.

Please let me know if you speak any languages that are not already translated and would like to make a translation. Once again, diolch, merci, grazie, danke, dziekuje, and thanks to all those volunteers who've helped so far.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 11th May 2012 (20:36 BST) | Permalink

An Owl Nebula

Welcome to my 1000th blog post. I can't believe I've been blogging for nearly 9 years even if I have slowed down a bit in my old age (in internet years). I wasn't sure how to mark this personal milestone but, as chance would have it, something happened this week that lets me combine art, astronomy, and people being excellent to one another in one single post.

On Monday, @Yodatheoak retweeted a plea for help by @origami_owl (Paul Groom). I didn't know Paul but it turned out he was having trouble with some HTML/Javascript on his Tumblr blog. People on Twitter often lend me a hand with stuff so it was my turn to return the favour.

After a number of tweets and a couple of emails, we got Paul's problem fixed and he was pretty happy. As a thanks he offered to draw me something. He said he was best at drawing animals so I suggested he draw something that connected astronomy and animals. Within a few hours he had posted his interpretation of the Owl Nebula created using an application on his iPad. Here it is:

Owl Nebula
Artistic interpretation of the Owl Nebula CREDIT/COPYRIGHT: Paul Groom
His painting captures some of the fundamental aspects of nebulae - it has a star surround by a gaseous envelope with different coloured emission coming from different chemical elements (oxygen and hydrogen). It is also pretty cool and I like the way the Owl's attention is captured by the star.

Thanks for the painting Paul!

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 02nd May 2012 (00:18 BST) | Permalink
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