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Topics - jules

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Some citizen science is urgently needed here to help find the missing plane.

Just a heads up for the 2014 Citizen Cyberscience summit which will be held in London on 20 - 22 February. I attended a few years ago with Hanny, Geoff and Tommy and it was fascinating to learn about the huge variety of citizen science projects out there. I'm going again this year (I've been invited to sit on the Q&A panel again.) This year's programme looks even better and Zookeeper Rob is one of the speakers. Registration is FREE for citizen scientists. :) It's not a Zooniverse event but it would be lovely to have lots of zooites there!

Els, Hanny, Geoff and me will be in London for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards in a couple of weeks time. We thought this sounded like a good enough excuse to have a mini-meet up too! So we wondered if anyone would be around on Wednesday 18 September for a get-together (maybe in Greenwich, maybe at the Union  ;D ) for afternoon food / drinks and a walk afterwards (or before!)

We can sort out meeting times later. Els will only be able to join us around 5.30pm and the awards start at 6.30pm but if we are close to the Observatory she should have time for a quick drinkie before we have to leave!

So - anyone free? It would be lovely to see you.

Star space / Gaia: The Impossible Space Mission
« on: August 23, 2013, 10:46:52 am »
Fantastic project. Wonder if they'll need help sorting all those images?

Gaia: The Impossible Space Mission

Just in case there are any Solar Stormwatchers lurking here! The BBC are looking for Solar Stormwatch volunteers to take part in a documentary. More details and links on the Solar Stormwatch forum.

Object of the Day / Thursday 13 December 2012: Jupiter then and now
« on: December 13, 2012, 12:01:58 am »
Jupiter, Observers Book of Astronomy (1967)
(200 inch reflector)
Back garden Jupiter with Europa, Ganymede and Io
(10 inch reflector)

Last Sunday after watching the reaction to Patrick Moore's death on Twitter and reading several of the many tributes to him that followed it struck me just how successful he had been at getting people hooked on astronomy. It was the Moon landings that sparked my own interest though Patrick did have a part to play as around the time of the Apollo 11 mission I acquired my first astronomy book, a 1967 version of The Observer's Book of Astronomy written by him. I remember being especially fascinated by one photograph in that book. It was of Jupiter taken with a 200 inch ground based telescope. That's the top picture on the left above. I was too young to understand how the photograph had been taken but remember wondering how so much detail could be seen on something so far away.

Sunday night was very clear, an ideal night for going out to look at the sky at night, so I decided that I would do just that and attempt to photograph Jupiter. I bought a CCD camera a few months ago to image the Sun and hadn't yet tried it out on any planets so this seemed like an appropriate night to put that right. The result is the photo on the right above. Alice suggested I post it as an OOTD so here it is. It's not a bad image for a first attempt but I'm posting it more as an example of how far amateur astronomy and in particular astrophotography has come in the last 50 years. Patrick witnessed many technological advances during the reign of Sky at Night but the improvements in telescope optics and cameras for amateur astronomers must have particularly pleased him. Sky at Night featured many astrophotos from amateurs over the years. Ever the champion of the amateur I'll leave the last words, from the same book, to Patrick:

"Astronomy is one of the few sciences in which the amateur may still make himself useful. His field of research is naturally limited but is wider than might be thought. For instance, professional astronomers pay little attention to the surface features of the Moon and planets The world's largest telescopes are engaged in more fundamental studies and so the amateur who decides to turn himself into a serious observer is always warmly welcomed. The main requirements are enthusiasm and patience."

Cafe at the end of the Universe / Sunspots Ahoy!
« on: June 13, 2012, 03:58:33 pm »
Solar Stormwatch and Old Weather join forces to solve a mystery!
Solar Stormwatch blog.

Great example of Citizen Science collaboration. :)

The Galaxy Zoo Library / Zooniverse Project Workshop 2012 - notes
« on: May 18, 2012, 10:54:28 pm »
Lecture notes from the first Zooniverse Project Workshop 2012 start here. I've broken it down into 3 sections. Blogs to follow. :)

Star space / ISS Flash Project
« on: March 05, 2012, 05:21:16 pm »
Just had to share this! One of our Solar Stormwatch members, george helio, told us about an attempt by a local private observatory (about 50 miles north of San Antonio, Texas) to "flash" the ISS - ie to see if astronauts aboard the ISS could detect a light directed at them. They used two 800 Millon Lumen spot lights and a 1 watt blue laser. The experiment was a huge success!

George said:
We were successful at being visible to astronauts Don Petit and Dan Burbank aboard the ISS. We think this is the first time this has ever been accomplished, but there are some sound reasons why we had the advantage.  The minimal beam divergence of the search lights made a huge difference, and a 1000mW laser with a nice mount nicely augmented the event.

The video is here. Watch out for the photo evidence from the ISS at the end!

How cool is that? 8) 8) ;D

Star space / Amazing Einstein Ring from Hubble
« on: December 19, 2011, 09:27:47 am »
Apologies if this has already been posted - I did search honest! Just found it and was amazed:

Hubble Captures a "Lucky" Galaxy

And now for something a little different.... :)

We sometimes spot comets over on Solar Stormwatch. Here are a couple of celebrities:

Comet McNaught:
Comet Machholz 96P

Unlike these two most of the comets we see are usually from the Kreutz sungrazer group, fragments from a large comet that broke up hundreds of years ago all thrown into orbits which take them on a one-way journey to the Sun. A few weeks ago on 1 October the STEREO cameras watched as a particularly bright Kreutz comet disappeared into the glare of the Sun. SOHO-2143’s demise was not an unusual event – being vaporised in the fierce heat of the Sun’s atmosphere is the fate of all Kreutz group comets. The interesting thing about SOHO-2143 disappearance was what happened next. A huge solar storm (Coronal Mass Ejection or CME) blasted out from the opposite side of the Sun. So what do you think? Cause and effect or a coincidence timed to perfection? Have a look for yourself:

STEREO ahead camera.
Click on the picture to link to the mpg.

You'll find more video formats here.

There are other examples too. Here's one from earlier this year in May. Coincidence? The pseudo-science community love this kind of thing but what about the facts? Well, sungrazers are just that – they pass very close to the Sun rather than crash into it. So close they vaporise in the heat. Besides, comets are very loose collections of ice and rock – and tiny (less than 100m in diameter) compared to the Sun. This Solar Dynamics Observatory video shows the scale of a (different) comet v Sun nicely. View this full screen and look for a pale streak moving very fast right to left about half way down.

Also there are 3 CMEs in the October video and only the third coincides with the disappearance of SOHO-2143. In short, no-one has found any evidence that the destruction of a sungrazing comet triggers a CME. That doesn’t mean people have stopped looking. 

A typical CME is a billion tons of material travelling at a million miles an hour and contains mainly protons and electrons with some heavy ions. Outside the Earth’s thick protective magnetosphere these charged particles are a radiation hazard to any spacecraft and astronauts. Any manned lunar or Mars missions must, therefore, take this into account. Inside the Earth’s magnetosphere, the charged particles interact with the magnetic field producing geomagnetic storms, which in turn enhance the activity in the Earth’s radiation belts. This presents a radiation hazard to low-Earth orbit satellites and the astronauts on the ISS as they pass through the South Atlantic Anomaly. In addition, electric currents generated by geomagnetic storms can cause electrical surges through power lines and damage power grids.

It is, therefore, important to be able to predict the speed and direction of CMEs but they are poorly understood and no-one really knows what triggers them. Data from Solar Stormwatch are being used to track solar storms and learn more about how they begin and how they evolve.

Meanwhile, until a link is found between doomed comets and CMEs the conclusion is that it’s nothing more than an intriguing coincidence.

The exciting thing about the comet data from Solar Stormwatch is that it is about to be used to study particle sizes in comet tails. This will involve looking at absorption spectra as the tails drift across background stars and then comparing the results with infrared observations from the Herschel space observatory. This will also tell us more about the kind of dust and particles that are constantly battering the STEREO spacecraft!

More info:
Bad Astronomy - with Phil Plait's excellent video showing SOHO-2143 from 3 different perspectives

Star space / So you want to be a scientist - BBC Radio 4
« on: October 10, 2011, 01:31:06 pm »
I met Michelle, the producer of this competition recently who was really interested in the Zooniverse projects and agreed that it would be good to let people know about this year's "So you want to be a scientist" on the forums.This year's competition is now open and closes 31 October. If you have an idea for a scientific experiment or a bit of research why not give it a go? It would be great for anyone wanting help to explore some of the public Zooniverse data.

Have a look at the website for ts & cs and lots more information.

From the website:
If you're chosen as one of our four finalists, you'll be working from your kitchen table or garden shed. We'll help you turn your idea into a real life experiment, with assistance from some of the country's leading researchers.
In June you'll be presenting your results at the Cheltenham Science Festival where the judges choose a winner.

Object of the Day / Saturday 8 October 2011 - Lunar Latte Art
« on: October 08, 2011, 08:58:42 am »
Lunar latte art - Reiner Gamma and other lunar magnetic anomalies.

As today is International Observe the Moon Night it seemed appropriate for today's OOTD to have a lunar theme. :)

Reiner Gamma lat 7.5 long -59.0

Looking like one of those intricate designs a barista might create on your coffee Reiner Gamma is one of a small number of puzzling marks on the Moon. Known as lunar swirls their locations are associated with local magnetic anomalies which is odd as the Moon has no dynamo and so cannot generate its own magnetic field. These beautiful and enigmatic marks were discussed at a recent Lunar Swirls Workshop. The conclusion? More information is needed to help decide how and why they formed.

Reiner Gamma is a 70 km long albedo feature in Oceanus Procellarum. The material it is made of is more reflective than the mare basalt it lies on so it appears to be brighter (ie it has a higher albedo). It has a main central oval shape and a diffuse, swirly appearance. Other less showy examples can be found in Mare Ingenii, Mare Marginis, and also in the lunar highlands, west of Descartes crater and around Gerasimovich crater. Highland swirls are much harder to spot as they have to be untangled from the topography. All the swirls are flat features appearing to lie on top of the darker surface. A list of the known and candidate swirls can be found on the Moon Wiki and over on Moon Zoo we hope to find more.

Mare Ingenii  lat -24.7 long 172.2
.Mare Marginis  lat 13.0  long 84
Descartes (highlands)  lat -11.7  long 15.7
.Gerasimovich (highlands) lat -22.9  long -122.6

So what caused these strange marks? Before we look at some ideas there are a couple of things to note. Firstly, in 1972 a lunar satellite made the unexpected discovery that the Moon was covered in a patchwork of magnetic fields. Not all these magnetic fields have swirls but all swirls are associated with a magnetic field. Secondly, some (but by no means all) swirls are antipodal to a large impact basin. Mare Ingenii is opposite Mare Imbrium, Mare Marginis is opposite Mare Orientale for example. The idea being that the basins formed at a time when the Moon had a molten iron core and a global magnetic field. The huge impact that created a basin formed a cloud of electrically conducting plasma which expanded around the Moon and converged at the opposite point forming a locally concentrated magnetic field and these “hot spots” of magnetism still remain today. With these points in mind we can look at the 3 main theories of how lunar swirls formed. (See Kramer et al, 2009).

1.   Solar wind deflection. The swirls are thought to be exposed silicates. This theory doesn’t explain how the features formed but offers an explanation for their preservation because a magnetic field will deflect the solar wind preventing it from weathering (and darkening) the swirls. The dark lanes seen in some of the swirls are thought to be caused by the magnetic field focussing the solar wind causing an “overmaturation” of particular regions. The shapes of the swirls can be thought of as mirroring the magnetic field.

2.   Comet impacts. The impacts removed the top layer of lunar regolith exposing brighter material. This theory proposes that the heating of near surface materials to very high temperatures created the magnetic fields. This theory doesn’t explain the antipodal-basin connection of some swirls.

3.   Meteoroid swarm. This is a variant of (2) but involves many small impacts including inter-particle collisions creating large amounts of fine dust which settles in a swirl pattern. This theory also doesn’t explain the antipodal-basin connection or the presence of local magnetic fields.

The solar wind theory is the current favourite. The Kaguya Mission showed that solar wind ions are slowed and deflected above the strongest magnetic fields. The Moon is proving to be a very useful laboratory to study solar system space weathering.

Back to Reiner Gamma. This swirl is perhaps the clearest example and the most enigmatic as it is not antipodal to an impact basin – though the large crater Tsiolkovskiy is close. Whether the swirls are deposits of ejecta from a nearby impact, twisting patterns of charged lunar dust or excavated materials from beneath the lunar regolith is not known.

The Lunar Swirls Workshop a few weeks ago discussed some new ideas. One of them concerned the wafting of very fine bright, electrostatically charged dust “fountains” which are occasionally observed on the Moon and were reported by several Apollo crews. They can swirl around for several seconds or minutes in the tenuous lunar atmosphere. If they appear over a magnetic field the dust could be deposited in swirls. It was also pointed out that Mercury, which also has dust fountains and impact basins, does not have swirls. More data is needed. Hopes are pinned on the LADEE mission (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmental Explorer) due to launch in 2013. This will gather information about conditions near the lunar surface and will study the effect of the lunar atmosphere on dust in detail.

I hope you have enjoyed this diversion from the more usual galactic fare. :) Next time you have a creamy swirly coffee – think of these mysterious lunar marks and maybe join us on Moon Zoo for a while. That next picture you click on might just be a brand new swirl!

Additional references:
NASA Science News. Lunar Swirls

Kramer et al, 2009. The Lunar Swirls - A White Paper to the NASA Decadal Survey

Lunar Networks. The still-mysterious Descartes formation Swirly Moon Markings Remain Mysterious

Lunar Swirls Workshop

IOTMN website

LROC Wide Angle Camera Mosaic Viewer


Star space / Most elliptical galaxies are 'like spirals'
« on: June 20, 2011, 11:25:55 am »
"The majority of 'elliptical' galaxies are not spherical but disc-shaped, resembling spiral galaxies such as our own Milky Way with the gas and dust removed, new observations suggest."

More here.

Cafe at the end of the Universe / Cheltenham Science Festival
« on: June 06, 2011, 11:02:06 pm »
If anyone is planning to go to Cheltenham Science Festival this week (it runs from tomorrow 7 June to Sunday 12 June) then please look out for the Solar Stormwatch stand and come and say "Hi" and have a go at stormwatching. I'll be there helping out on Thursday and Friday. ;D

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