Friday, November 29, 2013


UPDATE: 10:00 UT

It is clear that a part (reduced or fragment) of the nucleus of Comet ISON made it round the sun and is now moving away from the sun. After initally brightening and reforming a dust tail derived from its momentum as it swung around the sun, it seems to be fading now as it moves towards the outer FOV of the Lasco C3 camera of the SOHO observatory. The tail is gradually swinging around to the outbound direction. It will be interesting to see what the mission scientists can gleen from this from the multitude of data sets.

For now my rule of thumb, is really not very sciency, but if a naked eye comet reaches the Lasco C3 FOV - its going round! Not a lot of math in that, but its two from two in 3 years! Seriously though for the real science - read NASA's Comet ISON observing campaign blog which is being regularly updated by respected comet supremo Karl Battams.

UPDATE: 05:30 UT

ISON continues to brighten and a new dust tail appears to be swinging around from its transit path towards its outbound trajectory.

Image Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory - Lasco C3 23:30 UT 28/11/2013

What we know about comets is alot more than we used to know, but not everything there is to know!

Like most people with a passing interest in astronomy I have been following the passage of Comet ISON as it approached perihelion. I have followed the intense debates about what might constitute a "secular light curve" and observed daily predictions and alerts about what was about to happen.

Today it has been hilarious to see people pronounce ISON dead on arrival at perihelion and wander off to their thanksgiving dinner thinking its all over red rover!

Currently twitter is ablaze with witty retorts and updates as some sort of remenant has re-emerged and continues to brighten. Most of the wise observers are doing the appropriate thing and "waiting for more information". So far on twitter it has been re-named Schrodinger's Comet, Schwartzneger's "I'll be back" comet.

Image Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory - Lasco C2

As for me, I am reminded of Comet Lovejoy (2011) which surprised everyone and made it past perihelion and broke up outbound after a spectacular display at Christmas 2011. I couldn't help remembering that the tail didn't really return immediately after perhelion, until the Comet moved away from the immediate vicintiy of the Sun. In fact in 2011 Lovejoy's tail didn't really reform until it was even further out than it is now.

One thing to consider here is that the perspective from which we view these images is only two dimentional, ie whats in the image, and its very hard to tell from that perspective what at the front or behind.

Image credit: Comet Lovejoy (2011) Solar and Heliospheric Observatory - Lasco C3

Whilst comets are not made of sugar, think of creme brulee, the sugar gets heated up, some smoke comes off, it suffers intense heat, changes its composition and comes out the otherside a crunchy piece of toffee with roughly its same mass but slightly different texture. Now this is a bit of a stretch scientifically as I said, as comets are not made of sugar, but with the heat, the increase in speed, the change of direction, the resultant slowing and cooling after perihelion, there is alot going on there that we really just don't know enough about.

Which is why comets are, always have been, and always will be, incredibly undpredicatable.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy)

Comet Lovejoy is determined not to be outdone by Comet ISON. However, reports circulating through social media this morning that Comet ISON has now reached magnitude 4, will make sure it has more work to do - as if comets had opinions anyway.

Comet Lovejoy continues to brighten and its ion and dust tails continue to grow. It's coma is a massive 3.7 arcmins now in a 180sec image, which is probably closer to 2 arcmins in reality as the movement probably overstates it a little. It is very hard to make a magnitude estimate now from CCD images. Magnitude estimates are now best made by binocular observations and comparing the brightness with the known brightness of nearby stars. Comet ISON is now a naked eye object. Lovejoy, I suspect is not far away either.

The encroaching moonlight was not very kind to last night's attempt to capture a nice shot. Early this week Rolando Lingusti took a brilliant shot of Comet Lovejoy that was featured in Tony Flander's article in Sky and Telescope.

Comet Lovejoy was discovered by Australia's talented and "best practice" comet hunter Terry Lovejoy, who was a speaker at this year's Advanced Astro Imaging Conference on the Gold Coast. As a keynote speaker he outlined his search methods, which were, I have to say very comprehensive and methodical. Catching two brilliant Christmas Comets in three years is not a fluke, its through sheer hardwork and relentless persuit of what the Oort Cloud throws up each year.

Image Credit: P.Lake 3 x 180sec R,G,B T11

I found it a bit easier to observe the details in the tail in the individual subframes Luminance channel, which I didn't use in the R,G,B image as I ws getting too much light to manage with the intruding moonlight.

Image Credit: P.Lake 180 sec Luminance T11

I refered to Comet Lovejoy as the "one wood" comet (golf club) earlier this week in reference to its slightly out of shape coma. This can be mainly attributable to the fast speed of the Comet travelling at 9 arcsecs per minute in a direction of about 35 degrees across the line of its tail. Its pretty hard to pull up that speed at 0.81 arsces per pixel

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) November Update!

Comet Siding Spring continues on its merry way.

Currently overshadowed a little by the 2012 comets, ISON, Lovejoy, Linear 2012 X1 and Enke all feature this month in the northern skies. Siding Spring will have to wait till next year for its fanfare as it does a very close approach to Mars just after the MAVEN space mission arrives to sample Mars atmosphere.

None the less - Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is again high in the southern skies after midnight. These images are stacked in groups of 6 for the movement of the Comet to get a nice tight coma for astrometry.

All the scopes haev been very busy chasing the morning comets so I thought tonight after I collected my 2013 TV135 data for MPC, I'd jump onto T31 at Siding Spring and chase it's namesake comet.


Monday, October 21, 2013

ACCELN Learning network -Space Education

Tonight Astroswanny joins the ACCELN Live Google plus hangout on Space Education.

ACCELN is a great network of teachers supporting other teachers innove in the classroom. More details:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Asteroid 2013 TV135 (PHA)

UPDATE 2: 19/10/2013.

Last night I got another 6 images of asteroid 2013 TV135. I have stacked them here at 1.4 arcsecs/m at Position Angle 210.3 allowing for the movement of the asteroid. This is a technique astronomers use to build the signal to noise ratio and derive a more precise position.

Image Credit: P.Lake 6x120sec images stacked. T11 H06.

Asteroid 2013 TV135 images from H06 at I managed to grab 6 images and stack them. I was hoping for a few more but the roof closed due to weather .

Discovered by G. Borisov & T. Kryachko of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory Observatory, Nauchny, (095) on October 8th. Initially it is listed as a "Virtual Impactor" on Sentry JPL with a Rating of 1 on the Torino Scale. This is NOT that unusual for a new PHA, as at the time these measurements were taken there was only 8 days of arc available. It is expected that further observations will move this off the Torino Scale back to Rating 0 as the precision of the orbit improves over the next few days.

Asteroid 2013 TV135 will make a close approach to earth in the Year 2032 and is 410meters in diameter and is currently attracting a bit of media interest.

Its important to remember that new asteroids (this one has only 9 days of arc) usually don't stay on the Torino Scale (the risk register) for long, as further data updates increase the precision of the orbit, and usually quickly remove them as potential impactors.

UPDATED: October 19 Leonid Elenin makes the point on his blog (in Russian) that the current zone of uncertainty is about 1/5th of its orbit, so its way to early to be talking virtual impactors. Leonid's best estimate at this stage is an approach of about around 0.0077 AU which is close to about 1 Lunar Distance.

The most interesting aspect of the orbit, in the discussions I have seen, is the inclination to the ecliptic of 6.8 degrees and that it tracks close to Earth for a couple of hours. Removing the uncertainty around this time period will be the task facing observatories over the next few days/months.

Footnote: The 6 images here shown in the video had quite low signal to noise ratio which I improved a bit by stacking them in three pairs to improve the Signal to Noise ratio enough to get a good measure on them. This is partly due to the current full moon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

International Observe the Moon Night - #OMN

Hi folks, I have been very busy lately and had not had much time to post anything.

So tonight I'll pump out a live Hangout for OMN. See you in about 2 Hours.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

All eyes on ISON!!!

All eyes on ISON!!!! So as Comet ISON C/2012 S1 emerges from the dawn glare and the moon moves out of the way over the next couple of nights ..... all eyes will turn to Comet ISON. Its tail, at a rough guess is about 150 arcsecs now, and its visible for about 40 mins before dawn, providing a very narrow window for telescope users. Taken from on the 1st October, this is still way too close to the moon and had only just cleared the top of the shed. Another couple of nights and we should have some great images. I inverted this to try and manage some of the moon glare

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New chasing old

iTelescope's partnership with University of Arizona's OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids continues to flourish. There are some 144 amateur astronomer observers around the world, a good number of them are users.

We are just over half way through the current quarter (July-Sept) observing list that was released by Dr Carl Hergenrother. I took a particular interest in Asteroid 2010 AF30 as it was placed about -38 degrees declination which meant it was very well placed for iTelescope's SSO site, and not reachable by northern hemisphere scopes.

On my 4th night collecting data (8th August) on 2013 AF30 it flew through a field with a number of known asteroids in it. Namely: (285839) and 2009 SA302 also in the field were 2 unknown objects. I gathered several nights of careful follow-up and now there are two new preliminary designations 2013 PJ40 and 2013 PL69.

It is always important to check you images for other objects, you may come across other asteroids for which co-ordinates are sought after, you may even stumble across a comet or new object.

If you do come across something interesting the three initial steps I follow are:

1) Update the MPCORB database (before each Astronmetrica session). Note: it pays to close and reopen Astrometrica after you have downloaded the database, before using the known object overlay, just to make sure you are using the latest data and epoch.

2) Take your measured co-ordinates and enter them in the NEO Checker tool on MPC, any nearby objects will be listed

3) Enter your co-ordinates in the NEO Rating tool (note it WON'T be put on the Confirmation list UNLESS the Interest score is over 50. If (as in this case) is a "boring old" main belt object it will have a low interest score and you will need to follow it up yourself, keep submitting data and/or get a collegue to submit some data as well. Eventually one of the surveys will pick it up.

Finally report your data to MPC in the usual way (they recommend using your own designation with a different designation each night eg PL13811 was the designation I used) Note the PL in the designation has nothing to do with my initials its just the number sequence they are currently up to.)

So there is more rewards for participating in the Target Asteroids program than being a part of a great observation mission, you might actually discover something of interest yourself.

There is no guarantee that I will hold the final first opposition designation as these objects could be linked to previous observations, may be lost and never seen again for another 4 years. I only have 7 days arc recorded so far and there is a high probability the object could be lost, given that it was picked up outbound. The part of the sky is less often covered by the big surveys, but is regularly covered by E12, so I will be following them for a couple more weeks and hope that the surveys pick it up as well.

Finally, T30 and T31 are proving to be great telescopes for asteroid work with both of them easily reaching magnitude 20.0 in stacked images. The residuals rms of the 38 positions reported on 2013 PL69 are 0.19 arc secs. After some investigation on the MPC database, Q62 has reported 2500 asteroid positions already and 93% of the reported data has residual rms of sub 1.0 arc-sec. That is really great performance!

Keep up the great work asteroid hunters!!!!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Azure planet a colorful twist

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Kornmesser (Artist impression)

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, determined the true colour of a planet orbiting another star. If seen up close this planet, known as HD 189733b, would be a deep cobalt blue, reminiscent of Earth’s colour as seen from space.

Frédéric Pont of the University of Exeter, UK, leader of the Hubble observing programme and an author of a new paper on HD 189733b said:
"This planet has been studied well in the past, both by ourselves and other teams, but measuring its colour is a real first — we can actually imagine what this planet would look like if we were able to look at it directly."

We all have heard the expression "pale blue green dot" as a description of earth, HD 189733b's color is azure which is a very bright blue with almost no reflected green light. So whilst the planet is simlar color to earth from space but that's where the similarities end. This "deep blue dot" is a huge gas giant orbiting very close to its host star.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI/AURA)

Azure is sometimes used as an evocative adjective not just a color, the azure waters of your favourite beachside destination, or the tiny azure Kingfisher one of Australia's most stunning birds. Dictionaries defines azure as the color of the clear blue sky or a light purple shade of blue. Whilst astronomers love clear blue skies pointing to a night of great observations, the atmosphere of the azure planet HD189733b is anything but plain sailing on a clear day.

Image Credit: JJ Harrison, Julatten, Qld 2011. Wikipedia Commons

Only this week talented amateur astronomer Emmanuel Conseil trapped this planet in front of its parent star during a transit. Emannuel like many other amateur astronomers regularly collaborate on extra-solar planet transits and submit their data to the TRESCA database. HD189733b has over 90 such observations from astronomers around the world.

Image Credit: HD189733b transit - Emmanuel Conseil

At a distance of 63 light-years from us, this turbulent alien world is one of the nearest exoplanets to Earth that can be seen crossing the face of its star. The planet's atmosphere is scorching with a temperature of over 1000 degrees Celsius, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7000 kilometre-per-hour winds.

So the azure blue "seas" here are nothing like the Amalfi coast!

An explanation is provided by Tom Evans of the University of Oxford, UK, first author of the paper:

"We saw the brightness of the whole system drop in the blue part of the spectrum when the planet passed behind its star. From this, we can gather that the planet is blue, because the signal remained constant at the other colours we measured."
The planet's azure blue colour does not come from the reflection of a tropical ocean, but is due to a hazy, turbulent atmosphere thought to be laced with silicate particles, which scatter blue light. Earlier observations using different methods have reported evidence for scattering of blue light on the planet, but these most recent Hubble observations give robust confirming evidence, say the researchers.

Looking out - Looking in!

It is thought that inside the atmosphere the sunsets on HD 189733b could be red. If sodium absorbs red light and dust scatters red light, the atmosphere will redden light shining through it, but will appear blue in reflected light. The colours of Jupiter and Venus are both due to unknown particles within the atmospheres of the planets. Earth looks blue from space because the oceans absorb red and green wavelengths more strongly than blue ones, and reflect the blueish hue of our sky. The shorter blue wavelengths of sunlight are selectively scattered by oxygen and nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere via a process called Rayleigh scattering.

So there we have it an azure blue planet that rains glass - I'll stop right there before I start to think of quirky analogies about what it takes to make glass ceilings come down. ;-)

The new paper, titled "The deep blue colour of HD 189733b: albedo measurements with HST/STIS at visible wavelengths", will appear in the 1 August issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The little telescope that could!

Image Credit: (c) P.Lake R,G,B (12mins Sii, 12 mins Ha, 15 mins Oiii)

Well there's nothing better than kicking back for the saturday night blockbuster footy match, with a laptop to keep track of the the Tour de France, and the progress of two women's dreams of winning Wimbledon - a 50-50 chance of a fairytale for one of them.

July is a great month of live sport, with Wimbledon, Tour de France and the Ashes about to get underway!

So whilst kicking back after a busy week its great to just get your headspace somewhere else. Add to this mix of live action the Universe is also out there doing what it does - just getting older, re-cycling gases, with new photons of live action that no-one has every seen before arriving at our little blue green lights. Well some of them look the same as they did yesterday, but you never know, on average just over one star explodes every night, or the light of its long distant supernova/nova reaches us. So you never know what you might see.

There is one little scope that has been around for a while, it has been moved from shed to shed and sat in a garage for 8 of the last 12 months. Whilst "little" is a bit unfair as many people would love to own a 12 inch SCT, compared to its big brothers it now shares a shed with, it the oldest and smallest of the "non-refracters" or SCT/CDK designs.

After a refurb and a new camera it back in action at last, and I have to say, it can still Bring it!

So last night, with one browser tab watching Chris Froome making his statement chasing down the young Chilean mountain climbing sensation, and the TV flicking between Wimbledon and Cats vs Hawks, I thought I'd take the little telescope that could for a test drive.

The results speak for themselves!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

CosmoQuest Hangout-a-Thon

Updated: Here is the live cross from CosmoQuest Hangout-a-Thon to the Learning in the Laneway -Sunday Spectacular. Fast forward to 2hrs:13min!

We had a great time in the Laneway, there were lots of great courses going on, from Origami, Bee Keeping, programing robots, the science of rollercoasters, and our session on Citizen Science where we used MoonMapper, took some images of Asteroid 1998 QE2 for the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids Mission.

Here is the Intro/Outro video of the session, detailing some of the concept of education in Melbourne's famous laneways.

Please support this weekend's Hangout-a-Thon in support of Citizen Science.

This is important, see my previous editorial about getting more from more.

Join us for this 32 hour mega-science event, be part of history. I'll be doing a live outside broadcast into the Hangout from Melbourne Australia, where a Learning in the Laneway event doing Citizen Science will be broadcast into the hangout. Please consider donating!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Carnival of Space Episode 305

Hi folks, Welcome to the Carnival of Space this week in a very busy week. As its a public holiday in Australia today, for the Queens Birthday, I was able to clear the decks and participate in Fraser Cain's Virtual Star Party and host the Carnival today, before craming 5 days work into 4 days. Next weekend I'll be doing a live Citizen Science session in one of the Famous Melbourne Laneways, and we'll be doing a live cross to Dr Pamela Gay's CosmoQuest-Hangout-a-Thon.

So its on with the Carnival! (UPDATED: I just realized I got the dates confused and The Urban Astronomer was supposed to host the carnival this week - deepest apologies for jumping the gun)

A short discussion of galaxy IC3418, which is moving at fast speed through the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. The hot gas in the cluster is stripping out the gas from the little galaxy, leaving it barren of the material needed to form new generations of stars. The stripped out gas is being observed as a tail behind the galaxy, visible in ultraviolet light. Checkout Andrew's blog for more details about this amazing photo.

Thanks to app developers, touch screen devices such as the iPhone and iPad have become wonderful tools for those interested in astronomy and space exploration. This post discusses two especially beautiful iPad apps, Luminos and Cosmographia.

A few days ago, Everyday Spacer's first alliance for Project #1 was born. Everyday Spacer, and the good folks at Photos to Space, have agreed to bring you a ‘badge’ as a reward for certain accomplishments in the upcoming membership site.

Mars Express celebrates ten years at Mars with new global maps. I can't wait till we can go there and use GPS and the above apps to find our way around.

Image Credit: ESA

The Chandra Blog brings us a great article about Transforming Science Into Sound.

Brian sees through the slight of hand of a magicians trick with mirrors that can make orbiting satellites invisible across broad optical spectrum.

Brian also stumps the pending announcement of a 7 blade razor with a report on the ultimate upsizing!

The technology exists to develop a ground based telescope with a 77 meter (250 foot) mirror at lower cost if it is used for narrow field study. It could do a survey of earth sized planets out to 60 light years The Colossus Telescope, a high-resolution, 77-meter multiple-mirror giant instrument, will have the ability to directly image the heat generated by other civilizations on planets orbiting stars near us. Innovative Optics, Ltd. offers proprietary solutions that will reduce the production cost of large optics by 10 to 20 times – and the production time by a significantly greater factor – compared with current techniques. Production cost per square meter of a Live Mirror drops to less than $20,000, letting IO undercut competitors while still realizing a significant profit margin in a market that currently pays more than $400,000 per square meter for a traditional mirror.

Ian Musgrave from Astroblogger has been following the progress of the incredibly unique Comet Panstarrs and its passage over three days.

Image Credit: Innovative Optics

Finally from this blog I leave you with a great image of the passing Asteroid (285263) 1998 QE2, from a live Google Plus hangout this week.

Image Credit: Peter Lake, AARTScope Blog

So that's it from this week's Carnival of Space.

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact carnivalofspace @ to be added to the editorial circulation list.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Live G+ Hangout on Air - (285263) 1998QE2 pass

Hi and welcome Plussers!

Today, its the weekend and we have a 2.7 klm Asteroid making its closest approach to earth for the next 200 years (therabouts), so I thought a good chance to brush up on the G+ Hangout skills.

I am a bit slack I don't have any special guests or anything for you. I just thought I might do a little live broadcasting of the action.


Here is the image from the session. I'll create a couple of annimations from the rest of the session as soon as I download all the images.

I have down loaded all the images now and used the Google Plus Auto-Awesome feature to create an animation of the asteroid. I think there is a slight glitch as it has one of the photos out of order but it does a great job. Also captured here is something that I need to have a closer look at, it seems to a be a sun glint from a satelite. I have checked the original image its too big to be camera fault or a cosmic ray hitting the CCD chip, as it looks solid and fuzzy enough to be outside the atmosphere. (Note Cosmic rays are usually dead give aways as the are very pixelated and that looks way bigger than anyone I have seen before).

Cheers.....thanks for joining us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Massive Asteroid (285263) 1998 QE2 approaches at a close but safe distance

Asteroid (285263) 1998 QE2 will pass by earth on May 31st 2013 at 14-15 Lunar distances. It is a massive 2.7 Kilometers wide (1.7 Miles). It is classed as a potentially hazardous asteroid as it's closest approach distance is less than 5% of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, ie. less than 0.05 AU (Astronomical units). This is it's closest approach for 200 years.

In spite of the naming convention, there is no connection between it and the Cruise Liner the QE2, although some in the media are having some fun measuring its width in end to end Ocean liners.

Note: there is no cause for alarm as the orbit has been well established for over a decade and posses no threat to earth in the next few centuries.

I photographed it tonight remotely from's iT30 at Siding Spring (Q62). Its already very bright even though it won't be passing earth until the 31st. So its a great easy target for all the scopes.

Also using the Auto-Awesome feature of the new Google+ Photos, it automatically creates animated GIFs of similar photos and did a great job on 5 frames of the Asteroid images.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Aussie Tree Fern - Fractals in motion

Just thought I'd share this with you.

The Aussie Tree Fern is an it a tree? I guess so. In the Australian Bush they regularly get burned to a cinder by raging bush fires and then after the next shower, away they go again.

To buy one from a nursery, you have to check that they have an enviro sticker to make sure they are authorized for safe removal from a permitted area. They are amazing, you just bury the stump in the ground, no roots, nothing, then you just pour water over the top of it until it sprouts into life.

It is the most amazing transition to watch the beautiful green leaves shoot out of it, in one of the finest displays of fractals in Nature.

I had a lot of fun taking images every half hour for nearly two days. The hardest part was the focus drifted a little due to the sun light changing from shot to shot, as the camera was on auto focus. In hindsight I guess I should have manually focused the shots. I would love to have kept it going all week - but some of us have jobs ;-)

Enjoy 2 days in 8 seconds.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Paradigm shifts and Astronomy

Paradigms shift from the edge, not from the middle! It wasn't the hot-air balloonists that invented powered flight it was two bicycle makers that wanted to take the exhilaration of the wind in their face to the next level.

Amidst the raw emotion of the terrible things we have seen this week, and yet the strengthened hope created by people coming together around a common cause, and sense of community - we see education funding and budgetary pressure conspiring against the things that can also bring us together: understanding and expanded knowledge.

All across the world we are seeing external issues of sovereign risk, budget deficits, GFC cutbacks, the currency wars, fluctuating commodity prices pushing in on the Education Sector. The "do more with less" principle of the 2=20 mantras (cut 20% over 2 years) of old world consultants can no longer wring any moisture from the dry rag. Productivity is the key, and crowd-sourcing turns the entire equation on its head - DOING MORE WITH MORE!

Whilst many disagreed with Paul Zane Pilzer's 1990 "abundant wealth" approach that stated Technology was the ultimate multiplier that could finally over come Keynes' scarcity of resources, it is exactly this abundance principle that is driving Planetary Resources to reach out and mine asteroids, as presumably asteroids are outside the "closed system" of earths scarce resources and abundantly plentiful. So lets stop right there, before we take it to the ultimate end point of creating gravity tractors filled with anti-mining protestors, unwittingly towing asteroids around while they complain about all the new worlds that won't be seeded. (Come on....we need a little light-hearted material in such a difficult week - my 18 year old, budding science fiction author son, thought that was hilarious)

This is starting to sound dangerously like an opinion piece (and we know how dangerous it can be to have an opinion with all this freedom of speech around) so lets get back to the facts! ;-)

This week Dr Pamela Gay, someone who is one of the greatest thought-leaders in "getting more from more", made an impassioned plea to not lump all her funding for "new paradigm" astronomy education and science research in with "old world" budgetary consolidation and cutbacks. As seen in the diagram above we know the University Model is under extraordinary pressure, so why would you kill the goose who is laying the golden egg of a new era of crowd-engaged science research and education.

Go with me on this:
* Universities are under pressure
* Money is scarce
* Math and Science literacy standards are declining

And yet

* The STEM curriculum has been put in place
* Social media and online collaboration are driving new communities of interest
* There are torrents of data "left over" from many science projects
* People are enjoying engaging with good communicators who can explain the wonders around us
* The good communicators are plugging energetic citizen scientists into quality projects
* Citizen scientists are being rewarded with the richest of gifts - a sense of community and belonging

Much of this activity in time will be self-sustaining. Uwingu was set up for exactly this purpose, to use social media and crowd-sourcing to raise money for science research. They have been running a naming competition for exo-planet Alpha Centauri Bb where people can spend $1 to vote for their favourite planet name. They have exercised their due diligence and pointed out there is no guarantee the names will ever stick and have made it a "fun thing" and of course people's competitive spirit has kicked in.

The result has been a modest success, but still a great boundary pushing exercise, that has produced some fantastic potential names and raised over $6000 USD that will go towards science research.

The competition closes on April 22nd and there is still time to participate in the fun and help fund science research. Each planet carries a Citation that details the thinking behind the nomination and these are well worth a read, as many are well thought out and significant to science, sci-fi authors, and famous scientists and astronauts. I have nominated Citizen Science as my contribution, although I was tempted to nomiate "The Australian Labor Party" as they seem to be on a very different planet, also cutting another $2.3 BILLION (Aud) out of University education funding this week.

My citation for Citizen Science Reads:
Citizen Science is a term for leveraging the power of "the crowd" to process torrents of scientific data by leveraging the extra effort of "science aware" citizens through social media. Citizen Scientists are engaged to tap their enthusiasm for science and provide a faster and more innovative path to science goals by sorting and categorizing data and highlighting points of interest that professional scientists can explore with greater depth.

Citizen Science is currently coming 6th behind the first three placeholders of Rakhat, Caleo and Amara.

Rakhat is the planet at the center of Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow", a first contact novel about a Jesuit mission to the first identified inhabited planet. Caleo (pronounced ka.le.o) is Latin for "I am warm or hot" also figuratively "I am warm, new or fresh", again a very suitable name for a planet that is clearly not in the Goldilocks Zone.

All this of course has been predictably poo-hoo-ed by the IAU who this week issued a press release assuring people they are doing their money.

Once again they miss the point, people who band together around a community of interest and put their money on the table for the common good, are creating new business models, and new methods are getting "more done with more". Once upon a time, we called these types of organizations co-ops. The Dairy Co-Ops of 30-40 years ago have been monstered by market economics, but the community spirit and sense of belonging that under pins much of our human need lives on.

Dr Pamela Gay has the most marketable commodity of all in her skillset - the ability to answer endless questions that are never treated as silly, and communicate science in a way that makes you want to be part of it. After 30 years of corporate life, my interest in Astronomy and in particular exo-planets was re-engaged by a seemly silly statement - "we will find a water world just waiting for a B Grade movie to be filmed on it". That statement was made by Pamela on a podcast - new media - reaching fresh faces through the new economic platform of the iTunes store.

What an impact that one "silly" statement has had: My telescope now does over 60 hours of science every month, it is a vital part of H06 the "Top 30" asteroid hunting Observatory run by, is used by Universities from Seoul to our friends in Boston, and I have been graciously included as a co-author on two science papers, due to my own observations.

LESSON: People WILL engage and contribute for the greater good, enabling science and education to do "more with more". Resources are abundant if you know how to gather people, leverage the crowd, and keep their strengths aligned to the goals of a community. Dr Pamela Gay and her amazing staff will prevail! The real question is will NASA be the beneficiaries or the spectators as this happens.

Astronomy's Paradigm is shifting - FAST! Are you going to make it happen, watch it happen, or wonder what happened!

Please support them at Cosmoquest.

Vote for Citizen Science at

Further reading: Astroswanny's great article on Astronomy 3.0 in the December 2012 newsletter of Variable Stars South.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Surfs Up for Burrunan Dolphins!

Today, a break from our usual Astronomy fare with a great video that is still somewhat related to science.

Having a short breather for our hard working students, we found ourselves on a deserted beach watching one of natures most exhilarating spectacles - Dolphins surfing!

The Pod of common bottlenose dolphins look positively pedestrian compared to the pod of Burrunan Dolphins (Tursiops Australis) that crashed the party and livened things up - A LOT!

Burrunan Dolphins were only identified as a separate species by Dr Kate Charlton-Robb as recently as 2011. They are found only in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes and are very rare with a known population of only 150, and only 50 of those in the Gippsland Lakes area. Little did we know whilst watching the free show, that these were very special dolphins.

On one very spectacular breach, I caught the sight of the white sides and tummy, thinking at the time that maybe there was a small Orca/Killer Whale out the back of the pack - I took a closer look at the footage when I got home, and thought - Hmmm I haven't seen any "black and white" dolphins before. So I started having a look around to see how many species of dolphins there were in Victoria, and found that this sounded like the new species that had been identified recently.

I took a couple of freeze frames off the video and sent them to Dr Kate and voila - some very special video footage indeed.

Burrunan Dolphins have a white side and underneath that comes up over the eye. In the video you can clearly see a number of them upside down under the wave crest, flashing their white tummies in the water like torpedoes. They are also known for their spectacular aerials which is clearly evident in the video.

We watched them for over 30 minutes, taking 10-20 mins to fish followed by catching a couple of waves then moving out to the fishing grounds again. We observed 2-3 full cycles of this behavior. It was a stunning day, on the outgoing tide in mild conditions.

So it was very far cry from "So long and thanks for all the fish" - these dolphins were having a ball and weren't going anywhere.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) Update

I will be following this fairly closely now, as most of the northern scopes are out of action as its too low to the horizon in the northern hemisphere now, but still high in the southern hemisphere.

Where else would you go but to Siding Spring itself and the 0.5m planewave at

This image was taken last night and shows a 3-4 arc-sec tail, still not much more than a fuzzy dot.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Carnival of Space 295

Well its Easter Sunday afternoon, and while many are contemplating substitutional atonement and triumphant returns, a full-on Dr Who Marathon is going on in the next room, eagerly awaiting, tonight's return of The Dr and souffle girl. So while the family review the journeys of the favored tenth Doctor, I get to stand in and take you on a real tour of the universe, bought to you by our regular Astronomy and Space Blog hosts.

Its Carnival Time!

Stars Blowing Up!

A Type II Supernova went off this week in M65, partially obscured by the waxing moon, Ian at Astroblog managed to capture the action.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory Blog discusses the birth and makeup of Neutron Stars. Find out what happens after a supernova!

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Other Worlds!

Emily from the Planetary Society brings us a round up of the latest science on mineralogy due to water on Mars from the 2013 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Water, water, everywhere - there is stunning imagery and some great papers, perhaps one of the most interesting is a paper on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Image Credit: NASA / JPL / UA

The Meridiani Journal asks, does Europa have Penitentes? Paul also looks at suggestions the Curiosity Rover may have found a rock varnish similar to a desert varnish found on arid rocks on Earth.

Again at the LPSC 2013, Van also writing for the Planetary Society, reports on the concepts for future missions to these distant worlds.

While we are on conferences - the Why Home School Blog brings us a preview and call-out for the upcoming Space Access Conference 2013 which will be held this year in Phoenix from April 11 to the 13th. This was the conference from which the idea of the Carnival of Space was born. As we approach the 300th episode, its important to remember the very first episode of Carnival of Space was hosted on the Why Home School Blog way back in 2007.

Near Misses!

Back to Astroblog, Ian has also created a Celestia plugin file which simulates the very close approach of Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) to Mars in Oct 2014. Latest details indicate it will approach at a distance of 4 times the distance to the Martian Moon Demios.

Ian also discusses the most recent internet hoax of a "non-close approach" of a fake asteroid, and what we can learn from such hoaxes.

Spacecraft propulsion!

Next Big Future reports on how nuclear fusion microbomb explosions could propel a spaceship to Mars at 200,000 miles per hour. The design is by Winterberg who developed the theory that would become the global positioning system and the designs that became project Daedelus. Edward Teller said Winterbergs contributions to the nuclear fusion bomb were underrated. Anything that uses multi-mega-amperegigavolt proton beams must be fast - right?

Brian also reports on a joint press conference with NASA and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on March 28,2013, where the company indicated it will try a water landing of its Falcon 9 first stage later this year. The landing will be the start of a series of flight tests that could culminate with an attempted propulsive landing of a first stage back at its launch site in the middle of 2014, Musk said. This could be the beginning of the reusable rocket age which would lower costs to space by 100 times.

Next Big Future also details another form of future propulsion - a 10 kilohertz high power high frequency laser that could enable a cheaper Large Hadron class particle accelerator and accelerate development of 75 megahertz laser fusion space propulsion.

Image Credit: NASA, John Chapman

The Urban Astronomer helps out a computer game designer with the question - do backward facing guns on a spaceship make it go faster?

Science and Education!

The Smaller Questions Blog reports on the latest data from the C-BASS or the "C Band all sky survey" from the Planck Space Telescope.

The Chandra Blog from time to time features profiles of talented astronomers. Paul Green is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His scientific research includes the study of quasars and carbon stars.

The Here, There & Everywhere Blog visits the Carmel High School library and planetarium in Indiana.

At the Aesthetics & Astronomy Project Blog, Amanda interviews Professor Smith from University of Otago about the wonder and sublime found in Astronomical images.

Finally, to test that Psychology of Aesthetics on my own AARTScope Blog, I have finally found some time to collect some photos of the Eta Carina Nebula and process a nice narrowband close-up of the pillars in the Keyhole Nebula. It contains scientific proof ..... "the universe is bigger on the inside" [Apologies to non Dr Who fans ;-) ]

Image Credit: Peter Lake, 0.5m Planewave Q62 Siding Spring, NSW.

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival, bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact carnivalofspace @ to be added to the editorial circulation list.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lock and Keys - Eta Carina

Its a long weekend and I finally got some time to do some image processing and writing.

Eta Carina Nebula is well known in the southern skies as a very large and bright complex nebula, lit up by the star Eta Carina. Even to the naked eye, and certainly even in a wide angle shot from a DLSR on a tripod, the tell-tale reddish blush can be seen even in long exposure star trail images.

Taken from iT30 the 0.5m Planewave at Siding Spring, it includes 5x300 Sec images in each of the Ha, Sii, Oiii and mapped to the "Hubble Pallet" of R=Sii, G=Ha and B=Oiii. As a narrowband image it takes a 3nm "slice" of the light at 672 nm for Sii, 656nm for Ha, and 501nm for Oiii and then we create a false color R-G-B image.

This image needs some more work as I haven't removed the pixel bleed caused by over exposing the star. Diffraction spikes look nice on an ABG (Antiblooming) Camera, but this was taken on a non-antiblooming camera and needs to be tidied up using some of the tools in the processing package. Given that the Nebula is so large it really requires a two frame mosaic to cover it all, I'll crop it down to the pillars at the bottom.

Still it gives you an idea of the great imaging that can be achieved by amateurs using the quality tools available at

Then comes the clean up of the stars, and everything looks great!

Step four is always: Get a good nights sleep and come back and have a fresh look at it in the morning, then subtly tweek some of the parameters. You can stare at an image so long you think that's no better or its not as good as it could be, when in actual fact its absolutely amazing and no-one has ever capture the subject quite that way before. The finished product is just spectacular!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Youtube Channel Makeover

Just a quick update today.

Youtube has done a makeover of their Youtube Channel pages, called "One Channel" with new features and functionality that improves the social media integration and gives more of a "Channel" feel to the site.

One of the great new features is the short Introductory trailer video that can be configured to play to all first time unsubscribed visitors to the users Channel Page. You can find the AARTScope Blog's One Channel page here.


So now you can now more directly engage with social media and merchandising, and Google plus and other social media platforms straight from the top level of the One Channel Page.

Also, I am hosting the carnival of space this weekend - so stay tuned for more great posts.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Comet Siding Spring? - So where the hell is Siding Spring anyway?

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is a comet that is currently about to create some headlines! Perhaps not due to where the name came from.....but where its going!! Close - Very, very, very close to Mars in October 2014.

Many questions......where to start!

Image Credit: 4m AAT at Siding Spring. (c)P.Lake

Like - why is this such an A1 comet? Perhaps we won't go the humor angle, but as it is the first comet of the new year, discovered by Rob McNaught that's just what it is A1. Rob McNaught is a well known asteroid and comet hunter (Observatory Code E12) who is the front line of southern asteroid hunting with over 450 asteroid discoveries to his credit. Some people think its A1 because there is a very slim chance, it just might, do something that no one has ever seen before - hit Mars.

Comet discoveries are announced by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams at the International Astronomy Union often after passing through the Minor Planet Center, and carry both the numerical designation and the name of the discoverer of the comet. Rob has so many discoveries he can pretty much name them what he likes.

C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is an apt name as it is where Rob does most of his work. The Siding Spring Observatory is a premier astronomy site managed by the Australian National University, and home of the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO). See my article on CosmoQuest about the recent fires that recently ripped through the area. It is also known as Mount Woorat in the Warrumbungle Ranges - Warrumbungle means "Crooked Mountains" in the local Aboriginal dialect.

Image Credit: The "crooked mountains" from the viewing platform behind the 4m Australian Astronomical Telescope. (c) P.Lake

There is a most interesting way to find your way to Siding Spring. In a master stroke of tourism marketing the local shire has constructed the world's longest Solar System Drive where no matter which direction you come from, you drive through a 1:38 million scale Solar System with great signage of each planet at strategic little stops along the highway. AND YES FOLKS.......Pluto is still a planet in this solar system, or at least deserving of a sign still at the little town of Bellata on the Newell Highway.

Talking of long distance travel..... NASA has a mission on its way to Mars, and of course, three rovers already there not to mention the other satellites in orbit. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) Mission is going to Mars to study the possible reason's for the loss of Mars atmosphere. It takes off on November 18 2013 and will arrive at Mars on September 16th 2014, just weeks before Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) has its incredibly close encounter with Mars. The latest astrometry being processed suggests the Coma could actually dust the surface of Mars if its current MOID (minimum distance) is proven to be correct and doesn't increase with the collection of more data. Its still early days in the data gathering!

The MAVEN Mission folks need to go an buy a lotto ticket - seriously! Whilst the NASA folks get the calculators out and evaluate the pros and cons of losing three rovers Vs Parking a satellite sent to study the volatile evolution of atmospheres inside the coma of a comet. Time will tell what they are going to be thinking about that!

Image Credit: Dr Ian Musgrave's [Astroblog] simulation in the Celestia Software package

On top of that, the chatter on the Minor Planet mailing lists is that if a (still very unlikely) impact were to occur, the energy release would be about 3 times as much as the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragment G that hit Jupiter on my birthday in 1994. Well placed in Australia, with the first impact just after dusk, I was one of the first in the world to see it live on my little 4.5 inch reflector with a maxed out barlow. This literally had a big impact on me and was one of two events that re-engaged me with my childhood love of astronomy. The cloud kicked up by SL-9 fragment G was bigger than Earth!

So one of my favourite spots on planet earth - Siding Spring is in the news again, hopefully we can all share some more excitement about the home of telescopes in the "Crooked Mountains".

PS: I'll grab some photos of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) from's Observatory as soon as the weather clears.

Friday, February 22, 2013

2012 DA14 Record close approach

The amazing events of the past astronomical week have been quite breath taking.

From discovering that Russia has the highest density of dashboard camera's of any nation on earth to the complete overshadowing of a significant asteroid pass by (in the tradition of modern TV Marketing) something that no-one saw coming!!!

What a week its been!

The interesting thing about the Chelyabinsk Meteor, according to NASA, its officially the biggest event/impact since Tunguska in 1908. 2008 TC3 about 5-8 meters diameter was the first asteroid to be picked up by astronomers just hours before it hit the earth over Sudan in October 2008, appears to have been somewhat smaller than the Chelyabinsk Meteor.

So here I am just as guilty spending all my time talking about the Chelyabinsk Meteor and not about 2012 DA14.

At its closest approach 2012 DA14 was hooting across the sky at 3000 arcsecs per minute, in fact it went from near the Southern Celestial Pole to close to the Northern Celestial Pole in less than 24 hours. It was very difficult to photograph, as until it began its seriously fast run across the sky, it was very low in the south and very close to the horizon limits of most telescopes and setting shortly after dark.

Image Credit - Observatory at Siding Spring - Peter Lake

Its now a little more reachable and travelling at a much slower speed, which means its time to get busy. The OSIRIS-Rex Team have also asked for photometry on it as well. It is now well placed in the north but as it Zooooooomed past earth, the new observatory was the center of the action with some great images shot from there, including one that made it onto the NASA News page by Ernesto Guido and Nick Howes.

Anyway I hope you little my little video of some of the action on the evening of the 18th Feb.

Clear Skies!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The dance of Jupiter and the Moon

Last night's Occultation of Jupiter by our Moon was a hoot.

Its actually quite deceptive, as due to the rotation of the earth, the moon moves across the sky fairly quickly, but takes some time to catch up with Jupiter, moving about 12 degrees per 24 hours against the back ground stars - half a degree per hour.

Jupiter for the purpose of this exercise is practically stationary, but you can see Jupiter's own moons move over the course of an hour.

An Occcultation occurs when the (our) Moon moves in front of Jupiter - This can happen a number of times in a year depending on where you are located, the last visible from South Australia in the predawn back in Oct 2012.

Last nights occultation resulted in a first touch at 22:56:17 Local (11:56 UT) and was complete at 23:07:48 12:07 UT).

In spite of a few dramas with flat camera batteries needing quick a re-charge and the Moon disappearing behind trees, it was a good result all round. ENJOY!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

99942 Apophis passes earth

Potentially hazardous asteroid 99942 Apophis passed earth this week allowing astronomers a window of opportunity to get some radar data (highly accurate) on it pass.

Astronomers from NASA, JPL and MPC announced that Apophis will miss the earth in 2036, something they were unable to definitely say previously.

I captured these images from the new iT30 0.5m Planewave at's new SSO observatory.

Also there is a little bonus at the end of the video with a scan code for a free download of my signature shot of the Swan Nebula. Enjoy!

Also please vote in my poll on how bright will Comet ISON be in 2013/2014. (see right hand side bar). I am going to try and up the level of interaction and rate of posts this year, as I am getting so much great feedback from you all.

Happy New Year and a great 2013 to you all!!!


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