Monday, 14 April 2014



It’s the story of how we, and all of the creatures with whom we share the Earth came to be. It’s an epic tale to rival the best Shakespearean tragedy or our best works of literature. It’s the story of how we and everything we see was literally ‘made in heaven’, and it confidently predicts what our fate may be...

Stars do not live forever, and our Sun will one day die, and with it all life on Earth. Five billion years from now, when our planet has been incinerated to a crisp, our local star will have run out of the fuel that powers its nuclear fusion. Its hydrogen depleted and all consumed, it will have metamorphosed from the relatively stable yellow dwarf star that we see today into a bloated angry red giant, its outer layers and atmosphere occupying most of the inner solar system.

Indeed, the Sun is already imperceptibly increasing in temperature – it’s 20 per cent hotter now than when the Earth coalesced out of the Sun’s proto-planetary disk 4½ billion years ago, and within a couple of hundred million years the Earth will become uninhabitable. This chain of events is inevitable and, over different time periods, happens to all stars.

Stars coalesce by gravity out of clouds of interstellar gas, made up largely of the original constit-uent elements of the universe: about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, plus trace amounts of lithium – the latter two termed ‘metals’ in the unorthodox nomenclature of astronomy.

Sunday, 13 April 2014


 Europe Seeks Greater Cooperation with Russia on Space Projects. A Soyuz booster lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome taking a joint European and Russian crew to the International Space Station.
The European Space Agency (ESA) will not limit its space cooperation with Russia as it has
earlier been done by the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), Russian Federal Space Agency deputy head Sergey Saveliev told a teleconference at ITAR-TASS ahead of Cosmonautics Day marked in Russia on April 12, 2014.

“There will be no sanctions from European partners,” he said. “On the contrary, there are plans to expand our cooperation.”

Saveliev recalled that ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will launch as a member of an international crew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome on May 28 to begin a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

“A large delegation from the European Space Agency is expected at Baikonur,” he added.

Progress supply ship docks with ISS

Last week, the US space agency posted on its Twitter and Facebook accounts a statement announcing the suspension of cooperation with Russia in an apparent move of siding with Washington administration’s sanctions in regard to Moscow over the situation in Ukraine.

NASA’s decision to suspend the majority of space cooperation projects with Russia was accepted not only with bewilderment among Russian space experts, but also drew criticism inside the US space agency as well. A number of Russian space experts remarked that the suspension of cooperation would be to the detriment of NASA itself.

Speaking about these sanctions against Russia, the Roscosmos official said: “We depend on each other to a large extent. This (NASA sanctions) is an incautious step.

Original Source: Rianovosti


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Friday, 11 April 2014


In 1961 President John F. Kennedy promised that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The sheer audacity and scale of Kennedy’s vision is now hard to comprehend. It would cost $120 billion, employ 400,000 people at its peak, use rockets and computers not yet even imagined, let alone designed, and new alloys yet to be discovered.
Before the Apollo project began NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs put astronauts into Earth orbit and tested docking procedures necessary for a lunar landing. Launched by the largest rocket built, the mighty Saturn V, the Apollo spacecraft was made up of three parts.

It's Christmas Day, 1968 and the crew of NASA's Apollo
8 take a photograph that would become the iconic image
of the sixties. It would also become the most profound
environmental photograph of all time.
They called it 'Earthrise'.
These were the command module where the astronauts lived on the journey and the only part that returned to Earth; the service module that provided the power and consumables; and the lunar module that would allow the astronauts to descend to the lunar surface.

The first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon was Apollo 8 on Christmas Day, 1968, famous for the iconic ‘Earthrise’ photograph that showed the fragility of our planet along with Commander Jim Lovell’s beautiful Genesis narrative. On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. On July 20, 1969 the lunar module "Eagle", with Armstrong and Aldrin aboard descended to the Sea of Tranquillity on the lunar surface, an event watched by millions worldwide on television. Armstrong lowered a ladder and stepped down on the moon's surface. It was "one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind." It was the first step by mankind on another world.

Friday, 4 April 2014


BBC2's Stargazing Live presenters: Brian Cox and Dara O Briain. Photograph courtesy of the BBC.

The late NASA astronomer and science populariser Dr Carl Sagan once wrote about his passion for science stating that when you’re in love with someone or something, you want to tell the world. And he was in love with science and astronomy.

To socialise is a strong human trait, we are after all perhaps the most social of animals; hence the popularity of internet social media such as Facebook and Twitter. And such media are a potent tool when it comes to inspiring others to become involved with our own interests and hobbies. It’s what the Chief Executive Officer of the Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society, the Science and Planetary Guy Bill Nye calls sharing the P, B and J; the Passion, Beauty and Joy of astronomy and space exploration.

So who inspired you into the subject of astronomy, space exploration and science? Was it one
The late Sir Partrick Moore, presenter of BBC1's Sky at
programme for over fifty years.
of the pioneering popularisers of the twentieth century using broadcast media to convey their interest and passion and to help inspire you into the hobby or perhaps scientific career?

Perhaps it was Jacob Bronowski, David Attenborough, Carl Sagan or Sir Patrick Moore. Or perhaps it was one of the contemporary popularisers of science such as Dr Brian Cox or Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson. It could have been reading up on the lives and thoughts of the early Ancient Greek natural philosophers or indeed perhaps discovering the paradigm-shifting discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein or Hubble. Or it could have been a friend or family member who shared and inspired you into their passion, perhaps even throwing in some optical equipment such as a pair of binoculars or a telescope!
Whoever it was, why not give something back to the subject and spread the word of science? If you’re enthralled by astronomy and have experienced the spiritual uplift of realising your place in space and time you quite possibly have a yearning to share your interest and lobby to support initiatives in science and space exploration.

You may be a member of your local astronomical society, but you’re possibly wondering what else can you do to promote your passion and hobby? In the twenty first century there’s much you can do without even leaving the comfort of your own home. For starters, why not join an astronomy forum, or even better, join the blogosphere. You’ll soon be publishing by registering free for a service such as Google Blogger, or start a traditional website at one of the free web hosts such as If you can find objects in the night sky through a telescope and know how to switch a computer “on”, you’ll find publishing on the internet easier than A, B, C!

If you’re into astro-imaging then this is a great place to upload and showcase your images
, videos or sketches. Alternatively you can publish your own astronomy posts on subjects of your choice. These may include your observing notes, articles and news from the world of astronomy and cosmology that you may wish to publicise. In addition to your own articles, guest bloggers can be engaged and of course press releases and photographs can be reproduced without royalties from organisations such as NASA, JPL, ESA, the European Southern Observatory, the W M Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and indeed virtually every other astronomical research establishment in the world! Publicising your posts for free on social media and bookmarking sites such as Reddit, Stumbleupon, Facebook or Twitter will mean your blog will soon be attracting thousands of readers and subscribers, along with all of their comments (which you can moderate!).

M31, the stunning Andromeda Galaxy 
M27 the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula.
In addition to the internet there’s also astronomy society member magazines where you can share your experiences with other astro-folk. Or perhaps you could share your passion by producing an astronomy society meeting presentation on a subject of your choice.  
Of course, there’s also helping at a star party, perhaps at a planetarium or, as I have done recently in connection with BBC2’s Stargazing LIVE at another venue altogether.

In the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds takes the inter-relationship between birds, other wildlife and the natural environment, including the night sky and I had great fun helping out at a star party with members of the general public, who were thrilled to view the night sky through a large 200mm Newtonian Reflector. The staff too at the superb RSPB field centre at Saltholme near Port Clarence, were also thoroughly enthralled!

If you have connections with the media then network and utilise your contacts and skills. Local newspaper editors particularly like ready made articles about astronomy, cosmology and science in general. This is particularly the case now as competition from the internet and new media means many newspaper groups no longer have the funds to employ dedicated science correspondents. Well-written press releases with succinct information and contact details are much appreciated. An example of what can be achieved is illustrated by a recent interview I had with Stuart Arnold at the Northern Echo. My input was part of a story that again was being published to celebrate BBC2‟s Stargazing LIVE entitled Fresh Focus on the Night Sky.

Astronomy Live and On Air direct from the presenter on
local FM radio.
Of course if one’s work and passion for astronomy can be included in the free-to-air broadcast media then a real sense of fulfilment can be achieved and you can literally have the attention of thousands of viewers or listeners for maximum impact! Perhaps eventually your astro-photography will be featured on the BBC1’s very popular Sky at Night programme. Now that would be an inspiration indeed for all budding astro-imagers!

I managed to dovetail my lifelong interest in radio, music and astronomy into a weekly five minute slot on my programme on a local radio station that and was well aware of the popularity of astronomy due in part to the success of Dr Brian Cox’s numerous BBC television series. Recordings of the weekly segment were edited and stored as a podcast download on iTunes.

And then there is the possibility of narrating and publishing your own podcast or presenting a strand on a pre-existing podcast or web radio show, such as the segment I present on Podcast-UFO.

Don’t forget to tailor the broadcast to the general public. Of course one is always open to the accusation of ‘dumbing down’ the subject, but since April, 2012 I’ve managed to cover subjects in an interesting and inspirational style as diverse as black holes, exoplanets orbiting Alpha Centauri B, astrophysics, numerous constellations, SETI, along with a monthly ‘What’s Up?’ segment. It’s amazing what you can communicate in a few minutes on the radio, and hopefully through my sound bites, the seeds are being sown in the minds of some of our listeners to explore the subject further.

Popularising astronomy either via star parties and outreach work or via the media is a very rewarding past time and one I can certainly recommend to anyone. Carl Sagan said many times that it is the birth-rite of every child to know their true co-ordinates in space and time, and by now you may think you can help in and enjoy the task of enlightening the public.

Your involvement will also bring one further massive benefit for astronomy and science that I haven’t mentioned: the public are the ones who pay the bill via their taxes for much astronomical research and exploration either solely in the UK or as collaborative efforts with other countries via projects such as the European Space Agency or the Large Hadron Collider.

It’s vitally important that amateur astronomers get as many members of the public interested in science as possible to bring pressure to bear on elected politicians to save funding for science. When politicians and the electorate are confronted by cost-saving measures, it’s another field that’s cut, rather than the scientific seed corn upon which our future technology, economy and ultimately the UK‟s future success will be built.

Who knows, something may even be done about light pollution… now that would be a real result!!


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Thursday, 3 April 2014


What’s that really, really bright star slightly south west of overhead (or zenith) at the moment that you can see from all over the Northern Hemisphere at dusk?  Well actually, it’s not a star it’s the solar system gargantuan gas giant planet Jupiter, which is making its presence felt in no uncertain terms at the moment.  Jupiter is nearly large enough to be regarded as a failed star.  It has a similar composition to the Sun that is mainly hydrogen and helium and emits large quantities of radiation.

It’s easy to tell it’s not a star as planets don’t twinkle.  Planets are very close to the Earth in astronomical terms and hence unlike stars aren’t point sources of light, but show proper discs.  If you look at Jupiter with binoculars you'll probably see on either side of it some of its entourage of moons. With a telescope you should be able to make out a couple of dark belts crossing its disc.

These are the planet’s spectacular cloud bands composed mainly of methane and ammonia, impurities in the planet’s immense atmosphere.  Look closely and you’ll see a gigantic red spot, a huge storm that has raged for over four hundred years!


Despite having a couple of sizable telescopes my favourite piece of astronomical equipment is still a humble pair of binoculars that I bought at a car boot sale for under 5GBP!  They are portable, light and easy to use on cold, damp but clear nights!

My 10 x 50 Super Zenith binoculars bought for 5GBP second hand.
 With a Field of View (FOV) of 5.5 degrees they make for fantastic
views of open star clusters and some of the brighter deep sky
objects such as M31 The Andromeda Galaxy and M42, the Great

Nebula in Orion.
And they are all you need to get the ‘wow’ factor from a selection of objects that are annoyingly just beneath naked eye visibility in this month’s night sky. From a reasonably dark location in the Northern Hemisphere binoculars will bring the Andromeda Galaxy into view, along with the star forming nebula in the hunter’s sword in the constellation of Orion after dusk.

The moons of Jupiter will magically appear, as will a multitude of star clusters.  Paradoxically, some objects actually appear more spectacular through binoculars than through a telescope, due to their large field of view. The Seven Sisters or Pleiades is an example of this, and binoculars show that there are many more stars in the cluster than just seven!  The Moon is stunning at any time with its craters such as the magnificent Tycho and Copernicus.  Binoculars will give you great views of the lunar Mare or Seas such as the Sea of Tranquility where men first landed in July 1969!

Monday, 31 March 2014


A Book Review byANDY FLEMING

The remit of this book is staggering – it is no less than the coverage of the development of cosmology from its beginnings in antiquity right up to the theory of the multiverse, and the fact that our universe may be just one of an infinite number, each possessing physical forces and constants with different strengths to ours. The fact that the publication is targeted at the lay person (who may have little knowledge of cosmology and astronomy), makes the remit even more remarkable.

Kaku is one of the co-founders of a branch of String Theory and as such, one may start to read the book with the misconception that its contents will be biased towards the perspective of this particular theory. However, this is not the case, and the reader is firstly treated to a commendably objective history of astronomy, classical physics and the Copernican/Galilean Revolution, relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, and the discovery of dark energy and dark matter, along with some extremely well written explanations and diagrams.

The overriding power of modern cosmology in explaining the universe – the marriage of the study of large scale objects such as galaxies groups, with that of very small scale subatomic particles is a growing theme throughout the book, and includes a superb explanation of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, and culminates in a discussion of the Standard Model, Inflation, and the five eras of the development of our universe.