Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Star Formation Region Gum 41.
This new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that causes the surrounding hydrogen to glow with a characteristic red hue.

This area of the southern sky, in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), is home to many bright nebulae, each associated with hot new-born stars that formed out of the clouds of hydrogen gas. The intense radiation from the stellar new-borns excites the remaining hydrogen around them, making the gas glow in the distinctive shade of red typical of star-forming regions. Another famous example of this phenomenon is the Lagoon Nebula, a vast cloud that glows in similar bright shades of scarlet.

Monday, 28 April 2014


The magnetosphere is a protective field that extends thousands of miles into space. Its magnetism affects everything from global communication to weather patterns. Created by the Earth’s spinning molten core, its existence means that the charged particles of the solar wind are unable to cross the magnetic field lines and are deflected around the Earth towards the poles. This causes beautiful auroras, sometimes appearing far south of their indigenous polar regions, like the recent displays in mid latitude zones.

This life-protecting magnetic field, has decreased by fifteen per cent over the last two centuries. Some scientists think this could be an indication that the Earth’s poles are about to exhibit a long overdue flip. The Earth would be exposed to ozone layer damaging solar winds while power supplies are wiped out, the climate is changed and cancer rates rocket.


This artist's conception shows the object named WISE J085510.83-071442.5, the coldest known brown dwarf. This cool star-like body is as frosty as the North Pole. It is also the fourth closest system to our sun, at 7.2 light-years from Earth. Image Credit: Penn State University/NASA/JPL-Caltech.


NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered what appears to be the coldest "brown dwarf" known - a dim, star-like body that, surprisingly, is as frosty as Earth's North Pole.

 Images from the space telescopes also pinpointed the object's distance to 7.2 light-years away, earning it the title for fourth closest system to our sun. The closest system, a trio of stars, is Alpha Centauri, at about 4 light-years away.

"It's very exciting to discover a new neighbour of our solar system that is so close," said Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University's Centre for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, University Park.

 "And given its extreme temperature, it should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures."

Brown dwarfs start their lives like stars, as collapsing balls of gas, but they lack the mass to burn nuclear fuel and radiate starlight. The newfound coldest brown dwarf is named WISE J085510.83-071442.5. It has a chilly temperature between minus 48 to minus 13 degrees Celsius. Previous record holders for coldest brown dwarfs, also found by WISE and Spitzer, were about room temperature.


Annular solar eclipse, as seen in these time lapse images taken at the Jansky Very Large Array, west of Socorro, New Mexico on May 20, 2012.

On Tuesday 29 April 2014, tomorrow, an annular solar eclipse will occur. Eclipses occur when our moon moves between the Earth and the Sun blocking the Sun's light. Tomorrow's eclipse is known as an annular eclipse and is a little different to what we might think of as a 'normal' solar eclipse where the Sun completely disappears behind the Moon.

Due to the current distance of the Moon from the Earth as it orbits, the relative size of the Moon will not appear large enough in the sky to block out all of the light from the Sun. Instead it will cause the Sun to appear as a bright ring as the outer edges of the Sun are seen shining around the Moon at the height of the eclipse. The resulting ring of light is known as the 'annulus' or 'the ring of fire'.

Sadly this amazing sight will only be visible in a few areas of the world. The total annular eclipse will in fact be visible only from a very remote and uninhabited area of Antarctica where the instant of the greatest eclipse will be at 06:03 UTC. The south of Indonesia and Australia will however get a chance to see at least a partial eclipse.

If you do happen to be lucky enough to catch a view remember that you should never look directly at the Sun when trying to view an eclipse. One of the easiest ways to safely watch it is to create a projection of it. A cheap and easy way it to create your own pinhole camera!

Watch the Annular Eclipse LIVE direct from the Slooh Telescope, Australia

The next annular solar eclipse will not occur until September 2016. Although a little bit of a while to wait the good news is that it should be easier to view. Much of Africa should this time be able to see the event as well as Antarctica, Australia and south Asia.


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Friday, 25 April 2014


Relative sizes of the planets in the Solar System and several well-known stars:
Mercury < Mars < Venus < Earth
Earth < Neptune < Uranus < Saturn < Jupiter
Jupiter < Wolf 359 < Sun < Sirius
Sirius < Pollux < Arcturus < Aldebaran
Aldebaran < Rigel < Antares < Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse < Mu Cephei < VV Cephei A < VY Canis Majoris


One of the really awesome and mind-blowing aspects of astronomy is the sheer immense scale of the distances between planets, stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters. Our everyday terrestrial notions of scale, size, and distance must be discarded, even if we just consider a transit between the Earth and Mars. Kilometres first fall as units of measurement, then astronomical units (AU)(one AU is the distance between the Earth and Sun) -- when we start to consider interstellar distances we have to look at light years as units of measurement (the distance that light travels in one year).

If distances become truly 'astronomical', then it comes as no surprise that likewise sizes and masses follow suit. We all think that the Sun is massive, and it is, with a radius of 695,990km, this is 109 times that of the Earth. With a mass of 1.989x1030 kg, the Sun has the equivalent of 333,000 Earth masses, and yet it is still just a run-of-the-mill yellow dwarf class G2 star. As the diagram above shows, although there are many considerably smaller than the Sun (very common red dwarf stars) such as our nearest neighbour Proxima Centauri, there are also stars very much more massive.

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 http://www.webs.com/. 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!