Tuesday, January 30, 2007


i think these telescopes are so cute... and they kinda look like little marvin the martians or potato bugs!

this set of 6 telescopes on cerro tololo in chile make up PROMPT (Panchromatic Robotic Optical Monitoring and Polarimetry Telescopes), a program designed and built by the university of north carolina in chapel hill... the little marvins robotically slew to image gamma ray burst afterglows simultaneously with 6 different filters!

when theyre not tracking massive stellar explosions (or whatever else gamma ray bursts might be!), they are used remotely by students.

Hubble Loses a Camera

last night the hubble space telescope (HST) lost its advanced camera for surveys (ACS) :(

ACS has been running on its backup electrical system since last summer, but that failed last night. ACS has been taken an amazing amount of images of the universe including the deepest optical image ever taken, the hubble ultra-deep field!

almost every object in this image is a galaxy... each harboring hundreds of millions of stars!!

the electrical failure has not affected the other instruments on HST, so hubble can still use the other 3 instruments on board. the 5-day servicing mission scheduled for september 2008 will still occur as currently planned, but it will not change to fix ACS because that would take too much time and money.

ACS was expected to last 5 years and made it for 4.9! we got our moneys worth!! i'm actually writing a paper right now that included data taken with this camera! it has contributed immensly to our understanding and vision of the cosmos!



Monday, January 29, 2007

new constellations

a month out of germany, a week in chile, and i still find it necessary to remind myself of the proper affirmation... "ja ja, er, i mean, si si!" haha! i wonder how long it will take me to switch into spanish mode?

along with a new culture and language surrounding me, my day to day astronomical mindset has drastically changed as well. in munich, i worked at the max-planck institute for extraterrestrial physics to produce a paper on my dissertation research. i was surrounded by three different world-class astronomy institutes and felt (embarrassingly) giddy walking into a colloquium hall and seeing astronomers who have seemed "famous" to me during my graduate school days of reading sooooo many of their papers! at the same time, i felt respected, challenged and intrigued to comprehend and discuss the leading issues is modern astronomy! research, publish, research... what an exciting adventure it was....

now i've switched gears a bit, working for the gemini-south observatory, living in la serena, chile. i arrived last sunday and have spent the week aquainting myself with new people, my new home and my new job. i'm a member of the gemini science team that is commissioning the new FLAMINGOS-2 instrument... once it arrives after being built in florida.

there are meetings here everyday to discuss and organize the operations of the gigantic 8.1-meter (diameter of the main mirror) gemini telescope. it's confusing to jump into a group that uses acronyms for nearly half of their words!! the majority of my observing has been on the old, highly rigged and relatively simple 2.7-m telescope at the mcdonald observatory in west texas, so it's quite amazing and informative to learn about all the intricate mechanisms that have been put in place on gemini to correct for things like the atmospheric blurring of light, for example!!

on saturday a few of us drove 2 hours east to observe with gemini for 4 nights (pictures)! my new boss, marcel, is the official astronomer for these nights and i'm just here to learn as much as possible... which hasnt been a problem so far! the full workings of this telescope combine to produce one of the most complicated systems i've ever seen! no wonder so many people meet everyday to discuss every issue behind its operations. there are so many complicated individual procedures that work without the observers even having to think about them (until they dont work, of course)...

in addition to the observations, i got to see comet mcnaught last night (see previous post) and i've been able to explore the whole southern sky! it's like a whole new universe but with the same familiar milky way disk rising and setting.... orion stands on his head... alpha centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor, shines brightly and points to the southern cross which reminds me of the harmonic crosby, stills, nash and young lyrics...

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day

fun night time photos

yesterday we drove two hours east of la serena for my first observing run on gemini-south telescope (more on that later)... i also caught my first real glimpse of comet mcnaught! i was worried that mcnaught would be too faint to see since it's dimming every night as it flies away from the sun and the waxing moon grows brighter! i'm pleased to say i was not disappointed and caught this shot! i exposed for 15 seconds with my little digi camera on a tiny tripod... while standing very still letting the moon light illuminate my body! i took a few more long exposures that you can check out at the "new photo galleries" listed in the side bar.

Friday, January 19, 2007

doomsday clock reset

there is a doomsday clock at the university of chicago that was initially set up 60 years ago to assess the threat facing the human race as determined by a board of the bulletin of the atomic scientists. for the first time in five years, the minute hand moved 2 minutes closer to the ultimate.... midnight.

us humans have increasingly threatened our own existence... the current main hazards being (1) nuclear weapon proliferation and (2) global warming.

the movement of the doomsday clock's hand was a "measurable indicator of how bad things are. If some of the world's smartest scientists are saying we are now closer to doomsday, it should focus attention on both the problems, and the urgency of finding solutions," says american non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione.

the bush administration "came in determined to make a radical change and they made it. It was a complete disaster. Every member of what they call the `axis of evil' is a greater threat now than it was before they came to power. They thought they could use the blunt instrument of military might to overthrow evil regimes. But instead of intimidating countries, they made things worse."


and then there's global warming... in my opinion the best thing that we a human beings can do it to start conserving.... conserve materials and energy!! reduce the amount of waste we produce as individual people. dont throw things away that can be reused or recycled. turn lights off in a room when you leave. use public transportation or ride a bike.... it's healthier for each of us and our earth!!

here's a list of things that the EPA recommends each of us can do on a daily basis:
what you can do!

it's up to us at this point and every little thing we do counts!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

cool comet

look in the direction where the sunsets. for the next few days, just after the bright ball sets, comet mcnaught appears visible to the naked eye! it hangs just below and to the right of the bright blue evening star, venus. if youre an early riser, look to the east where comet mcnaught will precede the sun, welcoming us all to the day.

read and see more photos here: http://www.spaceweather.com/comets/gallery_mcnaught.htm

and on APOD

read more on what comets are here

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Top Astronomy Images

one of my favorite bloggers, the bad astronomer produced a great blog about his top ten astronomy images of 2006.

i agree fully that the image of saturn in my favorite of the year! enjoy!