Wednesday, December 31, 2014


almost time to enjoy sydney's famous end of the year ritual - FIREWORKS!  

but first, a slightly different perspective of the festive explosions... Flowerworks by Sarah Illenberger

Thursday, December 25, 2014

merry beachmas

i'm staying in the southern hemisphere this year for the holidays, which is a change of plans due to still recovering from surgery.  i've been house-sitting for some friends who live on one of sydney's lovely northern beaches.  i've been taking advantage of the ocean side pool because i am finally able to swim a few laps again!  the water is cold and salty, but the activity feels great after a couple months necessary rest.

hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and manage to get some necessary down time with family and/or friends.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

classic astronomy question

i did a live radio show tonight, welcoming callers to ask any space-related question they wanted. the first caller was an 8 year old girl who asked "are stars made of gas?" (yes.) then she said her brother was with her and wanted to ask a question and was that ok? (sure.) the brother grabbed the phone, took an audible breath, and TOTALLY snuck in "how big is uranus?" LIVE ON AIR! haha! props, kid!

what would your answer have been?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

bouncing on a comet.

humans landed a robot on a comet last week for the first time.  yeehaw! a collaboration of scientists and engineers from 20 countries made this happen through the european space agency.

the rosetta spacecraft traveled through the solar system for 10 years, getting gravity assists from earth a few times and mars before reaching its destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

space craft selfie with its solar panel and comet 67P

the philae lander drifitng away from rosetta on its way to comet 67P

the philae lander spotting its landing site

unfortunately, philae did not stick the landing and drifted and bounced twice across the surface. scientists werent exactly sure where philea drifted to at first, but this morning released this compilation of images from Rosetta's camera OSIRIS. WOW! at the time, Rosetta was 15.5 km from the comet's surface. the images have a resolution of 28 cm/pixel and the enlarged insets are 17 x 17 m.

Credit: ESA
this is what philea saw upon settling still.  captions by emily lakdawalla.

philea now rests still, in hibernation.  it landed in a spot that doesnt have enough sunlight to supply energy to its working solar panel.  luckily, the little robot managed to collect all the data it was designed to collect during its short initial lifespan, AND it successfully sent all the data back to earth.
it's an exciting time for all those scientists.  i hope they got some sleep after a few days of incredible activity.  lots of science to do now.... i cant wait to hear what they find!

for your entertainment, watch the event as is played out through randall munroe's live-comic-blogging!  relive the experience here:

Friday, November 14, 2014

but i didnt mean it like that

i'll be posting about the exciting robot landing on a comet for the first time ever very soon, but i want to quickly address an aspect of the comet landing relating to the "what not to wear to a comet landing" fiasco.

of course most people arent purposely trying to offend others with their words or actions, but sometimes it happens unintentionally and needs to be acknowledged, not ignored. it's easy to say “Oh I didn’t mean it like that” or “You’re interpreting it the wrong way,” but the intent doesn’t really matter because it’s a matter of intent versus *impact*.

As chescaleigh says brilliantly in this video (posted below),

"It doesn’t matter in these instances what you meant. What matters is what's the outcome of what you said or what you did. I use the example of stepping on somebody’s foot. I might step on your foot and break your toe. I didn’t mean to break your toe, but your toe is still broken and it still really hurts, so instead of talking about what you meant to do, talk about what you actually did."

so how should you respond if you or someone you know unintentionally offends someone? watch this video and listen to her words, or read the transcript here.

why we shouldnt ignore instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc...

just because someone doesnt intend to do harm doesnt make it permissible for them to do so. i've talked to people who were unintentionally making others uncomfortable. they didnt realise their behaviours were doing so and felt awful once they realised. they changed their behaviours (even if its as simple as changing some specific words they use) and everyone was much better off. these things shouldnt be ignored. 

the only way racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. will get any better is if people other than just the victims recognise, acknowledge and speak up when injustices happen. we can be easily blinded by privilege.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

light as a feather

Physicist Brian Cox visited NASA’s Space Power Facility in Cleveland, Ohio (!!!) to perform a fantastic science experiment!

did anyone ever tell you that a bowling ball and a feather would fall at equal speeds if it weren't for air resistance?  i didnt think it would be so interesting to watch the actual experiment, but they did a great job with this short clip!

Monday, October 20, 2014

watching comet siding spring approach mars

i work with a very interesting doer-of-all-astronomy-tech-things steve lee (of "Steve and the Stars" fame).  over the last couple nights, as comet siding spring has rushed towards mars at 56 km/s, steve has been taking images using two of his own telescopes that live near siding spring observatory in new south wales, australia.

the distant astronomical objects i study in the universe do not really change or move noticeably in the time that i've been studying them (or even over a human lifetime).  so i find it very exciting to be able to watch a comet zoom across a field of view over the period of 24 hours!

here are two images of comet siding spring, mars, and milky way dust taken 24 hours apart using the same setup (90mm refractor + Canon 6D, 7x1min exposures summed), but cropped slightly differently. you can clearly see the motions of both the comet and mars again the background stars and dust contours of the milky way galaxy.

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 18 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee
Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 19 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee 

now for a different comparison - here is an image of the same region of sky, but captured through a different telescope setup and exposure detail (31cm f/5 Newtonian + Canon 6D,  single 2 minute exposure).

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust taken 19 Oct 2014 by Steve Lee
cool stuff.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

comet siding spring and mars

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will pass within 139,500 km (86,000 miles) of the surface of Mars at 5:51 tomorrow morning (Monday 20 Oct, Sydney time - or 19 October at 18:51 UTC).  This means Comet Siding Spring will pass 10 times closer to Mars than any (recorded) comet has flown by Earth!  But it will be traveling at 50 km/s which is too fast to be captured by Mars's gravitational pull.

Comet Siding Spring was discovered by Rob NcNaught at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales on 3 January 2013.  Last night Steve Lee took this beautiful image of Comet Siding Spring and Mars against the dusty backdrop of the Milky Way using a 90mm refractor and Canon 6D camera, from a location VERY CLOSE to siding spring observatory!

Comet Siding Spring, Mars, and Milky Way dust (Photo by Steve Lee (AAO))
The comet is still composed of the pristine material the solar system was made from, which will give insights into the formation of planets!

more info about the comet from Dr bruce betts:

For a list of ways to view the comet (if you dont have your own telescope or are covered in clouds), see The Planetary Society blog by the great Emily Lakdawalla here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

steve and the stars

i'm SO EXCITED to finally get to reveal this short film "steve and the stars" to everyone. i worked with the bluebottle group to produce it for the AAO. i think it captures the excitement and wonder, that cosmic vertigo that comes when thinking about our place in this unfathomably huge universe of ours. so lucky to be able to do this as my job!

the official blurb and behind-the-scenes shots while filming in july 2014!

Ever wonder what it's like to stay up all night using a world class 4-metre telescope?

In celebration of 40 years of discovery with the AAT, the AAO has made a short film, Steve and the Stars. 
The star of the show is Head Telescope Operator, Steve Lee, who has worked at the AAT for almost its entire 40 years of operation. 
Steve guides this video tour of working with the AAT, exploring how observational techniques have changed from the 1970s to today's digital age, and the AAT’s exciting future pursuing more world-class discoveries.

The live footage was shot and edited in July 2014 by Bluebottle Films with time-lapse material by AAO's Angel Lopez-Sanchez.

just hanging with the tarantula nebula and the large magellanic cloud :)

danielle and james from bluebottle films.  great to work with them!

Never tire of sunrises on siding spring observatory

with david malin, one of the stars of the show!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

an eclipse triptych

for the three eclipse visible in australia this year, geoff sims (beneath beyond) managed to rush away from most clouds to film each event! he gorgeously captures australian landscapes, cloud motions, and lunar and solar eclipses in this time-lapse video. 

- Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15th) near Byron Bay
- Partial Solar Eclipse (April 29th) on the edge of the Blue Mountains
- Total Lunar Eclipse (October 8th) near Lithgow

An Eclipse Triptych from Geoff Sims on Vimeo.

the final eclipse shown, which took place last wednesday evening, was happening when i busted my knee playing soccer. more news on that after i visit the sports medicine doctor tomorrow. my guess: not good at all :(

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

carrying a nobel prize through airport security

physics nobel prize winner brian schmidt told scientific american a funny story about what it's like to take a nobel prize medal through airport security!  apparently solid gold shows up completely black through the x-ray machine.
“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’
I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’
They said, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’
I said, ‘gold.’
And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’
‘The King of Sweden.’
‘Why did he give this to you?’
‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”
according to a colleague of mine, Brian's answer to "Why were you in Fargo?" was "To see my Meemaw."   :)

Brian Schmidt giving the 2013 Bok Lecture at StarFest on Siding Spring Observatory

Monday, October 13, 2014


in case any of you are of the twitter persuasion, i will be taking over the astrotweeps twitter account this week.

here is a short bio that mentions several topics i will be talking about throughout the week, in addition to my general daily schedule and highlights from recent events.

This week features Amanda Bauer. Amanda is a research astronomer and outreach officer at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) based in Sydney, Australia. She started this 50/50 role one year ago and is still exploring how to maximise both research and science communication without working WAY too much!
Her research explores variations in how galaxies form, how they live their lives, and how they evolve into the diverse array of galaxy species we see today. She uses surveys with thousands or hundreds of thousands of galaxies, like GAMA and the SAMI Galaxy Survey, to investigate what physical processes regulate star formation inside galaxies that live in different cosmic environments.
Her passion for science communication through her personal @astropixie account has lead to her ability to do this as 50% of her official job. As the first outreach officer at the AAO, she is developing a strategy to capture and communicate the excitement of new astronomical discoveries and innovative engineering feats occurring within the AAO and the astronomical community.

a bit more about astrotweeps:
Astrotweeps started with the Hack Day at the 223rd American Astronomical Society meeting. Each week we feature an astronomer or planetary scientist that takes over the @astrotweeps account and tweets about their science, research, and interesting news in their field. You can follow along on TwitterFacebook, or right here on the Astrotweeps webpage
We’ll post a blog giving you some background on our featured scientist at the beginning of the week. You can can post questions by tweeting to @astrotweeps or posting in the blog comments. Check out the schedule of astrotweeps and follow along!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

(Sci-fi) books recommended

i asked twitter for some book recommendations.  either my twitter followers read a lot of science fiction, or they think i should read a lot more!

thought i'd share the list here, in case anyone is looking for new books. the ones i've chosen to start with are The Martian by Andy Weir and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which each received quite a few independent recommendations!

the new ann leckie book, if you like sci-fi
fun sci fi-ish books: redshirts, ready player one, & mr. Penumbra's 24 hour bookstore
Brandon Sanderson series
great nonfiction: the immortal life of henrietta lacks & anything by mary roach (packing for mars is great)
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer (sci-fi)
The Martian by Andy Weir (tale of Mars survival).
Fantasy-ish, which I usually don't like. Mistborn trilogy is complete. New one starts with Way of Kings -- also good.
Lock In (John Scalzi),
Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Clare North),
Girl with all the Gifts (M. Carey)
Southern Reach
Octavia Butler is always awesome. Martian and California are pretty good newer sci fi too :)
@jasperfforde's marvellous Thursday Next series. Starts with The Eyre Affair. Scifi, humorous, crime drama.
Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson….
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
for a long recuperation: the Horatio Hornblower series.
@robertjbennett 's City of Stairs
Everything by @JonathanLHoward : start w/Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.
anything by Daryl Gregory or @maxgladstone .
Best non-fic of my year: Tony Judt's Postwar. Also Bloodlands (tho a painful read).
the Long Earth trilogy.
Unbearable Lightness of Being
@cantrell's Containment

feel free to add your own in the comments and i'll update the list. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Australian Astronomical Observatory on YouTube!

i've been working to launch an AAO YouTube channel and guess what - it finally happened!  our first instalment is a new time-lapse video from AAO's Angel Lopez-Sanchez filmed at siding spring observatory.

please enjoy "the sky over siding spring observatory" and subscribe to the AAO's YouTube channel to keep up to date with the video releases i'll be posting once a month or so.  topics to be covered include: what is a spectrum, a short documentary about observing, how we re-aluminize the 4-meter telescope mirror, the construction of a new $18 million dollar instrument, and possibly a ukulele rock video ;)  stay tuned!

Monday, September 22, 2014


introducing HeForShe - a fantastic initiative launched by emma watson at the UN this week.  her speech is inspirational.   you can hear the nerves in her voice and the wisdom in her words.

gender stereotypes and expectations placed on both men and women are harmful.   in her speech, watson says "I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either."

"Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals. "

feminism isnt a movement by women for women, it is “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” 

this is something we should ALL be working towards.

her whole speech can be read here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

tornadoes of light

i thought these great night time shots were created with small drones, but apparently they are made from throwing hooped lined with LEDs into the air!  good experiment, excellent results.

see more from martin kimbell on flickr.

Monday, July 14, 2014

from different countries

i have returned to australia after a recent round of travel to europe.  this venture was scientifically productive, but another interesting sequence of events happened that i didnt realize until they were almost finished.  of course, these events revolved around the world cup!

throughout the course of this tournament, i watched an australia game while in australia, an england game while in england, a croatia game from croatia, and the swiss play their quarterfinal match from switzerland!   if we ignore the fact that the home teams of each of those matches lost, it was a pretty great series of experiences!

the croatians were the most outwardly enthusiastic, while the english were (predictably) the most negative.

this part of england always feels like i'm in a jane austen novel.

croatia's beauty is underrated.

geneva's cheese still makes me drool, and the sound of the french spoken there makes me swoon.

my first "raclette"
if the embedding doesnt work below, watch the raclette video here!

when they offered me an XMM pin at the astronomy conference, i thought it would be more "dirty space news!"

watching the swiss play in switzerland!

and then the big finale of the conference - an excursion to the the CMS detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)!!  geek heaven.

the day was so clear and dry that you could see mont blanc, the highest peak in the alps, behind the CMS building!

Add caption

 bye bye switzerland!

ps.  in the two world cup sweepstakes i entered, i ended up 13th of 247 in one and 6th of 156 in the other.  not bad!! but still no money won :(