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!