Categories: "Science"

Saturn and Mars in Astronomy magazine

For the people hitting my blog in search of a higher resolution image of Saturn and Mars (and Gemini) that featured in June's Sky this Month section of Astronomy magazine here it is:

Saturn and Mars

Although the caption Astronomy magazine wrote was inaccurate, the image was taken in 2006 and not 2004.

WorldWide Telescope public beta released

Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope is now out in its first public beta.

What are you waiting for? Go download it.

International Year of Astronomy video

The International Astronomical Union recently released a trailer for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Here's the YouTube version:

They've got higher quality versions on their website in a mix of MPEG formats. I've taken the liberty of re-encoding their 1080p video to VC1/WMV, so that people who don't like installing 3rd party software can still watch it (yes ideally WMP should support H.264).

I'll be hosting it here, for a while it weighs in at 86MB, if it gets too much traffic I'll have to pull the download and stick it somewhere else. Please download only (right-click and save as), I doubt the server will be able to stream it.

One last thing, which I am somewhat concerned about, in the trailer itself they show "preserving the world's dark skies", sure I guess its good they mention that issue. But I think if we want to preserve astronomy we need not only preserve the dark sites we already have, we need to wipe out light pollution, hundreds of millions, if not billions of people are missing out on the night sky because they happen to live in cities or towns, or have a poorly designed street light shining over their property. We need to do much more than just preserve the dark locations we have, the damage to the next generation of astronomers and the public judging on some predictions would be immense, some I've seen for the next 15-20 years would practically wipe out astronomy in western Europe, that's a brain drain you can't afford.

Anyway aside from that, enjoy.

International Astronomical Union, star names and Pluto

I saw an article over on Universe Today on the whole star naming scam. This has been one of my pet peeves for a long while - private companies conning you into thinking they're naming a star for you, when they have no such authority with which to do so.

The article goes into how the International Astronomical Union is the only organisation who has any authority to name stars etc. To get to the point one of their comments was as follows, as far as I can tell she's a bit of a Pluto-planetary status advocate (why anybody would be passionate about how we catalogue solar system objects - I have no idea):

Why should only the IAU be authorized to name celestial bodies? Who provides such authorization? They messed up royally with Pluto. That decision is not accepted by many astronomers and lay people, and it cannot help but lead one to question why this group should be the defining authority for the whole world.

Now as I'm sure many of my readers know I'm strongly in favour of letting science run off and do its own thing, that's how I think it works best.

So it seems only natural to let astronomers decide what to call things, and where to categorise things in the sky. The IAU is made up of 10000 or so working astronomers which meets every three years at its General Assembly, it unites various national organisations. At least 60 countries recognise the IAU and have representation within the organisation.

If you can think of a better way to do it, please share your ideas.

Then comes up this ridiculous Pluto issue. As I had already written years prior to the decision at the last General Assembly when they voted for a new definition for planets within this system, there was only one logical or consistent way they could go. That was to either remove Pluto, or add every other Pluto-sized world we find in the outer solar system, dozens or even hundreds of them to our list of planets.

Obviously trying to teach school children about the 130 or so "planets" out there, may prove somewhat challenging.

It's not like this is hasn't happened before, for example the then planet Ceres in the 19th century. When lots of other objects started being discovered in the same sort of orbit as Ceres, it was demoted, it was just the largest member of a big pile of leftover rubble from the formation of the solar system. Exactly what we have found with Pluto, except its not even the largest out of its rubble pile any more.

Of course it is also good that we put together a proper definition for planet, even if it only applies to this solar system.

So no, I don't think they "messed up" I think they made the only practical decision they could make.

Naked eye gamma ray burst

So a few days ago there were reports in the news of a gamma ray burst visible with the naked eye. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see it, I was clouded up pretty bad down here.

Let me say that again, last week it was possible to see a gamma ray burst with the naked eye.

This explosion was 7.5 BILLION light years away. To put that in perspective, the most distant object visible with the naked eye usually is the Andromeda galaxy at 2.2 million lights years distance, this explosion happened about 3500 times further away. Half way to the edge of the visible universe.

The GRB reached magnitude +5.8, equivalent to some of the faintest stars you can see at night and would of remained visible for about 30 seconds.

Incredible is the only word to describe it, a handful of lucky non-cloud covered people could of seen an explosion that happened before the Earth or the Sun had even formed.

I'm reminded of a quote by Phil Plait:

Why do I do this, why do I fight creationists? You know why? Because their God is too small. 6000 years, are you kidding me?

He's right the real universe is far beyond any work of fiction, any mythology. And of course Carl Sagan:

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home, the Earth.

Bronze age and Roman-era mythology in parliament

We desperately need the separation of church and state in this country. As I previously wrote about in January those indoctrinated into a religious ideology are up to their usual tricks trying to shoot down, or water down the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

I don't have time to go into all the details here, so I refer you to my previous post on the issue.

We've got Des Browne, Ruth Kelly, and Paul Murphy all Roman Catholics blabbering on about saving embryos (read babies), I suppose secretly they all want to ban abortion as well, persecute homo-sexuals and stone to death anybody who tempts them to another god, or anybody who works on a Sunday (it's all in the good book).

This is an absolute disgrace all three should resign. We've got people dying from diseases which we can, and will cure if the chains placed upon science are lifted. Yet they're more worried about a genocidal, blood thirsty and sadomasochistic cook book of stories put together over a thousand years. What's really barking mad is they seem to believe this cook book is the inspired word of god, if that's true god is a really unpleasant character.

When exactly was the Enlightenment again?

Well I'm waiting for the Church of Scientology to get involved in parliament, maybe demand equal rights for the souls of their dead alien friends who got trapped on Earth during the interstellar war thing with Xenu and co. Gotta respect those sacred religious texts right?

Parliament should be a place of rationality, reason and evidence. Not a place where ancient mythology can influence. Hopefully Gordon Brown sticks to his guns and gets this bill through - heck maybe he could demolish all of Tony's creationism schools while he's at it. Sorry Tony Blair but you can keep your Noah's Flood in your Bible and out of my science books.

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