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things and stuff astronomy and life

Updated: 2018-04-11T23:04:00.595+10:00


In the desert working on LSST


This may seem like old news to some of you now, but earlier this year I moved across the world, back to the USA to the sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona to start the next phase of my career: Head of Education and Public Outreach (EPO) for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).  If you haven't heard of this amazing new telescope being built in Chile right now, here's an intro video I'm proud to have produced: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="" width="500">To find out more about the EPO program itself, you can watch the video below or see slides from a recent talk I gave. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="" width="500">Ida Luna and I are surviving our first desert summer and monsoon season - it's beautiful and dramatic and I can't wait to see what happens next!new home :)huge blooming cactusblue skiespowerful sunsets [...]

Cosmic Vertigo


I'm pleased to announce the LAUNCH of my new space podcast, Cosmic Vertigo, made with co-host Alan Duffy and our amazing producer Joel Werner.

"Do you ever feel dizzy when you think about the incomprehensible scale of space? We call that feeling Cosmic Vertigo. Welcome to a head-spinning conversation between two friends who study the sky for a living."

Rest state: Alan and I cracking up (Photo: ABC/Radio National)
The three of us had a lot of fun creating this series, and I'm in awe of Joel's editing and production genius.
Dream Team: Alan Duffy, Joel Werner, and yours truly (Photo: ABC/Radio National)
The first two episodes are now LIVE with a new one released every two weeks.... so GO LISTEN and COMMENT and SUBSCRIBE wherever you get your podcasts!

Conferencing in Colombia with a Baby


With three month old Ida Luna in tow, I attended an International Astronomical Union conference on Communicating Astronomy with the Public in Medellin, Colombia in May 2016. [note: VIDEO of my full talk below]Giving a keynote astronomy talk in Colombia wearing 3 month old Ida LunaI couldn't pass up the opportunity to give an invited keynote talk to an important audience, despite still being on maternity leave.  It was a tight timeline to get all of her official documents processed for the trip, but everything came together and we made it!Embarking on our three major flights from Sydney, Australia to Medellin, ColombiaIda slept through most of our three (15 hr + 4 hr + 4 hr) flights, which was a huge relief.  I, on the other hand, did not sleep very much.  So when we arrived at the hotel at almost midnight, I was incredibly exhausted, while she was mostly awake.  It was a looooong night, but I did get some sleep, and woke to this incredible view!Beautiful views of Medellin, ColombiaIda looked very confused in the morning as she looked around the room, but she is a baby who's ready for adventure!  (thankfully....)At the conference, I was not sure how welcoming people would be about me bringing my infant along, but I made sure the organisers knew that she would be with me well in advance.  Some participants certainly gave us the side eye at the beginning, but Ida was SO GOOD!  She only really cried when a sudden burst of applause startled her, so I tried to get her out of the room when I thought a talk was close to ending.Ida Luna telling me what she thinks about the first talk she attended.I quickly realised that most people were thrilled to have a tiny participant join the proceedings! People offered to hold her and help me, and many people shared their personal stories, describing challenges of getting to conferences due to having children, that I never would have heard without having my tiny person present.  Many people, mostly women, struggle dealing with these issues, and it's done quietly, behind the scenes, without anyone knowing the additional strain they go through just to be present at an event like this.Ida sleeping peacefully through a session, just before applause woke her with a start!There were certainly challenges of having her with me, compounded without having a support person along.  I wasn't able to do the post-conference day events or socialising, which I was sad to miss, and my fatigue grew with each day.  I didn't make it to as many sessions as I would have without Ida with me, but many people were eager to hold her and insist I go to talks.  It took me a day to warm up to strangers carrying her away from me, but I grew to know and trust them and Ida quickly loved the attention!Unsure at first, Ida decided to win them over with her grins.There were many fascinating discussion sessions, including one on how best to present astronomy to audiences outside major cities.  At the beginning of one breakout session, I was the only woman in the room... and I was breastfeeding in the back.  After a while, Ida started to get restless, so I made sure I contributed my thoughts to the group before we went out into the hallway.Pedro Russo discusses the benefits of the Open Science Centre (we're in the back)The conference organised to have all talks live-streamed online (view HERE).  The quality is fantastic and I would suggest that if an organisation goes through the effort to live-stream, set up a separate room at the venue to show the videos as well.   This would be beneficial for my situation, so a noisy baby doesn't disturb other participants, but also in case people show up late and don't was to disrupt by entering the room, or if someone is waiting for a phone call, etc.Giving my keynote talk at #CAP2016 while wearing Ida LunaMy talk was on Day 4, by which time Ida Luna had acquired a huge fan following :)  I was fully ready to hand her over to the queue of[...]

Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider


During one of our recent walks around the neighborhood, a nice old man stopped Ida and I for a chat. When I mentioned her name, he instantly started singing a lovely melody "Ida, sweet as apple cider..." which I had never heard before.  I asked him about it and he claimed it was just one of those old-timey songs he liked, "you know, one that a barbershop quartet would sing!"

So of course I looked it up when we returned home and learned it immediately.  She even dances when I play it for her :) Music time is my favourite part of our days!

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Introducing Ida Luna


While this blog has been quiet over the last few months, my home certainly hasn't been, thanks to welcoming to the world my little girl: Ida Luna! She was born in February 2016, and started with a healthy amount of skepticism :)  here she is with her grandma on day 2: I'm not sure about this world, grandma, but i sure like your singing!and a few weeks later, she's still got it!she's a content little baby and we're enjoying this new life together.this is our major mode of transportation.  both of us LOVE the Yoli & Otis carrier! her expressions are endlessly cute and varied!to be honest, i'm really enjoying time off work.  i'm doing some fun side projects (stay tuned!) that are keeping my mind entertained, but overall, it's a nice break from the pressures of academia and media. Mama and Ida Luna at 7 weeks[...]

the gravity of new life


the rumour is that the LIGO project has detected a significant signal of gravitational waves originating from two distant black holes orbiting each other and merging together!

a big press release from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 10:30 AM US EST).  you can WATCH the news of the project update HERE.

so what are gravitational waves?  PhD Comics explains them very well in this video:

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and if you're curious about how we detect these amazingly weak gravitational waves?  check out this post by Markus Pössel.

in other major life events... i'm 40 weeks along and ready to meet my tiny baby ANY TIME NOW!  very exciting :)

Five things we know about the universe that will make you feel very small


Here is an article I contributed to ABC Science, originally posted here.Five things we know about the universe that will make you feel very small.One thing we know about the universe is that it's really big. Another is that thinking about it and trying to understand it will make your brain hurt.Astronomer Amanda Bauer takes us through her top five mind-expanding things we know (or don't know) about the universe.1. There is no edge of the universePHOTO: Full-sky map of the oldest light in the universe (NASA/WMAP Science Team)There is one edge we know of - our horizon, which is the limit of how far we can see.Imagine sailing on a boat on the ocean and seeing a horizon in the distance, past which you know there is more Earth, but you just can't see it. We've measured the universe to be flat (as opposed to curved like Earth or saddle-shaped), but our horizon exists because of the finite speed of light.Beyond that visible horizon, we think the universe just keeps going in the same way - forever.We have no reason to believe there is an edge. But we also have no way of measuring this infinity because we physically cannot see it.2. Dark matter and dark energy make up 95 per cent of the universePHOTO: A composite image showing the galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56, better known as the bullet cluster. Gravitational lensing was used to locate the dark matter (shown as blue patches) in these two colliding galaxies. The pink colour shows gas blown apart by the collision. (NASA/Chandra X-Ray Observatory)Only 5 per cent of the universe is made of ordinary material like planets, stars, cars, and coffee. This "normal matter" is made mostly of protons, neutrons, and electrons.Another 24 per cent is an exotic material that interacts through gravity, but produces no light, making it invisible to us. We call this "dark matter".While dark matter only interacts with normal matter very weakly, particle physicists have plausible candidates for what dark matter is.Hopefully particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider will provide more insight for scientists very soon.That brings us to the final 71 per cent of the stuff in the universe, which is a truly bizarre type of matter. Perhaps it's not matter at all, but a property of the universe itself. We call this mysterious stuff "dark energy".What we do know is that dark energy has a gravitationally repulsive effect that is causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. But we don't understand how this acceleration is happening.3. There is no centre of the universePHOTO: In a way, we're all at the centre of our own universe. (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)The universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.But the Big Bang should not be imagined as a normal explosion in space. Rather, the Big Bang is an explosion of space itself, so that every point in space expands equally away from every other point in space. There is no centre to the expansion.From our galaxy we measure that all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther the galaxy, the faster away it is moving.The interesting thing is that if you zoomed off to any other galaxy in the universe, you would measure the exact same effect - all other galaxies would be moving away from you.In this way, you could argue that you are the centre of the universe. But then, so is everyone else.4. Far-away galaxies offer a glimpse into the pastPHOTO: At 3 million light years from Earth, the Triangulum galaxy is even further away than Andromeda, so gives us a glimpse even further back in time. (NASA)When we look at distant galaxies, we are actually looking at a snapshot of the past.Some galaxies are located so far away their light takes billions of years to reach us, even travelling at the speed of light. The images we collect through our telescopes tell us what the galaxies looked like billions of years ago, when the light left t[...]

in conversation with neil degrasse tyson


here are some video highlights from neil degrasse tyson's tour around australia last year.

i hosted the melbourne and brisbane shows while the sydney and canberra stops were hosted by derek muller (veritasium).

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and a few of my favourite photos from the events:

Tamara Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and me in Brisbane

sharing a pre-show moment during sound check

All 5 bright planets up in the morning sky!


all of you early risers may have noticed the lovely line of bright planets across the sky in the morning hours before sunrise lately.  definitely get out and have a look between jan 20th and feb 20th for a spectacular view, no matter where on earth you live!

you'll need to be able to see low on the horizon to spot mercury until early february or so, but you can do it if you have an unobstructed view!

this alignment of the planets has not occurred for over ten years. it's rare because all the planets have to be on the same side of the sun in their orbits.  while venus, mars, jupiter, and saturn have been in the morning sky all year, mercury is just getting ready to transition from being visible in our evening sky to being visible in the morning sky.  hopefully the visualisation below makes that clear.

via The Conversation
so... get out early and LOOK UP! 

natural woman


the one, the only, ARETHA FRANKLIN!   this brought me to tears - so pure, so passionate, so powerful.  a great way to say goodbye to 2015.

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special full moon on christmas day


today's full moon is the first on christmas day in 38 years.  the year was 1977 - when Star Wars Episode IV was released!

via NASA

without any spoilers - i really enjoyed the new star wars, the force awakens, released this holiday season.  i enjoyed most of the new characters they introduced, including Rey, who is a major character.  but how pathetic that she's not included by several retailers?   DO BETTER HUMANS!

From Jamie Ford on twitter

anyway, happy holidays, everyone!

Cloudy with a chance of life: how to find alien life on distant exoplanets


This article was originally published in The Conversation on on 26th November 2015. Cloudy with a chance of life: how to find alien life on distant exoplanetsby Brad Carter, Amanda Bauer, & Jonti HornerHow do you go about hunting for life on another planet elsewhere in our galaxy? A useful starting point is to imagine looking from afar for signs of life on Earth. In a telescope like those we have on Earth, those aliens would likely just see the Earth and sun merged together into a single pale yellow dot.If they were able to separate the Earth from the sun, they’d still only see a pale blue dot. There would be no way for them to image our planet’s surface and see life roving upon it.However, those aliens could use spectroscopy, taking Earth’s light and breaking it into its component colours, to figure out what gases make up our atmosphere. Among these gases, they might hope to find a “biomarker”, something unusual and unexpected that could only be explained by the presence of life.On Earth, the most obvious clue to the presence of life is the abundance of free oxygen in our atmosphere. Why oxygen? Because it is highly reactive and readily combines with other molecules on Earth’s surface and in our oceans. Without the constant resupply coming from life, the free oxygen in the atmosphere would largely disappear.BiomarkersBut the story isn’t quite that simple. Life has existed on Earth for at least 3.5 billion years. For much of that time, however, oxygen levels were far lower than those seen today.And oxygen alone is not enough to indicate life; there are many abiological processes that can contribute oxygen to a planet’s atmosphere.The concentration of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere over the last billion years. As a reference, the dashed red line shows the present concentration of 21%.  WikimediaFor example, ultraviolet light could produce abundant oxygen in the atmosphere of a world covered with water, even if it was devoid of life.The upshot of this is that a single gas does not a biomarker make. Instead, we must instead look for evidence of a chemical imbalance in a planet’s atmosphere, something that can not be explained by anything other than the presence of life.Here on Earth, we have one: our atmosphere is not just rich in oxygen, but also contains significant traces of methane. While abundant oxygen or methane could easily be explained on a planet without life, we also know that methane and oxygen react with each other strongly and rapidly.When you put them together, that reaction will cleanse the atmosphere of whichever is least common. So to maintain the amount of methane in our oxygen-rich atmosphere, you need a huge source of methane, replenishing it against oxygen’s depleting influence. The most likely explanation is life.Observing exoplanetary atmospheresIf we find an exoplanet sufficiently similar to our own, there are several ways in which we could study its atmosphere to search for biomarkers.When a planet passes directly between us and its host star, a small fraction of the star’s light will pass through the planet’s atmosphere on its way to Earth. If we could zoom in far enough, we would actually see the planet’s atmosphere as a translucent ring surrounding the dark spot that marks the body of the planet.How much starlight passes through that ring gives us an indication of the atmosphere’s density and composition. What we get is a “transmission spectrum”, which is an absorption spectrum of the planetary atmosphere, illuminated by the background light of the star.Our technology has only now become capable of collecting and analysing these spectra for the first time. As a result, our interpretation remains strongly limited by our telescopic capabilities and our [...]

100 years of general relativity


a nice animated video to explain einstein's general relativity in 3 short minutes!

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you might also be interested in a recent conversation article by michael brown on "why einstein's general relativity is such a popular target for cranks".

i get A LOT of emails from random people claiming they have proven einstein wrong, and this offers some insight as to why that might be. 

sky schemes: a song


My unofficial hack at last week's .Astronomy 7 conference in sydney was to perform a song i wrote recently called Sky Schemes.  Luckily, Becky recorded it for all to hear! allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="" width="500">Sky SchemesBy Amanda Bauer (2015)On winter nights when I was a girlI’d go to her house after schoolWe’d play game, make things, discover our dreamsI’d walk home through the dark remembering our schemesI’d look up at the stars, shining overheadMake constellations that I saw insteadOf those Greek ones, Islamic ones, they are so oldThere are native ones, Indigenous ones, but we’re seldom toldI made one up. It was a bird, wings spread wideI’d look for it, find it, feel so much prideSo look up at the stars, shining overheadMake constellations that you see insteadThere are new ones, trues ones, you will see firstShare them with us, through us, satisfy your thirstTo know things, understand, how we are hereNo true answer you’ll find, but it will become clearThe questions that matter are changing all the timeRely on your instincts, empower your mindAnd then look up at the stars, shining overheadMake constellations that you see insteadPhoto by Andy GreenPhoto by Andy Greenalso, another quick announcement that you might suspect from the photo below... go to THIS LINK and keep exploring until you uncover the surprise :)  this reveal was also made as a result of .Astronomy hack day.Photo by Andy Green.[...]

creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul


words of incredible wisdom from bill watterson.  illustrated by gavin aung than.  hell yeah.[...]

berkeley astronomer guilty of sexual harassment


the best thing i can say is that sexual harassment in academia is being discussed in the media and it's finally out in the open that berkeley's well known exopolanet astronomer, geoff marcy, is a serial sexual see, for YEARS (since 2001) reports of his inappropriate actions have been known to his undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs, and formal complaints were brought to him in 2004.  he was told that his massages and touches and attempted kisses and GROPES were unwanted and inappropriate.   he knew this, even though in his recent semi-apology he tries to express "how painful it is for me to realize that I was a source of distress for any of my women colleagues, however unintentional."  i'm calling bullshit. surely his senior colleagues knew these formal complaints had been filed as his reputation raged among the international astronomers who worked on his teams. but did any of his colleagues step up and say to him "Dude, this is not cool.  STOP IT!"  nothing of the sort is on record, although i'd love to be corrected on this. so marcy persisted.and what happened during the last 15 years?  an informal network of women trying to protect each other from his behaviour naturally formed, warning younger colleagues to "watch out" for him at major the altlantic describes,Marcy leveraged his considerable fame and power in the world of astronomy to build a nearly consequence-free bubble around himself.the sad reality is that berkeley is moving forward with NO disciplinary action AT ALL!  this i do not understand.  YET AGAIN the burden to "deal" with the repercussions of this horrific behaviour is placed on the victims.   poor mr famous scientist, please act within the rules already in place for all scientists in this university or else we may just have to be courageous enough to discipline you. i can guarantee that marcy is not the only sexual predator whose actions have been protected by cowardly colleagues and universities.  two years ago i wrote about my personal experience as a victim of sexual harassment as a PhD student at the university of texas at austin (UT).  i took steps to lodge a formal complaint, but was thwarted by senior faculty.  i chose to just "deal" with it and get on with my studies, knowing that there had been others and would be more victims of this man's pathetic advances.i became part of the internal network of women warning other women to avoid him, while male students sat by saying things like "that sucks" and senior staff went on protecting him - for DECADES.YES IT DOES SUCK.  and it's not fair.  this man continued to work and teach at UT and FINALLY was lightly forced into early retirement so the department could once and for all stop figuring out how to suppress the complaints of his victims and his continuing bad behaviours.    this professor was not famous in his field.  he was not bringing in large grants.  his research was nothing of note.  but he was surrounded by a "good old boys" network that protected him just the same.the only action of consequence against marcy so far is that he has been asked to skip one of the biggest professional astronomy meetings in the world this january.  imagine this - instead of telling women to be cautious around known sexual harassers - TELL THE HARASSERS TO STOP FUCKING HARASSING PEOPLE and/or STAY AWAY!so thank you to yale astronomer and American Astronomical Society (AAS) President Meg Urry who says this about her intolerance for harassment at the conference:Sexual harassment usually involves a questio[...]

collecting SAMI galaxies


I've been up at Siding Spring Observatory visiting this beauty this week. The dome of the 4-metre Anglo-Australian TelescopeI enjoy walking around the dome's catwalk to see the views in all directions.Hello from the catwalk! The first night provided a lovely (cloudy) sunset. But then the skies cleared BEAUTIFULLY for most of the observing run and the Milky Way glowed brilliantly across the early evening sky.We have been using the SAMI instrument during this run to observe over 100 galaxies so far!Perched at Prime Focus with SAMIKristin was the telescope operator for the beginning of the run. Here she is with the original control panel that was installed 40 years ago!  while it still looks roughly the same - systems and displays have been upgraded over the years :)we had some time for enjoying the clear night skies while exposing with the big telescopeThe Magellanic Clouds and the AAT dome. (Credit: Jesse van de Sande)Milky Way (Credit: Angel Lopez-Sanchez)And we may have started to write a few songs for "SAMI - then Musical"  ;)[...]

A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope


A new video from AAO!

"A 2dF night at the AAT" assembles 14 time-lapse sequences taken at the 4-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) located at Siding Spring Observatory NSW, Australia. This time-lapse video shows not only how the Two Degree Field (2dF) instrument works but also how the AAT and the telescope dome move in tandem, and the beauty of the Southern Sky in spring and summer.   
The video is 2min 50sec long and combines more than 4000 frames obtained using a CANON EOS 600D with a 10-20mm wide-angle lens. All sequences were taken during September and November 2011 by astronomer Dr Ángel R. López-Sánchez while he was working as the 2dF support astronomer for the AAT. The music is the song “Blue Raider” from Composer Cesc Villà's album “Epic Soul Factory”

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the star talker - neil degrasse tyson


what a fun, almost surreal evening talking with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

pre-show with Neil deGrasse Tyson
He reminded us to "look the hell up every once in a while" and not to take evidence of science and technology in our everyday lives (phones!) for granted.

I didn't realize for the first few minutes that we were on the HUGE screen behind us on stage!

one of the best parts about spending time with neil is realising that he is constantly observing the world around him and thinking about it, questioning it, interpreting it - not taking it at face value. it's something we should all do more, as it keeps us present in the moment and prevents us from not appreciating all the amazing things around us.

With Neil DeGrasse Tyson after our conversation in Melbourne, thanks to Think Inc
I'll host his next show in brisbane next weekend, so there's still time to let me know what questions you would ask him if you had the chance!

also, should i wear the boots again, or change it up?  serious questions of the universe....

Hosting Neil DeGrasse Tyson


dr neil degrasse tyson is one of the most recognised scientists in the world right now and he has recently embarked on an australian tour!

i'm thrilled to report that i will be hosting two of his shows: August 7th in Melbourne and August 16th in Brisbane!

there are still tickets available for each show, so if you're around, please join us!

what does hosting mean?   i will pop up on stage first and welcome everyone to the event then introduce neil and invite him to the stage.  he and i will then sit in a couple comfy chairs and have an hour long conversation on topics ranging from pluto to science education to alien life to the (lack of) edge of the universe!

then a few audience members will have a chance to ask him questions as well.

i'm thrilled for this opportunity and will hopefully have a full report after the events are finished. here we go...!

Journey to the edge of a forming galaxy


in early july i spent two weeks as "scientist in residence" at the ABC as a result of the Top 5 Under 40 award.  the main project i worked on was producing a science ninja adventure story that went live on the science show on radio national yesterday afternoon! LISTEN HERE:journey to the edge of a forming galaxy (website)journey to the edge of a forming galaxy (mp3)Artwork by Mischa Andrews from photo by Jenny Gabache and galaxy image by David Malinlong time readers may remember the seeds of this story from a blog post in 2010. you never know what direction random inspiration will go!transforming the written story into something radio-ready was an interesting challenge.  phrases that look lovely on the page do not sound smooth or conversational when spoken out loud.  i wrote many versions of the story (in less than 2 days) before settling into one that i could read out loud comfortably. Artwork by Glen Nagleonce the story was ready, i had the amazing luck of booking an entire afternoon in the studio with award-winning sound engineer Russell Stapleton.  i had shared an early draft of the story with him and he came prepared with directories of "space and ninja" sounds that he had been working with for the last 20 years!  he really made the story come alive and it was fascinating to watch him work. such a unique experience to work with him to create the depth of sound you hear throughout the story.the science show producer asked me for some unique artwork to display with the story on the webpage, since a regular galaxy image would be a bit boring.  i was busy at a workshop during the couple days i had to produce the image, so i asked twitter for volunteers to help.  they certainly came through - the images are displayed through this post.  thanks so much to Mischa Andrews and Glen Nagle!Put together by Glen Nagle from photo by Jenny Gabache and galaxy image by David MalinHope you enjoy the adventure![...]

2015 David Malin Award Winners


Here is the first batch of winning astrophotos from the annual David Malin Awards contest.  These are absolutely stunning captures from non-professional astronomers around australia!

Overall Winner: "Stellar Riches" by Troy Casswell

Deep sky winner: "The Fighting Dragons of Ara" by Andrew Campbell

Nightscape winner: "Aurora Treescape" by James Garlick

Solar system winner: "Solar Crown" by Peter Ward

seeing the universe through spectroscopic eyes


I published this article at The Conversation last week, reproduced here for your enjoyment :) Original article link. Seeing the Universe Through Spectroscopic EyesWhen you look up on a clear night and see stars, what are you really looking at? A twinkling pinprick of light with a hint of colour?Imagine looking at a starry sky with eyes like prisms that separate the light from each star into its full rainbow of colour. Astronomers have built instruments to do just that, and spectroscopy is one of the most powerful tools in the astronomer’s box.The technique might not produce the well-known pretty pictures sent down by the Hubble Space Telescope, but for astronomers, a spectrum is worth a thousand pictures.Visible spectra reveal huge amounts of information about objects in the distant cosmos that we can’t learn any other way.So what is spectroscopy?Spectroscopy is the process of separating starlight into its constituent wavelengths, like a prism turning sunlight into a rainbow. The familiar colours of the rainbow correspond to different wavelengths of visible light.The human eye is sensitive to the visible spectrum – a narrow range of frequencies among the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The visible spectrum covers wavelengths of roughly 390 nanometers to 780 nanometers (astronomers often use units of Angstroms (10-10), so visible light spans 3,900 to 7,800 Angstroms).Once visible starlight reaches the curved primary mirror of a telescope, it is reflected toward the focal point and can then be directed anywhere. If the light is sent directly to a camera, an image of the night sky is seen on a computer screen as a result.If the light is instead sent through a spectrograph before it hits the camera, then the light from the astronomical object gets separated into its basic parts.A very simple spectrograph was used by Issac Newton in the 1660s when he dispersed light with a glass prism. Modern spectrographs consist of a series of optics, a dispersing element and a camera at the end. The light is digitised and sent to a computer, which astronomers use to inspect and analyse the resulting spectra. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="293" src="" width="520">The video (above) shows the path of distant starlight through the 4-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and a typical spectrograph, revealing real data at the end.What do spectra teach us?A spectrum allows astronomers to determine many things about the object being viewed, such as how far away it is, its chemical makeup, age, formation history, temperature and more. While every astronomical object has a unique rainbow fingerprint, some general properties are universal.Top shows a spiral galaxy spectrum. Bottom shows non-star-forming galaxy spectrum. Screenshot from Australian Astronomical Observatory video aboveHere we examine the galaxy spectra shown in the video. The spectrum of a galaxy is the combined light from its billions of stars and all other radiating matter in the galaxy, such as gas and dust.In the top spectrum you can see a few strong spikes. These are called “emission lines” and occur at discrete wavelengths due to the atomic structure of atoms as electrons jump between energy levels.The hydrogen spectrum is particularly important because 90% of the normal matter in the universe is hydrogen. Because of the details of hydrogen’s atomic structure, we recognise the strong hydrogen-alpha emission line at rough[...]

discovering pluto


later today, the new horizons space craft will fly by pluto at a distance of only 12,500 km - its closest approach is about 1 earth away.   that's incredible!

this mission has already given us way better views of the dwarf planet than we've ever achieved (even with hubble).  what will the new data tell us?  what does the surface looks like? (are there craters? ice? cracks? plumes? mountains?)  what is the atmosphere is made of? (methane, nitrogen, and what else?) does its surface ice turn to gas during different seasons and then does it get released to space?

ultimately, we want to understand what the objects way out in the kuiper belt are made of because they can tell us how all the other planets and the entire solar system was formed.

Created by Alex Parker with NEW images of pluto!
new horizons cannot send data back at the same time it is taking images, so it is following an automatic program, written by the engineers and astronomers, to maximize its data collection during the flyby.  we will receive the first message and prelim images tomorrow (july 15th, 2015 - it takes 4.5 hours for the data to reach earth).  cant wait!

then new horizons will start sending data back to us over the next ~16 months as it flies away out into the depths of the kuiper belt at the outskirts of our solar system.

i'm excited.

i talked (enthusiastically) to Patricia Karvelas on radio national's drive program last friday about pluto and what to expect from this flyby. you can LISTEN HERE.

it also seems like the perfect time to break out this old number: pluto, the previous planet :)

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" mozallowfullscreen="" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="500"> Pluto, the previous planet from carolune on Vimeo.

kalaya - beautiful australian night sky timelapse


the australian night sky never disappoints, especially when viewed from far out into the outback.  a talented australian astrophotographer, greg priestley, was able to capture the milky way and the "emu" rising above uluru and kata tjuta in may 2014.

kalaya is the aboriginal word for emu.

beautiful work!

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="292" mozallowfullscreen="" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="520"> Kalaya - David Malin Awards from Greg Priestley on Vimeo.