Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Dance of the Planets.
Then on August 3 the Moon is near Saturn (see image above), and on August 4th the Moon is near Mars. During this time Venus draw close to Regulus, and on August 5-6 Venus and Regulus are close. Mercury then joins the lineup, and by August 10 Mercury and Regulus are close. At this time you can easily see all 5 classic planets that are visible to the unaided eye (Mercury, Venus and Mars and Saturn in the West, Jupiter in the east).
While this can be difficult to see due to the narrow window of time between when the faint planets become visible and Venus sets, this will be well worth the effort.
Labels: Observational Astronomy
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
About the Aquariids
Some Great Astronomy Podcasts.
Dr. Jill Tarter (SETI Institute): "Better Searches for Signals from Extra-terrestrial Civilizations"
Dr. Geoff Marcy (U. of California, Berkeley): "Hunting for Earth-like Planets Among the Stars"
pop over there and have a listen.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Needless to say the cloud rolled in again, and I didn't get to use my scope on Jupiter. Still over the next few weeks Venus will begin a dance with Regulus, Mars and Saturn that will be pretty indeed.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Aquariid Meteor shower, Monday July 28 - Tuesday July 29
At 10 pm Monday evening, face east, and look 4 hand spans and two finger widths above the horizon. One finger width right is the 4th magnitude star delta d Aquarii. The radiant is just above this star, see the map for more detail. This meteor shower should be visible from 10.00pm until dawn, with better meteor rates after midnight.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Global Warming Resources
To start with here's a link to a nice review that covers key elements of the field up to 2007.
Again, a good overview of climate change can be found at Steven Schneiders Climate Change pages
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (lots of articles and graphs)
Pew Center on Global Climate Change which is an independent research centre, try their climate change 101 articles.
EPA's Climate Change Web site, this is a comprehensive information resource.
Hadley Centre for Climate Change. This is the UK’s official centre for climate change research.
Global Climate Change Research Explorer.
For answers to denialist talking points, The Real Climate Index is a good starting point.
For discussion of the role of CO2 in climate change, see
(especially the graphs)
as well as
and especially this
Labels: Climate Change
Carnival of Space #64 is here.
Labels: carnival of space
The Advertiser's War on Science II
Chris Kenny has another column on climate change in this weeks Adelaide Advertiser. Unfortunately, once again he fails to understand the science (or how science works)
Look at the graph to the left, then read this quote from Chris Kenny's column.
It is also a fact to say that the climate is always changing. And that no one has yet proved a link between human activities and/or carbon emissions and climate change. Sure, there are theories and models, some of which are widely respected. But there is no proven science.I'll say this again, proof is for mathematics and whisky, science is about evidence (inference to the best explanation if you want to be technical). And what the heck is "proven science"? We collect evidence for or against specific hypotheses, we don't try and prove science (fans of Popper and Kuhn can go duke it out somewhere else). Evidence, collected by imperfect humans using imperfect instruments.
Science can almost never produce 100% certainty. We're 100% certain that earth is an oblate spheroid, and that Earth orbits the Sun, everything else comes with error bars. Small error bars in many cases, some aspects of general relativity have been measured to better than one part in a billion (that's really accurate), but error bars nonetheless. This is pounced on by many like creationists, HIV-denialists and anti-vaccinationists. To them, any degree of uncertainty means that the whole enterprise is discredited, and their brand of nonsense is more valid.
Things like biology and climate rarely have the nice, tight error bars that physics (mostly) gets (ask me about lysophosphatidic acid receptors and neurite growth some time), but we do have evidence. In the case of climate change, multiple forms of evidence, from actual temperature changes, to changing flowering patterns, to changing migration patterns to rises in sea level. To interpret this evidence we use theories and models. ALL science uses theories and models to interpret evidence (like the germ theory of disease), disparaging theories and models means you don't understand science.
And sometimes we have to act when our understanding is less than complete, John Snow did not wait until he had near prefect understanding of disease transmission, or even had a germ theory of disease, before getting the Broad Street Pump replaced during a cholera epidemic. Our understanding of climate change is imperfect, but we know that the climate is warming, and most of it is due to human activities. This is solidly based in physical law, you put more carbon dioxide into an atmosphere, it will retain more heat, this is high school science class stuff.
Chris Kerry misunderstands science again:
People are scorned as "deniers" simply for pointing out the scientifically agreed fact that Earth has not warmed for a decade.
First off, it is not a "scientifically agreed fact" that Earth hasn't warmed for a decade (see my original post), the earth hasn't stopped warming, no matter whether you use the GISS, Hadely or RSS databases, temperature is still going up. Climate scientists are in fact united in saying that the world has not stopped warming.
You don't get called a denier for saying the world has stopped warming, you get called a denier for keeping on saying that after the facts have been patiently explained to you numerous times.
A good overview of climate change can be found at Steven Schneiders Climate Change pages. See also Did Global Warming Stop in 1998?, Global Trends and ENSO , and Wiggles.
Labels: Climate Change
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Building an Orrery (part 2)
But we finally got enough parts to get started, MiddleOne was champing at the bit, and well, the whole thing is really cool, and a good chance to learn about the solar system.
The first thing we learnt was that the screws are really small, and have a startling tendency to roll away into hard to find places. The second thing we learned is that you need a really small (as in narrow) set of Allen Keys for many of the screws (luckily we had one of those, advantage of a geek household).
The third thing we learned is that most of the tiny screws were too small for MiddleOnes hands, so he gets to do the big chunky things, and I set up, or actually do, the smallest screws (which always seem to be located in the most inconvenient spots). Still, instead of watching TV we have got Mercury and Venus set up. It even works at this stage, so we can see the Venus - Mercury periodicity as they orbit!
We are hanging out for the next section, Earth Moon. If you want to see a video of the construction and final Orrery, here is a video.
I saw Venus!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
We had a bit of trouble parking, as the museum car park was full, unusual; we thought, as this was a week day and the school holidays were over in
Fishermen had pulled up a recently deceased giant squid off the coast of southern
By the time we came back the dissection was almost over, and they were sewing the squid up for preservation, the crowd had thinned and we could get a good look. SmallestOne and Sisterson were pretty curious, but EldestOne was not really turned on by a mass of tentacles (why I have no idea).
We complemented this completely unexpected event by a quick trip to the marine section, where there was an exhibit on giant squid to learn more. All in all, a most exciting day.
Labels: science matters
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Carnival of Space #63 is here.
Labels: carnival of space
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The Advertiser's War on Science
First, let me reacquaint you with the Arrhenius equation, this says, for a given input of radiation, if you add more carbon dioxide to an atmosphere, it will warm up in a predictable manner. It’s standard physics, and you can readily calculate how much warmer the earth will get given the amounts of carbon dioxide we are injecting into the atmosphere. But why, you say, if this is simple physics, don’t we see a smooth rise in global temperatures? Because the climate record is noisy.
Superimposed on the CO2 induced rise in temperature is noisy from a wide variety of sources, dust from volcanoes, heat shifts in the ocean from El Nino and La Nina events and a whole host so other sources. These effects put wobbles in the line that may be misleading if we don’t understand what is going on.
Have a look at the graph at the top left above, it looks like the graph starts off flat, rises somewhat then flattens out. Much like the graph Kerry refers to in his column.
But the illustration is in fact a relentlessly rising line. I have merely added some noise to it (for the technically minded I used RAND()*(-0.5-0.5)+0.5 to add random numbers ranging between -0.5 and 0.5 to the dataset). The graph below it shows the actual line that underlies the noisy data.
The graph below that again shows the actual temperature record from GIS TEMP,, how do we extract the underlying trend? What you don’t do is look at the last few data points. If you took the last 5 data points of my graph and look at the trend, it comes out nearly flat, yet we know that the curve is rising, you need to sample more pints to get a clear feel for the trend. In global warming data, you need to sample between 10-15 years to see the underlying trend, and that trend is relentlessly upwards.
So, no, global warming did not stop in 1998 and global temperatures have not dropped since 1998.
See also Did Global Warming Stop in 1998?, Global Trends and ENSO , and Wiggles. You may also find these links helpful. Global climate and the El Nino phenomenon. Doubts about the advent of spring.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Well, that was dissapointing
I was worried about drizzle from the cloud that was playing peekaboo with the Moon, so I bought the webcam and laptop out at the last minute, uncovered the telescope, and set the camera up.
I had a bit of trouble getting the Moon centred, and just as I was reaching for the button to take my first image, Antares went bye-bye (sigh).
Still, I got to see the occultataion (if only in a non-relaxed, reaching for a control kind of way), there was some beautiful Moonbows and a bit of high drama, so I can count it as a good night.
Semi-Live Occultation Blogging
Update (well you have probably seen the new post anyway), didn't get any shots of the occultation with the webcam (sigh), but not because of the weather. Here is the Moonbow and a shot of Antares well before occultation).
Moonbow (as always, click to enlarge). The Moonbows came back several times over the evening, this is probably the best image I got (the ring is unsymmetrical because the cloud was thinner at the edge). The whole thing was crisper an clearer by eye, but this shot does actually convey a good sense of the colours I could see, you can vaguely see the second coloured ring, and Antares is the dot below and left of the overexposed Moon.
Antares gets closer to the Moon. This was taken via the lens with my Olympus digital camera. If I had set the webcam up then I might have caught the occultation. But as I said, clouds came over and I was worried by the possibility of rain, so I held off, thus missing out on the event itself.
Still, this shot isn't bad for a camera just held to the lens.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Occultation of Antares (July 14)
The Moon will occult (pass in front of) the bright star Antares on the evening of Monday, July
14. This event will be seen in Southern Australia in the mid to early evening of July 14th, and New Zealand as well. In Western Australia the occultation takes place an hour after sunset around 6:20 pm, in Adelaide 8:50 pm and eastern states between 9:30 and 10:00 pm.
See http://home.mira.net/~reynella/skywatch/ssky.htm#Occult for exact times for major cities. See also http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar08/0714antares.htm for other locations (in Universal time only)
The Moon will be four days before full and quite high in the sky in most of Australia. In New Zealand, the occultation occurs in the veryearly hours of the morning of the 15th. While visible to the unaidedeye, this event will be good in binoculars or a small telescope. Because it occurs relatively early, this one is good for the kids to watch.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Carnival of Space #62 is here.
Labels: carnival of space
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Mars and Saturn Together
Mars and Saturn close tonight (10 July)
Mars has been heading towards Saturn all week, and tonight it catches it! Mars will be less than a finger width away from the ringed world (that's around 40 arc minutes for the technically minded). A lovely sight in the early evening (hopefully I will get a break in the cloud).
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
First Light for the ToUCam
The images on the left are the ones I have just taken tonight with my new ToUCam. The images to the right were taken (about a year ago) with my old Logitech Quickcam webcam. Now, conditions weren't identical, there was cloud over the Moon and Jupiter tonight, and the turbulence was pretty bad. But it was the first time that the sky was sufficiently clear for anything, and I've been waiting to try the camera for so long, that I just had to go out. And it was the opposition of Jupiter tonight, I just had to have a go.
The neighbours saw me set up and we had a mini-star party as I set up the camera. There was even a halo around the Moon to point out to them while I fiddled and grumbled making sure that the finderscope actually pointed in the same direction as the telescope. Finally I got the scope pointing the right way, focussed protperly and worked out the exposure settings and we could see the awesome spledor of the Moon on the computer screen. The images on the screen were sufficiently sharp to impress the neigbours, and we had a nice time exploring the Moon, then a less satisfying time with Jupiter.
Despite the horrible conditions, I think you can see that the ToUCam did quite well compared to the old Quickcam. I'm looking forward to having some clear, still nights in the future to really test it out (and hopefully, when I can actually SEE the southern cross I can do a better job of polar alignment.
Mind you, this post was nearly titled EPIC FAIL. I actually bought the ToUCam a while ago, not too long after I bought my new laptop to replace my elderly one whose screen had just died. Unfortunately, the laptop came preloaded with Vista, and as work is transitioning to Vista I needed that for compatibility. But Vista is notorious for not having drivers. Indeed that ToUCam 840K does not have Vista drivers, but there was a workaround on the Philips website, so off I went full of confidence.
The install sequence is a little complicated, but when I should have had this screen
Which would have allowed me to continue and install the drivers, I got this.
Which just wouldn't let me go any further. I tried everything, deleted and reinstalled, tried the suggestions here and here and here (to no avail) hung out on forums, sent off emails to people who had said they had succeeded, but never heard back. Nothing worked, not even colourful expletives.
I was feeling a little despondent. Should I have gone for the Meade Lunar and Planetary Imager instead? No, it turns out that it is not Windows Vista compatible either (there is a work around if you hunt around), in fact most of the affordable webcam/imager systems for amateur astronomers are not Vista compatible. I picked up a book on photographing the Moon and it fell open at a section which said that the ToUCam was the most popular astronomical webcam, giving instructions for its use. I could have wept in frustration.
In the end I did the only thing possible. I bodged up a repair to the old laptop. So now my setup takes twice as long, as I have to drag out and attach a separate screen for the elderly laptop. But it works. The ToUCam software loaded sweetly under Windows ME (remember that?), and my copy of Vega runs the ToUcam without a problem.
So, on a clear night you may see me out the back with an enourmous pile of what looks like scrap metal next to my telescope. It's my bodge computer systems, and it takes nice images, thank you.
Opposition of Jupiter Tonight.
Tonight is the Opposition of Jupiter, when this planet is biggest and brightest in the sky. Well, Jupiter is always big and bright, but this is now a really good time to loook at Jupiter in a telescope. If you don't have a telescope, but do have binoculars, you can easily follow the changing positions of the Galilean Moons. Otherwise, plead with a friend who has a telescope of go to your local astronomical societie's or planetarium's open day.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Still More lineups!
Tony Travaglia, also of New Zealand, has sent in this shot of the line-up from last night (click to enlarge). Another marvellous shot from Tony, and the halo round the moon is a nice extra.
Line-up on Monday
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Images of the Lineup.
First off is Peter Moss, from Wellington New Zealand (click the image to enlarge it). A full scale image, plus several more of the line-up, can be found at www.astronomy.net.nz .
Next up is Tony Travaglia, also of New Zealand. He took this image of the line-up with a Canon 40D 70-200 mm lens at SO 400, with an exposure of 5 secs at f3.5 using a 70mm zoom. Beautiful image (click it to enlarge).
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Astronomy WA launches a new look.
On the Radio Tomorrow Morning (July 6)
A beautiful evening lineup (July 6 and 7)
Tomorrow night (Sunday July 6) The Moon, Regulus, Mars and Saturn all line up. It will be very attractive. This is best observed from around an hour after sunset to around 8:30 pm local time.
The next night (Monday July 7) the Moon will be on the other side of the planets, not quite as attractive, but still worth a look.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Carnival of Space #61 is here.
Labels: carnival of space
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Nanotech at the pub
We arrived a little bit early (man I suck at finding parking spots), and the venue was already full (this was the second time the presentation was run, the first was overbooked. they have enough bookings to run it a third time, and probably will. That gives you an idea of the interest out there). We had to squeeze over onto a table with a very oblique view of the stage. This made viewing the powerpoint presentations difficult, but actually mattered very little.
The speakers were engaging and interesting from an adults point of view, but I could see the kids were fading (hey, I promised them lasers!). Then the hands on part started up. First we were handed those peanut starch sticks that are supposed to replace styrofoam, and had to make Bucky Balls of carbon nanotube models out of them (they stick together if you lick them, I am so making molecular models with them). The Cute Master of Darkness made a great nanotube, my Bucky ball ended up as a bucky hat. Middle One produced chicken wire.
Then they did live demonstrations of nanotech products (involves a kids wading pool and spaghetti, I won't spoil it if you want to go to the next one), then they handed out LEDs, batteries and superstrong magnets, and we made LED throwies (the kids LOVED that, despite there being no lasers). The video below shows one such throwie on the table, being controlled by another magnet. That table was an inch thick bit of wood (the weird object is my Bucky hat).
There were quizzes and prizes, and everyone learned something about nanotech. It was a fantastic night and a fantastic event, so if you have a chance, go along to Science outside the square.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
I'm on the Radio Again (Twice!)
ABC Radio Ballarat have invited me back to talk about my other passion, Pharmacology. If you want to know the connection between treacle, crushed vipers heads and modern drugs, or how I plan to save endangered Cheetahs using grape extracts, and if you are in the broadcast region of ABC Ballarat, then have a listen this Thursday morning (July 3) around 10:15 am or so, I'll be talking about drugs for around 10 minutes.
If it's astronomy you crave, then I will be on ABC Radio Adelaide at 11:40
Chris Wyatt from Bendigo photographed this arrangement of Mars, Regulus and Saturn on 29 July from his backyard in Bendigo with his
Pall Moss sent in this nice image of the lineup on June 30 as taken from Papakowhai, just north of Wellington, New Zealand. You can see the full
image and others at this website www.astronomy.net.nz
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Mercury, Alderbaran and the Moon
The clouds have been playing peek-a-boo with me, but I managed to get this shot after a break in the rain. Had to stand in a puddle in the middle of the street to get it, as Mercury and the Moon were inconveniently behind a tree from my backyard vantage point.