AAS Update: The Story So Far

The galactic centre in unprecidented detail from Hubble (NASA, ESA, and Q.D. Wang)

The galactic centre in unprecidented detail from Hubble (NASA, ESA, and Q.D. Wang)

Day One: Information overload! When Fraser and I turned up in Long Beach, CA yesterday for the 213th American Astronomical Society meeting, I had an overwhelming feeling that I should have done my homework before travelling to the event. Hundreds of participants, hundreds of posters and hundreds of presentations… as an astrophysicist, I feel like a kid in a candy shop, but as a blogger, it’s hard to know where to start!

A shredded asteroid around a white dwarf star (NASA/JPL)

A shredded asteroid around a white dwarf star (NASA/JPL)

Fortunately Team Universe Today has some strong backup in the form of Nancy Atkinson who is operating from home, delivering a huge amount of AAS coverage on the Universe Today. This is good, as the Internet connection at the Long Beach Convention Center is patchy at best. It’s great to meet Pamela and everybody else involved in the Astronomy Cast effort, and everyone seems to be finding articles and lining up the press releases rather nicely.

Also, I echo Scott Miller’s sentiments about “Rock Bottom” pub. Had a couple there last night. The “Mad Lizard” beer. 8.2%. Never again… (well, not till Wednesday in any case!)

I am just about to attend the 10am Session 328 Black Holes I presentations, and I’ll hopefully be adding a long “live blogging” post about each of the speakers. All going well a couple of interviews might come out of the session too. Until then, here’s a brief run-down of the Universe Today coverage of the various press releases, from supermassive black holes, brand new Hubble views of the galactic centre, shredded asteroids around white dwarfs to the heavy Milky Way…

Young Stars Forming Near Galactic Black Hole

The Case of the Disappearing Planetary Disks

Broken-up Asteroids Found Orbiting White Dwarfs

Hubble, Spitzer Collaborate for Stunning Panorama of Galactic Center

Triple Whammy: Milky Way More Massive, Spinning Faster and More Likely to Collide

But ultimately, be sure to keep an eye on Astronomy Cast LIVE, for ALL coverage from us in Long Beach!

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Solar Views from SOHO (Wallpapers)

304A SOHO/EIT image of the solar disk (NASA/ESA)

304A SOHO/EIT image of the solar disk (NASA/ESA)

Back in 2006, I was feeling a bit nostalgic about my four years of research at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth Solar Group, so I decided to try to find some high resolution prints of the Sun. After a lot of effort, I didn’t find any prints I could buy or download, but I did find some high resolution images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) image archive. Although some were a bit noisy, I was able to clean them up with Photoshop and did some layer tweaking/saturation/balance to draw out the fine detail of the chromospheric network–as seen above in the 304A Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope filter–plus a distinct prominence (in the bottom left-hand of the image).

Not stopping there, I decided to give the same treatment to high resolution 171A and 195A images. They came out very well and I kept rotating them as my wallpaper for months. Having just read Phil’s post on today’s perihelion (the time of year when the Earth is at its closest to the Sun during its orbit), I came across a comment asking whether anyone had any wallpapers of the same 304A EIT image. Well, here it is! Plus two more!

If anyone wants to find out how the images were edited, feel free to ask and I’ll let you know. Truth be known, there’s thousands of space images held by NASA, ESA etc. open to the public domain that rarely get the “airtime” they deserve. So it’s about time I dust off these three-year old edits and share the magnetohydrodynamic love.

I miss active regions, I wish the Sun would amp it up a bit so we can see all those lovely flares, CMEs, filaments and coronal loops… ahhhh… coronal loops

AAS Meeting, Long Beach, 4-8 January 2009

The January AAS meeting is being held in Long Beach, CA (Image by Kevin Stanchfield)

The January AAS meeting is being held in Long Beach, CA (Image by Kevin Stanchfield)

I’m currently organizing myself for this week’s AAS meeting down in Long Beach, so expect a feast of breaking news and information from one of the biggest astronomical conferences on the planet! Dictaphone? Check. Pen? Check. Laptop? Check. Camera? Check… Beer money? What do you think?

Who?

I’ll be travelling down to Long Beach tomorrow to join forces with the rest of the New Media crowd, including my Universe Today publisher, Fraser Cain. Joining us will be Pamela Gay (a.k.a. Star Stryder), Chris Lintott, Michael Koppelmann, Georgia Bracey and Jordan Raddick. It will be great to finally put a face to all these names I’ve become so used to in the last year of blogging.

What?

This will be a new experience for me, as although I’ve been to many conferences, this will be the first time I’ll be reporting on other people’s research. So, the pressure is off and I can enjoy the vast ocean of knowledge being shared with the world. However, this isn’t going to be your normal reporting gig. Pamela and Fraser have been organizing this New Media venture to distribute information accurately and rapidly. This is the power of blogging; we are on the ground publishing articles as the news becomes available. This means you don’t have to wait to get your conference news fix, it will appear on the blogs as soon as we hear it.

Astroengine Live!

Internet connections permitting, I’ll be running my Wednesday Astroengine Live from the scene at the Long Beach Convention Center. I’ll see if I can get some interviews in, and a lot of the reporting will be done on-the-fly, but it should make for an interesting show! That’s 4pm PST, Wednesday January 7th, Astroengine Live via WPRT Radio!

When?

So, from Monday Jan. 5th, to Thursday Jan. 8th, I hope to stack Astroengine.com full with breaking news articles from the frontier of astrophysics, astronomy and space exploration.

How?

I will also be dumping as much information onto the Universe Today as possible. Plus, ace Universe Today writer Nancy Atkinson will be back at UT Mission Control overseeing the whole event. This way, you don’t only get your regular news updates, you also get the best the AAS has to offer!

All blog posts on every space news website will be linked to via Astronomy Cast LIVE, so be sure to check on that regularly for your up-to-the-minute news.

Don’t forget Twitter! I will be firing microblog posts out every time I get a new piece of news, so be sure to follow Astroengine.com’s Twitter Feed. I might even activate the Twitter feed though my main blog on Astroengine.com, but we’ll see how quickly the news breaks before I do this (I don’t want to create a bottleneck of news overflow!).

Meet Us!

Rock Bottom Brewery... Location for the Wednesday meetup!

Rock Bottom Brewery... Location for the Wednesday meetup!

If you just happen to be in the Long Beach area on Wednesday, drop by the Rock Bottom bar and restaurant from 6pm-9pm to meet me, Fraser and the whole New Media/Astronomy Cast LIVE team!

Rock Bottom is located at 1 Pine Ave, at the E Ocean Blvd./Pine Ave. cross street. This place is big, in a prominent location on the corner of Pine, so you shouldn’t miss it. Check out Google Maps for the location.

So, keep an eye on Astronengine.com, Universe Today, Astronomy Cast LIVE and my Twitter feed for the full spectrum of the conference… it’s going to be awesome.

My Social Universe

My Facebook Universe

My Facebook Universe

It might seem a little egocentric, but I thought this was rather cool. After wading knee-deep in Facebook code for the last few days, I came across some nice little tools. As with 90% of Facebook apps, it is debatable as to whether they are considered “useful” or not, but the power of this social media platform is abundant.

Take this application for example. Using an easy to use Java interface, you can get a visual snapshot of your online social network. I’ve only got as far as displaying all my friends according to location; in my case, predominantly from my hometown of Bristol, England and university town of Aberystwyth, Wales. There is also a strengthening contingent from the US (in the bottom left of the image, above).

So, this is my very own social universe. All they need to do is to make this 3D and rotate dynamically and it really will be like having my very own planetarium of Facebook friends :-)

Ok, ok, I’m getting back to the space science writing now

Astroengine Social Media: Facebook Connect

Facebook Connect, a new era for social media...

Facebook Connect, a new era for social media...

Facebook recently officially announced the release of Facebook Connect. At first, I was a little dubious as to what it would do; after all who needs to sign in to their Facebook account when surfing other websites, right?

Actually, Facebook Connect is a little deeper than that. Until now, Facebook has remained on Facebook.com, there was no way to transplant any of the social media applications to your own website (apart from a few developers). Applications for Facebook have been around since the dawn of the site, allowing users to develop and launch their own “useful” tools to connect, play, message and inform friends. Some have argued that the site was becoming cumbersome, with a vast number of user applications ballooning the platform out of all proportions. Many userpages were cluttered and overcrowded (including mine). So only a few weeks ago, Facebook underwent a huge face-lift, appearing to cut most of the chaff from userpages.

So far, so good.

But then the growing company announces it was developing its flexible platform to branch out. It would appear Facebook.com was just the beginning, over the coming months we’ll see Facebook applications appearing on other websites, expanding the scope of this social networking tool across the Internet…
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Added Google Friend Connect

Google Friend Connect

In an effort to boost the community “feel” of Astroengine.com, I’ve added the Google Friend Connect widget to the panel to the right. It seems like a great way to communicate the site’s articles and a useful tool for visitors to meet like-minded individuals. I’ll be assessing its effectiveness over the coming days, plus you might see some more tools appear. These moves are all intended to improve Astroengine.com content and boost the number of ways visitors can share information.

Simply click on the “Join Site” button and enjoy…

Thank you Avi for pointing out this nifty little gadget, let’s see what it can do!

Cheers, Ian

Introducing the Exomoon, and Detecting them via Exoplanet Wobble

Can astronomers really detect exomoons?

Can astronomers really detect exomoons?

Exomoon: The natural satellite of an exoplanet.

Before today, I hadn’t heard anything about the possibility of looking for moons orbiting planets in other star systems. Sorry, exomoons orbiting exoplanets in other star systems. But a British astronomer has calculated that it is possible to not only detect exomoons, but it is possible to deduce their distance from the parent exoplanet and their mass.

All this is done by measuring the exoplanet’s “wobble”; a practice more commonly used in the pursuit of the exoplanets themselves. By detecting the wobble of distant stars, the gravitational pull of the exoplanet becomes obvious. The same can be done with exoplanets, possibly revealing the presence of Earth-like exomoons.

Of the 300+ exoplanets discovered, 30 are within the habitable zones of their stars. If these large gas giant exoplanets (usually several times the mass of Jupiter) have an exoplanet system of their own, these exomoons also fall within the habitable zone…

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

For the full article, check out Astronomers Now Looking For Exomoons Around Exoplanets on the Universe Today…

Astroengine.com Joins a New Era for Blogging: WordPress 2.7 Locked and Loaded

Wordpress 2.7

Wordpress 2.7

Christmas has come early for WordPress bloggers… WordPress 2.7 has arrived.

Whilst readers will not notice any change in blogging service after the Astroengine upgrade, the changes behind the scenes could not be any more astonishing. The user interface is, quite simply, beautiful. The design, feel and speed are all working in tandem to deliver the best looking blogging experience I have ever seen. Often WordPress has been criticised as lacking in design when compared with other third party platforms, but critics will be silenced once they have a look under the hood of a WordPress 2.7-powered website.

This upgrade is called “Coltrane” after the legendary American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, and 2.7 was built by 150 programmers and designers, who responded to the needs of thousands of WordPress users via numerous polls and surveys. If you want to see open source at its best, read more about “Coltrane” and why the face of blogging has changed forever…

Astroengine.com Nominated for Best Space Blog!

Wow. That was unexpected! Astroengine has been nominated under the category of “Best Space Blog” on the award site Blognet!

Awesome. Well, I’m not sure what to say about that apart from “thank you” to the wonderfully cool person who anonymously left an awesome review of my site, and then a really nice follow-up review from one of Blognet’s admin staff. Thank you!

I’m not entirely sure how the award-choosing will unfold, but more blogs will be nominated in time (for now, it’s just Astroengine, enjoying the limelight, by itself), but keep an eye open and vote when/if you can. I wont be exchanging votes for money, but I’ll try to boost the content of Astroengine so it is a contender for the prize :-)

Thank you to the anonymous lady who nominated me! You’re a star (and not just any normal star, my favourite, the Wolf-Rayet star!).

Follow Astroengine on Twitter!

Astroengine on Twitter...

Astroengine on Twitter...

As if I’m not spending enough time in front of my computer already, it appears there’s another social web application I’ve been neglecting! I actually signed up to Twitter in August, but forgot about my Twitter account’s existence until now. After an explore, I realised it’s actually a very powerful tool, providing up-to-the second updates (in under 140 characters) about, well, anything.

First things first, I’m going to use it for personal stuff (although, “I’m doing my teeth,” or “I’m hungry” probably won’t feature) plus Astroengine article updates. I’ve now seen, that if I get enough followers, it might also be a good way to notify everyone about forthcoming Astroengine Live shows (next one is on Wednesday at 4pm PST – don’t forget! I’ll post another reminder later if you fancy tuning into my banter on the airwaves…). There will also be various updates for articles I post on the Universe Today.

So, if you are currently Twittering, follow me on the Astroengine Twitter feed, otherwise, sign up for a free account and start making sweet Twitterings…

See you there!

Cheers, Ian