Twitter Journalism: Methane on Mars, The Signature of Life?

The distribution of atmospheric methane originating from three principal regions on the Martian surface (NASA)

The distribution of atmospheric methane originating from three principal regions on the Martian surface (NASA)

Today, NASA held a press conference detailing some significant discoveries from observations made of the Martian atmosphere. Using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility and Keck Telescope, scientists from the University of Hawaii and NASA were able to deduce the spectroscopic fingerprint of methane. Although scientists have known for a long time that methane exists in the Martian atmosphere, the big news is that there is lots of it, it appears to be constantly replenished and it is a huge indicator of biological processes under the surface.

Fortunately, I was able to watch the NASA TV broadcast of the press conference at 11am (PST), so I thought I’d try, for the first time, to do some live microblogging of the announcements using Twitter. So, rather than going into vast detail about today’s methane news (as the web has exploded with articles on the subject anyway), I thought I’d publish my Twitter feed during the conference
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Astroengine Live #7: Beer, Beer and Cutting-Edge Cosmology

I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry...

I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry...

I wasn’t actually going to mention the whole space beer thing again, heaven knows I’ve been banging on about that enough! But I just stumbled across a website advertising a film that will be made called “Beer Drinkers in Space”. (Sign me up!) There’s little information about it, but it appears to be based on a 1980′s original movie of the same name. The blog has recently announced that “Beer Drinkers in Space is readying for a March shoot in Orlando, Florida. The movie, starring Christopher Atkins and James Hong, will be directed by Iake Eisenmann.” I wonder if they need a space beer science advisor? Hmmm…

Anyhow, today’s Astroengine Live will include an airing of my 10-minute-long podcast for the 365 Days of Astronomy that aired last week (about, you guessed it, “The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement”), a behind-the-scenes look at the AAS conference last week in Long Beach (about, you guessed it, drinking free space beer), and something about magnetars, colliding black holes and hot neutron stars. Oh yes, and a run-down of the Carnival of Space. It’s going to be awesome.

Show starts at 4pm PST, 5pm MST, 6pm CST, 7pm EST… and midnight GMT!

Get Involved!

Have any articles or stories you want to contribute? Have an opinion on anything in the world of space? Email me on astro@wprtradio.com and I’ll be sure to give it a mention. Eventually, I hope to have telephone call-ins, but for now, email will do.

Listen to Astroengine Live using the Paranormal Radio player.

Check out Paranormal Radio’s live streaming vidcast, Captain Jack will be airing my show on his website too.

Oh No! Rocket Launches Are Bad for the Environment? We’d Better Stay at Home Then

A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)

A small environmental impact, Falcon 1 launches in September 2008 (SpaceX)

For every article written about the amazing advances in space vehicle technology, there are two negative comments about the pointlessness of space exploration.What’s the point?“, “We have war, famine, poverty and human suffering around the world, why invest billions on space?“, “What’s space exploration ever done for me?“. However, today, after I wrote a pretty innocuous article about the awesome SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being hoisted vertically on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, I get a comment (anonymous, naturally) starting off with, “This launch and others like it should be halted indefinitely until it’s carbon footprint and environmental impact can be accounted for.” The commenter then goes into something about making an environmental assessment, levying SpaceX’s taxes and setting up a board of environmental scientists. Oh please.

On the one hand, I’m impressed by this person’s spirited stand against environmental damage, carbon emissions and global warming, but on the other, this is probably one of the most misplaced environmentalism attacks I have seen to date. There are extremists on both sides of the “green” debate, but the last thing we need is an attack against the only answer we have to fight climate change. And that answer comes in the form of a cigar shaped polluter, blasting into Earth orbit; whether you like it or not, it is a necessary (yet small) evil…
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Magnetars Born Through Quark Star Switch?

Could quark stars be magnetar progenitors? (© Mark Garlick)

If you thought neutron stars and magnetars were exotic, think again. In studies of magnetars that occasionally blink to life, generating an intense blast of X-rays and gamma-rays, astronomers have been at a loss to explain why these objects have such strong magnetic fields. After all, after a supernova, a neutron star remnant conserves the angular momentum and magnetic field of the parent massive star; it is therefore a rapidly spinning, magnetically dominant entity, often observed emitting intense radiation from its poles (a.k.a. a pulsar).

However, magnetars (the most magnetically powerful objects observed in the Universe) do not have such a reasonable explanation for their magnetic field, it is simply too strong.

During the AAS conference last week, one scientist presented his research, possibly indicating another state of matter may be at play. A massive neutron star may pass through a “quark star phase”, kick starting a mechanism known as colour ferromagnetism

*This image is copyright Mark A. Garlick and has been used with permission. Please do not use this image in any way whatsoever without first contacting the artist.
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Slacker Astronomy Interviews Dr Michael Turner about Dark Energy

Dr Michael Turner

Dr Michael Turner (Slacker Astronomy)

I’m just listening to Slacker Astronomer Michael Koppelman’s excellent interview with Dark Energy’s Dr Michael Turner at last week’s AAS conference in Long Beach. You have to listen to Turner’s views on dark matter, dark energy, the LHC, the rights and wrongs of general relativity and some great opinion about the current state of cosmology. On checking out Turner’s bio on his website, anyone who has “Space” listed under “Areas of Expertise” has to be listened to!

I especially liked the Slacker question concerning the growing number of people opposed to the idea of dark energy accusing cosmologists of “drinking the same Kool Aid” (in reference to the perceived thought that dark energy might be a crazy idea), to which Turner replies with, “Well we do all drink the same Kool Aid, that is true. I’m Mr Kool Aid!

It is a really entertaining interview, providing an insight to the cutting edge of cosmological thought and excitement for the continuing work being done in the field.

Great work Slacker Astronomy! Now I feel like the slacker, Astroengine.com didn’t manage any podcasts direct from the scene of the AAS… I must remember by dictaphone in June for the next AAS in Pasadena!

Source: Slacker Astronomy

365 Days of Astronomy Podcast: The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement!

365doa

The day has come. Finally, I get to promote my excitement for the importance of Space Beer. Ohhh yes! Incidentally, Space Beer has been the theme of the last few days of the AAS conference (free beer, special free Galileo limited edition Sierra Nevada beer. Did I mention it was free?), so it seems fitting to have my 365 Days of Astronomy podcast broadcast the day after returning from the conference fuelled by (free) space-themed booze.

So, today (January 9th), over at the 365 Days of Astronomy, celebrating the International Year of Astronomy 2009, you can tune into my contribution to the IYA2009: The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement.

Go to the 365 Days of Astronomy blog post for the transcript and podcast options »

Play the podcast mp3 NOW!

To top the whole experience off, I had the superb fortune to meet the musician behind the 365 Days of Astronomy theme tune, plus we were also treated to a mini-concert by him during the official USA opening of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 at the AAS conference on Tuesday. Written and performed by George Hrab, the entire audience at the IYA2009 grand opening ceremony had a great time singing along to the lyrics. I’m assuming the song is called “Far”, for obvious reasons. Funnily enough, in the audience participation parts of the tune, avatars participating in the Second Life virtual world were also singing along. George not only entertained the real world, he transcended this life to make the Second Life rock! Now that is inspirational!

Photos after the jump…
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The AAS Finale: Astronomy Cast Meet-up (Photos)

A unique beer-fuelled AAS camera angle. Clockwise from top right: Pamela Gay, Fraser Cain, Chris Lintott and Ian O'Neill

A unique beer-fuelled AAS camera angle. Clockwise from top right: Pamela Gay, Fraser Cain, Chris Lintott and Ian O'Neill

It’s Thursday afternoon and the hangover is finally subsiding. This morning wasn’t a nice experience, having stumbled back to the hotel at 2am, knowing very well I had to get up at 7am for the final round of sessions at the AAS conference, I knew the lack of sleep might be a problem.

After all, there would be no presentations in the afternoon and I was very motivated to get the scoop on some more breaking astro news. Unfortunately, 7am turned into 10:30am, and although I tried, I couldn’t make it past the hotel lobby. For me, Thursday was cancelled. Oh well, at least the previous night was awesome
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