WR 104: Not The Killer It Used To Be

WR 104. A killer? Not so much.
WR 104. A killer? Not so much.

It’s interesting how astronomical harbingers of doom have the ability to pop up more than once on the ‘net. However, the doom isn’t quite as terrifying when you’ve sat through a conference presentation by a scientist who has exhaustively given every reason as to why this particular killer won’t hurt you.

Enter WR 104.

To be honest, if it wasn’t a Wolf-Rayet star, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it (as we all know, or you should know, Wolf-Rayets are my favourite stellar objects), but this little fact combined with the fact that I know the Earth is no longer on the WR 104 hit-list, I feel compelled to correct an article that has just popped up on the web referencing out-of-date source material.

So, let’s wind this back the clock to January 2009 when I sat in on a very reassuring this-star-isn’t-actually-going-to-kill-us-after-all astro presentation…
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Listening Out for the Magnetospheres of Habitable Exoplanets

Searching for Earth-like exoplanets (© Mark Garlick)
Searching for Earth-like exoplanets (© Mark Garlick*)

Is there a new way to hunt for habitable Earth-like exoplanets? According to a US Naval Research Laboratory researcher there is an obvious, yet ingenious, way of listening for these worlds. Like most Earth-like exoplanet searches, we are looking for characteristics of our own planet. So what do we need to survive on Earth? Obviously we need water and the correct mix of oxygen with other atmospheric gases, but what about the magnetic bubble we live in? The Earth’s magnetosphere protects us from the worst the Sun can throw at us, preventing the atmosphere from being eroded into space and deflecting life-hindering radiation.

Although we have yet to develop sensitive enough radio telescopes, it may be possible in the future to detect the radio waves generated as charged particles in stellar winds interact with Earth-like exoplanetary magnetospheres. If there’s a magnetosphere, there may be a protected atmosphere. If there’s an atmosphere, perhaps there’s life being nurtured below

*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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Here’s One We Didn’t Discover Earlier

The 1998 archive Hubble image of HR 8799 after image analysis - one of the star's exoplanets have been resolved (NASA/HST)
The 1998 archive Hubble image of HR 8799 after image analysis - one of the star's exoplanets have been resolved (D. Lafrenière et al., ApJ Letters)

What’s just as exciting as directly imaging an exoplanet in a new observing campaign? To discover an exoplanet in an old observing campaign.

Like so many significant astronomical discoveries, archival images of the cosmos provide a valuable tool to astronomers. On its most basic level, astronomers can compare new images with images taken by the same (or different) observatory months, years or decades ago. This method can lead to the discovery of planets, asteroids and comets (when comparing two pictures of the night sky, a celestial object appears to move relative to the background stars). However, a new technique to analyse archived Hubble data in the search for exoplanets, has just revealed one of three known exoplanets orbiting the star HR 8699. The image in question was captured in 1998, when astronomers thought HR 8799 was an exoplanet-less star
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“FAR” (the 365 Days of Astronomy Theme Tune) by George Hrab

It is very rare that I come across someone with star quality. Having said that, I have stumbled across a few stars in LA, such as Harrison Ford (great), Clint Eastwood (awesome) and Brittany Murphy (nice) because I’m only 20 minutes away from the city. These things happen in a place where its main (only?) industry is celebrity and film. Oh yes, I’ve also had dinner with Billy Dee Williams, stood in a queue with Jerry O’Connell (he was buying dog food) and tripped over Nicole Richie (she is rather tiny after all). However, when it comes to meeting somebody before they became famous… I draw blanks. Hardly surprising really, I’m no talent scout and I spend most of my time typing, indoors. I need to get out more.

However, it all changed last month, when I met George Hrab. I’ve known about George for a while, but I only knew of his writing on Geo-Logic and that he was a musician. I had only heard the first couple of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts and I noted that they had one hell of a catchy theme tune. However, I didn’t give it any thought until I was introduced to George Hrab at the AAS in Long Beach last month. Ahhh, that George Hrab!

In the short time I spent with George between the AAS presentations and (free) beer, I realised this guy has star quality. This was confirmed when he performed live at the grand opening of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. And what did he perform? His signature theme tune, “Far” for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, only this time with audience participation. Needless to say, George did a superb job, he has great talent and he’s a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he’s a skeptical thinker and embraces space, science and logical thinking. My prediction is that George Hrab really will go FAR (uber-far)…

Watch the video above, or you can download the full mp3 from George’s blog. Enjoy!

Carnival of Space Week 88 – The Spacewriter

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Want to know what’s been happening in the Universe this week? Get over to Carolyn Collins Petersen’s space and astronomy blog (a.k.a. “The Spacewriter”) for a SUPERB Carnival of Space. I’m not entirely sure where to start for week 88, there’s so much to choose from! In fact, looking at the number of entries, I’d say this is one of the largest turnouts so far. Wow, there’s a lot of science writing going on!

From Carolyn’s well-crafted peek into the space blogosphere, here’s a tiny fraction of articles that caused a derailment to my plans for getting any work done this afternoon (plus my first reaction, in a word):

21st Century Waves (Bruce Cordell): Long Waves and the Future of Human SpaceflightWow

Centauri Dreams (Paul Gilster): A Workable Fusion Starship?Whoosh!

Space Video of the Day: Announcement by Pres. Regan after the Challenger disasterMoving

Mang’s Bat Page (David Gamey): How You Could Pilot a Space Telescope (Upside Down)Shiny!

Simostronomy (Mike Simonsen): Aperture FeverObsessed!

The Martian Chronicles (Ryan Anderson): The MOC “Book”: IntroductionInsightful

Starts With A Bang! (Ethan Siegel): Supernovae and Dark Energy: Part IIAha!

There are loads more where that came from, so get your bums down to The Spacewriter and enjoy!

From Astroengine.com, I submitted my musings about the secret payload on that Delta IV Heavy… just why are clandestine launches so damned sexy?

Morse Code Messaging with the Stars

Sirius morse code, but what does it say? (©Jimmy Westlake)
Sirius Morse code, but what does it say? (©Jimmy Westlake)

It’s another one of those “I wish I’d thought of that” moments. Well, at least it would have been if I knew Morse code. And if I was an astrophotographer. I have a camera, and some patience, and have worked out how to capture the Moon with my ancient SLR, so perhaps there’s some hope yet? Nah, I’ll give up on this one.

Jimmy Westlake from Colorado took this shot of star trails, with the brightest star being Sirius. Usually, star trails are continuous arcs of light after keeping the shutter of the camera open for minutes-hours at a time. You’ll notice that this picture is different, the star trails are broken. It turns out that Westlake wanted to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009 in his own way:

This is actually a series of 28 separate exposures on one piece of film. The ‘dots’ are 30-second exposures; the ‘dashes’ are 3-minute exposures. The ‘shutter’ creating the gaps was my shivering, gloved hand held over the lens in the 0ºF Colorado air. The entire message required just under two hours to record. Every few minutes, I had to turn on a blow dryer to keep the frost from forming on the lens–and me!

I’ll let you try to decipher the code if you can read Morse code, otherwise read on for the answer…
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365 Days of Astronomy Podcast: The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement!

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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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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

2009: The International Year Of Astronomy

iya2009

Four centuries after Galileo Galilei first pointed his telescope at the night sky, the international community will not only be commemorate Galileo’s momentous discoveries, we will celebrate mankind’s continuing scientific endeavours in space. Back in 2007, the United Nations decided 2009 should be dedicated to astronomy and named it the “International Year of Astronomy”. It is going to be a huge year for all astronomical disciplines, intended to educate, celebrate and enjoy the wonders of the cosmos. Many events are planned throughout the coming twelve months, in the 135 nations participating. You won’t be far away from an IYA2009 participating group or organization, so be sure to embrace this landmark year, it could change the way you view the Universe forever…

The Universe, yours to discover.

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Small but Mighty: KPD 0005+5106, the 200,000K White Dwarf

Sirius B1 - one of the more famous white dwarf stars (Frank Gregorio)

A white dwarf called KPD 0005+5106 has been identified as the hottest star observed, ever. KPD 0005+5106 lives in the globular cluster M4, 7,200 light years away, and astronomers have always been intrigued by this stellar lightweight as its emissions have previously hinted it was quite toasty. Now, astronomers using data from the defunct NASA Far-Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), have studied the white dwarf in more detail. KPD 0005+5106 emits radiation in the far-ultraviolet, indicating that its surface has a temperature of 200,000K. This is an unprecedented discovery, far-ultraviolet emissions are usually reserved for superheated stellar coronae. It may be small, but it’s a record-breaker
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