Monday, August 24, 2015

Australian Science Week - its a wrap!

Science week this year went to a whole new level in Australia. Following the lead from Prof Ian Chubb's STEM Strategy white paper, people really rolled their sleeves up and exceeded all expectations - and claimed two world records!

On Aug 12th, I was in Canberra for work and snuck out in the evening to catch the Science in the Pub sponsored by the ANU and the Australian - American co-operation through the US Embassy. The session was led by Prof Brian Schmidt (ANU), Dr Alan Duffy (Swinburne) and Glen Nagle (CSIRO/ANTF). An amazing session debriefing all the latest data from the NASA New Horizons, Pluto mission. If you had told planetary scientists only 6 weeks ago there was frozen nitrogen glaciers filling in old craters on Pluto, it would have been beyond their wildest dreams, yet that is exactly what they have found.

Friday 21st Aug The ANU/RSAA Stargazing night smashed two world record's for single-site and multiple-site observers with telescopes observing the night sky for 10 consecutive minutes. We were all a bit nervous about the weather, but the clouds cleared out just in time to ensure the night was a great success and everyone had a great time observing some fantastic sights through the larger telescopes. 76 people from the school community and nearby residents came out for one of the many local Melbourne sites at Norwood Secondary College in Ringwood. My trusty 14inch dobbie (dobsonian) was a hit, with people stunned and amazed looking at individual craters on the moons and counting the moons of Saturn which could be seen beyond the glare of the magnificent rings.

Mt Stromlo observatory in Canberra smashed the single-site Guinness Book of Record with a massive turnout of 1800 observers. The tally for the multi-site is still being finalized but was believed to have been over 10,000 people around the country. Once official it should easily eclipse the previous record of 3006 set in April 2013 in Mexico. Go Aussie!

Saturday 22nd Aug was a great night as well. The Scienceworks' Festival of Astronomy and Light opened up Scienceworks into the evening and I took the dobbie along again as one of the astronomers providing telescopes for viewing by the general public. Its amazing to watch kids who have never seen a telescope before walk up to one and try and work out which end/lens/mirror to look through. All are completely amazed at whats going on with all the lens and mirrors and when they see a crater on the moon as big as Tasmania it just blows them away. I have often described Astronomy as the "cupid's arrow of science", because of the emotional impact on people the first time they see the rings of Saturn or the craters of the moon. [That's original you have to quote me ;-) ]

As a veteran of many starparties it takes a bit to impress me, however I was not to be disappointed ........ a WORKING Tile from the Murchison Array had me fan-boying with selfies. It was sitting there on the grass collecting signals from the universe quite happily. Some 128 of these tiles currently form the Murchison Array, and will be a key part of the Square Kilometer Array that will put Australia at the forefront Astronomy research. If your dream is to win the nobel prize for Astrophysicis - Get into astronomy, go to the ANU or Curtain Uni in WA, and get onto the SKA (once built) and start data mining!!!!

Image: Selfie with "Popup Radio Telescope" - one tile of the Murchison Array actually working at Scienceworks.

What better way to wind up the week on 23rd Aug with some actual science supporting NASA's OSIRIS-REx Mission working with University of Arizona's Citizen Science Project - Target Asteroids. Laneway Learning, a novel idea that started as a way to increase traffic to a little coffee shop called the Little Mule Cafe (in a dead end laneway), has now gone global due to its outstanding success. Laneway Learning run eccentric little classes on just about anything to promote community engagement and sharing of ideas. I have run three "Asteroid Hunting" classes and become a regular at their Sunday Science Spectacular during Science Week.

Over a couple of hours about 10-20 people helped classify and record the photometry of asteroid Magellan, an analog of asteroid Bennu, the target of the 2018 OSIRIS-REx NASA New Horizons Mission. Asteroid Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid and 3rd on the Sentry Risk Table that requires careful watching by amateur and professional astronomers alike. Bennu is a 492m asteroid that (at this stage) will pass at about 1/3 the distance to the moon in 2182. Saving the lives of your great grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon during science week - what could be better than that!

This is a photo of my little booth at Captain Melville's for the Sunday Science Spectacular.

All in all a great effort, thanks to Norwwod Secondary College, Mount Burnett Observatory, Scienceworks, Captain Melville's and Laneway Learning for putting up with me enthusiastically waving my arms about and carting large telescopes, screens and computers around.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Asteroid (357439) 2004 BL86 close approach on Australia Day

UPDATE: 09:30pm Local Time. The weather is not good, the sky has cleared but the Humidity is up to 88% from 87% in the past 10 mins. So the observatory can't open yet!!! Need a nice gust of drier air from the south ;-)

Its been a big month for comets but today all eyes turn to the monster asteroid (357439) 2004 BL86 which makes its closest approach to earth this decade.

Its not every day you get a binocular visible asteroid streak across the night sky. 2004 BL86 has been approaching from the south and has been tracked this week at -71 degrees declination where it was Magnitude 17 and will brighten tonight and in the early morning to magnitude 9 as it passes near Jupiter and Sirius.

I captured the approaching asteroid for the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids Mission and collected some astrometry and photometry on Jan 19th.

120 Sec image on T27 at 0.53 arsec/pixel Jan 19th 2015 (c) P.Lake

Again on the 25th of January, one day out, you can see that it is speeding up and travelling very fast with reference to the background stars. You can see the asteroid streaked in this 30 sec image.

30 Sec image on T12 at 3.5 arcsecs/pixel Jan 25th 2015 (c) P.Lake

I will be obtaining further data tonight (weather permitting) just before its closest approach at 3 lunar distances. It will be travelling at 160 arcsecs per minute at closest approach around 2am. I won't be up that late. I will upload an animation of the footage compiled into a nice video of its approach.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Robberfly is that?

Its holidays, and its great to wander slowly through the forest and just let nature come to you at its own pace. I know some of you are say it should be Which Robberfly is this - give me a break I'm on holidays! ;-)

Shall we play a game?

Starting with the Asilidae family we have a very close match to the Giant Yellow Robberfly. However in all the photos I have seen the Yellow Segment on the abdomen under the wings is a clear and distinct single continuous yellow stip. However you can see here there is a yellow segmented cross stripped highlight.

The second point of difference is the "whiskers" around the proboscus are distinctly yellow as well. The other photos I have seen have grey "whiskers".

Any ideas or comments appreciated. I have sent of a question to CSIRO, awaiting a response. Other hints: Coastal Rainforest habitiat central NSW coast, Port Macquarie.

Readers of the Blog will recall my previous "what the hell" experience with a photo - was capturing the only known footage of Burrunan Dolphins playing in the surf at Lakes Entrance.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Put Out Your Bats!

Sometimes a photo can say more than the most "thought out words".

Not sure who thought of this but its a lovely tribute to Phil Hughes and his family and friends and team-mates.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Comet C2013 A1 (Siding Spring) approaches Mars - LIVE COVERAGE

Well finally the day we have all waited for has arrived. Here is our live coverage of the Comet approaching Mars just 6-7 hours before closest approach. Enjoy! [Also see here an earlier post: Where the hell is Siding Spring Anyway?]

Can you spot it?

Here is the high resolution inverse image in the V filter where its a little easier to see!

Perhaps my personal favourite!

This is a great image as it shows Comet Siding Spring dead center of the image (and dead center of the telescope mirror) with the overexposed Mars just off center and the "shadow" of the telescope truss and secondary vanes reflected in the extra light of Mars. The "Red Planet" Mars is brighter here in the R Filter.

Here is a short blinking video of the movement of both Mars and the Comet against the background stars. It consists of 5 images from the R filter and 3 from the V. Interestingly you can also see a cosmic ray hitting the CCD between the COmet and Mars in the first image of the 3 V filter images.


Image credits: P.Lake Q62 T31 120 secs

And as Comet Siding Spring moves through perihelion it continues to fade. My view is that it didn't get close enough to the sun for some serious action, I guess when all the data is in we'll know more. Certainly though, it has been variously described as once in a million year event. The MAVEN Team at NASA will be rejoiceing in all that "free data" that showed up as the team were getting ready to lauch their mission.

Thanks for joining us on this brilliant journey!

Friday, October 3, 2014 Live Hangout from SSO

In a live G+ Hangout, Pamela Gay joins us at for a live broadcast from Siding Spring Observatory on the day of the official opening of Amanda Bauer drops in for a chat. Peter Lake and Neil Shaw share their passion for astronomy.

The expert panel, Amanda Bauer, Pamela Gay and Neil Shaw.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Asteroid 2014 RC Live coverage

Update: Three pane comparision of "relative" speed across the CCD.

Update 1430 UT (12:40 am Local time) I am off to bed now as the weather is closing in. The scope will grab a few more images around the closest approach at which time it will be a long streak right across the image. I'll have some more images and some mosaics and video uploaded tomorrow. Thanks for following the action.

Update 13:35 - Starting to motor now ..... 191 arcsecs per minute. Starting to brighten up now as well. Next shot at 14:00 UT or Midnight local time, where it will be absolutely flying at 214 arsecs per minute.

Update 12:45 UT Travelling at 177 Arcsecs per minute now. Including Animation!

Update 11:30UT (09:30pm Local) Really starting to pick up speed now travelling at 97 arcsecs per minute. I'll have an animation of this one shortly and a video eventually. Check back regularly as I am updating the images quickly now each 30-40 mins.

Update 10:35UT - Another 30 Sec image you can see the "streak" of the 30 seconds of movement getting longer as it covers more sky in each 30 sec frame. Travelling here at 87 Arcsecs per minute.

Update 10PM local time: Here is the first image, this is about 2 hours back now. I'll punch them out a little quicker now. This was at 10:00 UT or 8:pm Local time. You can see the moon is seriously messing with this image but we still managed to get it. There was some thin cloud drifting through as well. More soon.

Update: 09:30pm Local time 11:29 UT. It Looks like daylight under that nearly full moon at Siding Spring. The telescope I am using is front right in this image. Its going to be a tough get only 20 degrees away from the full moon.

Asteroid 2014 RC was discovered on the 31st of August by the Catalina Sky Survey and the Panstarrs Survey on consequtive nights. The Minor Planet center took a day or so to collate the observations and confirm they were the same object, publishing the MPEC 2014 R26 on September 3rd.

It was clear from the outset that this 15-26m object was going to make a very close pass, and tonight as Daniel Ricciardo lines up on the grid in the Italian Grand Prix, the asteroid will make a very close pass at 40,000 klms over Australia and New Zealand. It is thought to be about the same size as the Chelyabinsk meteorite.

Its Father's Day here and I have had a great day, and all the teenagers have retreated to work on their STEM elements of their education. So whilst Daniel Ricciardo battles it out with the William's boys I'll be drive another advanced piece of technology, targeting something travelling MUCH, MUCH, FASTER!!!!

The first set of images are in an will be posted shortly.

The aim is to show the rapid "apparent acceleration" as it whizzes past earth. Of course the speed of the asteroid doesn't change, just its apparent relative velocity appears to increase as it passes (like watching a car travelling at 100 klms per hour approach from a distance)


Custom Search

My Videos