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ALMA – looking into the soul of the universe October 4, 2011

Posted by Marie in ALMA, Astronomy, Cosmos.
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I love the Spanish language, and I really love that many songs in Spanish dwell upon the word alma meaning ‘soul‘ as often as they do ‘corazon‘ or ‘heart’. So I like the fact that the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a ‘telescope’ in the Chilean Andes, composed of 66 high-precision antennae (of which only 22 are currently online), designed to study light from some of the coldest, furthest, and most hidden secrets of the soul of the Universe.  For example …

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO). Visible light image: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

The array has recently published its first image (above) using only twelve antennae working together — just imagine what the images will be like once all the antennae are on-line!

To find out more about ALMA, or just to see some stunning scenery, it’s well worth taking a look at this video from ESO (European Southern Observatory).  Amazing skies, telescopes being moved on trucks – it’s all here!  And my claim to fame is that I know people who work on ALMA which makes me really cool. Yes? 🙂

Cosmos – then and now September 5, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Carl Sagan, Cosmos.
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Recently, I finished watching the DVD box set of Cosmos, written and presented by Carl Sagan.  The set was given to me as a present after I dropped a number of hints to my brother (who has now ‘borrowed’ it to watch for himself, I might add).

As a child I was allowed to stay up late to watch the series, and I found something compelling about the episodes even then, though I suppose I didn’t understand much of it at the time.

It’s been an absolute delight to rediscover the series.   All the things I remembered about it are still there – the beautiful voice with its measured delivery, the special effects – dated now, but extraordinary at the time- , and the mingling of story-telling and fact, drama and explanation.  It was just as I had remembered it.

But I also discovered things I hadn’t picked up first time round.  Things like Sagan’s advocacy of environmental issues, and his insistence that we are ‘stewards’ of our planet, holding it in trust for our descendants, but none of us ever owning it or having any rights to it.  The arguments, and the way Carl Sagan makes them, must have seemed incongruous in 1980, the decade of Ronald Regan’s escalation of the nuclear arms race.

In fact, you could probably watch the series several times over, and learn several new things every single time.  Take a look here for more detailed information about the series.

And then, just as I reached the end of the final episode I learned that, over 30 years after the appearance of the original series, a sequel is to be made.  It will bring the series up to date with scientific developments, and will be presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of my favourite science communicators.

I know which box set I’ll be asking for …

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