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A year of looking up December 31, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, ESO, Look up, Paranal, Stars.
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On New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to explore astronomy a bit more, and learn something about what’s ‘out there’.

Although these posts haven’t been quite as frequent as I’d hoped, they still give an indication of lots of different things which have caught my attention during the year.

I have no intention of stopping now, and I’ll continue to collect and share things which I like.  So to end 2011, here’s a video from the European Southern Observatory showing a whole night in less than one minute.

This video depicts a whole night of work at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, from dusk till dawn. As the starry sky begins disclosing its beauties, the domes of the four VLT Unit Telescopes rapidly move to observe different celestial objects. Above the observatory, the wonderful landscape of the Milky Way rides the firmament in all its glory, while several shooting stars ‘scratch’ the sky, leaving very distinctive trails.

Credit: ESO/S. Guisard (www.eso.org/~sguisard)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

ESO – vltplatftimelapse – From Dusk till Dawn -…, posted with vodpod

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Is it too early to have favourites? February 11, 2011

Posted by Marie in Constellations, Look up, Stars.
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It may be early days, but I think I have discovered my favourite constellation already!

Big, beautiful, and instantly recognisable, Orion dominates the (clear!) night sky at this time of year.

I love it for many reasons.  One is that it was the first constellation I learned to recognise – it’s unmistakable.

Another is that the geek in me always thinks of Star Trek when I see it.  Why?  Well the bottom right star (if you’re looking directly at the constellation) is called Rigel, and planets of that name are referenced several times in Trek films and TV episodes.  (Sorry.)

Third reason – Betelgeuse, at the top left ‘shoulder’, was the first time I realised that not all stars are white.  Even to the naked eye, Betelgeuse is orangey-red.  Go on, go and have a look.  And it is e-nor-mous.

Look at this:

If  Betelgeuse was placed where our sun is, it would almost fill up to the edge of Saturn’s orbit.  Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter – gone!

I came home from work recently, in the rain, with a dark, cloud-filled sky.  No chance of looking up and seeing anything.  Later that evening, I went to get something from the car, and Orion literally took my breath away.  The clouds had cleared, and I hadn’t expected to see it there; it was just magnificent.  It’s around for a while longer, so go and admire!

A week of two halves January 9, 2011

Posted by Marie in Bad Astronomy, BBC Stargazing Live, ISS, Look up, Sun.
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I’m choosing the above as my title for this post because my first full week of astronomy in 2011 has been exactly that – the first half inspiring and packed full of new things, the second half totally washed out. 😦

Or maybe that should be clouded out!  Although the moon made a brief appearance yesterday evening (Saturday 8th Jan), for most of the week the sky was actually covered in cloud, and there was nary a star or a planet to be seen.  Most disappointing.

Particularly as I, like many millions across the country, had been inspired by BBC’s Stargazing Live, three nights of live programming from just up the road at Jodrell Bank.  I loved watching this (except for the parts with Jonathan Ross :-D) to such an extent that, on Thursday at 8pm, I felt strangely bereft that there was no programme!

The programme advised of a partial solar eclipse, meteor shower, and planets in the sky, but as I couldn’t see any of them, instead I enjoyed images produced by others.  The most amazing one for me was of the International Space Station passing in front of the sun at the time of the eclipse.  I’d love to put the picture on here because it did make me go WOW!  But I don’t want to infringe any copyright, so here’s the link to the Bad Astronomy blog where I first saw the image – I do urge you to have a look, because it’s a-ma-zing!

BBC Stargazing Live January 2, 2011

Posted by Marie in BBC Stargazing Live, Look up.
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It’s like the BBC actually asked me what I wanted for my licence fee!

I knew this series was coming up in early January, but it hadn’t occurred to me to check out the website.  But thanks to a message on Twitter, I have found a wealth of information to help me in my 2011 challenge.

BBC Stargazing Live – 3rd, 4th & 5th January 2011.

I am already encouraged that I appear to know more than Jonathan Ross – but then, some would say that’s not difficult (only joking, Jonathan ;-))

Now, all I need are some clear skies …

2011 – a year of looking up December 31, 2010

Posted by Marie in 365 Days of Astronomy, Look up, The Jodcast.
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For most of my life, I’ve had an amateur fascination with the universe, stars, planets etc.  When I say amateur, what I actually mean is total beginner, because I have no background in science whatsoever.  You can’t count my failed attempts at school many years ago, which was the last time I ever formally tried to understand anything scientific.  I remember watching Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos on TV when I was young and being amazed by his descriptions of the vastness of our universe, and our place in it (more about Cosmos later).  I’ve held this fascination ever since, and I love watching TV programmes and listening to podcasts on this theme, even though I still don’t always understand everything!

In November 2009, I went to a live recording of The Jodcast, a fab astronomy podcast produced by astronomers based at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank .  2010 then found me watching the BBC’s Wonders of the Solar System and catching up with myriad 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts (and others) and although often overwhelmed, still loving the experience of discovery.

Therefore, my challenge for 2011 is to feed my fascination, and to blog about this experience of discovery.  By this time next year, I want to be able to look up and know even more about what I see, understand a tiny fraction of what’s up there.  And hopefully have some fun learning!

I hope you’ll follow me on my journey.

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