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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 …


Doctor Who the Astronomer July 7, 2011

Posted by Marie in 365 Days of Astronomy, Doctor Who, The Jodcast.
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I love Doctor Who. And I love learning about our universe.  So I love these two podcasts!

Megan Argo is a professional radio astronomer, who is also a major contributor to one of my other favourite astronomy podcasts, The Jodcast.

Megan has now made two short stories available via the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast, in which she allows the Doctor himself to explain events which happened in our universe as if he (and we!) were actually there.  Of course, the Doctor probably was there …

Anyway, do spend a few minutes to listen to these podcasts – they’re as cool as bow-ties and fezes!

Doctor Who and the Silver Spiral


Increasing the awesome June 8, 2011

Posted by Marie in ISS, NASA, Photography, Space shuttle.
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Paolo Nespoli lived and worked on the International Space Station from December 2010 until May 2011.  On his departure from the ISS, he took this awesome video of the station, including the docked Space Shuttle Endeavour, on its final mission.

Most definitely increasing the awesome.

Beautiful Saturn June 2, 2011

Posted by Marie in Cassini, Photography, Saturn.
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Loving this montage of images from Chris Abbas, using Cassini images of Saturn.  (Watch full screen for maximum effect.)

So beautiful.

Gagarin 50 June 1, 2011

Posted by Marie in Gagarin, Space travel.
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There’s a little exhibition in Sale, near Manchester at the minute, called Gagarin50.

It celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin on 12th April 1961, and also his visit to Manchester and Trafford a few months later.

Although not a huge exhibition, it does tie in nicely with the commemorations which took place in April, and it did make me curious as to why he should choose to visit Manchester.

It turns out he came at the invitation of the Union of Foundry Workers (he had worked in a foundry himself when he was younger) and the lovely footage of him receiving a medal from them can be seen here, courtesy of the North West Film Archive.

Despite the Manchester rain, he seemed genuinely happy to be here.  Afterwards (and this is still very much in the era of the ‘Cold War’) he headed south to meet the Prime Minister.

The exhibition was due to finish this weekend, but has been extended until August, so if you are in the Manchester area and have an hour free, why not take a look.

All the single planets … May 5, 2011

Posted by Marie in Saturn.
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Just couldn’t resist this which I came across through Twitter last week.  Among a collection of actual answers given to real examination questions, this one made me laugh.

(I don’t intend to infringe any copyright, but I can’t trace where it came from!)

What colour is the universe? April 30, 2011

Posted by Marie in Astronomy, Jodrell Bank, Nebula, Planetary Nebula.

In a long and convoluted story, my last post about the new Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre led a Twitter friend to look at my favourite images page.  This then resulted in a twitter-sation about why the images are so pretty!

The colours in the images are ‘false’; that is,

Credits: Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger (JPL), the WFPC2 science team, and NASA

if you were to actually be able to travel to see the galaxies or nebulae with your own eyes, you wouldn’t see the colours which are in the images, because our eyes don’t register them.

So I discovered that the people who take the pictures get to choose the colours!

It’s all to do with the chemicals which are detected in the objects, and their wavelengths.  Red indicates the longest wavelength and blue the shortest, with the other colours somewhere in between.

Cats Eye Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgment: R. Corradi (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Spain) and Z. Tsvetanov (NASA).

But however they decide on the colours, they look lovely anyway! Keep an eye on the favourite images page, because I’m adding more all the time. Or if you like, feel free to send me your favourites and I’ll add them to the page.

A visit to Jodrell April 19, 2011

Posted by Marie in Jodrell Bank, Neutron star, The Jodcast.
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A short while ago, I mentioned that the new visitor centre at Jodrell Bank was about to open (post is here).  As I had a day with nothing specific planned, I decided to take myself off for a visit.

The designers have done nice things with the space available – it’s surrounded by the Cheshire countryside, and the new buildings housing the displays are not too intrusive.  The pathway leads visitors through the different exhibition

Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. Image: Reesiepie

spaces and out towards the largest of the radio telescopes on site.  On such a lovely day it was glorious, and as I sat in a quiet corner, the telescope slewed round gracefully.  She moves quite quickly for a large bird!

The entry/exit building (named The Planet Pavilion) contains the cafe and a (currently very small) shop on one side, and the beginning of the exhibition on the other.  There’s an image of the cosmic microwave background around all of the walls, an orrery, and some interactive computer installations where you can explore the planets, comets and asteroids further.

The Space Pavilion is the next building, which has a large room for lectures

Jodrell Bank. Image: Reesiepie

and a smaller meeting room, as well as the exhibition space itself.  I hope I’m right in thinking that eventually the displays will be added to, as there are a lot of empty walls which have the potential to be used.

The Space Pavilion contains small exhibitions on black holes, gravitational lensing, the big bang, and the opportunity to touch a meteorite.  There’s also a ‘Film Pod’ with some cute short films about the role Jodrell Bank played in the space race, and video journals from people who work in different capacities at Jodrell Bank.

The most interesting part for me was the section on collecting sounds from space.  Put the headphones on, and you’re taken through a symphony from space – what material sounds like when it’s falling into a black hole, or landing on Saturn’s moon Titan, or what noise a pulsar makes (you can listen here to an example I mentioned in an earlier post on the Crab Nebula).  Although, I do think it was either a bit mean or a bit of an oversight not to credit The Jodcast, seeing as the interview being used (between Stuart Lowe and Tim O’Brien) was taken from the August 2008 Extra episode!

You can also see realtime what the Lovell telescope is doing and take home your own printout, as well as listen to the sound of the first million years of the universe compressed into 10 seconds.

The biggest disappointment was the absence of a planetarium – I really feel that it is an opportunity missed by such a prestigious centre.  I suppose it all comes down to funding, but I can’t help thinking it is a big omission.

After a lovely lunch in the cafe, I left still mulling over a statement which I read whilst listening to the sounds of the beginning of the universe:

0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds = the Planck time – before this we don’t understand physics.

We don’t understand physics.   Wow – I have no chance, then!

For Yuri April 12, 2011

Posted by Marie in Gagarin, Moon, Photography, Space travel.
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Monument to the Conquerors of Space reaches for the Moon. Credit: Reesiepie

I took this photograph of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow during a visit in 2009.  It was a spontaneous shot, taken quickly as we were about to board a coach.  Although I’m annoyed that the Russian lamp post is in the way, I’m actually quite pleased that you can see the moon, almost as if the rocket is heading for its target.

During my visit, the hotel was really close to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, which is located inside the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space.

Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. Credit: Reesiepie

The monument is a beautiful representation of a rocket rising up into space, supported by its vapour trail, which forms the roof of the entrance to the museum.

The museum itself contains an amazing collection of items.  Among them: the stuffed dogs Belka and Strelka, who went into orbit on Sputnik 5, a full size, walk-through model of the Mir space station, and Yuri Gagarin’s spacesuit.

Today (12th April 2011) marks 50 years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, and there are many events taking place to mark this amazing feat.  Yuri is, rightly, a Russian and global hero.  The sad thing is that his life was cut short only 7 years later in an aviation accident – he never again returned to space, as the Soviet Union deemed him too precious to be allowed to go again.

Thanks, Yuri, for your bravery.

Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!

Yuri Gagarin

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre April 6, 2011

Posted by Marie in Jodrell Bank.
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I’m really excited about the fact that the totally new Jodrell Bank visitor centre is to open on April 11th 2011.

Artist's impression of the view from the cafe in the admissions building for the new Jodrell Bank discovery centre | University of Manchester/Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

When I first came to live in Manchester, I remember visiting the original centre, complete with planetarium, and I loved it.  In recent years, the visitor centre became much smaller, which always seemed such a waste of a great opportunity, therefore I can’t wait to see what the new one has to offer.

I’ll have to wait until at least the week after the official opening because I will still be at work, but in the meantime, the new website looks very impressive.

Watch out for my update once I’ve visited.

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