• Category Archives Astronomy
  • She’s an old workhorse doing bleeding edge science – Hale Telescope

    As you know, I am a massive fan of the Hale Telescope at Palomar Mountain. I really miss going up and being a tour guide (docent), but have such a low tolerance for political games…..

    Anyway, one of the many things I enjoyed telling people about on my tour was how she’s an old massive workhorse and this makes her a very interesting and valuable science platform in the astronomy world.
    The Hale Telescope is the last big telescope in the world that is built an on equatorial mount. This means the axis of the telescope matches that of the earth. Roughly 23.5°. This means that the telescope only needs 1 motor to track the stars across the sky. It also means that the image in the ‘eyepiece’ (we use cameras these days, I have been told it’s been scores of years since Hale had an eyepiece fitted) does not rotate, it is in ‘lock step’ with the star or galaxy that we are studying.
    Why does this matter?
    New big telescopes are built to move in X and Y. So tilt and pan, or like a tank turret. You aim up and down and left and right. To track a star, you make tiny movements in both all the time. It also means that the star rotates in the eyepiece.
    Lastly, Hale is big and heavy. New scopes are built to a price, they are delicate. You can’t just bolt big heavy bits of gear to them and expect them to perform….. Hale on the other hand, she shrugs and after a quick rebalance, tracks as good as the day she was commissioned in Jan 1949.

    Great, where am I going with this?

    To this day, new science equipment is first tested out on the Hale Telescope and then refined and fitted to bigger telescopes.
    Case in point is a new instrument that can block out the light from a star so effectively that we can now see planets orbiting around it.
    If it were not for Hale, we could not see stuff like this;

    Direct imaging of four planets orbiting the star HR 8799 129 light years away from Earth

    How amazing is that!!!!!
    Totally mesmerizing. The star at the center of the image is 129 light years away.

    If you want to know more, you can read about it here; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2010-128

    But as much as I geek out on the tech, I am always humbled by the fact that this new tech was tried and tested on the Hale Telescope on Palomar Mountain, just up the road from where I live, and for one amazing year, I told people how even though she is a bit old, a bit heavy and bit low tech in places (I mean, she was designed and mostly built before WW2), she is still doing a critical job in expanding our knowledge of the universe.

    That’s pretty cool.

  • Near the edge of space

    There are a few companies that are very close to taking your money and hauling your backside into space or near space… In some cases, you can actually get into weightlessness…. The thing is, with all those options, they all involve a rocket of some kind…. While this might be exciting for some, I would rather have a more gentle option for getting above most of the planet’s atmosphere. Well, very soon, I will have that exact option.


    There are balloon rides, and then there are balloon rides. And although it may sound like something out of a Jules Verne novel, a company called World View says it will begin taking passengers to the edge of outer space by the end of 2017. In a step toward that goal on Tuesday, company officials confirmed that the first flights will take place in southern Arizona near the Tucson International Airport.

    World View plans to fly six passengers in a pressurized cabin to an altitude of 30km, where they will remain for a couple of hours. The generally accepted boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is 100km, known as the Kármán line. However, at 30km, or about 100,000 feet, the balloon will have risen above 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere and afford fine views of the planet’s curvature and the blackness of space. The company has priced tickets at $75,000 per person for an experience that will last four to six hours in total.

    While 75 large is out of my budget (only just ), the longer more peaceful ride has my full attention.
    I love this idea of going up and down in a much more fitting way to view the amazing sight of the planet stretched out below you like that.
    No idea why, but it just seems to me that space should be peaceful, not torn apart by the roar and vibration of a rocket…. But hey, no one asked me.

  • The sky is falling

    Really cool story about a bunch of Aussies that found a meteorite.


    It all starts with a fancy camera system operated by Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network team. A group of 32 remote cameras dotted across the outback keep an eye out for falling meteorites in hopes of tracking their trajectories and aiding in recovery of the rare space rocks.

    The meteorite fell on November 27, a sight witnessed by people on the ground as well as the camera network. The team analyzed the images and traced the likely landing spot to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, a massive desert lake in South Australia that sometimes fills up with rain.

    Enough to say, they found it before it rained.

    Very cool.

  • Meteor showers to order – whaaaa?

    This should not have surprised me as much as it did…..


    In recent months there have been a few snags with the preparations for the 2020 Olympic games to be held in Tokyo. Poorly planned stadiums and allegations of copyright infringement have really been taking the wind out of everyone’s sails for what is usually an auspicious event.

    At this point it might take a magical feat of celestial beauty to lift people’s spirits, like a thousand multi-colored shooting stars descending at once over the site of the games during their opening ceremony. But while they’re predictable, those hard-headed events known as meteor showers tend not to occur at our mere beck and call.

    However, now a small team in Japan has nearly completed creating an artificial meteor shower that can be seen anytime and anywhere you want, and which may even be brighter and more colorful that the real thing.

    So yeah, they are talking about on demand meteor showers.
    Just given them a truckload of money, a few months warning, and you too can have your meter shower on demand…..

    Exactly what is coming of the world we live in…??? It’s not enough to look up in wonder and awe… we have to click a button and make it happen just when we want……