Dictatorial scientists want us to marvel at their “magic”

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Here is my contribution to #spoofjenks in which science bloggers attempt to satirically emulate the style of Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins.

This weekend scientists were again attempting to “engage with society” by encouraging us to see a dark smudge on the moon. This shameless attempt to co-opt the populace at large is yet the latest shallow, empty publicity stunt from the “scientific community”.

I am the greatest fan of uncommon spectaculars in the natural world possible, but I am in no way enthralled by such relatively rare celestial occurrence. This astronomical gardyloo is an attempt to con the public into accepting the “value” of scientific research. But yet fate and geography this time saved me from being subjected to such vulgar special interest PR from Big Science. For luckily this event was only visible from the western hemisphere, yet the BBC saw fit to devote their scant resources to informing license fee payers of an event they could not even see. I am glad they could not as it would clearly have been as massive a disappointment as the solar eclipse visible from Cornwall in 1999. This was trumpeted by scientists for months in advance and yet when the crunch came it was cloudy and not visible to the gawping hordes convinced by the boffin controlled media machine. The “experts” of course claim they predicted the weather problems a few days in advance, yet they could predict the eclipse decades in advance. Perhaps they need to get their priorities right.

To compound matters scientists were claiming that in the Eastern United States the fact the eclipse would take place near the horizon would make the moon look bigger. They put this down to an “illusion”, typically for those ruled by empirical evidence attributing anything they cannot explain to “magic”. Many people think that the moon is actually made to look bigger by atmospheric magnification but, like Mao challenging the liberal bourgeoise during the Cultural Revolution, they belittle these views by claiming that simply by checking the size with a scale this can be disproved. One thing is for sure, I will not be jumping to the orders barked by these commissars of calibration in future.

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Postcards from the roof

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By a strange quirk of fate, two of this blog’s authors are observing different mountains. Niall is currently observing on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai`i, while Stuart is at Kitt Peak in Arizona. In between preparing, integrating and using large amounts of lipsalve they have written a bit about their experiences and have taken some pretty pictures (not data). Which one do you prefer, Stuart is a better photographer, but Niall is at a better site. It’s talent vs. beauty in a blog-off.

Stuart would also like to point out that due to a staggering oversight, he has left his DSLR at home and so has had to rely on his trusty iphone and the kindness of strangers to lend him their photos.

Left to right: Subaru, the two Kecks and the mountain of Haleakela in the distance

Niall: I’m on Mauna Kea doing a bunch of observations on the UK Infrared Telescope. Conditions are currently horrible so I’m not actually taking useful data. I’ve never observed this high up before, the low air pressure was neatly demonstrated when I dropped a can of Coke as I got out of the car and it exploded showering both me and the UKIRT car.

Tourists and Telescopes

Tourists watch the sunset by Gemini and CFHT

As I’ve not take much data as the weather is so bad, but I did manage to wander out and take a few photos of the sunset from the mountain. It’s a popular site with tourists (left) as well as astronomers and as you can see from some of the photos. They seem to gather on the ridge between UKIRT and Gemini with its odd wall-less dome. While the sunsetting behind the Subaru (named, like the car company, after the Japanese word for the Pleiades) dome looks pretty, much of the prettiness is caused by high clouds which make observing very difficult.

The Subaru dome at sunset

Stuart: I can haz spectra! is what I would say if I was a cute little lol cat but as I am a gruff hirsute scotsman I wont. I am over on Kitt peak in Tucson Arizona on my first ever observing trip! “First observing trip?” I hear you say, “but I thought you where an astronomer?” well you can check out my confessions over at the zooniverse blog. We are here taking specta, measurements of the intensity of different colours that some special galaxies are giving out. We are trying to find more examples of objects like Hanny’s voorwerp using the 2.1 meter telescope here. As I said above I left my DSL at home so I am borrowing some photos from Bill Keel and Drew Chojnowski. One of the coolest things about our scope is just how many others are around it. Kitt Peak has a staggering number of telescopes, most of which can be seen in this panorama:

Our telescope is the one smack bang in the middle of the picture. Drew managed to get a couple of really cool panoramas inside the dome as well. See if you can spot what is strange about the second one. :

The hill here seems to be infested with ladybugs who cower from the sun around the bases of most of the telescopes. I had always thought of them as quite cute but this many makes my skin crawl!

So to get that horrible image out of your head here is a stunning sunset panorama taken from the catwalk of our scope (my new favorite place in the Universe) :

So just to round things up I wanted to share a quick video tour of our control room, until next time enjoy:


My Astronomer’s Gallery – A June Journey

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This month it’s my turn to guest curate an Astronomer’s Gallery for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. You can find my gallery here and in a blatant attempt to interest you all enough to go and have a look there’s a taster Milky Way photo from it below!

I’d also recommend checking out the great galleries for April and May chosen by Amanda who blogs over at astropixie and Stuart who blogs right here.


We are 1!!!

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Wow how time flies! It’s been almost a year since this plucky band of degenerate astrophysicists decided that the internet had gone too far without their particular flavour of drivel and decided to start a blog.

Happy birthday weareallinthegutter! And congratulations on making it one entire circuit around the sun. This has been a particularly mobile year for us authors with Niall moving from Nijmegen to sunny Hawaii and Stuart moving from rainy Edinburgh to rainy Oxford. It’s been a fun year for us and an education in the way of the blogsphere. What have we learned? Well, firstly that people are really interested in things both hot and cold, with a puzzling amount of our traffic coming from posts about volcanoes and comets! All we need is nature to provide us with a comet/volcano collision and we may become more popular than lolcats!

Stuart even baked the blog a cake but it couldn't blow the candles out on account of it being a webpage with no lungs.

It’s interesting to see what drives people to our site. WordPress helpfully tells us what people google to find us… and it can make for interesting reading. We’re still unsure how we could be one of the results for “Aircraft in the trojan war” but hopefully we weren’t too much of a disappointment. “Volcano from space with evil face” was intriguing enough for us to google it ourselves; try an image search for it yourselves – it’s actually pretty scary!

One thing we don’t feel like we have been very good at is getting to know you guys. So if you have enjoyed the blog, are an occasional visitor, or even if you have hated it so much that you have declared yourself our offical arch nemesis (we don’t mind – everybody needs one), why not leave us a comment to let us know (roughly) who you are?

Well, here’s to a fun year which will hopefully be the first of many. Happy birthday weareallinthegutter