Live from the top of the world

Over the last few months I’ve had a lot of observing time on Mauna Kea. Unfortunately the weather this year has been dreadful, frequently we lose entire nights due to cloud, humidity or freezing fog. The two telescopes I use most are now run remotely with no observer at the summit so I’m often reduced to staring at the weather information pages begging for the clouds to clear and the humidity to drop.

One of the interesting side effects of so many telescopes on the mountain going remote is that they often install webcams so they can monitor the conditions more accurately. A nice example is the all sky camera on the University of Hawai`i 88 inch telescope. This provides a live view of the sky over Mauna Kea. Not only can you see constellations and planets, you can see the laser guide stars from Keck, Subaru and Gemini as lines on the sky and also a green cross which marks where the UH88 is pointing (hint: in bad weather it’s parked facing straight up). There are also more webcams showing the views near various telescopes. However these look a bit dull in the dark. Still if you are ever giving an outreach talk during the day in Europe you can show a live view of the sky from one of the world’s top observatories.

However the award for the best webcam on the mountain has to go to the CFHT cloudcam. This was recently installed facing from the mountain towards Hilo. It’s really useful as it gives early warning of fog coming over the plateau towards the ridge. While it also gives a lovely view of the sky the best part are the timelapse movies. In a typical move you can see the shadow of the moutain rise as the sun sets, stars and planets rising and aircraft flying into Hilo airport. There’s also a loop marking individual constellations.

A sample view from the CFHT cloudcam showing Orion and Sirius rising. Credit: CFHT

Going through the CFHT cloudcam movies looking for cool stuff is great. Take the spectacular moonless night on the 4th of February where you can see the plane of the Galaxy rise late in the night. Or on the other side, how about supermoon from the 19th of March. These sort of movies look great for talks, live outreach during the day or just to show a class of schoolkids something to stare in awe at.

I’ve just found an ESO webcam from La Silla which gives a lovely view of the Galactic centre. If you know of other good astronomy webcams then put them in the comments thread. Or if you can find a good CFHT cloudcam movie put it there too.

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From Earth to the Edge of the Universe: V

It’s the last day in our series of videos about astronomy from the University of Portsmouth. Time for Gongbo Zhao to explain all about large scale structure using Universes he builds in his computer:

Gongbo – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.


From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe – IV

Here’s the fourth in the University of Portsmouth’s series of videos about the research they do there. This time it’s the always cheery David Bacon talking about how computing power can help astronomers understand the huge volumes of data they get.

David – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.


From Earth to the Edge of the Universe: III

It’s day three of our series of videos featuring Portsmouth astronomers doing their bit for National Science and Technology Week. In today’s installment Karen Masters talks about galaxies with the help of some beautiful images:

Karen – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.

You can see all these videos, together with lots of others, on BBC Big Screens in various cities around the UK from now until the beginning of the Olympics next year. Here’s Alejo, our star from Tuesday, on the one in Portsmouth earlier this week:


(Image courtesy @maricarjagger via @KarenLMasters)


From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe – II

For the second of the From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe series our very own Rita talks about the distribution of matter in the universe.

Rita – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.


From Earth to the Edge of the Universe – I

This week is National Science and Technology Week in the UK. To mark this the vaguely lovely people at the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth have got together with their School of Creative Technologies to make a series of videos about their research. Here’s the first, Alejo Martinez-Sansigre takes us on a voyage away from the Earth to the largest scales possible

Alejo – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.


Periodic impact

Engaging the public in science is something lots of us are passionate about but how do you measure its impact? This might seem like an unimportant question, but it’s something that funding agencies are increasingly interested in, as they understandably want to check their money isn’t being wasted. It’s also a question addressed by the team behind the popular Periodic Table of Videos project in a commentary published in Nature Chemistry.

Periodic Videos is the forerunner of and cousin to the Sixty Symbols project which I’ve blogged about several times here before. It started out with videos for each element in the periodic table and then expanded to include things as diverse as Einstein’s blackboard, Nobel Prizes, Creme Eggs and Kate Middleton’s engagement ring.

The videos are hosted on YouTube, and the authors initially thought that they could use its statistics for things like page views or subscribers to pin down their elusive impact factor. However, they realised that they couldn’t rely on the YouTube numbers because they didn’t know how accurate they are. Equally, the results could miss people who download the videos or who watch them when they’re embedded into other blogs.

The method that gave them the best impact information ended up being the simplest – they read the comments left below each video. Clearly if you want to know how something has affected an audience, you should just listen to what they say about it! This isn’t necessarily a scientific approach to the problem, but in this case, they seem to be the most accurate. The nicest thing about the comments is that people often ask questions, or make suggestions for new topics, neatly illustrating how engaged with chemistry they’ve become. There’s even a guy wanting advice on building smoke grenades for paintballing!

ResearchBlogging.orgHaran B, & Poliakoff M (2011). How to measure the impact of chemistry on the small screen. Nature chemistry, 3 (3), 180-2 PMID: 21336314