Carnival of Space: 203

It’s Carnival time in the Gutter again! We’re hosting this week’s round-up of space and astronomy blogging news. If you’d like to find out more or get involved yourself check out the Carnival’s homepage over at Universe Today.

We’re kicking off this week with the massive Solar flare that exploded from the Sun on 7th June. The Chandra blog explains what they had to do to protect the satellite from the incoming radiation. If you didn’t see any of the movies of the flare, or if you’re unsure just how big this eruption was I strongly recommend the following, courtesy of Matt Parker:

Next up is the Pan-STARRS1 project which has discovered a new comet in the outer Solar System which could reach naked eye visibility in March 2013. One of the astronomers who discovered the comet Richard Wainscoat outlines how it was found and what we know about its orbit.

Virtual telescopes such as Google Sky, World Wide Telescope and Wiki Sky have allowed people to explore the sky in great detail at many different wavelengths, and look for their own mysterious sky objects. However, if you don’t have some understanding of what you’re looking at you can end up with misidentifications, such as the ones discsussed by the Astroblog for comet Elenin and the mythical planet Nibiru.

If you want to know more about why astronomers use many different wavelengths for their observations check out the first of Cheap Astronomy’s two part podcast series on astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Over to Mars now. Vintage Space looks at the challenges in designing and testing the parachutes that slow the descent of the landers that are sent there. Once they reach the surface the pictures they send back can seem very familiar – head over to The Meridiani Journal to see an excellent example of “mud polygons” or mud cracks on Earth, and their striking similarity to the bedrock terrain seen by Opportunity in Meridiani on Mars.

Could Saturn’s moon Enceladus have a salt-water ocean? NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has already confirmed that there’s liquid water below the surface, but now it may also have detected salt grains in the plumes of icy spray shooting up from its surface. Both Discovery News and Weirdwarp have the full story.

Next Big Future brings news of a new supersonic business jet concept, the SonicStar, which was unveiled at the Paris airshow. It promises flight times from Paris to New York of under 2 hours thanks to its revolutionary engine design. If you want to travel a little further though, they also have an interview with writer Keith Henson about his ideas for cheaper space launches using a combination of Skylon rocket planes and concentrated lasers.

There’s two slightly more offbeat offerings to end on. First, shhh, don’t tell anyone but Universe Today has been spying on spy satellites, thanks to the skill of astrophotographer extraordinaire Thierry Legault. Check out the post if you want to know how he does it.

Finally, could the forthcoming movie Iron Sky have any basis in fact? Everyone knows that WW2 Germany developed rockets far in advance of the Allies, but some argue that in 1945 the Third Reich was on the verge of developing a space program. Armagh Planetarium’s Astronotes finds out more.

Well, that’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat surprising journey from solar flares to spies and Nazis!

Tweeting about astronomy

This is something I wrote for the blog of the Astronomy Twitter Journal Club. I’m cross-posting it here as I thought it might be of interest to readers of this blog too. Oh, and in case you were wondering, a journal club “is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in scientific literature” (according to Wikipedia anyway).

It’s been nearly two weeks since I first heard about the twitter journal club concept, recently set up to discuss medical research. I thought it was something that could work for astronomy too and, when I mentioned it on twitter, it seemed that lots of people agreed. However, I still wasn’t sure whether that would translate into a good or useful discussion. Would anyone say anything? Would the 140 character limit be too short to get a point across? Would anyone even turn up?

Well, the first meeting took place last Thursday (you can catch up with the discussion here) and I think it went well. It even felt like the departmental journal clubs that I’ve been to in the past thanks to tweets like this:

Typical – like a normal journal club I’m late and have only skimmed the paper. #astrojc @chrislintott

Hi, I’m Stephen. I’m an extragalactic astronomer, speed-reading the paper 😉 #astrojc @StephenSerjeant

About 15 people actively took part, and the discussion propelled itself along admirably. One of my many worries was that it would be hard to follow if everyone tweeted at once but I found it easy to keep track. I was using TweetChat which definitely helped – it allows you to follow all tweets from one hashtag and, if you sign in, it ensures that you don’t forget to add the #astroJC tag to any of your contributions.

The lack of a specific dark matter expert was noticeable; at one point it seemed that everyone was asking questions that no-one present knew the answers to. However, by the end of the hour I felt that I understood the paper better, even if my acceptance of the result had lessened! When it comes down to it, that’s exactly what a journal club should do.

If the idea of a journal club on twitter interests you why not join in with the second meeting on Thursday (8pm UK time, 7pm UT; all the details for taking part can be found here). Next week’s paper for discussion will be Planet Occurrence within 0.25 AU of Solar-type Stars from Kepler, which presents some interesting new results from the Kepler mission.

Floating in space

I couldn’t resist posting the video that has the honour of being today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. You’ve probably all seen beautiful time-lapse movies showing the rotation of the heavens throughout the night; Niall’s even writen about some particularly lovely examples, filmed at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. However, the movie below is special. It shows things as they really are – it’s not the sky that rotates, we do:

The telescopes seen in the film make up the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The lasers they fire are used to improve the quality of their observations.

Really, we’re just floating in space.