Tag Archives: Astronomy

Light Years from Hobsons Bay

As presented on Saturday June 20th 2009 by me!

At Williamstown Library

International Year of Astronomy 2009

Celebrating 400 years since the Galileo first used his telescope.



Eta Carinae: Wikipedia  and Hubble Image

Audio Podcasts

365 Days of Astronomy http://365daysofastronomy.org/  (short, one per day as part of IYA 2009)

Astronomy Cast http://www.astronomycast.com/ (longer, topic-based and detailed)

StarStuff http://www.abc.net.au/science/starstuff/  (ABC Radio. News based. Podcast of radio show)


Stellarium (free planetarium)

Orbiter  (free simulator to fly the shuttle etc)

Web Links

When is the Space Station etc visible: http://www.heavens-above.com

Astronomy related news http://www.universetoday.com/

http://museumvictoria.com.au/planetarium/ (Skynotes)


Goodbye and Thank You StarStuff show and podcast

There’s only a handful of podcasts I have on my must get list each week. One of these is ABC News Radio’s StarStuff program. It’s an excellent, 30 minutes weekly summary of what’s new and hot in Astronomy and related areas. It started as a radio show some 8 years ago and now is sent out as a podcast as well; which is where I found it.

Sadly it looks like all that is about to end this week. I’m hopeful the team, including host Stuart Gary, can continue to create the show as ‘just’ a podcast. I’ve emailed them and suggested they talk to the good people at another of my must get podcasts; AstronomyCast.

But, either way, a public thanks to Stuart and the team for their wonderful work over the years.

Mars probe cooks and looks

The Mars probe Phoenix has an oven on board. How cool is that. Well actually how hot is that. Cue Paris Hilton…

After the robot arm grabs a sample of soil, it’s sifted a bit. Actually it was a bit sticky and this took a while. But finally the soil fell through the sifter and into the oven. By heating it and examining the gases, scientists can tell what’s in the soil.

Another way is too look. And to my surprise, Phoenix has a microscope on board too. So the robotic arm can place a sample under the microscope and the images sent back to Earth.

Compared to earlier probes this one has another advantage. The previous ones had to send their signals directly back to Earth and that took a fair amount of power. We now have a few satellites in orbit around Mars and they can relay signals to and from Phoenix. So the probe needs less power. Clever, eh?

Watched Mars robot Phoenix landing in real time

The first web browser came out in 1993. In 1994 the comet – or the pieces of the comet – Shoemaker-Levy 9, crashed into Jupiter, creating impact areas bigger than the Earth. At the time I was working for IBM Australia and merged the two.

I gave a presentation to my fellow employees about this fairly new World Wide Web thing and used the example of hundreds of thousands of people monitoring the Jupiter impact via their browsers and the NASA web site. I was one of the many as I think I had Mosaic Version 1.0 on my work PC. Running OS/2 no doubt. The audience was rather impressed with this, as most had never heard of Browsers etc, I’d tip.

So 15 years later, specifically Monday May 26th 2008, it was a nostalgic moment. Except this time I was accessing NASA TV via my Firefox browser. And watching the descent of the Mars probe Phoenix live on (web) TV. The image wasn’t that big, but it was clear and in colour.

And boy was it tense. As you may know Mars is so far away that even at the speed of light, it takes about 15 minutes for a message to get there (and 15 more to get back). So the NASA people simply cannot steer the ship in real time. It has to be a robot; able to work out where it is during the descent, how it’s going and adjust itself.

It was fascinating to see the reaction of the NASA controllers as the reports came in ‘live’. Parachutes deployed. Radar had found the ground. 5 meters to go. Touchdown.

I was about to turn blue, but was soon breathing again.