The last time I posted on the state of play for free Astronomy software for the Mac things weren’t looking so good. At that time your best option was to build the Linux program KStars from source using Fink. A long, complicated, and rather daunting install for anyone who’s not a Unix geek. I’m happy to report that things have improved a lot since then. There’s now a choice of three apps and you don’t have to compile any from source (unless you want to).

[tags]astronomy, OS X, Stellarium, Cartes du Ciel, KStars[/tags]

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This week I’ve started on the next rung of the Astrophotography ladder. Until now I was just taking a few hand-held shots of planets in the evening twilight. While they were nice shots, there is a lot more to astrophotography than that! What I’ve started experimenting with this week is using my very bright F1.4 30mm prime focus lens for longer tripod-mounted exposures. I’m already in love with my prime focus lens but this is yet another reason it’s the best €300 I’ve ever spent. I get a lot more use out of it than I do out of my zoom lenses.

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This will be the first of three Astronomy themed posts over the next few days. It’s first because it takes the least effort on my part … the other two will have taken more time and effort.

Anyhow, here’s the vid.

[tags]LHC, Science, Dark Matter, CERN[/tags]

While making my way through my RSS feeds this lunch time I came across a very well written but very disturbing article entitled Rigged by George Monbiot. It basically makes a mockery of the current attempts by governments to deal with climate change. On the one hand they talk about the need to cut carbon and tell us all to cut down and be more efficient but on the other hand they offer massive tax incentives to companies to encourage them to extract more fossil fuels. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that all fossil fuels that are extracted will be burned, hence the governments talk about reducing carbon but actually incentivise its increase! What really makes this article so damming is that the author backs up all his points with references. The way this article is referenced it could be published in an academic journal. Anyhow, as Fake Steve Jobs would put it, here’s the money quote:

The government’s climate change policy works like this: extract every last drop of fossil fuel then pray to God that no one uses it.

[tags]Climate Change, Fossil Fuels[/tags]

Amazingly comet 17/P Holmes is still visible to the naked eye under good conditions. When it flared up way back in October no one dared predict it would remain visible for more than a week or two. The comet has changed a lot in appearance over the last month and a half though. It started out looking like a star and is not a massive and very diffuse blob which appears as big as, if not bigger than, the Moon. This new defuse character means that the comet is rendered invisible by any Moon light, haze or high cloud. Having said that I did manage to glimpse it last night from my back garden in Maynooth so it can stand a little light pollution when it is very high up in the sky (it was nearly over head when I observed it last night). I can’t imagine this fascinating comet will still be visible one Moon cycle from now so make the most of the next few days to grab it before the Moon comes in to spoil the fun again, and probably for good this time!


[tags]Comet, 17/p Holmes[/tags]

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Contrary to popular belief Astronomers do in fact have a sense of humour! I have below incontrovertible evidence! Oh … and they can also sing pretty bloody well!

Comet 17/P Holmes Update

Filed Under Science & Astronomy on November 9, 2007 | Leave a Comment

With the Irish weather being what it is it’s been quite a while since I’ve managed to get a good look at the periodic comet Holmes. Since my last post about the comet I managed to observe it just twice, once on the 28th of October, and this evening. I didn’t bother posting on the 28th because conditions were poor and not much had changed since my last post. However, today, I got to observe the comet with good observing conditions.

[tags]Comet, 17/P Holmes[/tags]

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After yesterday’s surprise outburst comet 17/P Holmes continues to put on a great show. This object is highly dynamic and you can watch it move day-to-day with just the naked eye. Between yesterday and today the comet has moved noticeably closer to the star Alpha Persei and has also definitely brightened. Yesterday Holmes and the star Delta Persei looked to be the same brightness, today the comet is definitely brighter than the star. I’d estimate it’s brightness at about Magnitude 2.5.

I’ve been following the comet with my trusty 10x50mm binoculars and the changes are even more spectacular through them. Yesterday Holmes looked like a star, a point of light with no noticeable coma or tail. Today, it looks like a compact globular cluster with a bright core. Yesterday I didn’t really notice a colour buy today it’s clearly yellow. I’ve never seen an astronomical object change so much so quickly. I hope we get to watch this fascinating object evolve for a few more days to come, however, the weather forecast for us here in Ireland is not looking good :(.

I’ll leave you with a scan of my record of today’s observation of the comet:

Comet 17/P Holmes - 25-10-2007 @ 23:30

[tags]Astronomy, Comet, Holmes[/tags]

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It’s very rare to get to see a comet which is so bright that you can easily see it from the middle of a housing estate through light haze with a near full Moon with just your eyes. No telescope, no binoculars, nothing! But that’s what I’ve just done. The Periodic comet 17/P Holmes has just surprised the heck out of Astronomers by brighting from Magnitude 17 (you need a professional grade telescope to see things that faint) to Magnitude 3 (easily visible with the naked eye) literally over-night. Obviously something very spectacular just happened on the comet.

Thanks to an email with coordinates form Terry Mosley I knew Holmes could be found near delta Persei at around midnight. When I got outside conditions were very poor and not helped by the street lights all around me. As I mentioned there was a near full Moon high to the south and a think layer of haze across the whole sky being lit up by the Moon. Needless to say my expectations weren’t high. However, Holmes was so bright that it distorted the shape of Perseus to the extent that I had trouble finding the constellation! My brain just kept saying “no, that’s not Perseus, Perseus doesn’t have that nice little triangle of stars in it”. You guessed it, one of those three stars was not a star at all but the comet. To me Holmes looked to be about the same brightness as Delta Persei so that would put it at around the Magnitude 3. I’ve never seen a comet like this before. It looks just like a star, even in binoculars. No Coma, no tail, nothing, just a point of light. For all the world it looks like an extra star has appeared out of nowhere in Perseus. I’ve attached a scan of my record of the observation below.

Comet 17/P Holmes - 25-10-2007 @ 00:20

If you’re interested in observing the comet yourself the guys in Astronomy Ireland have been kind enough to put a finder chart up on their website. You can find it here:

[tags]Comet, 17/P Holmes[/tags]

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I was invited to a careers fair organised by my old school yesterday. The idea was that past pupils would come back and be available to talk to current students and their parents about their experiences in further education and/or employment. I was past student number 78, and if memory serves, there were another five to ten past students after me on the list. For a school of about 600 students I was very impressed by those numbers. The place was also packed with interested students and parents so it was not only a good idea but also a success. I had a constant stream of students talking to me about the sciences and IT throughout the two hour event. The students were keen and enthusiastic, which was great to see. However, the students who spoke to me all had one other thing in common, they were all male.

I always hopped that as time went on the gender imbalance in the sciences and IT would sort itself out. I thought it was just a relic of long gone times that would automatically be corrected as the older generations were replaced by newer ones. That is plainly not the case in rural Ireland. I don’t think this imbalance is down to prejudices or uneven opportunities within these disciplines. That certainly was the case in the past but, I see no evidence of it now. So, it must be something else. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I can only assume it has something to do with image. I guess school girls don’t see either science or computers as interesting. We’re going to have to change that, but I’ll be damed if I can see how. Anyone out there got any ideas?

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