Organising The Unorganised; The Difficulties In Preparing For Enrolment (MPhil Adventures)

Hello fellow astrogeeks,

Well, what a weird few weeks it has been since accepting my degree, aside from that  usually being a joyous celebratory occasion, it was somewhat quickly followed by annoyances, phone calls and (unbelievably slow) emails.

Oh dear, have you accidentally invented something spectacular and top secret with all the world’s governments after you?

Nothing that far-fetched and earth-shattering (sadly…?), but this is one of those moments when you realise as well as progressing academically up the ladder, you’re also progressing up the responsibility one as well. Now this isn’t something that overly troubles me, I’m quite happy to Organise myself and my life to be able to do things I want to do etc. But what I object to, I’m afraid, is the doubtful and questioning nature of all the businesses and services you try to procure in order to have somewhere to sleep, organise finances, bills etc.

You sound pedantic.

That’s probably because I am, and the first port of call for most new students in the UK, whether they are undergraduates or postgraduates, is to open a student bank account; valleys of grinning idiots trying to grab your custom with either freebies or thousands of pounds in interest free overdraft facilities. The bank I was with overflowed with insolence, to the point where they placed a doubtful judgement on my character; probably done inadvertently, but slander is slander no matter if intended or mild.

What did you do to break their nose, metaphorically speaking?

To spite them, I decided to switch to another Bank, however I initially just encountered even more of the same problem with my old bank. Anyway, in the end I decided to go to a more local version of the bank I was switching to, whom sorted me out swiftly and were extremely friendly too. In the end, after 2 accounts being opened by accident and access to the online facilities going wayward, I finally managed to open a student bank account.

Sounds like a faff, did you encounter more problems?

Oh yes, after sorting out the banking situation came sorting out accommodation, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy anyway but obviously the first step was trying to find other people to share with. Firstly, the rental market near Milton Keynes ins’t that great to begin with, and this isn’t helped by the fact that the Open University doesn’t have any undergraduate students roaming the town. After a few emails between other students within the department starting this October I finally managed to find another person to share the brunt of rental costs, after that then came the onslaught of endless searching for two bedroom accommodation, which isn’t easy.

Did you and your new friend manage to find some accommodation?

Yes, we did, a rather nice and modern flat, unfurnished but with the ‘white goods’, a term which seems rather dated now as not many appliances are really ‘white’ anymore. But the troubles then started, mainly due to incomes, despite my fellow astrochemist having a tax-free stipend to his name, it wasn’t considered enough and I sadly didn’t have another secure income (yet). But, my dad acting as a guarantor came to the rescue, in order to make the landlord happy a certain total of income required from the tenants, and this was met combined with the guarantor. Sorted? Nope, they were still placing doubt on our ability to pay the rent, so after more emailing and phone calling we finally came to an agreement on paying six months rent up-front, something which helps myself in the long run with fewer outgoings per month. So, in the end it was a win-win situation for all parties.

So as you can see, this journey easily affects you in more ways than just the academic challenges and struggles I’ll no doubtingly face, and everything seems far more uncertain and ambiguous when you enter postgraduate life. So, if you’re a fresher undergraduate student, feel lucky in knowing UCAS helps you with setting up student accounts and you have some easily accessible accommodation with minimal fuss in the halls of residence. But, just remember that in subsequent years, it will not always be so straightforward and easy, something will always drag your legs down and slow your pace.

Anyway, hope this somewhat helps anyone who happens to empathise my struggles over the last couple of weeks.

Yours,

TheObAstro

I’m a graduate!

Hello fellow Astrogeeks,

Long time no see and all that, it’s been a busy couple of weeks sorting things out, but I’ve now graduated from The Open University with the funky qualification title ‘Bachelor of Science with Honours in Natural Sciences’. I could even be really pretentious and put ‘BSc (Hons) Nat Sci (Open)’ after my name, however I’m not like that, the use of those postnomial letters are reserved for ‘extreme’ circumstances ;-).

Congratulations! So, what now?

Well, it’s the same plan as before, I received my official offer for the MPhil just over a month ago now and accepted it straight away, so this coming October I shall be full registered and enrolled as a full-time research student, the tricky bit at the moment is finding accommodation (rental properties are hard to come by), but in the mean time I shall be filling up my days with lots of reading and getting started, I can’t even begin to describe or portray how excited and thrilled I am to start! But, for now I have my degree ceremony to look forward to in the coming month in Milton Keynes, where I’ll get chance to dress all smart and wear a robe minus the mortarboard (OU graduates are too ‘cool’ for those ;-)).

I’ll of course update on my progress in due course with all things ‘academicy’ as well as snippets of my degree ceremony, if you’re dying to see awkward photos/videos of me walking across a stage that is, but hopefully it’ll help others to become inspired into embarking themselves into Higher Education, study for the hell if it if nothing else, it’s ultimately the reason why many choose to do an academic degree in the first place; passion, interest and desire.

For now though I’ll leave you with my ‘MPhil fund‘, if you can donate that’d mean more than you could possibly imagine, otherwise sharing the webpage would be more than enough to help me build funds in order to pay for the tuition fees :-).

Catch you later Astrogeeks,

TheObAstro

My MPhil Fund

Hello fellow astrogeeks,

Well, this week has been a very (not so) busy week. As you may be aware from my previous post, I am going to be embarking onto my next University Adventure for a postgraduate research degree; the sinister sounding Master of Philosophy degree, or MPhil for short.

But, sadly this route means I can’t obtain any funding or help towards maintenance, apart from a few applications to a small handful of educational charities, there is really no help at all from the government. So, I decided upon the idea to use a charity/crowfunding sort of website, and the result is the following webpage below:

Capture

 

You might be able to see that my current goal is £4000, which is a lot of money, but this essentially will just be enough to cover the cost of my tuition fees. So far, I’ve been humbled and incredibly lucky to have som great people donating small amounts of their own money to me, and as a result I now have £80 of the total £4000. This may be a small percentage, but I didn’t think i’d receive any donations at all for such an unworthy cause when compared  to the more worthy ones.

So the question is now, could you share this page around to as many people as you can? Doing this means more than donating if you can’t donate, but if you can donate, just donating a £1 would be more than enough. If I had 1000 people donating £1 each, then I’d reach my goal in no time at all, or £2 per 1000 people would give £2000. It’s amazing how quickly small change can create large sums.

So anyway, this is a small plea, but please do not feel like you have to do anything as I’d be happy if you could at least share my webpage across the many social media websites available today.

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS MY MPHIL FUND PAGE

Many thanks for your time as always and take care astrogeeks.

Yours, TheObAstro

Astronomy, The Final (First?) Frontier…

Hello fellow fellow astrogeeks,

Now, you may be wondering “ermm, who are you again?”, which is completely understandable since I have just basically disappeared completely from my own blog page. Well, I now want to change that now I have more free time, yes you heard me correctly, I now have more free time!

So, ermm, what have you been up to these past 8/9 months or so, backpacking?

Sadly no, nothing anywhere near quite as exciting or fanciful as that, although I’ve been doing something far more interesting. “What’s that?”, I hear you cry, well it’s me being busy finishing my undergraduate degree with the Open University, with my last module, SM358-The Quantum World, completed in early June my OU journey (at undergraduate level at least) is now at an end. So now all I have to do is wait for my final module result so I can obtain my degree and its classification, so fingers crossed for the oncoming results this late July. However, I also obtained results from modules I completed last year in September/October and I luckily got fairly okay passes in those with one being for my project/dissertation with the conspicuous and rather convoluted title, ‘Highly Collimated Molecular Outflows Emanating from YSOs: Their Components and the Underlying Driving Wind’. If you’re interested in reading my project/dissertation/literary review, then please feel free to read it below. Be warned, it’s not a work of art nor by any means comprehensive, but hopefully the science will be to your liking as I found it rather exciting, especially the interdisciplinary mix of Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry in there.

Project is down here:

*REMOVED*

Project is up there:

That’s great, but what’s next, going off to finally get yourself a ‘proper job’?

In all honesty what exactly is a, ‘proper job’, in my opinion there is no such thing so go off and do whatever makes you feel happy and fulfilled, even if that’s sweeping the roads. Anyway, without going too far off topic there, I’ll be venturing off to Milton Keynes to study Full-Time at the OU, so in reality my OU journey hasn’t actually come to an end, as the famous saying goes ” as another door closes, another one opens”, regardless on who or what is metaphorically closing the door this is true generally in life.

Oh dear, Astronomy again?

Yes, it’s Astronomy (hardly going to be Psychology now was it ;-)) and my first step into postgraduate life will be studying for a research degree, an MPhil to be precise, and I’ve even been given the nifty thesis title of: ‘Data Mining for Extragalatic AstroChemistry’. No beating about the bush here, I’m literally ‘mining’ data, most likely from the Japanese AKARI telescope; a charming space-based Telescope analysing pretty much the entire infrared range. Another factor is that the satellite was decommissioned in late 2011 due to electrical failure, and we still have tonnes of data most likely untouched, so this is where slavery comes in… I’m joking of course, It’s a thrilling time to be involved in all areas of Astronomy, lets hope lack of resources won’t halt progress!

Anyway, that’s it for my ramblings today, I’ll be blogging away on as many things as I can… I might add a little section on postgrad study if people want that sort of thing? Let me know in the poll below.

Take care astrogeeks

Yours, The ObAstro

ALMA Resolves Atomic Carbon

Top left we have the Hubble image of NGC 6302, bottom left we have the emission spectrum of Carbon, and to the right we have a  composite image of the ALMA data overlaying the Hubble image of NGC 6302.

Top left we have the Hubble image of NGC 6302, bottom left we have the emission spectrum of Carbon, and to the right we have a composite image of the ALMA data overlaying the Hubble image of NGC 6302.

 

Hello fellow astrogeeks,

We have some very exciting news, despite the recent Labour dispute at ALMA (Atacama Large millimetre/sub-millimetre Array), the data that has been obtained thus far presents the first high resolution resolvement of Carbon atoms around the planetary nebular NGC 6302; the 500GHz frequency band where the line emission peak of atomic Carbon lies had only been previously resolved to 15 arcseconds with single dish interferometers, ALMA can resolve to 3.5 arcseconds.

That’s cool, but err… What does this all mean?

Well, this is the first step into observing the evolutionary processes at different points in a star’s life, thanks to the massive array in collaboration with the Band 8 antennae fitted to each dish we can now resolve and spatially map the location of specific atomic species to a greater accuracy than before, this will provide more precise determinations of the velocities of gas clouds, understand what mechanisms are at work during stellar formation, better understand higher mass stars… The list is never ending and represents an exciting time in observational astronomy.

Mapping this carbon to the Hubble image of the nebula NGC 6302 shows us the scope of the data and puts it in context for those not familiar with radio astronomy, it’s a brilliant portrayal on how far the technology in science has come and how it’s quickly advancing man-kind’s understanding of the Universe, in the hope of harnessing the understanding of these new intuitive technologies along the path of discovery.

That’s all for now astrogeeks and keep looking up,

TheObsAstro

Source: http://www.astronomy.com/~/link.aspx?_id=16940f89-aac3-4854-87a6-73c2317520c5&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+astronomy%2ForOJ+%28Astronomy.com+News+-+Presented+by+Astronomy+Magazine%29

Poor ALMA is all alone

ALMA 5km high with (not so) fresh air

Salutations fellow Astrogeeks,

Sad news this week as it comes to our attention that ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/sub-millimetre Array) is now closed for business for the unforeseeable future, this comes from a recent labour dispute with the observatory workers performing strike action; this is the problem when Science and politics collide, no matter how big or small the problem. All astronomers that were present at the site have been ordered to return to their respective homes, however despite this there is still data analysis that can be performed ‘off-site’ from the so called ‘cycle 1′ phase; observations were made with half of the total array collecting area (33 dishes instead of the total 66).

ALMA, atop the very high and oxygen starving altitudes (5km) of the Atacama desert in northern Chile, is a massive radio array, which when finished will have a total of 66 working dishes acting as one massive dish. At this altitude the array can analyse incoming infrared radiation, as the air is thin enough to allow it to pass through into the atmosphere at this altitude, the massive array will allow us to resolve to a greater degree of detail than ever before when it’s at full operational capacity, even now running half of the array it’s already bringing back very valuable data.

So, it’s a frustrating point in time, as the strike comes close to the final stages of completing the array in its entirety, however despite this minor setback there is already some exciting data beaming from the array; hopefully helping us to gain a greater understanding the processes and mechanisms that help cause the more massive stars to be born, as well as to greater understand the formation and evolution of galaxies. Hopefully the ‘table discussions’ between the Union and the legal employer of the Chilean staff, Associated Universities Incorporated (AUI), can be settled and completion of the Array will continue, so it is finished by the end of the year.

Speak to you soon fellow astrogeeks,

TheObAstro

Source: http://www.nature.com/news/alma-observatory-halts-work-amid-labour-dispute-1.13612

Conducting Astronomical Research at a Distance

Hello again fellow astrogeeks,

Just thought I’d give a quick and brief insight into the wonderful world of conducting research, there are many different ways to conduct said research and they all are meaningful, especially in the realms of science, so lets take look.

The review of the review on the guide to reviewing literature

Firstly, I’m going to discuss the type of research I’m currently doing at a distance (from the University), considering it’s in the title, and this is what’s called a ‘Literary Review'; A literal collection of literature in a specified area/topic that has been scrutinised and analysed to help collate and gain cohesion of what’s been learned/discovered/studied up to the time of writing. This may seem like gobbledygook, but it is quintessentially the research of many academic papers on a small area within a subject, upon which you perform your own scientific conclusion on them. This sort of research is great for bringing together sparsely laid out material, and unifies research together, it also makes it easier to find references for future readers wanting to understand and/or improve on the existing research, often offering suggestions of ways to improve the advancement and progression in the field, these could be merely trivial suggestions but are still valid and may highlight oversights (e.g. the cataloguing of astronomical objects into a specific classification might be inconsistent and an inefficient way for classifying said object for being too clumsy or ambiguous).

This method is definitely the simplest as it does not involve any practical research, however as I said, it’s still valid and every scientific dissertation will need a literature review :-).

Experiments

Of course, the obvious research of actually testing/observing things doing things (to put it in a general context), and definitely something I’d prefer to do, to try and understand and interpret your data is something of a real challenge, especially for astronomers considering we cannot resolve distant objects and can only measure their characteristic changes in luminosity/brightness. When it comes to University assessment you usually have a literary review of your chosen title/topic and then you carry out a similar method to previous authors with an on-looking supervisor, collecting the data then messing about with the results, performing some form of error analysis, but then comes the tricky part of putting it together into a dissertation. At University you’ll most likely have to also defend your work via a viva voce (latin for ‘with living voice’), so essentially an oral exam on what you’ve written and presented and this can be easy if you know and understand what you had written in your dissertation and said during the presentation of your work, lots of questions are usually asked on what you mean on certain bits and pieces, and the only advice is to answer them in confidence adequately.

Theoretical Wotsits

This is exactly the same as the previous one, however a lot more difficult as it requires a lot of ‘thinking’ about abstract ideas and concepts, usually these are the modellers that the experimenters hope to fit their data to. This is assessed and conducted in the same way, and not much more needs to be said on this.

Are You Rambling?

Quite possibly, but the point I’m making here as well is that I shall be performing some mini literary reviews on the papers of interest to myself; being a star guy these will mostly be on stellar formation and their populations. As you no doubt noticed, every one of these approaches to researching something requires a literary review, whether it be to help outline the area you’re about to test/experiment/model or to just assess and reduce convolution amongst the research area/topic. These won’t be academically vigorous, they’ll be basic and I’ll attempt to simplify the Science that’s being stated, not only for your benefit but to also aid my communication skills :-).

So, I hope to be seeing you all soon with some hopefully inspiring stuff.

Take care astrogeeks,

The ObsAstro

Life of an Astronomy Student

image

Hello to all of you astrogeeks,

Well, this is me (above), despite not being a pretty sight it’s still me and I’d not change me for anyone. Why? Because I so happen to study and love a subject close to my heart, of course it’s Astronomy, not only the observing side but the physics too, mostly stellar physics; birth, life and death of the stars and how different stars compare with our own star the sun (sol). I hope to sort of answer some minor questions here about being a student of the subject, feel free to ask questions with comments below and I’ll attempt to answer them.

Astronomy? Why study your passion and hobby?

Do I even have to entertain this with an answer, I love everything about it and I hope for it to be my career, ever since I was 7 years old I looked up and saw the stars and though, “wow, they (the stars) are beyond beautiful, I want to know more about them and why they are there…”. Also at the same time the comet hale-bopp was soaring across the night sky, that in the foreground of the background stars helped my fascination grow exponentially.

Apart from the childhood obsession, I just wanted my hobby to become my career :-).

What’s undergraduate study of Astronomy/Physics at university like?

Well, the short answer is tough, but it’s not impossible and the most fear that new undergraduate students have is their mathematical capabilities. My advice is don’t panic, take deep breaths and all I can advise on is to revise/read/self study areas you’re not confident on, it’s practically impossible to remember everything in maths just by reading too, so practice, solving some maths, especially in astronomy/physics can be a lot of the time like working through a recipe, it gets to a point you do it so often, you can recall the basic recipe and then add extras in for a better ‘flavour’ for your solutions ;-).

Apart from the maths, conceptually it can be very challenging, as you progress you’re dealing with greater unknowns, well tested theories, but still with a lot of ‘ifs and buts’, in otherwords be prepared for not so very satisfactory answers and learn to accept it.

I’m applying to university to study Astronomy/Physics, but I don’t know where to go or what’s best for me?

This one is simple, look around at your options and be realistic, do not give up hope however if your grades (aiming towards UK prospective students here) are not as gleaming with As and A*s that some universities will ask for. UCAS is a great place to start, but investigate the university websites themselves. See when their open days are, go around to as many as you can so you can get a ‘feel’ for the university and whether or not it suits you. I made this mistake initially myself at the expense of lost time and cost, however we’re only human :-). Alot of universities now also offer a 4 year Bachelor’s degree with a foundation year, allowing those even without physics and maths A-levels to study on their programmes, or there is my university, the Open University which offer a scheme to study 2 years with them and then he final 2 years at a partner institution without any prior qualifications at all :-).

There are many roads, and all lead to Rome.

Anyway, I hope this helps any budding young astronomers with that it’s like to study Astronomy, like I said please feel free to ask any worries, concerns or generally about University life in the UK as well as Astronomy/Physics questions.

Speak to you soon fellow astrogeeks,

TheObsAstro

Petition to the Open University for a Masters in Astrophysics/Astronomy

Robert_Hook_building_at_Open_University_Campus_in_Milton_Keynes,_spring_2013_(2) Hello fellow Astrogeeks and enthusiasts,

Sorry to bombard you with politics, but this is politics of the Sciencey, Physicisy kind, the Open University (the very University I study Astronomy at) teaches Astronomy and Physics to an undergraduate level, as well as this it has a lot of PhD research projects in Astronomy itself, despite the support the University gives to Astronomy, it is surprising and somewhat a sad shame that there is no postgraduate level Masters scheme.

Why is the Open University special in particular?

Well, it’s solely a part-time distance learning institution, that is every undergraduate and postgraduate (minus full-time PhD students) student studies from home, via the internet with a wealth of academic support from tutors and materials. It helps those who have family/money/health problems and can’t attend University full-time, and a distance learning postgraduate qualification in Astrophysics/Astronomy is something we should be crying out for. So I believe quite passionately in this.

How on earth could you do a practical project from a distance?

Well, it’s a lot easier with astronomy, the OU has a robotic telescope in Majorca called PIRATE, not only that but it has a planned robotic radio telescope in the works too.

Where do I sign for this megaly awesome idea?

Sign right here of course :-) http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-open-university-construct-a-mphys-msc-astrophysics-astronomy-degree-scheme

And if you can sign and pass on the link to genuinely interested people that’d be beyond brilliantly amazing from all of you shining stars, please leave a comment as well as to why you think it’s a good idea :-).

Speak to you soon Astrogeeks and thanks again for reading,

The ObsAstro

NASA’s Kepler is now lost forever…

Concept Art of Kepler hunting for exoplanets, planets that lie outside of our own solar system. (All image rights are given to NASA)

Hello all Astro enthusiasts,

You may have all heard the sad news of NASA’s Kepler space-based telescope encountering a failure in one of its reaction wheels back in May, well, despite after months of attempted recovery of the telescope NASA has sadly had to ‘call it a day’ and give up any hope of this wonderful piece of inspiring astronomy sparking back into life.

What was Kepler?

Kepler is a spaced-based telescope named after the scientist ‘Johannes Kepler’, who is famous for transcribing the 3 laws of planetary motion, developed by NASA its aim was to analyse and survey the ‘Light Curves’ of over a 150,000 stars in a fixed field of view (FOV). What was the reason for performing such a survey? To detect the 1% dip in brightness of a star that could be potentially have been caused by a distant planet, orbiting around a distant star, what Astronomers would call an ‘Exoplanet Transit'; like the moon eclipsing the sun in a total solar eclipse, a distant planet can effectively eclipse part of a distant star’s light. Kepler could read and resolve/see these small ‘blips’, and as a result the data obtained from Kepler has confirmed the existence of over 503 planets that orbit around other stars, in other words planets are a very common occurrence during the birth of stars.

As a result, it’s sad that Kepler won’t be bringing back any more new data, but there is still a lot of data that needs crunching and analysed, so all is not completely lost and there are still exciting times ahead.

For more on this, then please click here: http://kepler.nasa.gov/news/nasakeplernews/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=292

Speak to you soon Astrogeeks,

The ObsAstro