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,


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 :-).


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


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,


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

When Astronomy makes you feel small!

Well, I’ve been procrastinating in bed, trying to sleep, trying to take mind off some puzzling q’ns that arise within cosmology mainly. Mainly to the determined cosmologists insisting the existence of dark matter, to me it’s merely inferred from a rather abstract idea.

What if the galaxy rotation curves for example are the product of something else, sure there are alternative theories to gravity out there, but what if it’s simply down to the evolution. Dark energy’s prominence in today’s Universe might have an impact locally within the scale of galaxies, if so then this would mean it’s denaity and effect are more effective and efficient that we first realised. These are merely ramblings here, and while there can appear to be evidence for either or, Dark Matter in my opinion seems too loose of a theory.

By observationalastronomer Posted in Misc

Heads up! – Proper Posting Imminent!

Hello fellow Astrogeekateres,

Apologies for the rather late, and infrequent postings as I originally promised for this blog. However i’m hoping to change this shortly with my first focus/news post on the NuSTAR, (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) as it has recently been in the spotlight for presenting it’s first images of a high energy ‘flare-up’ caused by the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way’s galactic core. As well as presenting a little bit about the flare-up I hope to also talk about the long-life purpose of NuSTAR, what are it’s main questions it hopes to answer for cosmology, what do we hope to gain from the mission as a whole and therefore what potential/further research could be conducted with the instrument? Could having an instrument analysing this narrowband give rise to too many limiting factors for other areas of cosmological study?

NuSTAR is a brilliant mission, analysing high energy physics of the Universe in greater detail than before. Hopefully my attempt of journalism will do the science, and my love of science, physics and astronomy justice :).

See you guys soon with (hopefully) a good post,


Sexism-Embeded into society still to this day?!

@Everydaysexism and @Jess_Chemgeek highlight to constant battle of sexism

Just thought I’d share this; a brilliant tweet by @Jess_Chemgeek (as a response to @EverydaySexism ‘s original tweet) who is an active campaigner for women in STEM subjects, as well as being a big communicator as a Chemistry whizz on twitter! Although this is a very humorous highlight on the picture shown in this tweet, it’s still shocking that big companies such as @ASDA are this lazy when it comes to putting their magazines into correct categories without placing a strange male domination over them.

All it takes is one additional sign which says something along the lines of “Specialist Magazines” or “General Interest”! Instead we end up with idiotic people who do things like this, and thus insulting or possibly could even go as far as to say putting off young women who maybe interested in just browsing ‘New-Scientist’ or ‘National Geographic’. Right! Okay, that may seem a little far fetched but I can’t speak for the mindset of every young woman out there, and not everyone shops at ASDA’s ultimately. But, the fact remains that even in this modern society there are still hidden elements of sexism, even when it comes to buying something as simple as a magazine, it seems to be everywhere.

We need to move away from this bizarre ideal and stigma that science/politics or any other subject of specialism is of male interest only, or we’ll be doomed as a society by lack of diversity and thus slowing the evolution of its free-thinking strength. The only way for society to truly evolve is if it removes all stigma towards skin, gender and alike so all that matters is the individual personality. It is my strong belief that science accomplished this ideal long ago, but is still taking a considerable amount of time for this to be rooted out from the average person in the street.

Only time will tell,

The ObAstro


Well thanks to consistent tweeting by many, the efforts of @EverydaySexism and @Jess_Chemgeek have been a success! @ASDA is going to change ALL possible sexist signage! I’d say that causes for celebration of victory!

A Blog all about Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology!

Hi all,

First of all, welcome to this new blog page. At the moment it’s rather bare, but not to worry as I hope to fill it up over time with as much Astro related goodness as possible. Whether it is reviewing new papers/letters/articles in a professional stance, giving tips and advice on observational techniques/telescopes and alike or just simple highlighting of recent events in Astronomy.

You may ask, “Why are you doing this blog?”… Well it’s more to aid me in my own writing in order to maintain good quality-scientific-continuous prose, as well as help aid my referencing technqiue etc. But also I hope that anyone who happens to read the items on this page will find them enjoyable, and elightening reads as well.

So expect some mighty bloggin’ soon guys,

The ObAstro.