Brushing off the Cobwebs…

The once green fields have been stripped of their will to live. After many months of being denied of their need of quenching, they will be saved by being awo…*thud*…*thud*… HE IS BACK!…

Hellooo fellow Astrogeeks,

Why yes, it has been a very long while since I last graced you all with a blog post. I only hope you are still keen to read the ramblings of a would-be astronomer. For clarification, and just in case your memory is terrible, an astronomer. Not, and I repeat, not an astrologer. Sadly the arbitrary alignments of planets are not causing the crappy events across the world we are currently seeing. So you (well, not all of you) put down that horoscope.

But you have been gone so long my mind has melted into acceptance, and blind following of alt-facts. It was all I had.

*Grumbles and sighs*… Urgh! Let’s, let’s not get onto that topic for now. I am dreadfully sorry though for not keeping you engaged through the eyes of a scientific mind. I can see why the last 12 months alone would have ultimately led to the ‘great purge’ of any good I did to your mind…

Well, I guess you could start by telling me where you have been? What’s happened in your world of academic-ness? Did you finish your M.Phil?

Hmm, well, aside from most of the last year being all blurry as it whiz-banged by with a crap load of stuff happening all at once, I did complete my M.Phil. After a grueling few months writing my M.Phil thesis I submitted it in May. The scary bit however was the  oral examination, the more posh Latin way academia puts it is ‘viva voce’, or just ‘viva’ for short. This is made up of a panel of an external examiner from another university/institution, an internal examiner and a chair Eventually a date was set for my viva, 12 August 2016, and the day came round rather quickly.

Sounds rather daunting, were you not cacking yourself?

That is a rather crude way of putting it, but yes, yes I was absolutely “cacking” it. So, suited and booted to impress my examiners I did nothing but pace back and forth so as to gather my thoughts. I knew in my anxiety I would forget things, as it has always been a strong inhibitor in my recall. However, I was successful in defending my work and confirming I did do everything, which is the point of the whole thing. With minor corrections needed I got to work on, well, correcting! Before a final version was accepted and then bound into a lovely book. I do to occasionally like to caress it, as sad and weird as that may sound… Anyway, after handing in my bound copies I was awarded the M.Phil and received my certificate in December. If you’d like to see it, then look below! I also get another chance to dress up and get robed in June.


My funky M.Phil certificate

So, is that it? What are you doing now? I thought you would be going onto a PhD?

Well, I am doing exactly that right now. At the beginning of 2016 I was hunting around for PhDs, and sadly I had missed the window for quite a few since I was focusing on my M.Phil at the time. In short, however, I applied to the University of Hull and I am here now. Currently researching galaxy clusters in an attempt to better understand how the kinematics and dynamics of clusters of galaxies affects their evolution, morphology (shape), colour etc.

Does this mean you are going to open a ‘PhD Adventures’ section on your blog?

That is what I am now hoping to do yes. I want to keep up with this blog and properly document (British) PhD life for you all. On a weekly basis. So, in short expect to see updates on this site shortly. I might even spruce it up to look all pretty. Anyway, I must be off now for I have to endure 3 days worth of Health & Safety training in the morning, oh the joys.

So long astrogeeks, until next time!



Comprehension: Forgotten Abilities of the Mind

Hello Astrogeeks!

This week I’ll be mostly waffling on, without interruption, and you’ll have no choice but to let me. I know this is annoying, but tough, this is my blog website after all :-3.

Anyway these past few weeks have been rather stressful, to say the least. Mainly I find myself now having so much work to do within a short time frame I feel like I can’t squeeze myself within this narrow frame. Only finding out there there were more problems that you have to resolve the deeper you go into handling your own data. This ultimately can be very depressing when one is trying to progress into the final stages within the next two months or so. It becomes even harder when the wider world affects you in many many ways, probably to an extent more than you’d anticipate or expect.

Of course I’m referring to the events that unfolded in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015, events which shook the world, but also led various parts of it into deeper and darker paths. The politics of which I shall avoid, but what I will mention is the aftermath: the inevitable self proclaimed savants with omniscient powers. Otherwise known as the bigots who would find any excuse to prop up their own cowardly causes, all done without realising the hypocrisy of such statement of words, to these people I sigh and get continuously irritated. If it weren’t for those who show compassion, solidarity and comedy in the face of these ghastly events I wouldn’t be able to bear the lack of comprehension of these bigoted people.

You might be asking, “What do you mean by a lack of comprehension?”. Well, I do not claim to be one of all the answers, nobody will ever be able to lay down such claims. However, everyone should have the ability to comprehend the basics of humanity, how we and our society have evolved and grown, learn from our mistakes and above all understand how we humans are special but also realise that there is a whole Universe out there. Comprehend that this Universe gave us life, also comprehend that it doesn’t know, therefore even care that we exist on this rocky planet floating around in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.

I get annoyed very easily about some really trivial things, and sometimes I just get so overwhelmed I have to retract myself from what I’m reading or the situation I am in. It’s only really the past year I’ve started to notice myself and my own actions, and the fact I annoy others as a result of my own annoyance. However, this is a different matter, so many are ignorant to such comprehension of humanity and its own fragile existence but sadly not many are willing to learn to comprehend this. Forever remaining blind to everything other than their prejudices, and the people and arguments that (don’t really) support them.

There are times like these when I just want to say, “Fuck this! I want to escape, I want to run away somewhere and hide. Or maybe do or see something new.”. I apologise for the profanity, but running away from it all will always seem appealing to me. I am a complicated human being. As many of us are, but like I said, this past year has made me realise how complicated I really am myself. Events like these will always make me depressed and sad, but, I know there are lots of good people out there who do comprehend. Knowing this makes me happy in that all is not yet lost.

Okay, well apart from going slightly off tangent, I’ll end my random ramble, rant, thingmybob here.

Until next week astrogeeks!


Long Time, No See! The Woeful Strains of Academia

*The wind howled and rattled against the cold and dark window pain… Suddenly… LIFE*

Hello everyone who so happens to tremble and fumble along to me own little bloggy/science page… Thing? I know it’s been an awfully long time since my last post, but there have been reasons. The most obvious one is that I’ve been busy with my studies. And finding the time, has been hard (admittedly, I…Err…Forgot as well).

So, considering we’ve been turning to dust here on the internet. What have you been doing exactly?

Well, long story short I have just been “working”. Research can be slow, painstakingly so. For the most part I have been working hard in reducing, cleaning and analysing my data. Followed by collating it all so I don’t forget or lose what I’ve just been doing. Not only that, but there has been a lot of programming to try and fit in. As well as that I’ve been doing lots of writing, endless writing of what essentially is a massive dissertation, or a really long essay.

Wait, wait, wait… Programming? I thought you were an Astronomer?

Yes, well I might have mentioned this before if you can remember?… Well, Astronomy heavily relies on computers, and not only that but the amount of data we have is, well, a **** load. We want to be able to have programs that can help us to reduce and analyse the data quickly with minimal error. So, we therefore have to make little programs to these things for us. This allows us to get to the fun bit of interpreting the data without too much faff. We are full of surprises aren’t we!

All of this writing, it sounds pretty intense. What were you writing exactly, and why?

Ahhh! Well, I had been writing what’s called at the Open University a “Probation Report”. Now, since I am doing an M.Phil there is no real “probation” as such like there would be with a Ph.D student. However admin wise I still have to show something to the University that I have been doing work, and not just wasting my days playing tiddlywinks. It kind of makes sense really. Also it’s allowed me to consolidate my information and data into one document. Which has made my thinking less vagarious!

Wow… This is making my head hurt with all of these different things you have to do. What are you doing now?

Currently I am just busy ‘doing the science!’. That is, getting as much science as I can out of all of this data as humanly possible. All this while knowing I’ll have to submit my work formally into a bound thesis at some point over the next few months. To say I’m friggin’ scared is putting it mildly. Mainly for the viva voce exam where I defend my work. Essentially an oral exam where I have to confirm that I am the person whom has written the thesis, and knows what I am talking about.

Glad I’m not stuffed into your shoes!… So, doing anything else?

Well, as well as my main ‘academic’ life I’m also doing many other things. For one example I’m learning German, which finding the time for at times has been tricky. However I have enrolled myself onto the Goethe Institut A1 exam for beginners. I am doing this to gain another skill, but also because my girlfriend is German. So, it would be perfect to talk amongst English people who most likely will not understand what we’re talking about. Haha! I’ve also been helping out with some of the undergraduate modules, mostly acting as a ‘guide’ for students accessing and using our Radio Telescope here on the OU campus. Remotely controlled from the students’ homes. It’s fun and interesting work to do!

Been rather busy haven’t you? Oh well, what next after this M.Phil of yours?

Aha! Yes, well you can’t blame one for trying to be as resourceful as possible with gaining experience. But yes! After the M.Phil I hope to continue my studies on towards a funded Ph.D, as of this moment in time I’m looking up potential places to apply to. So Exeter, the OU, Liverpool, maybe oxbridge etc. In short, we’ll see how it goes :-). Can’t be picky, but I also have to be happy.

Anyway, I must dash off and wander off to ‘do the science’. But it’s been lovely to catch up with you all again. I promise I will not be so much of a stranger in the future.

Catch you all later astrogeeks!


Philosophising Update of the Master Variety

…*Prod*…*Prod*…*Poke*…*Thwack!*  Wake up Lawrence!

Gaahh!… First of all “ouch!”, and secondly, I’ve been too busy to update this blog as often as I’d have liked to, so I’m sincerely sorry for me being pretty much a useless fool. However I’m here now, and wow, it’s amazing how quickly time has just flown on by these past 3 months.

Sorry about hitting you, but anyway, what have you been doing these past few months?

I probably deserved the slap, as I should probably slow down now as we come close to Christmas… So, what have I been doing? Mostly reading, or at least attempting to read as reading academically can be a bit challenging at first, but the simplest workaround is to only focus on 3 key areas (A good tip for any aspiring researcher); The Abstract, Introduction and Conclusion.

But what’s so important about these 3 points, and why are you reading, shouldn’t you be finding something new; ground-breaking nuggets of knowledge?

Well, reading is a key starting point for anyone researching a particular area, everyone focuses on one niche area at a time; if you don’t have the background understanding then you can’t build upon our current understanding. So, in short I’m starting some research into an area of astronomy I’m not so well rehearsed in and so therefore I have a lot of reading of academic papers, firstly on background, and then diverging off into areas related to what work I’ll be doing. And this brings me to the 3 key points; the abstract, a concise overview of the point to the paper, the results and conclusions/findings from the research; the introduction, setting the scene or providing the background so we can understand the point to the research along with what questions we hope to answer; finally the conclusion, which simply puts the results together to assess whether anything meaningful lies within the data.

As for the “ground-breaking nuggets of knowledge”, well, that’s something that could come late ;-). This is the beauty of science my fellow astrogeeks, whether your hypothesis is correct or not it doesn’t matter, it’s still progress as you eliminate one possibility out of many. Anyway, that’s enough of me waffling about those bits!

Well, it sounds interesting, so may I dare ask as to what it is you’re working on?

Hmm… Well, luckily it’s not top-secret so I think I can spare a few words to describe what I’m doing, but don’t worry, I won’t bore you to death with in-depth details for now. Basically I’m using data from NASA’s Spitzer (Infrared) Space Telescope, and what I’ve been doing so far has been to “mine” through this data for any spectra data on Quasars; which are said to be the progenitors of all Galaxies by most in the argument chain. More specifically I’m looking for ‘PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon) features’, these are long chain molecules in space that emit light in the infrared when excited by UV photons from stars, these molecules can therefore be used to trace the star formation rate (SFR) to a certain degree; know the total infrared luminosity then you know the SFR. From this we want to see if the star formation lies close to or far away from the quasar; this will give us clues as to what affect the quasar has on star formation, as it’s most commonly agreed that they retard such stars from forming with the intense radiation field that surrounds them. It’s rather interesting :-D.

Wow, so many questions, you’ve bamboozled me… So, I’ll ask the complex ones another time after my brain’s recovered, but how have you been getting on?

Haha, well, don’t worry I’ll try and make everything I do and say as accessible as possible :-), but for the most part it’s been going well. Astronomy in the modern world is predominantly computer based, and (oddly) filled with mac users, however that shouldn’t come as a surprise with the flexibility of using UNIX. The computing side mainly means I use them to help analyse data, the reason, well machines can do perform routines and calculations far quicker than us, but they are still ‘stupid’ to the extent that they require human input to give them ‘orders’ so to speak; essentially I program using a syntax known as Python. Luckily Spitzer has it’s own suite of software developed by academics at Cornell University in America (whom one of them is my supervisor), this software is known as SMART (Spectroscopic Modelling Analysis and Reduction Tool); it can obtain spectra from the data taken by the spectrograph on Spitzer. This software is brilliant, but trying to get it to work has spent a large chunk of my initial hours, the downside to computing reared its ugly head, so after battling for days on my desktop, and then on the loaned out macbook I have, I am now ready to properly utilise any data of quasars containing PAH features. But of course, now as we are heading to Christmas I have since been given the task by my supervisor to create my own routines for the .fits files containing the spectra, in order to streamline the analysis process without using IDL (a annoying, but powerful programming language), as well as for quick referencing.

Aside from the computing, I have been reading, compiling comprehensive lists on the objects I’ve found to have PAHs, as well as starting to scrutinise the data to see if these things are extended from the central source or not.

So in short fellow astrogeeks, it’s been tough and very busy, I’m seemingly working hard and long hours (sometimes 10-11 hour days), but ends with something not so obviously fruitful; quintessentially it’s very slow going. However this hasn’t deterred me, this is research, it’s never simple or painless, just a bloomin’ drag ;-)…

Anyway catch you later fellow astrogeeks, I’ll blog again (hopefully) soon.

Happy Christmas!

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,



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,



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,


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:

Speak to you soon Astrogeeks,

The ObsAstro

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,


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.