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.


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:



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.


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

Yours, TheObAstro

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