Edward Gomez's blog

Science Hack day

Last weekend I was part of the first UK Science Hack Day. Strangely it lasts a whole weekend, but the 'day' aspect refers to a 24 hour hack session. We were hosted by The Guardian newspaper in London (where many people also ended up sleeping there too!). The interesting aspect of the weekend was undoubtably the people; science academics who were keen on coding mixed with computer coders who were keen on science to work on joint projects.

First light from Santa Barbara 1m

The observatory site we are affectionately calling BPL (back parking lot) is our on-site testing ground for the 1m and 0.4m projects. We have an enclosure for each; an aqawan for 0.4m and an Ash dome for our 1m. The first of our 1m network was recently installed and achieved first light on 12 June. The seeing from Santa Barbara was not ideal (about 4") but the attached colour image is still a major achievement.

First 'sequenced' image with 0.4m

Last night, the 0.4m telescope in the back parking lot (BPL) produced the first fully 'sequenced' observation with the new control system.  The sequencer is the layer of software which sits on top of all the low-level telescope, instrument, and enclosure control systems and figures out what all needs to be done to accomplish an observation.  It then 'sequences' those operations to satisfy their dependencies (e.g. don't start exposing until the enclosure is open) and sees them through to completion.

Comet Vales: A spiraling comet

Richard Miles from British Astronomical Association has been coordinating UK schools to make observations of a comet that is behaving strangely. Comet P/2010 H2 (VALES) underwent a major outburst around 2010 April 15 brightening by more than 1000 times (possibly even more than this) in a matter of a few hours.  Before this date, the object  was not known.  After this date it had taken on the appearance of a 12th magnitude star.  The comet sooon began to exhibit an expanding coma.

New exoplanets turn planetary theory upside down

The discovery of nine new planets challenges the reigning theory of the formation of planets, according to new observations by astronomers, 2 of which for our own Dr Rachel Street and Dr Tim Lister .

Unlike the planets in our solar system, two of the newly discovered planets are orbiting in the opposite direction to the rotation of their host star. This upsets the primary theory of how planets are formed. The planets are called “exoplanets” because they are located outside of our solar system.

CoRoT-9b, the first transiting temperate exoplanet

The CoRoT satellite, operated by the French space agency CNES, has discovered a Jupiter- sized planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun in the constellation Serpens Cauda at a distance of 1500 light-years from the Earth. The parameters of this gas giant, which has features in common with the majority of exoplanets discovered so far, represents a valuable standard model when it comes to identifying new Jovian-type bodies with moderate temperatures.

Recent Outburst of Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann

This comet appears to have undergone another massive outburst, this time on 2010 February 2 increasing in brightness by a factor of 30-40.  The object is one of the largest active comets known.  It follows a near-circular path about 6.2 AU from the Sun, i.e. well beyond the orbit of Jupiter.  This is its fourth outburst of a similar magnitude in the past 8 years.  The nucleus of the comet is probably about 50 km in size and its behaviour may be a consequence of its very slow rotation along with the fact that it appears to be rich in carbon monoxide, a very volatile gas.

Latest images from our newest camera

We have been commissioning a new camera over the past few months, called Spectral (although it is an imaging camera not a spectrometer).  One of our science interns (BJ Fulton) has been following an open cluster monitoring program and has been among the first people to use the spectral camera on Faulkes Telescope North  for science. BJ is particularly interested in finding out the mass of the stars in these clusters.

What is everyone talking about?

I rediscovered a tool that I had forgotten about this morning. A website called Wordle which can grab all the text from a website, rss feed or even a paragraph that you submit and graphically display the words in a semi-artistic way. Larger words representing a greater frequency of that word. Its very like a tag cloud, but looks at the whole text rather than just the tags and then produces a non-clickable picture (ignoring words like 'and' and 'the').

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