Category Archives: Cool Stuff

A GoPro Balloon Ride

A fun video.

A couple of links were included in the video description on YouTube:

A blog post on the launch and,

How to Send Your GoPro to space.

Since it is rather mountainous around these parts I won’t be trying this for fear of never being able to get to the returned camera. I do highly recommend taking a look at how it was done, very interesting. Also note if you might want to try this be very sure to check the regulations where you live! No need to create a hazard or get yourself into trouble.

Thanks to “BloonStu” for the entertainment!

Note: There may be a SpaceX launch later today, I hope to have a live link it does happen.

Gaia’s Star Density Map

A star density map composed by data obtained from second data release of Gaia – not to mention a very resourceful individual.

ESA: The second data release of ESA’s Gaia mission, made in April, has marked a turning point in the study of our Galactic home, the Milky Way. With an unprecedented catalogue of 3D positions and 2D motions of more than a billion stars, plus additional information on smaller subsets of stars and other celestial sources, Gaia has provided astronomers with an astonishing resource to explore the distribution and composition of the Galaxy and to investigate its past and future evolution.

The majority of stars in the Milky Way are located in the Galactic disc, which has a flattened shape characterised by a pattern of spiral arms similar to that observed in spiral galaxies beyond our own. However, it is particularly challenging to reconstruct the distribution of stars in the disc, and especially the design of the Milky Way’s arms, because of our position within the disc itself.

This is where Gaia’s measurements can make the difference.

This image shows a 3D map obtained by focusing on one particular type of object: OB stars, the hottest, brightest and most massive stars in our Galaxy. Because these stars have relatively short lives – up to a few tens of million years – they are mostly found close to their formation sites in the Galactic disc. As such, they can be used to trace the overall distribution of young stars, star formation sites, and the Galaxy’s spiral arms.

The map, based on 400,000 of this type of star within less than 10 000 light-years from the Sun, was created by Kevin Jardine, a software developer and amateur astronomer with an interest in mapping the Milky Way using a variety of astronomical data.

It is centred on the Sun and shows the Galactic disc as if we were looking at it face-on from a vantage point outside the Galaxy.

To deal with the massive number of stars in the Gaia catalogue, Kevin made use of so-called density isosurfaces, a technique that is routinely used in many practical applications, for example to visualise the tissue of organs of bones in CT scans of the human body. In this technique, the 3D distribution of individual points is represented in terms of one or more smooth surfaces that delimit regions with a different density of points.

Here, regions of the Galactic disc are shown with different colours depending on the density of ionising stars recorded by Gaia; these are the hottest among OB stars, shining with ultraviolet radiation that knocks electrons off hydrogen atoms to give them their ionized state.

The regions with the highest density of these stars are displayed in pink/purple shades, regions with intermediate density in violet/light blue, and low-density regions in dark blue. Additional information from other astronomical surveys was also used to map concentrations of interstellar dust, shown in green, while known clouds of ionised gas are depicted as red spheres.

The appearance of ‘spokes’ is a combination of dust clouds blocking the view to stars behind them and a stretching effect of the distribution of stars along the line of sight.

An interactive version of this map is also available as part of Gaia Sky, a real-time, 3D astronomy visualisation software that was developed in the framework of the Gaia mission at the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Further details including annotated version of the map: Mapping and visualising Gaia DR2

Credits: Galaxy Map / K. Jardine

Lunar Ice

Here’s the best evidence yet for ice on the Moon thanks to the India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Now we need to know more about volume.

NASA: In the darkest and coldest parts of its polar regions, a team of scientists has directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface. These ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient. At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely, but sparsely spread.

A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University and including Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the Moon.

M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.

Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250 degrees Fahrenheit (edit: -157 degrees Celsius). Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

Previous observations indirectly found possible signs of surface ice at the lunar south pole, but these could have been explained by other phenomena, such as unusually reflective lunar soil.

With enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimeters – water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the Moon’s surface.

Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners, as we endeavor to return to and explore our closest neighbor, the Moon.

Image: NASA

Seeing in UV

The astronomical community frequently hears about UV as we make scientific use of that particular band of light.

What does it look like? Here’s a video from Veritasium: “The World in UV”:

Name the ExoMars Rover

The UK built ExoMars Rover will launch as part of ESA’s ExoMars Mission. The rover is a mobile laboratory and one of the things it will do is examine the Martian sub-surface for signs of life when it lands in 2021.

It needs a name, not that there is anything wrong with “The ExoMars Rover”, but I think they (all involved with the mission ESA, UK Space Agency, Airbus etc) are looking for something a little more imaginative probably so it wouldn’t clash with the mission name.

It’s all good! I have the PERFECT name and have submitted it. I bet there will be quite a number of the same idea too. I hope so. I won’t tell you what I decided on until the official name is announced.

So go ENTER!

About the contest and ExoMars mission.

Bluedot Festival!

If you are close enough to Cheshire UK, specifically the wonderful Jodrell Observatory you can thank your lucky stars.

The Bluedot Fesitival is in full swing and is a great way to spend some time. Oh I would LOVE to be there but that won’t be possible this year.

The festival runs 19, 20, 21, and 22 July so there is plenty of opportunity. Please go if you can, I would.

Details here: Bluedot Festival

The Long and Short of it

The Sun has reached the most northerly extent of the annual cycle of the seasons and will now begin the journey to the corresponding southernmost point.

In the north the daylight will begin to shorten and while it is called the start of summer, quite a few of us have been enjoying warmer temperatures for a while compared to earlier in the year. In the south of course the opposite is true.

The time of the June Solstice is (or was) 10:07 UTC, today 21 June 2018.

Thanks to for the image.