Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Galaxy Zoo on the "Curious" Podcast

Just wanted to put up a quick post to point out that the latest podcast from the people who run Ask an Astronomer @ Cornell discusses citizen science, and I'm interviewed on it about Galaxy Zoo stuff.

Link to the podcasts in iTunes. 

Merry Christmas! Karen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Frenk Discussion about Cosmology

Last week Prof. Carlos Frenk visited us in Portsmouth to give a research seminar. As part of my new role as Outreach Officer for ICG I suggested we ask him to also give a public lecture. Which he did:

My favourite picture - Carlos Frenk sharing a snap of him showing Sir Patrick Moore around a dark matter detection experiment. 

The university coverage about the lecture is here: Carlos Frenk Draws a Big Crowd

And I made a Storify Story out of tweets which went out during the lecture.

As you can see the lecture was very popular, and I got a great warm fuzzy feeling for helping to educate almost 300 people about cosmology that night. :)

PS. Thanks is due to my office mate Chris D'Andrea for the blog title idea - it's a classic!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ten Most Amazing Databases in the World

I'm not sure who got to decide, but the Sloan Digital Sky Survey made this list of the Ten Most Amazing Databases in the World. This is the database the whole of Galaxy Zoo and Galaxy Zoo 2 was based on, and which has formed the basis of quite a substantial amount of the astronomical research I've been involved in, so I have to say for me it's probably number 1! Visit the SDSS Website for more information.

Galaxy Zoo Bars are (partially) triggered by environment

Over on the Galaxy Zoo blog this morning I explain our work on how the chance of a disc galaxy hosting a bar or a bulge depends on the environment it lives in (direct link to blog post). A paper about the work, led by Ramin Skibba, has just been submitted to MNRAS and appears on astroph this morning.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What is a Galaxy (QI style)?

I'm a big fan of QI, so it was fun when Brian Cox was on it recently and the whole show was peppered with astronomy.

I was amused to find them mention the interesting paper by Duncan Forbes and Pavel Kroupa in which they consider what the definition of a galaxy is. Luckily someone posted the segment on You Tube:

Earlier this year when they posted the discussion on the arxiv, Duncan and Pavel opened it up for a vote - in good "citizen science" style. Of course this caught my "Galaxy Zoo" eye so I blogged about it last Feb (2011).

It's on my mind tonight as I prepare to talk about "What is a Galaxy?" tomorrow night as part of the Intech Science Centre Adult Only Evening.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Twitter Link Roundup for Oct 10-14th 2011

I don't like how Twitter forgets what I've said eventually. So I plan to try a semi-frequent round-up of my favourite Twitter links/Tweets from the week.

Here goes

Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Puzzle Claimed Solved by Special Relativity  (via )

Mathematician and mother - October 2011 - GetSET Women Blog - The UKRC: 

@telescoper: The Astronomy Career Problem - it starts with the PhD

(and related to this check out the astrojc for this week - on the problems with Scientific Careers)

@NtlSTEMCentre: Talking to pupils about  careers? Have you seen our collection of  videos which may help?

@cosmicpinot (which is Brian Schmidt): Adam Riess - on NPR playing a game after the Nobel Prize Announcement - 

What a great idea:  (via and)

And alarmingly: @NatureNews: Physicist languishes in French prison 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day Links from Twitter

A great idea by @alicebell and @allinthegutter to make lists of women scientists to follow (as part of Ada Lovelace Day). 

Alice Bell's Ada list
Emma's List

Other great Ada Lovelace Themed links from Twitter

Free iPad Application "Lovelace and Babbage"

Ada Lovelace Day - Martha Haynes

Today is Ada Lovelace Day - a day named after a women who is widely believed to have been the worlds first computer programmer. You can read more about it at  "Finding Ada" a website which is soliciting stories about inspirational women in science.

 Coincidentally (I think) my former PhD thesis advisor, Martha Haynes, posted the below picture on Facebook today in response to a post by another of her former students about how male dominated Physics colloquia (and the business lounge of Lufthansa Airlines) both are. This is a picture of ALL of the 1989 winners of ALL awards from the (US) National Academy of Sciences. This was the year that Martha and her collaborator (and husband) Riccardo Giovanelli won the Henry Draper Medal "For the first three-dimensional view of some of the remarkable large-scale filamentary structures of our visible universe."

The 1989 Winners of ALL Awards from the (US) National Academy of Sciences 
 Martha is easy to spot - the only winner not wearing a tie (2nd row, 2nd from the left). Riccardo is standing next to her on the extreme left. So in 1989 1/24 prize recipients were women.

 In fact in the 125 years the Henry Draper Medal has been awarded (although note it's not awarded every year), the only female recipients have been Annie Jump Cannon and Martha Haynes.

 Sadly I suspect the situation among such high profile award winners is not much different today, but it is trailblazers like Martha (the first women  astronomy professor at Cornell; and the only one for 20 years) who make life easier for us now.

 Martha's stories of "Haynes and his wife Giovanelli" (among many others) remind me of the pre-conceptions about male scientists, and also make me laugh!

 So today for Ada Lovelace Day Martha is the person I want to mention as an inspirational woman in science.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Milky Way Twin and the Violin Clef

I wanted to point out two new (ish) posts over on the Galaxy Zoo blog:

1. A Summer Spent Finding Our Galactic Twin, which is an account of looking for the Galaxy Zoo galaxy which looks most like what we think the Milky Way looks like, by my recent Nuffield Summer Student, Mr. Tim Buckman.

Milky Way's Twin?

2. The Violin Clef Merger, which is an account (by Kevin Schawinski) of a very interesting merger recently found by Galaxy Zoo volunteer and active forum member (Bruce) in the new SDSS images which were released this past January (and which haven't yet been used in Galaxy Zoo).

Violin Clef Merger

 I expect you'll be hearing a lot more about both of these objects as we do some follow up observations.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do we need a Physics Barbie?

Last week we learnt that the numbers of students sitting A-level physics has increased but that the gender divide is getting worse,

This week we discover that at GCSE level, both the numbers taking science and the percent have girls have increased - with 46% of double science entrants this year being girls. The girls continue to outperform the boys, both overall, and in science (which seems to me should put pay to any ideas about intrinsic lack of science ability in girls) but yet this doesn't translate to girls taking Physics at A-level.

Imram Khan comments in the CASE reaction to the GCSE results (which he wrote, causing me to wonder what the rules are on quoting your self in an article).

"We need to encourage more girls to take the top grades they get at GCSE and translate those into science and maths A-levels."

 In related news, this week, the September 2011 Issue of Nature Chemistry celebrates women chemists in its cover - a photo mosaic of Marie Curie made up of the images of 200 women chemists (reproduced below).

A portrait of Marie Curie's face created from the photographs of around 200 women scientists.
In this volume, Michelle Francl (a Chemistry professor from Bryn Mawr College in the USA) writes a wonderful commentary: "Sex and the Citadel of Science" in which she wonders why 100 years after Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry so few other women have followed her to Stockholm.

 She puts forward a new and intriguing (at least to me) idea, that subtle messages from our working environment could be putting off women in science. As an example she talks about ergonomics - still general calibrated to the average size of men, for example:
"Chairs — in meeting rooms and conference venues are built to accommodate the majority of men, and the minority of women (less than 5% in fact). Most women will look — and perhaps feel — just a bit out of place, faintly childlike in an outsized chair."
Although I would argue that is true of all office spaces, many of which do not have the same gender imbalance as science.

 I was also interested to read her ideas on the use of colour as a subtle message about who belongs in science:
"It makes me wonder if one reason the science and engineering pipeline begins to leak girls at middle school is not due to some innate sex-linked lack of interest, but because that's often when 'real' lab equipment starts to be used regularly, the colours of which are drawn largely from the male-associated palette."
 This led to a silly Twitter conversation between myself, @sarahkendrew and @allinthegutter (all female astronomers) about how we only like red galaxies not blue ones, but actually I do wonder if all the beautiful images in astronomy could be responsible for a slightly higher female proportion in (some subfields) of astronomy than in physics as a whole (for which statement I should look up a reference).

Just look at all these pink galaxies from Google Images! I wonder how many female astronomers can be traced by to Halpha being commonly displayed as pink in images....?

 Being serious again though I do wonder if she has a point, Dr. Francl explains that obviously a single trivial detail like chair height, or the colour of lab equipment is not enough to put a girl off science, but she wonders about the cumulative effect of all these subtle messages, comparing it to the method of chemically separating substances by performing a procedure which slightly separates them multiple times.

 To cap all this off (and inspiring the title of my post) Athene Donald is also writing about the impacts of gender in science in THE: "Where is Physics Barbie?". The increase in Physics A-levels has been attributed by the BBC to a rise in "Geek Chic", but Dr. Donald (along with Alice Bell in her blog post "Unravelling the Politics of Geek Chic") laments that our idea of a geek is still very male (and middle class), and that we are forcing these stereotypes on our kids from a young age - partially by the choice of toys. As a mother to two young children I will gladly admit to the disquiet I feel at the very pink "girls" toys, and the very green and brown "boys" toys. I will even admit to my dismay that my 4 1/2 year old daughter is really keen to get a Princess Barbie.

Computer Scientist Barbie exists (and even blogs for UKRC), and in the 1960s apparently there was a Rocket Scientist/Astronaut Barbie, but I can say from personal experience that most of the Barbie aisle is pink, and very stereotypically girly.

Rocket Scientist Barbie
I'm currently knitting my daughters only Barbie a dress (she has a Disney Ariel Barbie which just came with a mermaid tails and bikini) which I am sorry to admit panders to her wishes and so will be very pink and twirly..... All this makes me wonder if my next project should be a Physicist outfit for the doll - and if it was how would it look. I would argue that she could in fact wear a pink frilly summer dress! Perhaps I'll just add a computer!

Anyway I'm not sure why all of this is making the online news this week, but I'm glad it is. Any discussion of the issues in my opinion is a good thing. As an MIT study showed - things only seem to improve when we're paying attention.

And I am happy to report I have an adjustable chair set at just the right height for me. A standard desk though (just too high?) and a very brown and green mens club looking coffee room to sit in. Perhaps I'll ask the department to put up some pictures of pink galaxies soon!

A Supernova in Beautiful Galaxy M101

After starting my series of beautiful galaxies with Messier 100 I was amused to discover this morning that M101 (The Pinwheel Galaxy) is in the astronomical news after a possible Type 1a Supernova was discovered in it yesterday. So following M100 I obviously have to do M101 this morning!

M101 as seen in a mosaic of Hubble Space Telescope images added to some ground based data. Credit: NASA and Robert Gendler. For more info see APOD
M101 was classified in the Hubble Atlas as an Sc galaxies with a weak bar and a partial ring around the bar before the arms emerge (SAB(rs)c). It's illustrated twice in the atlas, with the largest illustration accompanied by text which describes it as the prototype of multiple armed Sc galaxies, what we might today call a "flocculent" spiral.

 According to the "Atlas of the Messier Objects", M101 is the third largest galaxy (in angular size) in the Messier list, and is visible as an extended object even through 10x50 binoculars (presumably only from a very dark site though). It definitely seems to be a popular deep sky object for amateurs, and following the SN1a discovery the AAVSO have put out a call for their members to get observing. Some predictions suggest the supernova is still brightening and could reach 10th magnitude - only 2 magnitudes fainter than Neptune (at its brightest).

 M101 has already been an important calibrating object for the extragalactic distance ladder having had its distance measured using many of the well known methods (e.g. the Leavitt Law (Cepheids), Tip of the Red Giant Branch, the Tully-Fisher relation). The most reliable distances have ranged from 6-8 Mpc (18-24 million light years or so) making the galaxy almost twice as large as our own Milky Way.

 The addition of a Type 1a Supernova in M101 would obviously be extremely exciting as a way to further link commonly used distance indicators. SNIa are an important type of object in astronomy - they are extremely bright, and therefore observable at very large distances. Much of the evidence for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe (which indicates the need for "dark energy") comes from measurements of SN1a at very large distances which suggest that in the past the universe was expanding more slowly than it is today!

 It will be interesting to see the result of the many follow-up observations of the SN in M101 - and exciting to think they are happening (on the other side of the world of course) as I write this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Multi-wavelength views of stuff

I just know I'm going to want to find this again to use in a public talk, and it's fantastic so I want to share. "The Earth and Friends in Multiple Wavelengths", by Rob Simpson (@orbitingfrog). Of course galaxies are my favourite, so I'm reproducing the image of M31 (the Andromeda galaxy) in here (from top left to bottom right, radio, microwave, infrared, optical, UV, Xray).

And I like flowers too - so here's a geranium in optical (left) and UV.

Thanks for the excellent post Rob.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Career Progression in Academic Science from the Royal Society

I can't actually remember where I first came across the below diagram, but I keep wanting to refer to it and as finding it on the Royal Society website is not trivial (it's in a report called "The Scientific Century" from March 2010) I thought I would write a quick blog post so I could always find it.

Diagram from "The Scientific Century" by the Royal Society. Their caption reads "This diagram illustrates the transition points in typical academic scientific careers following a PhD and shows the flow of scientifically-trained people into other sectors. It is a simplified snapshot based on recent data from HEFCE, the Research Base Funders Forum  and for the Higher Education Statistics Agency's annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. It also draws on Vitae's analysis of the DLHE survey. It does not show career breaks or moves back into academic science from other sectors."
I think all incoming graduate students, and graduate students thinking about getting a first postdoc should be made to spend at least 10 minutes staring at this diagram. It probably wouldn't make a difference, because I think all of  us start out our PhDs thinking we'll make the 3.5% with permanent jobs (probably also the 0.45% making Professor). And actually I think that's natural. Almost every single person starting a PhD will have been used to coming top of the class through school, and probably also has done very well at University, so is just not used to thinking of themselves as anything but the top 3.5% of a population.

 I think this diagram illustrates the numbers I already technically knew all about much better than anything else I've seen. I'd only like to add in some little people making comments about what they think of it. For example I could add a politician looking at the 79.5% of people with science PhD ending up in "Careers outside science" and say how fantastic this is that they are contributing to other sectors of the economy. I could add a Professor saying "It obviously works to select the best scientists out of the incoming pool". And I could add the postdoc approaching the transition to "permanent research staff", after having already devoted around 10 years to building up an academic career (PhD +postdoc time) and by now having realised that everyone of the other postdocs around them is equally dedicated and excellent at science as they are wondering how on Earth they persuade anyone they should be part of that 3.5% who get to make a life-long career out of it....

Curious? What if the Earth were a cube?

As I have mentioned before, as a graduate student and young postdoc I was a member of a group of Cornell affiliated astronomers who revamped the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" site at Cornell into a sort of "proto-blog". On that site there are many answers I wrote to questions sent in to the site (154 in total over a period of about 5 years). Most of the "trouble" I get into about that period of my public engagement, centres around my answer to "What's going to happen on December 21st 2012?"  which I first wrote in January 2006 and which to date has been read over 650,000 times. But I also posted lots of other answers.

Thanks to Twitter I discovered last night that one of my old answers got picked up this week and linked into an article on the Discovery News: What if Earth were a cube? (My article: "How would the weather on Earth be different if it were a cube?" posted in December 2002). I'm always a bit worried when this happens that my previous self (9 years ago in this case) would have made some big mistake. In this case I'll say I'm still reasonably happy with what I wrote. I like the discussion of how the ocean and the atmosphere would have to be spherical even if the Earth could somehow be a cube. I think what is missing is a discussion of the fact that the Earth is so massive that it just couldn't be a cube, although I did link to another answer explaining "Why are stars and planets round?", by the wonderful educator and Saturn expert Britt Scharringhausen (now a professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin).

It was also fun to be reminded of the diagram I drew to illustrate my post:

Cubical Earth by me in 2002. 
Somewhat more impressive illustrations exist online now if you Google Image search "Cube Earth"!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is Hoag's Object?

Perhaps one of the most striking looking galaxies I know of is "Hoag's Object" (seen below by the Hubble Space Telescope; NED information, Wikipedia articlelookUP information). The wikipedia article talks of it as an object which fascinates both amateur and professional astronomers.

 I am really curious to know how it might look through an amateur telescope, and I'd love to see it for myself some day (RA=15 17 14, Dec=+21 35 08 in the Serpens constellation), can help give an idea - see Hoag's Object images on Flickr found by the service.

HST Image of Hoag's Object. Credit: NASA.

Through HST as you can see the object appears to be made up of a red spheroidal core, surrounded by a blue ring of star formation (with a gap between the two). The ring shows some spiral structure. In my opinion, one of the most fun things about the object is the more distance ring galaxy which can be seen through the gap (just to the right of 12 o'clock). This to me demonstrates the sheer size of the universe. To find such a rare object behind such a rare object seems quite extraordinary. 

So why am writing about Hoag's Object today, well appearing on the arXiV this morning is a paper addressing the formation scenarios for Hoag's Object (Finkelman et al. 2011, MNRAS in press), which struck my interest so I thought I'd write about it. It puts forward a new scenario for the formation of this unusual object as well as talking about the two previously suggested models. In addition they present some new data for our consideration.

 The three models discussed are:

1. Ring formed as a collisional ring.

In this model another galaxy would have passed through the centre of Hoag's object, and what is observed is the merger remnant. The Cartwheel Galaxy is perhaps the most famous of this class of objects. It's shown below in a HST image, and illustrates the most obvious problem with interpreting Hoag's Object in this way.

Cartwheel Galaxy. Credit: HST, NASA
You can see quite clearly in the above image the culprits in the galactic collision. No such neighbours exist for Hoag's Object. In addition the ring appears to be at rest with respect to the central spheroid - which would be unlikely if the ring were collisional.

2. Ring formed through a bar instability which has since dissolved. 

 In this model at an earlier time there would have been a strong bar, and material would have flowed out along it to form the ring. The main objection to this theory appears to be the lack of evidence for any residual bar in the central spheroid. I should perhaps point out that this was a theory previously put forward by one of the co-authors of today's paper (Noah Brosch), so presumably his co-authorship on this new paper is an indication that he no longer believes this to be the best model.

3. Gas Accretion. 

This is the new theory put forward (although I should say it seems rather similar to me to one discussed by Schwiezer et al. 1987). In this model the object has a very low density HI disk which accreted at early times onto the spheroid and is only dense enough to form stars in the ring.

In fact the kinematic data does seem to suggest that Hoag's object (other than having its only visible disk light in a ring of course) is a normal disk galaxy, with the spheroidal component playing the role of a central classical bulge. At the risk of getting too technical in a blog, check out the Halpha velocity map and HI line profile below.

Ignoring the gap in the Halpha velocity map these two observations look to me basically identical to what you would expect from a normal nearly face-on disk galaxy. The classic "double horned" HI profile is usual interpreted as a coming from a rotating disk of HI with a central gap. HI (atomic hydrogen in its ground state) emits (due to hyperfine spitting of the ground state) at a single frequency of 1420 Mz (21cm) - the broadening of the line is caused by Doppler shifting of the emission (indicated along the x-axis is the velocity of the Doppler shifter HI line) and the peaks at the maximum velocity are interpreted as a pile up of HI in the flat part of a galaxy rotation curve (see global HI profiles, or galaxy rotation curves for more information on this).

HI in Hoag's Object from Schwiezer et al. 1987

The Halpha velocity map is showing a similar thing. Halpha is a spectral line emitted by excited hydrogen. Again this emits at a single frequency (656.28 nm), which is shifted due to the Doppler effect. The map shows the velocity of this line colour coded such that red indicates a greater velocity than the mean for the galaxy and blue a smaller. This is again interpreted as a rotating disk of hydrogen with the upper left moving away from use and the lower right towards us. The velocities are very consistent with what's seen in the HI profile, suggesting the HI is indeed coming from the ring.
Halpha velocity field in Hoag's Object from Finkelman et al. 2011

 What is needed to complete this picture is a HI map of Hoag's Object. I think this could be fairly easilly done with the EVLA, and I will be interested to see it when it is.

Solar Observing in Eastney

On Sunday I took one of the ICG Gallieoscopes to the Arts Cafe at Eastney Community Centre who are currently hosting a Space Themed Exhibit: "Journey to the Edge Of Space". As part of this they organized a Family Space Day on Sunday, and I agrred to go along to provide some public solar observing.

Picture of the Galileoscope set up for Solar Observing
It was a fairly quiet event in the end, and a day with patchy cloud, but I was able to show a few 10s of people the Sun through the telescope. Not helping the educational content from this was the quiet Sun. Absolutely no sun spots were visible, making the Sun appear as smooth white circle through the solar filter (I knew this in advance because I had looked it up on - still disappointing). It was almost more interesting when the patchy clouds went across the disk.

ICG news article. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zui Wanzheng 3D Yuzhou Tu

Thanks to the Chinese side of my family I found out that the story about the release of the 2MASS Redshift Survey ("The Most Complete Map of the 3D Universe") even appeared in the Chinese newspaper "World Journal".

The headline in black reads "Zuì wánzhěng 3D yǔzhòu tú" which is literally translated to "Most complete 3D universe map".

Friday, August 12, 2011

Leverhulme Trust Article about Galaxy Zoo Bars

Over on the Leverhulme Trust Awards in Focus section this month is an article I wrote for them about the progress I've made on the research project they fund me for - which is to study the impact of bars on disk galaxies using Galaxy Zoo.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Types of Galaxies are in BOSS?

Over on the SDSS3 blog is a post about my recently accepted paper looking at the types of galaxies which are being observed in BOSS.

Copied below:

A critical question for the SDSS-III BOSS is what kinds of galaxies are they observing. In a recent paper by Masters et al., SDSS-III scientists used additional, higher resolution data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to answer this questions.
In SDSS images, BOSS galaxies, which are on average about 6 billion light years away, just looks like fuzzy red blobs. The goal of BOSS is to observe 1.5 million of them over 30% of the sky in order to map the large scale structure in great detail. For this study, they took a look at a tiny subset of 230 of them which have deeper HST images (which were taken as part of the COSMOS project – the largest area HST survey every yet done).
The study found that 75% of BOSS galaxies are massive ellipticals, but that a surprisingly high fraction (20%) of these are split into multiple components in the HST images. The remaining 25% of BOSS galaxies are massive spirals.
The image below shows an example of one of the spirals and one of the ellipticals shown in both the SDSS and HST image.
As well as the paper, you can look at a poster about this work which was presented both at the AAS in Boston in May, and also at the recent Galaxy Formation conference in Durham
Finally if you want to browse all the images yourself they are available at

Talking about the Universe on Radio New Zealand

Yesterday I talked with Bryan Crump from Radio New Zealand Nights about the 2MASS Redshift Survey. You can listen to the segment online, or download MP3.

Screenshot of 2MRS on the Radio New Zealand Website.

 Lucas also submitted the scientific paper to the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series and released it to the arXiV last week.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Beautiful Galaxy M100

I stumbled across a picture of the galaxy Messier 100 (NGC 4321) this morning, and just felt inspired to share it's beauty. I might share more of these as a way for me to learn the NGC numbers of some classic galaxy examples!

 So here it is - as seen by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

M100 as seen by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
The central region has been observed by HST, which is also worth a look.

The central region of M100 seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
And I encourage you to do a Google Image Search on Messier 100 to see the vast array of beautiful images of this galaxy (PS. avoid searching on M100 if you're squeamish. Yuck!).

M100 is a classic example of a grand design spiral, meaning it has clear well defined spiral arms. And look how far round they wind - it's lovely. Its classic classification (from the RC3 as listed in NED) is as an Sbc galaxy with a weak bar and an inner ring (SAB(s)bc). Apparently it's a similar size galaxy to our own Milky Way, and has played an important role in the history of extragalactic astronomy. This object is a member of our nearest large cluster of galaxies - the Virgo Cluster, and in 1994 was the first galaxy in the Virgo Cluster to have a distance measured to it using Cepheid Variables (via the Leavitt Law, see Freedman et al. 1994) which was an important step towards a reliable measurement of the Hubble constant.

Oh, and I should put in a plug for the excellent LookUP website, by @astronomyblog (Stuart Lowe). Check out the LookUP entry for M100 - turns out it also has a very interesting black hole - possibly the youngest known, and born in the same year as me. Cool! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Zooniverse of Galaxies

A busy day today - an article on my research I was asked to write for the L'Oreal For Women in Science Blog, Agora appears today.

A Zooniverse of Galaxies.

Practical Tips for Scientists Interacting with the Media (from Will Gater at NAM)

In my opinion one of the best sessions at the UK National Astronomy Meeting held in Llandudno this April was a "Meet the Press" session aimed at giving scientists information on how the press works, what will help them.

 In that session Will Gater presented a list of practical tips for scientists who want to/have to interact with the media. I thought it might be useful to reproduce them here (based on the notes I took in April, so my apologies to Will if I'm misrepresenting what he actually said!).

1. Have a person webpage (my comment about this is that it always surprises me when scientists don't have this as it's so easy to do in a university setting). Will's advice for the website was that it should (a) be kept fresh; (b) list your specialisms/research interests; (c) give clear contact details; (d) have a list of your recent papers; (e) contain information about your career path/biography.

2. Have a head shot ready (should be high resolution).

3. Understand the lead times on publications when thinking about making press releases. For example magazines plan issues 4-5 weeks in advance, while newspapers work on much shorter timescales.

4. Understand how the media find information about science stories. Will listed (a) press releases; (b) tip offs; (c) reading papers on the arXiV; (d) twitter (and he said that this last one was really useful to see the whole process of science, and get a sense of what researchers are talking about).

Will then went on to give some advice on the contents of a good press release. Which from my notes were:

1. Give clear contact details.

2. List the names of people involved in the research.

3. Put the main result in the first paragraph along with who has done it.

4. Have a clear headline (try to write it like an article - since, rightly or wrongly, many online articles will be a verbatim copy of the press release).

5. Clearly list the wider implications.

6. Provide a high resolution image (300 dpi).

For interviewing, he advised that you think about in advance what the questions might be (what do you worry about the most). He suggested that if you talk about how it felt to do the research that will add a lot.

 You can follow Will on Twitter.

Remembering John Huchra at the Boston AAS

One of the things I participated in at the recent American Astronomical Society Meeting in Boston (held in May) was a session on Remembering John Huchra. The slides from the speakers at that session have recently been made public on the AAS Website: Remembering John Slides (available to non-members).

 This reminded me that I took some photos during the session which I wanted to share.

Greg Bothun starts things off talking about John's thesis work on little blue galaxies. 

Jeremy Mould talks about John's work on the Hubble Constant. 

Pauline Barmby (one of John's relatively few former PhD students) talks about the great diversity of science topics he was interested in. 

Pauline Barmby also talked about John's love of observing.

Debra Elmegreen (current AAS President) talks about John's work for the 2010 Decadal Survey where he Chaired the sub-committee on the state of the profession.

Debra talks about how John was quite concerned about the state of the profession especially the large numbers of soft money positions (basically short term contract workers). 

Debra also talked about meeting the Pope with John. 

Things got quite emotional at this point, as Debra talked about how John  so enjoyed their trip to Vatican City. 

Craig Wheeler talked about John's contributions to the AAS as the President in 2010. 

 At this point I gave my talk about John's work on the 2MASS Redshift Survey, and our plans to finish and publish the data - which I have previously blogged about.

After my talk I moved further back in the hall, here's my final shot was of Marc Postman talking about John's influence on his students (official and unofficial) and others he mentored. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

End of the World in 2012? An Infographic

Stumbled across the below infographic from InformationisBeautiful today (with the help of @astrojenny on Twitter). A nice visual summary of the points made by so-called "Mayan Doomsday" prophets clearly set against the actual facts. Looks like a useful resource for astronomers in the next 18 months.

As I have previously stumbled into 2012 debunking (see Karen and 2012, also you can listen to me debate it on The Montel Williams show last year) a lot of this was familiar, but this is a wonderfully clear way to lay it all out.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Guest Scientist at the Royal Greenwich Observatory

I had a great day yesterday, traveling to London to participate in the Royal Observatory, Greenwich's "Meet a Scientist" program.

I spoke about my work with the Galaxy Zoo project to two groups of around 25 gifted year 9 students (13 and 14 year olds who are already taking their GCSE in science).

I also (finally) got to see the "We are Astronomers" planetarium show (which is as good as I had heard!), as well as get a tour of the night sky presented by my fellow AstroTweeter "skyponderer".

And I got to take the boat along the Thames from Waterloo to Greenwich.

All in all a fun day in the life of an Astronomer. :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Talking about LOFAR on the Astronomy Now YouTube Channel

At NAM in Llandudno I talked with Nick Howes from Astronomy Now about the LOFAR project. The video was posted on the Astronomy Now YouTube Channel this week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Asking questions at NAM

In this month's A&G (the magazine members of the Royal Astronomical Society get sent) there is a review of the hi-lights of the recent National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) held in Llandudno, which I attended (in part because of my work for LOFAR-UK).

Image 9 from "NAM in North Wales", June 2011 edition of Astronomy & Geophysics.

I was a bit surprised to see as part of that article a picture of myself waiting to ask a question at the end of Mark Thompson's plenary talk on "Einstein at Teatime - the popularisation of Astronomy" (I'm the one in pink!), particularly as there's actually no mention of the many excellent talks and discussion on science communication which happened at NAM2011 (spearheaded by this interesting plenary discussion). For me those sessions were one of the major hi-lights of NAM2011.

On a practical matter, I've been contacted by people at "The Observatory" (where reviews of the talks, and transcripts of the questions are published) who are looking to identify the other question asker (in blue above). If anyone can help let me know and I'll pass it on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Talking on NPR Science Friday

Last Friday I spoke on NPR's Science Friday about the 2MASS Redshift Survey. Archive page link. Link to MP3. 

I think I was a little too technical, but it was an interesting experience. Lots of my American friends seem to have randomly heard it. It was nice to hear John's voice, although it made me go more cosmological than I would have liked. Also I wish I got to finish the story about why 2MRS took so long (and mention Lucas).

I'm curious to know how many people listen to this show...... must put that on my to do list to figure out!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Galaxy Zoo Session at the Boston AAS

I just posted an article on the Galaxy Zoo blog about the Galaxy Zoo session I organized at the Boston AAS. Check it out here.

I put the slides from my talk online here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Most Complete 3D Map of the Local Universe

I've been at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Boston this week, and there's been a lot going on here, including a great session on the Science from Galaxy Zoo, which I plan to write about soon, but I wanted today to mention the release of the 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS) which has been getting some press today. 

The 2MRS shown in an all-sky projection with galaxies colour coded by their distance from us (from purple to red as the distance increases). The projection puts the plane of our Galaxy along the middle - and we can't see through that, so there's no galaxies there. Credit: Tom Jarrett (IPAC). 
This was a project I worked on during my first postdoctoral position (2005-2008) working with John Huchra. This is really John's survey, and Lucas Macri (another former mentee of John's) and myself have been really delighted to be able to finish it off and release it to the public in memory of John. You can now download the data from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the paper, Huchra et al. (2011) will be submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Supplements (which publishes catalogues) very soon.

Also check out Tom Jarrett's page of different maps from 2MRS.

Here in Boston there was a session on remembering the scientific legacy of John Huchra, during which I presented the 2MRS, and also watched for the first time the whole of "John Huchra's Universe" (a world wide telescope tour made by his colleagues at Harvard). A YouTube version of it is below, and I think it really explains why John was so keen to do the 2MRS.

Links to coverage (via Google News search of "2MASS Redshift Survey").

CfA press release.

Portsmouth University coverage.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview on the Jodcast

I'm interviewed on the May 2011 Extra edition of the Jodcast. I talk both about the LOFAR project and Galaxy Zoo. Enjoy. :)

LOFAR-UK blog about it.
Galaxy Zoo blog about it.

(this post makes me think I have too many blogs, and talked to too many people at NAM! Still one more NAM interview about LOFAR to come out!).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

John Huchra Measuring Redshifts at the Whipple Observatory

One of the things I've been working on recently is the final publication of the 2MASS Redshift Survey (2MRS). This is the largest complete map of the local universe (ie. it looks at as much of the sky as is possible - about 95% when you consider our Galaxy blocks some of it), and represents the culmination of decades of work on redshift surveys by John Huchra (1948-2010). I worked with John on the 2MRS as a postdoc for 3 years (2005-2008) and myself and Lucas Macri (a former student of John's) have been working on finalizing the 2MRS and publishing it in John's name (based largely on text he wrote in various unpublished descriptions of the survey). We plan to release the data very soon.

As part of this whole effort I'm going to be speaking in a special session at the upcoming American Astronomical Society meeting (#AAS218) in Boston, MA about "John and the 2MRS". For my presentation I've been looking for pictures of John observing to get redshifts, and with some help (particularly from Dan Brocious at the Whipple Observatory, and Boyd Estus at Heliotrope Studies, Ltd) I managed to get my hands on the below clip of John Huchra observing redshifts at FLWO in the 1980s, presumably as part of his famous CfA redshift survey (it's a segment from "So Many Galaxies, So Little Time", narrated by Margaret Geller).

By definition this was exactly what I was looking for!

By the way you can read an article I wrote about John (shortly after his death in October 2010) on the Galaxy Zoo blog. 

Some recent Galaxy Zoo work

I'm a bit behind, but I wanted to point out two papers I was involved in from the Galaxy Zoo project which have recently come out on the arXiV.

Both were blogged about on the Galaxy Zoo blog (in both cases by the first author, and in both cases I was the second author).

Ben Hoyle: GZoo2 Bar Paper Accepted in MNRAS

Lucy Fortson: Galaxy Zoo and Zooinverse Review Article posted today on arXiv

This last ones use the above Hubble Tuning Fork I made using Galaxy Zoo style SDSS images of galaxies.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A LOFAR Pencast

Today over on the LOFAR-UK blog I posted the below pencast in which I describe the LOFAR low band antennas.

brought to you by Livescribe

This is using the new pencast pen I bought after trying one out at dotastro. Now having gone through the whole process I'm still impressed. Watch out for more pencasts. :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Talking about LOFAR with the Naked Scientists

I discussed LOFAR and LOFAR-UK with Andrew Pontzen on the special National Astronomy Meeting edition of the Astronomy podcast for the Naked Scientists.

MP3 of just my LOFAR segment.

Link to the whole podcast (including a transcript).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LOFAR-UK at the UK National Astronomy Meeting

This week I've been in Llandudno, Wales for the UK National Astronomy Meeting. One of the things I've been doing here is representing LOFAR-UK with an exhibit stand (and giving several interviews). I blogged about it earlier on the LOFAR-UK blog - link.

I also gave a talk about my recent work with SDSS3. More on that soon I hope when the paper is in press. 

It's been a great meeting, with just tomorrow morning left. Lots of really interesting talks and discussions. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pluto the Previous Planet

One of the outputs from dotAstronomy this year was the below music video by Amanda Bauer (@astropixie). Pluto the Previous Planet

Amanda describes where she got the idea for this song in her blog post about it: Pluto, the Previous Planet: A Song.  She's very clear, that she saw this song as a bit of fun, and has no interest in changing the IAU definition of what a planet is. I got involved as one of the "Trans Neptunian Objectors" (looking a bit lost in the chorus line), and expressed my concern over the interpretation of the second to last verse by refusing to "boo" (I really don't care if Pluto is defined as a planet or not). :)

 Actually I think Amanda and Carolina did a very nice job anyway, making a website: "Pluto the Previous Planet" to go along with the video. It gives Pluto a voice (summary - we don't need to worry, he's happy enough as a dwarf planet) and includes some educational material about the redefinition. A well deserved Hack Day Best Artistic Project Prize!

I have yet to meet an actual astronomer who cares about this issue, but obviously some people do. The comments to Amanda's blog post have gotten a little heated and Stuart Lowe has already talked about that in his blog post: Plurality of Planets. Universe Today covered the story: "New Hit Single: “Pluto the Previous Planet”, and to date it's had just over 4000 views. Hmmm.

Perhaps Markus (the director) was right, and we should have spent a bit more time practicing! All I can say is I can't wait to get the tune out of my head. I've been humming it all week:

Pluto the previous planet, had a very shiny nose....... 

no wait that's not right..... aargh!

Just noticed that one of the Pencasts was done by Amanda on the Pluto song. Check it out:

brought to you by Livescribe

(Link to it on the Livescribe website)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

(dot)Astronomers like Apples

Another quick snippet from the dotAstronomy conference. On the first day we all had a lot of trouble with the wifi network at New College. Very frustrating for a group of people who came to a conference about using the internet to learn about, do, and communicate astronomy!

Anyway on hack day (Tuesday afternoon when we were all working on various projects), Boris Haeussler went around photographing us with all our internet connected devices, and produced the below video. His final census - 40 astronomers, 86 internet devices! Comprising 38 Macbooks, 6 other laptops, 5 iPads, 2 other tablets, 22 iPhones, 9 smart phones, and 4 other phones. That's a lot of Apple products!

And I was about average - with a Macbook and an iPhone. So why do I like Apple so much..... well I find they just work, and because the OS is based on Unix I can run a lot of the astronomy related programmes I started using on a Unix desktop when I was a new graduate student natively on my laptop. No dual booting (which is what I see those with other laptops doing). I don't have a lot of time for fussing around, so I like how easy it all is. I've actually moved to using only my laptop in recent years - connected to a screen on my desk, and also connecting remotely to the big computers at work for certain things.

This site on Using OSX for Professional Astronomers, by Dr. Jane Rigby is the most useful resource I've found for Mac users who are astronomers. Jane is now writing for AstroBetter (tips and tricks for professional astronomers) which is also a great resource.