Category Archives: Space participation

Sarah Parcak wins $1M TED prize to combine archaeology, space imagery, and citizen science

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak uses satellite imagery to find previously undiscovered sites of ancient human activities. She also uses such images to detect looting of known sites. She describes her techniques in the TED talk video below. See also the Gallery: Archaeological mysteries hidden in satellite images.

Parcak won the million dollar TED Prize for 2016:

She will use the prize to develop the online Global Xplorer site to involve citizen scientists in using satellite imagery to find new archaeological sites and to protect known ones:

I wish for us to discover the millions of unknown archaeological sites across the globe. By building an online citizen science platform and training a 21st century army of global explorers, we’ll find and protect the world’s hidden heritage, which contains clues to humankind’s collective resilience and creativity.

 

ESO: Public invited to watch the search for a planet around Proxima Centauri

ESO opens a new outreach program that allows the general public to follow closely the hunt for an earth-like exoplanet around the nearest star Proxima Centauri:

Follow a Live Planet Hunt!

A unique outreach campaign has been launched that will allow the general public to follow scientists from around the globe as they search for an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. The observing campaign will run from January to April 2016 and will be accompanied by blog posts and social media updates. No one knows what the outcome will be. In the months following the observations, the scientists will analyse the data and submit the results to a peer-reviewed journal.

Pale Red Dot is an international search for an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. It will use HARPS, attached to ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory, as well as the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) and the Burst Optical Observer and Transient Exploring System (BOOTES).  It will be one of the few outreach campaigns allowing the general public to witness the scientific process of data acquisition in modern observatories. The public will see how teams of astronomers with different specialities work together to collect, analyse  and interpret data, which may or may not be able to confirm the presence of an Earth-like planet orbiting our nearest neighbour . The outreach campaign consists of blog posts and social media updates on the Pale Red Dot Twitter account and using the hashtag #PaleRedDot. For more information visit the Pale Red Dot website: http://www.palereddot.org
Pale Red Dot is an international search for an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. It will use HARPS, attached to ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory, as well as the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) and the Burst Optical Observer and Transient Exploring System (BOOTES). It will be one of the few outreach campaigns allowing the general public to witness the scientific process of data acquisition in modern observatories. The public will see how teams of astronomers with different specialities work together to collect, analyse  and interpret data, which may or may not be able to confirm the presence of an Earth-like planet orbiting our nearest neighbour . The outreach campaign consists of blog posts and social media updates on the Pale Red Dot Twitter account and using the hashtag #PaleRedDot. For more information visit the Pale Red Dot website: http://www.palereddot.org

At a distance of just 4.2 light-years from the Sun, and located in the constellation of Centaurus, Proxima Centauri is the closest known star to the Sun. Previous observations have provided tantalising, but weak hints of a small companion orbiting this red dwarf star, but this new campaign will make a more sensitive search for the telltale wobbles in the dwarf star’s orbital motion that might reveal the presence of an Earth-like orbiting planet.

Observations will be made with the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), attached to ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory. The HARPS data will be complemented by images from an assortment of robotic telescopes located across the world [1].

The telescopes that comprise the Burst Optical Observer and Transient Exploring System (BOOTES) and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) will support the search by measuring the brightness of Proxima Centauri every night during the two and a half month long project. These observations will help astronomers determine whether any detected wobbles in the star’s motion are caused by features on its turbulent surface or by an orbiting planet.

Once the data have been collected by the various telescopes, astronomers can start their analysis. In the following months, their research methods and conclusions will be described in a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. When the scientific community has validated the research, the results will be published, concluding a long and substantial programme of scientific research.

Apart from following the scientific observations as they arrive, the Pale Red Dot outreach campaign [2] gives the public the opportunity to see how science is done in modern observatories, and how teams of astronomers with different specialities work together to collect, analyse and interpret data, which may or may not be able to confirm the presence of an Earth-like planet orbiting our nearest neighbour.

We are taking a risk to involve the public before we even know what the observations will be telling us  — we cannot analyse the data and draw conclusions in real time. Once we publish the paper summarising the findings it’s entirely possible that we will have to say that we have not been able to find evidence for the presence of an Earth-like exoplanet around Proxima Centauri. But the fact that we can search for such small objects with such extreme precision is simply mind-boggling,” said Guillem Anglada-Escude, the Project Coordinator.

We want to share the excitement of the search with people and show them how science works behind the scenes, the trial and error process and the continued efforts that are necessary for the discoveries that people normally hear about in the news. By doing so, we hope to encourage more people towards STEM [3] subjects and science in general,” adds Guillem.

The Pale Red Dot outreach campaign will illuminate the often unseen side of planet hunting with background articles and through social media. A bustling array of blog posts on many topics — including planet-hunting techniques, ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), and the lives of stars — are planned, written by the astronomers, scientists and engineers from the observatories involved, as well as science writers, observers and other experts in the field.

There will be daily social media updates, briefing the public on how the observations are going and any events taking place at the three observatories involved. To receive updates, people are invited to follow the Pale Red Dot Twitter account and the hashtag #PaleRedDot.

The name of the campaign was inspired by the famous “pale blue dot” image of the Earth, taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 on its way to interstellar space. The phrase was later used by Carl Sagan for his essay, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. As Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, astronomers expect that an exoplanet orbiting it will appear reddish. At the same time, just as Voyager’s image of Earth was a remarkable achievement for humanity, finding an Earth-like exoplanet around the closest star to us would be a another step towards answering humanity’s biggest question: Are we alone?

The Pale Red Dot campaign will begin in earnest on 15 January 2016 with observations commencing just three days later from ESO’s La Silla Observatory, situated at the edge of the Chilean Atacama Desert, and continuing until the first week of April. All of the scientific data obtained as part of the project are expected to become publicly available for all to exploit in late 2016.

Notes

[1] The team of astronomers leading the observations and outreach campaign are: Guillem Anglada-Escude, Gavin Coleman, John Strachan (Queen Mary University of London, UK), James Jenkins  (Universidad de Chile, Chile), Cristina Rodriguez-Lopez, Zaira M. Berdinas, Pedro J. Amado (Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia/CSIC), Julien Morin (Universite de Montpellier, France), Mikko Tuomi (Centre for Astrophysics Research/University of Hertfordshire, UK), Yiannis Tsapras (Heidelberg/LCOGT, Astronomisches Rechen-Institut – Heidelberg & LCOGT) and Christopher J. Marvin (University of Goettingen).

[2] The outreach campaign is coordinated by the project team with support from the outreach departments of ESO, Queen Mary University of London, Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia/CSIC, Universite de Montpellier, University of Goettingen, Universidad de Chile and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.

[3] STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Dwarf galaxy spotted by Australian “strongman” amateur astrophotographer

Australian Michael Sidonio is “a competitive strongman” and also a first rate amateur astrophotographer who spotted a previously unheralded dwarf galaxy:

From his gallery:

162148414.xc0ak4HI[1]NGC 253-dw2 Deep Discovery Image – Credits Michael Sidonio

As part of a professional team lead by Aaron J. Romanowsky and David Martinez-Delgardo, this is my first involvement in a scientific discovery and my first scientific paper too. The paper was accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of The Royal Astronomical Society on Monday 21 Dec 2015.

The galaxy, in this case a Dwarf Spheroidal, was first discovered in a deep image I did of NGC 253 using my Orion Optics UK AG12 a 12″ F3.8 corrected Newtonian. This was then subsequently followed up by deep exposures by the CHART 32 team with their 32″ F7 corrected Cassegrain telescope at Cerro Tololo and then finally the Suprime-Cam on the 8m Subaru telescope was used, in sub arc sec seeing, to resolve stars and confirm the discovery and galaxy classification.

So to discover something so faint and so close to such a well researched galaxy like NGC 253 is extra special and the new galaxy is called NGC 253-dw2

The last line of the abstract is very encouraging too: “We also note the continued efficacy of small telescopes for making big discoveries”

Cinespace short film competition invites submissions for 2016

I recently highlighted the 2015 winners in the CineSpace short-film competition sponsored by NASA and the Houston Cinema Arts Society (HCAS). NASA officially opened the 2016 competition this week:

‘CineSpace’ Short Film Competition Returns for 2016

NASA and the Houston Cinema Arts Society once again will offer filmmakers around the world a chance to share their works inspired by — and using — actual NASA imagery through “CineSpace,” a short-film competition.

The inaugural year of CineSpace drew 194 entries from 22 countries and 32 U.S. states. Sixteen finalists premiered their films at Houston Cinema Arts Festival’s CineSpace Day at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Filmmakers brought new visions to life using real-life space imagery from NASA telescopes and robotic spacecraft exploring our solar system and beyond, to sights captured on the International Space Station where men and women have been working off the Earth, for the Earth for more than 15 years.

Films featuring NASA-captured imagery and video collected throughout the agency’s 50-year history will be judged on creativity, innovation and attention to detail: the same hallmarks of spaceflight. Works submitted to CineSpace will compete for cash prizes and the opportunity to be shown to audiences both on and off Earth.

In addition to being screened at the CineSpace awards ceremony during the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, winners and finalists may be screened at other film festivals across the country, as well as on NASA TV and even on the International Space Station.

The competition is open to all filmmakers, both professional and aspiring. Submissions of all genres, including narrative, documentary, comedy, drama, animation, experimental and others, up to 10 minutes running time, will be accepted. Entries must use at least 10 percent publically available NASA imagery.

Academy Award-nominated director Richard Linklater once again will serve as the judge in selecting the finalists.

The submission period opens June 1, 2016, and closes July 31, 2016. Finalists and winners will be announced at a CineSpace event during the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in November. Entries will be competing for $26,000 in prizes with cash awards going to the top three submissions as well as the two films that best demonstrate the themes “Benefits of Space to Humanity” and “Future Space Exploration.”

NASA’s journeys into air and space continue to power inspiration that encourages future generations to explore, learn and build a better future. Humanity has used the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. The next decade of exploration will be a time of rapid technological advancement and innovation as humanity stands poised to make the journey to Mars.

The Houston Cinema Arts Society is a nonprofit organization created in 2008 that organizes and hosts the annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival, a groundbreaking and innovative arts festival featuring films and new media by and about artists in the visual, performing and literary arts. The Eighth Annual Houston Cinema Arts Festival will take place from Nov. 10-17, 2016.

For more information on CineSpace, competition guidelines and the submission process, and to view the 2015 winners and finalists, visit: www.cinespace16.org

To browse NASA video and imagery, visit: www.nasa.gov/content/download-nasa-videos-for-cinespace

For more information about the Houston Cinema Arts Society, visit: www.cinemartsociety.org

For more information about the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, visit: houstoncinemaartsfestival.org/

Afghan astronomy fans take big risks to view the night sky

While astronomy enthusiasts in many countries complain about inconveniences such as light pollution and cloudy weather, the members of the Afghanistan Astronomy Association must overcome truly dangerous challenges to view the night sky with their telescopes: Amateur Afghan Astronomy Is Risky Business – Newsweek.

Afghanistan’s war has taken a devastating toll on civilians: death, displacement, poverty. But it also affects lives in unexpected ways. For the country’s small band of amateur astronomers, exploring the universe’s deepest corners is a risk they now rarely take. The increasing encroachment of the Taliban, criminal gangs and aggressive police checkpoints means they now limit observations to the outskirts of Kabul city or their rooftops. “The places where there are the darkest skies, almost all those places are insecure,” says Ibrahim Amiri, 26, one of the youngest members of the Afghanistan Astronomy Association.

His eyes shine as he describes the high altitude and low light pollution of Badakhshan in the north and the open horizons of Kandahar in the south, both perfect regions for stargazing. “But we could be attacked by anyone [there]. Not just Taliban or ISIS, but even the local people,” he explains. “Afghans, especially villagers, are usually not very comfortable with people they don’t know or things they don’t understand.”

stargazer[1]
Yunos Bakshi standing with one of his telescopes in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Bakshi is the founder of Afghanistan’s first Astronomy Association.
Image by Jeffrey E. Stern. Afghanistan, 2013.