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Orbiting Links

May 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

Screenshot 2014-05-06 22.04.29

I’ve added a new section to Orbiting Frog today: Orbiting Links (http://links.orbitingfrog.com). This new page displays an automated set of URLs currently being shared by the astronomers of Twitter. This is a work in progress, but it seems to be producing good results so far.

Orbiting Links is created by taking a small set of my favourite astro-Tweeters, and following their tweets, and the tweets of the people they follow too. As links are shared, I store them and keep track of how often they are retweeted or posted elsewhere. Those that rise to the top in any 24-hour period are displayed on the page. Each URL that makes it to this page has some details attached to it, including the original tweet that the system spotted it in.

I’m tracking a bunch of my favourite go-to astronomers on Twitter. The accounts they follow are also monitored, up to about 5,000 accounts. It isn’t necessarily those people that will rise to the top here though – but more likely the sources of the links they share. I will continuously modify the list of source accounts, to maximise the usefulness of this page.

Why Do This?

To find interesting stuff! The topics will vary day-to-day, and sources of interesting links should rise to the top organically. I see this as an alternative news source, delivering material aligned with the interests of my peers on Twitter. It’s an experiment too – and a coding project I’ve been wanting to build for a while now. The source code is on GitHub, forked from the original OpenFuego repo.

Resources Used

This site has built on top of several other projects, many of which I have slightly modified. The back-end is written in PHP and the front-end is HTML+JavaScript.

  • OpenFuego: Created by Andrew Phelps of the Nieman Journalism Lab, OpenFuego is the open-source version of Fuego, a Twitter bot created to track the future-of-journalism crowd and the links they’re sharing.
  • Type & Grids: You can find many amazing website templates on Type & Grids. All of them are responsive and well-commented, and many of them are free.
  • Twitter: Microblogging site Twitter is still one of my favourite things about the web, even after all these years!

Future Development

The current to-do list for this project includes an RSS feed and a Twitter account, which will provide other ways to access the same set of links. If you have ideas for how this projects should evolve, please get in touch.

This video is a time-lapse of images taken from a geostationary satellite. It shows a whole year of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun from 2010 to 2011. You can see the difference in illumination between the seasons created by the Earth’s tilt; the angle of the line between light and dark changes as we go around the Sun. This effect is caused by our axis of daily rotation being tilted by 23.5 degrees.

We are usually taught an approximate version of the truth when we learn about the Earth’s orbit. Most people are told that the Earth orbits the Sun like this:

Not Earth's Orbit

…however the orbit is not really circular, but slightly elliptical. It looks more like this:

Better Earth's Orbit

Not only is it slightly oval in shape, but it is also slightly off-centre. Our closest approach to the Sun each year is Perihelion (on the right of this image) and our farthest approach is Aphelion (on the left). Crucially though, the Earth is tilted in its own daily rotation by 23.5 degrees. This means that the North and South poles don’t line-up with the top-down view of thus image. So, sideways-on it looks like this:

Earth's Orbit Sideways

At around Perihelion (our closest approach to the Sun) the North Pole is pointing away from the Sun – actually it happens a couple of weeks before Perihelion. It is this effect that gives us our seasonal changes in temperature. When the North pole is pointed away from the Sun, as shown here, it means the Northern half of the Earth is receiving less energy from the Sun and so cools down and experiences more darkness. Six months later the Earth has moved around and now the North pole points more toward the Sun and thus it is the Southern Hemisphere that is darker and cools down.

Seasons in Earth's Orbit

It is not our distance from the Sun that determines the seasons, but our changing exposure to the Sun’s heat and light caused by our axial tilt. Our seasons are the result of the misalignment of our daily, North-South rotation compared with our yearly, Solar rotation. The darkest day is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere – usually around December 21st – at the same time the Southern Hemisphere has its longest day. Perihelion occurs in early January (it was Jan 4th in 2014) which means we are closest to the Sun when it is coldest in the Northern Hemisphere and we are farthest from the Sun when it is hottest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The change in our tilt drastically changes how much of the Sun’s energy we receive, as is shown in the following photos of the Earth from Space. You can see that in Europe, for example, our share of daylight changes a great deal over the year. For the same reason, if you go far enough North or South there are places where it is continuously day or night for weeks or months at a time.

The above, amazing images of the seasons come from the same source as the video at the top of this post. They were taken by a EUMETSAT Earth observation satellite. This is a geostationary satellite, meaning that it looks at the same part of the world all the time. It stares at Africa and here you can see the sequence of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn in images taken at different times of the year:

This was just too awesome!

Space Warps

Since we were featured on the BBC’s Stargazing Live programme on Tuesday evening the project has been manic. We’ve now had almost 6 million classifications of images from tens of thousands of people. The team have been furiously working to extract your candidates from the data to be able to share them – live on the BBC – tonight.

As part of these efforts we have convinced several telescopes around the world to try and point at one particularly lovely candidate lens to see what we can learn in time for tonight’s show. Last night, Chris Lintott and Robert Simpson (who are at Jodrell for the show) went outside to capture the moment that the gigantic Lovell dish turned to look at your lens candidate.

Animation of Lovell moving to look at a Space Warps source.

Eventually the telescope did move and here is an animated GIF of it slewing toward a Space Warps source. We will report with more detail when we have…

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Congratulations China! You just became the third country to land on, and explore, the surface of the Moon. It’s been almost 40 years since anyone else tried, which is remarkable itself really.

The craft that journeyed to the Moon is called Chang’e 3, named after a mythical lunar goddess in Chinese culture. The rover that landed today (and which took the above picture) is the solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit. It’s a mainly geological (geo?!) mission that will go on for about the next three months in the Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows.

Good luck Jade Rabbit – I hope you send us all some nice photos!

Observational studies have shown that the male brain is hardwired to be paid more, occupy more powerful roles and positions, and be more inclined to kill things randomly, whereas the female brain is hardwired to get more harassment and oppression, develop worrying obsessions with physical appearance and to care more about other humans and sometimes kittens.

from Dean Burnett’s excellent Male and female brains: the REAL differences blog post.

Comet ISON Dives In

November 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

Comet ISON is a ball of rock and ice a few miles across that was first spotted over a year ago beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It was thought that it would be a bright comet, and indeed it has recently been visible in the early-morning sky. Today – in a couple of hours in fact – it makes its closest approach to the Sun as it dives into the centre of the Solar System before swooping back out and (hopefully) being visible in the morning sky once again.

There is a chance that ISON will be destroyed as it sweeps around the Sun, because it is passing very close by it. Many astronomers around the world have been obsessively watching it as it makes this perilous descent. You can follow along live on the SOHO website at http://soho.esac.esa.int/ and at this dedicated Comet ISON Tracking site. Here are the current images, which show ISON racing toward the Sun at almost 800,000 mph!

If ISON survives, look for it just after sunset and shortly before sunrise over the next few days: it may be very bright.

So… I’m a TED Fellow

November 19, 2013 — 2 Comments

TED

I’m happy to announce that I am one of the 2014 TED Fellows. It’s a fantastic opportunity and an awesome group to be a part of – you can see everyone else in the class on the TED Fellow blog. It an exciting time to join the TED crowd as TED is celebrating its 30th year, which includes a move to Vancouver and the theme of ‘the next chapter’. So I don’t just get to go to TED but new TED. Good stuff. I have been welcomed into the club by several TEDsters already – what a great group.

I’m hoping to meet amazing people, learn about ambitious, crazy projects and just be inspired.

The View from Saturn

November 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

Saturn Wave 1

This image was taken by Cassini, the amazing spacecraft that has been orbiting Saturn and its Moons for a decade. This image shows a view toward the Sun from Saturn – the most distant planet normally visible with the naked eye. As well as showing Saturn’s rings in all their glory, several of Saturn’s moons are visible in this shot. Perhaps more amazingly though, the Earth and Moon are seen as a bright spot in the lower-right and Mars and Venus can be seen in the top-left. On July 19th 2013 the world was asked to wave at Saturn as this image was taken (and many people did).

Saturn Wave 2

If you want to feel humanity’s astronomical significance to its fullest just think of this photo, and then think of what it took to be able to obtain it. An amazing achievement for the Cassini team.

[Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI]

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We’re expanding the Zooniverse team in Oxford and we’re looking for web developers. You need to be able to work in Oxford (which is a lovely place to work) and you need to want to change the way science is done! There are four positions we need to fill:

Each of these roles has different responsibilities and there’s a range of skills that we’re after. We’re creating a core team of developers here in Oxford to work alongside our Chicago-based developers – but on different, new parts of the Zooniverse. You’ll not be building citizen science projects on a daily basis: instead these positions will mostly deal with infrastructure, pipelines and tools for citizen science. In my opinion it’s an amazing opportunity for any developers out there who love science. You will work within a team of about 10 people here in Oxford Astrophysics.

We’re really excited about the project that these people will be the core part of and I definitely encourage coder-type scientists and science-type coders to apply. The University is a great employer with a good pension scheme, mostly flexible hours and they’re very friendly towards families. We are a mixed group of developers, scientists and something in-between. Best of all, like the Zooniverse: we’re awesome.

So come, join us!

Women are Funny.

October 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

” I have had a discussion fairly recently which involved the other person saying, “But women just aren’t funny” which made me concerned that the person I was talking to had never met or spoken to a woman. And the person I was talking to was a woman! Probably still is.” – Dave Steele on why people don’t think women are funny.

Delight Through Logical Misery

When you type the phrase, “women comedians” into Google the second suggestion that appears is “women comedians aren’t funny.”Now I’ve no idea how Google works, probably librarian-trained crows, but this does seem like a worryingly common-place opinion. I have had a discussion fairly recently which involved the other person saying, “But women just aren’t funny” which made me concerned that the person I was talking to had never met or spoken to a woman. And the person I was talking to was a woman! Probably still is.

It’s not up to me to decide what’s funny. What people find humorous, while sharing many commonalities, varies wildly and so does what people say and do in an effort to be funny. Farts! This variation is obviously true of women who much like snowflakes, fingerprints or human beings are all individual and unique. Some women will be funnier on average than other…

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