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This week is the BBC’s Stargazing Live show: three now-annual nights of live stargazing and astronomy chatter, live from Jodrell Bank. CBeebies are also getting in on the act this year, which I’m excited about. The Zooniverse are part of the show for the third year running and this time I have the pleasure of being here on set for the show. In 2012 the Zooniverse asked the Stargazing Live viewers to help us discover a planet with Planet Hunters, in 2013 we explored the surface of Mars with Planet Four. This year we are inviting everybody to use our Space Warps project to discover some of most beautiful and rare objects in the universe: gravitational lenses.

Space Warps asks everyone to help search through astronomical data that hasn’t been looked at by eye before, and try to find gravitational lenses deep in the universe. We launched the site in 2014 and for Stargazing Live we’re adding a whole new dataset of infrared images. Your odds of finding something amazing are pretty good, actually!

Gravitational lenses occur when a massive galaxy – or cluster of galaxies – pass in front of more distant objects. The enormous mass of the (relatively) closer object literally bends light around it and distorts the image of the distant source. Imagine holding up a magnifying glass and waving it around the night sky so that starlight is bent and warped by the lens. You can see more about this here on the ESO website.

We’ve been getting things ready all day and now I’m sitting here in the Green Room at Jodrell Bank  waiting for the show to begin. Stargazing Live is an exciting place to be and everyone is buzzing about the show! That Chris Lintott bloke from the telly is here, as is K9 is from Doctor Who – they both look excited.

Join us at the Physics Department on Keble Road, near St. Giles in Oxford. From 2-10pm we’ll be manning stands, doing craft activities and answering questions. We’ll also be doing some remote observing throughout that time and there will be a planetarium continuously in operation too.

In our auditorium there are mini lectures (in groups of three) at 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. We’re be playing games – quiz show style – at 4pm and 8pm. At 9pm thee is a live debate about aliens. At 6pm you can catch me and Chris Lintott recording a live episode of Recycled Electrons (http://recycledelec.com).

We have a cafe and cool demonstrations throughout the day too. This is all FREE!

Queries can be emailed to astrofest@astro.ox.ac.uk or just tweet me @orbitingfrog

Planet Four

January 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Tonight is the start of the 2013 round of the wonderful BBC Stargazing Live. three nights of primetime astronomy programmes, hosted live from the iconic Jodrell Bank. Last year the Zooniverse asked the Stargazing Live viewers to find an exoplanet via Planet Hunters (and they did!). This year we want everyone to scour the surface of Mars on our brand new site: Planet Four.

Every Spring on Mars geysers of melting dry ice erupt through the planet’s ice cap and create ‘fans’ on the surface of the Red Planet. These fans can tell us a great deal about the climate and surface of Mars. Using amazing high-resolution imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) researchers have spent months manually marking and measuring the fans to try and create a wind map of the Martian surface, amongst other things. They’ve now teamed up with the Zooniverse to launch Planet Four, where everyone can help measure the fans and explore the surface of Mars.

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The task on Planet Four is to find and mark ‘fans’, which usually spear as dark smudges on the Martian surface. These are temporary features and they tell you about the wind speed and direction on Mars as they were formed. They are created by CO2 geysers erupting through the surface as the temperature increases during Martian Spring. These geysers of rapidly sublimating material sweep along dust as they go, leaving behind a trail.

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The fans are just one feature that you’ll see. The image above shows some great ‘spiders’, with frost around their edges. There’s lots to see, and hopefully the audience of Stargazing Live will help us blast through the data really quickly.

Stargazing Live begins at 8pm on BBC2. If you can’t watch it live then why not hop onto Twitter and follow the #bbcstargazing hashtag? You’ll also find me, Planet Four and the Zooniverse on Twitter as well.