Daily Archives: 28/04/2010

#SciVote roundup on T-7

With a week of campaigning and one Prime Ministerial debate to go, here’s today’s roundup of news of relevance to science policy and the #SciVote campaign of CaSE.

The trouble with letters is there’s never a microphone to help fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, Gordon Brown has finally delivered his letter to CaSE putting forward Labour’s ideas on science policy and acting as a launch for the Science Manifesto of the party. The Times analyses his answers here. They also put out an interactive map to carry on from their predictions of what constituencies can expected to be represented by a scientist, or someone with a science related background, over here.

In the Guardian, it was the turn of the Conservative party to answer the questions they put to all the main parties (and UKIP). Their answers are analysed here.

Will it all alter the polls? How would we know? The proper use of statistics is one of the most difficult things to track in politics, as the Times mentions here. This is one bugbear that Sense about Science and Straight Statistics plan to combat with a leaflet (and a longer version).

Meanwhile, internationally there was a bit of space policy activity about. The European Parliament entertained three astronauts and a former Cosmonaut MEP as well as linking up to the International Space Station as part of an exhibition on amateur radio users and space. Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, wrote of the imperitive of the space policy in an article in the Houston Chronicle. There’s also a nice set of pictures in Wired.com about our most self sustaining outposts, the research stations in Antarctica, specifically France’s Concordia, Germany’s Neumayer III, the USA’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the UK’s Halley VI, South Africa’s Sanae IV and Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth, which won’t be seeing a Governmental visit any time soon as due to constitutional problems, Belgium, like internationally governed Antarctica, doesn’t seem to have one at the moment.

The American Geophysical Union, one of the largest global collectives for scientists involved in Earth (including auroral) studies has had a day out at Congress, one of two annually. This video is from their Youtube Channel:

…and finally, one thing to remember is that to have a science policy, you need scientists, which requires inspiration. The astrophysicist Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson started out on an interest in astronomy in much the same way as I did (the London Planetarium, RIP, in my own case) and explains his inspiration on the NOVA Online Youtube Channel, here:


Some spaceflight bits and bobs

Progress mission 37P blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, atop a Soyuz booster with its cargo of supplies for the ISS at 1:15pm ET (6:15pm BST) today. The unmanned probe will dock with the station at 2:35pm ET (7:35pm BST) on May 1st, with NASA TV broadcasting from 6pm BST.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a step closer to reality as the mission readiness review passed the design as being appropriate for the science it is meant to conduct.

NASA Lunar Science forum 2010 will be held at NASA’s Ames Research Center on July 20th-22nd. The forum will be concerned with the results of the LRO and LCROSS probes as well as the presentation of the annual Shoemaker award and associated lecture. Registration is free and participants are encouraged to register early. Abstracts will be accepted up until May 3rd. A flyer for the forum is here.

NASA have celebrated 20 years of the Hubble Space Telescope with this video from their youtube channel:

…and if you want even older video, here’s the first thirty seconds of the launch of Apollo 11 slowed down to last eight minutes via a 500 frames per second video camera, allowing a narrative to explain different parts of the lower launch mechanism.

XMM-Newton puts out new catalogue

ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray Space Telescope has put out the latest edition of its catalogue of X-ray sources. Called 2XMMi-DR3,the catalogue contains x-ray sources captured in the background as primary targets were observed. The satellite turns to face around 600 targets a year with an average diameter close to that of the full Moon. This leaves a lot of space around the source on images retrieved by the ground crew that can then be scanned for smaller sources, averaging about seventy per primary source, providing close to 40,000 additional detections a year, 98% of them entirely new to science.

Among the serendipitous discoveries was a 500 solar mass black hole like source that bridged the gap between stellar mass black holes formed by exploding stars and supermassive black holes, whose origins are more controversial, but which possibly formed from the merger of intermediate mass black holes – such as 500 solar mass ones.

The catalogue is now around three times larger than the ROSAT cataloge with quarter of a million sources (likely to double in the next 5-6 years) and compliments small scale surveys done by telescopes such as Chandra and XMM-Newton in the past, which have looked at a smaller region of the sky with longer exposures.

More detail on the catalogue, including how to get at it, can be found here.

Icy asteroid spotted

The signature of water ice on the asteroid 24 Themis has been spotted by two international teams working independently on the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. As well as detecting ice in the reflected light from the asteroid, a number of organic molecules (not life, just precursors to the molecules involved with life) were also seen evenly distributed across the surface of the rock as it tumbled through space.

Although Ceres, the largest asteroid, is thought to contain water ice locked deep within its dusty surface, the 198km wide 24 Themis showed that some asteroids keep their ice on show. This is quite a surprise since the 150-200 Kelvin temperatures experienced by the asteroid as it warms in the light of the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter was thought sufficient to cause water to sublimate away.

The discovery may shed some light on a different mystery, however, that of where the oceans on Earth came from. Although we’ve been battered by very icy comets before, the isotopes involved in water on Earth don’t match up with those on Comets enough to suggest they delivered everything to us. Analysis of the water locked in asteroids, which also battered us, might reveal how much came from each source of water in the solar system.

Hams link up to the ISS

Although there’s a lot of talk about tweeting from the International Space Station (eg @Astro_Soichi‘s photographs) and high definition streaming, such as happens during important events on NASA’s HD channel of NASA TV, there are other ways for the station crew to contact the ground. Like good old fashioned radio.

ARISS is the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station device. It allows radio ‘hams’ to get in contact with astronauts on the station, who have their own call signs, just like those broadcasting on Earth (though since the ISS tends to be in the line of sight for ten minutes in every ninety minute orbit, fast talking tends to be the order of the day). They tend to spend time talking with individual users and with selected schools. But yesterday, they also had a chat with the European Parliament, which happened to be hosting a three day exhibition organised by ESA Director of Human Spaceflight together with the European working group of the International Amateur Radio Union entitled “European Amateur Radio Benefiting Society – Emergency Communications, Education and Space”. American astronaut Timothy ‘TJ’ Creamer (callsign KC5WKI, using station NA1SS) spoke through the loudspeakers of the lobby to those gathered.

The seventy or so in the exhibition were later joined by a trio of ISS astronauts to chat about their use of ARISS as well as an MEP and former Cosmonaut. Further details here. The exhibition continues until Friday.

Free online concert plays tonight

As part of Global Astronomy Month, there will be a free online concert playing tonight from 19:00 UT (20:00 BST). The music has been composed by Giovanni Renzo and takes inspiration from black holes, pulsars and the transformation of star maps into musical notation. It will be accompanied by videos created by Valentina Romeo and Gianluca Masi.

Further information is here and the live webcast will be here.

Meanwhile for those who missed The Story of Science part 1 last night, it is here on iPlayer.

Some astro video stuff

A few videos are out doing the rounds. This one from NASA explains the mission of the GOES-P satellites that monitor both Earth and space-based weather from the NASAexplorer Youtube Channel:

Meanwhile, the Hubble Space Telescope was the subject of a love in on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show, see it here.

Meanwhile, people in the UK who use twitter and are interested in space – are invited to join others for an informal meeting and viewing of the Hubble 3D film, which follows STS-125, Hubble Servicing Mission Four, at some point during May or June at the IMAX theatre at the Science Museum. Further details are here, or use the #ukspacetweetup hashtag to find discussions on twitter.