Category Archives: Eyeball astronomy

The final official #meteorwatch night begins

The fourth and final night of the twitter meteorwatch has commenced and reports are already flooding in of meteors seen across the UK through the #meteorwatch tag. Although we haven’t received dramatic footage of something big burning up like this, we have seen some stunning images like these. Statistics for meteors seen in fifteen minute periods were collected at a Newbury Astronomy Society star party on the peak night. The results are here.

Remember, even when meteorwatch is over, there’s still a heightened chance of seeing the odd shooting star throughout August, though the rate at which they appear falls off with every passing night.


Entering Night Three of #meteorwatch

The 2010 twitter Meteorwatch is moving into its third night after the peak night saw such a volume of traffic, the coordinate website’s server went down. The Royal Astronomical Society and have stepped in as new hosts and in the interim, the interactive bits such as the Map and Gallery ran on Scibuff’s website.

In the meantime, images like this, this by the Pleiades and these still came through as well as videos like this. The IMO activity profile suggests the peak hit the expected 80 meteors an hour. Media coverage of last night includes Channel 4 news and the Sun. Tangentially relevant stories released in the past day include this one on the meteor man Alexander Stewart Herschel by the Science Museum and this one on Meteor Crater by NASA Goddard’s Blueshift Blog.

My own perspective included lots of typing on twitter with one eye on the satellite picture of cloud cover over the UK. At some point, I was dragged outside by my mother, just as the cloud was clearing and we, with the help of the cat, saw twenty or so meteors, including a few bright ones and many with persistent trails. The film camera clicked and whirred away, but the results will need developing later. Then back in with the cloud before in and out repeatedly to catch another five meteors in total between smaller, later gaps.

Tonight’s efforts are already underway with images like this and this of the same fireball coming in from a star party. Another star party is the subject of a broadcast on and the fun continues on the twitter #meteorwatch too.

Trojan emerges from the darkness beside Neptune

A Trojan asteroid has been discovered coorbiting with the planet Neptune. Trojans and Greeks are the names given to asteroids that gather at gravitational null points called Lagrangian points. In every two body system – Neptune orbiting the Sun in this case – there are five of them. One each in front and behind the planet, one on the opposite side of the orbit to the planet’s position, one sixty degrees ahead of the planet in its orbit and one sixty degrees behind. It is these final two points where Trojans may be found. Jupiter has quite a collection, the lion’s share of the 200,000 known Trojans, Earth has a few, but because of the distance and the Lagrangian point’s present position in an area of bright stars, it has been difficult to examine Neptune’s potential cache.

Researchers using the Subaru telescope were able to filter out the starlight using interstellar dust. Then an image of the 100km large Trojan, the sixth to be found round the eighth planet, popped out. The researchers estimate there to be around 150 similar sized Trojans waiting to be discovered in the area.

Very well timed for Earth’s present display of space rubble – the Perseid Meteor shower, which can be enjoyed through the twitter meteorwatch until the weekend (and probably informally long afterward).

A few science jobs

A few positions in astronomy and space science are opening as the academic year prepares to yawn into action.

Starting with PhD places, and two places, one in Stockholm and one in Southampton, are being advertised in the area of high latitude aurora and radar studies. The two positions are to be closely linked and the students based at each of the institutions should expect to travel to visit the other one at some point. The project will involve studying the structure of aurora using novel imaging techniques, spectra and radar studies. Contact Betty Lanchester at Southampton or Nickolay Ivchenko at the School of Electrical Engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm for details and to apply.

Over at SarahAskew, she attempts in this post to entice PhD qualified researchers to consider the area she’s worked in for the past three years. Sandra Chapman of Warwick University is advertising for a PDRA to help create mathematical models of turbulence in the solar system plasmas, such as the solar wind. Further details here. Martin Fullekrug of Bath University offers a postdoctoral position studying the impact of lightning discharges on the atmosphere. Further details on the job, which will involve spending the summer in remote parts of Southern France taking electromagnetic data, can be found here and the application system is here. ESA wants applications for its 2011 postdoctoral fellowships, which will last for a year and will take place in the field of space science. Further details on this scheme are here.

The American Association of Variable Star Observers is looking for a web developer for its newly relaunched website. Further information on this position is here.

Of course, with all the citizen science projects around, you don’t need to be a specific researcher to contribute to science, as users of the Einstein@Home project have found. A new puslar has been discovered, sitting alone in space. Measurements of its magnetic field suggest the pulsar was either born with a low power magnetic field or it had a companion star, like most pulsars, but lost it. Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars, believed to be spun up by the deposition of matter through an accretion disc onto its surface. The transfer of angular momentum from the disc to the pulsar leaves it spinning very rapidly. The new object spins at a rate of 41 times a second. Einstein@Home users donate their PC downtime to crunching astronomical data. They search for the signatures of gravitational waves in archived LIGO data and for pulsars in archived Arecibo data. The press release is here.

More #Meteorwatch mentions as the Perseids proceed to peak

The twitter Meteorwatch will enter its second night tonight with the shower expected to peak this evening. News reports are coming in far and wide with the BBC giving an overview of the shower, an expert opinion and then another overview. National Geographic also have an article on how to see the shower and Wired have a quick note. The usual suspects put up their own Perseid pieces too, such as Astronomy Now and Sky and Telescope. NASA have put out a release of their own and will be hosting a live webchat from 8-9pm BST as well as an all night live Meteorwatch for those in the USA timezones at this website. The UK Space Agency have also put out a release and the RAS have done the same. Images of Perseids are already cropping up on and data from the International Meteor Organisation suggest the Zenithal Hourly Rate is up to around 53 already, suggesting more than a meteor overhead a minute by the time we hit the peak. And just to end with, here’s a more audiovisual way to take in all that information:

Some sunspot stuff

Following the recent couple of hits to the Earth from Coronal Mass Ejections, the large sunspot associated with them, 1092, has been photographed visible in the sunset (as well as appearing in the odd report or two on the Moscow wildfires – though it should be stressed solar storms have no role in wildfires, they only light up the aurora). Meanwhile a video of a sunspot’s evolution as it moves towards death has been posted here.

The Meteorwatch begins

Earlier today, the second annual Perseid Twitter Meteorwatch began. Across the world, people are tweeting their glimpses of shooting stars between the clouds, some of which are collated onto the Map. This map not only shows where people have seen meteors, it also appears to show a photo-negative of this map, the infrared satellite image of cloud over the UK.

The night before the official start of the watch saw a number of things, including the unusual sight of clear skies over Kendal (sadly not repeated tonight, so far). Pictures like this came through and videos of passing meteors captured via a webcam and UFOCapture software by meteorwatch organiser @VirtualAstro can be seen below, supplementing the gallery of images and videos from last year.

Media coverage before the event has been far and wide, including the National Trust, Discovery News, the Guardian and Skymania, who also put this image of likely Perseid vectors from the radiant onto twitpic. One company has even offered the chance to win an iPod Touch, by giving them creative and interesting stargazing stories this Perseid period.

On top of this, there are also tangentially relevant blog posts, such as this one from NASA Goddard’s Blueshift Blog, which describes a researcher’s delight at touching part of an asteroid linked to the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. Nothing like that should head our way during #meteorwatch, but maybe there’ll be a good fireball or two to light up the skies. Just to end with, from the official meteorwatch youtube channel, here’s one of the meteors from a clearer area of the UK tonight: