FITS liberator now stand alone

FITS Liberator is a thing that allows you to download, view and manipulate images in the complex FITS and PDS data formats, produce pretty pictures with them and render them in the simpler and more common jpeg and other image formats. Before now, it operated as an add on to Adobe Photoshop. Now, however, it has been released as a stand-alone free program.

Download it here.


What has ESO got hidden?

The European Southern Observatory, which operates a number of high end observatories in the southern hemisphere, has put up a rather enticing webpage. It promises to open up and reveal ‘ESO’s hidden treasures’ on Monday, 4th of October.

We wait to see what they are…

Pan-STARRS spots hazard in space

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS 1, is a 1.8 metre telescope with a 1.4 gigapixel camera mounted on it, constantly surveying the sky. It hunts stars, galaxies and also anything that moves from moment to moment, specifically comets, trans-Neptunian objects and asteroids. Now it has managed to capture an asteroid that may or may not pose a future hazard.

2010 STS3 is a 45 metre wide asteroid, capable of causing regional disruption on a par with the object believed responsible for the Tunguska explosion, which flattened trees after a similar sized object exploded in the atmosphere above the sparsely inhabited region.

The object poses no immediate risk, but as it is passing close to us, it will be monitored and its orbital parameter derived from dedicated follow up observations to help determine more precisely where it will be. Presently, there is a small chance of an impact in 2098, but the margin of error on the orbital parameters is too high to make any warnings relevant.

The main significance of 2010 ST3 was that Pan-STARRS saw it first, proving its ability to detect these things when they appear. Pan-STARRS 1 is set to be supplemented by Pan-STARRS 4, a larger, more sensitive observatory, which will assist in surveying the skies.

Predicting the weather

The BBC are running a series of comparisons and validations of various weather prediction services against one another in an effort to see if the Met Office is providing a sufficient service. It’s a semi public thing, with members of the public asked to send in their ideas of better weather prediction services and a public meeting planned for the 12th of October in London. Details here.

Vote for your favourate photowalk

On the 7th of August, five particle physics institutions opened their doors to the public and their cameras. Each institution has chosen three of the resulting photographs taken on their premises and these fifteen pictures have gone to the public vote to decide which is the best. You have until the 8th of October to view them and vote here.

Dance of the galaxies

The Milky Way appears to have been let off in the case of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

The two orbitting dwarf galaxies are presently ensnared in the gravity of the much large Milky Way, but observations show they are linked by a stream of gas and stars. Initial thoughts were this was part of the tearing and chewing process the Milky Way invokes in absorbing the smaller bodies, however, studies of the dynamics of galaxy interactions have shown this is unlikely to have been the case. It is more likely that the two clouds came together before meeting the Milky Way and so became an interacting binary. Then they arrived at our local galaxy and are either in an unusually large orbit or have only just, in galactic lifetime terms, arrived. Full details here.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have been studying and simulating the collision and merger of galaxy clusters to derive the role, if any, that dark matter plays in the dynamics of the collisions. The particular one being studied is the evolution of the Bullet Cluster. The simulation looks a little like this:

Satellite launch problems

The $424 million Glory mission to study the impact of aerosols on climate variability has been delayed due to problems with the mechanisms operating its solar panels. Originally slated for a 22nd of November launch, it has now been pushed back to the 23rd of February to allow time to correct the problem. This will mean the satellite will launch almost a year after the same rocket type exploded, destroying another climate satellite.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of the announcement of launch dates closing in for the human spaceflight aspect of Virgin Galactic, it appears the satellite launch part of the business is being allowed to slide for the time being, with its head departing and no replacement currently in sight. Branson talked up the utility of satellite launches for the education sector in his recent press event, but more as a speculative venture.