Come to our ViVID Sydney 2016 Astronomy Event!

During the last months I’ve been working hard to organize an Astronomy event during the famous ViVID Sydney festival, 27th May – 18th June 2016. With the title “The Story of Light – Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light”, this science communication event is presented by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO). It follows our sold-out Event “The Story of Light – The Astronomer’s Perspective” for ViVID Sydney 2015, that was originally planned as part of the International Multiwavelength Dissection of Galaxies  Conference I organized last year (now I’m realizing I never talked about this here…).

Banner image of the “The Story of Light – Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light” event on Sunday 29th May 2016. The image represents a multiwavelength photo of the galaxy M101 (center), the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey (AAO, left and right), the equations of the stellar interiors, and a background of 1s and 0s codifying astronomical data. Credit of the composition: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Credit of the 2dFGRS: AAO, Credit of image of M 101: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Banner image of the “The Story of Light – Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light” event on Sunday 29th May 2016. The image represents a multiwavelength photo of the galaxy M101 (center), the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey (AAO, left and right), the equations of the stellar interiors, and a background of 1s and 0s codifying astronomical data. Credit of the composition: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Credit of the 2dFGRS images: AAO. Credit of image of M 101: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

This event will be held at the PowerHouse Museum (Sydney) on Sunday 29th May, 2:00-3:30pm. Four professional astrophysicists will discuss what astronomy provides in the context of exploiting big data:

  • The light and light-based technologies developed in Australian astronomy for both optical and radio telescopes; the tools, platforms, and techniques used for data analysis and visualization
  • How astronomers create simulation data
  • How some of these techniques are being used in other research areas and;
  • The major scientific contributions toward our understanding of the Universe.

Indeed, for decades, astrophysicists have developed novel approaches to exploring the light of the Cosmos, most recently through data-intensive techniques, analytics and visualization tools to extract the information collected by extremely sensitive telescopes and instruments. Astronomers have been pioneers in developing data science techniques to make sense of this huge data deluge, many of which are now used in other areas.

There is no need to say that I’m very excited about this new ViVID Sydney event, not only because of all the effort I’ve already put into this but also because I’m one of the astronomers in the panel! I’ll be talking about optical Astronomy, discussing the importance of the optical spectroscopy, how it is done with the AAO telescopes, and describing some of their current a future instruments.

But that is not all. I’m also extremely happy to do this with four great astronomers and science communicators:  Vanessa Moss (CAASTRO/Univ. of Sydney), who will talk about radioastronomy & big Data and the ASKAP,  Luke Barnes (Univ. of Sydney), discussing simulating, analysing and visualisation of astronomy data, and Elizabeth Mannering (AAO/ICRAR), who will describe the importance of Data Archive, Virtual Observatories, and the ASVO project at the AAO. On top of that, the host of our event is the famous astronomer and science communicator Alan Duffy (Swinburne University). I’m sure it is going to be quite an experience.

This event, however, is not free, as a ticket for the entry to the PowerHouse Museum ($15  for adults, $8 concession) is needed. You can get your tickets in the Event Webpage of the PowerHouse Museum.

For more information and a full description of the speakers, please check our AAO webpage. The link to this event in the ViVID Sydney website is here.

I hope to see you there!

My son and the “Story of the Planets”

I spend a lot of time with my son, Luke. He turned 3 last January and, after the terrible “terrible twos” phase he is a very different and charming little person now. He has been always obsessed with letters and numbers. Indeed he does not only know his ABC’s in Spanish and in English but he also identifies Greek letters (*). He has been doing these for around a year (the Greeks letters since Christmas). Lately he’s even writing letters by himself in his (several) blackboards or in the sand at the beach. And with numbers he’s always counting everything: pieces of food, toys, steps… I think he is starting to understand what additions and subtractions are. Yes, I do have a lot of fun playing with him (not that much when it is 10pm and he refuses to go to bed, but, ey, we’re Spanish, going to bed at 10pm is not bad seen in our native country… it must be on the genes…).

Of course I also talk about Astronomy to him. Using “glowing in the dark stars” we drew constellations in his bedroom. He now knows what “the Southern Cross“, “Orion” and “Scorpius” are, even the Pleiades (not a constellation, just a a star cluster or an asterism). A couple of weeks ago I got a small book about Astronomy for him. In only 50 pages it compiles planets, constellations, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. It is not a book for a 3 years old, but I wanted to show him the photos of the planets. And he was fascinated about that!

Since then, every night, I have to take him to bed (as said, that usually happens later than 10pm) and read him “the story of the planets“. The book has too much text, so I just tell him funny things and curiosities about the planets. He loves it!

Yesterday, as every Sunday, it was he and me alone (and Luci, our little dog), as mum works on the weekends. It was another sunny day in Sydney, and I really wanted to go to the beach (some friends were actually meeting in Manly). But Luke didn’t want to go anywhere, he wanted to stay at home playing with the many toys and books he has. Eventually he went to his bedroom and came back to the living room bringing the book with “the story of the planets”. He wanted to play with it. Then I asked him: “do you want we make planets to put in your bedroom?“. A second after that he was just jumping and laughing, excited as crazy, “¡sí, sí, sí, papi!”.

And that was it, we took white paper and color pen markers and, following the images of the planets in the book, made our own “Solar System”:

The planets that my son & me make yesteday

The planets that my son & me make yesterday. Sizes are NOT in scale.

Mercury was easy. For Venus and the Earth we used a glass and just painted with oranges-brown (Venus) or green-blue (Earth) colors. Mars was also easy just painting using red colors. I tried to add the details of the polar caps (the same that the clouds on the Earth) but our white crayon didn’t work well with the pen markers. Jupiter was fun, we used the empty box of a large yogurt (actually, that is where he has his pen markers, pencils and crayons) and just did stripes in orange colors over a yellow background to follow the Jovian bands. We added the detail of the Giant Red Spot with a red pen maker. We used a similar trick to draw Saturn (of course, this is Luke’s favorite planet) and then added the rings using a new piece of white A4 paper. Saturn’s rings were indeed the most difficult part to get, and I’m still not convinced of the result. In reality the are not that dark, and its shape is funny. We then just finished with the ice giants Uranus (pale blue with not many details on the disk) and Neptune (green-blue including some details in the clouds, and the “Great Dark Spot”).

Once this was done, Luke was really happy with “his planets”, and was counting them and naming them all the day. But I waited to the night to put them on his bedroom.

My son's bedroom wall with stars and planets

My son’s bedroom wall with stars and planets (and the X-Wing, of course).

At 9pm I said “let’s go to put your planets in your bedroom, and I’ll read you the story of the planets” and he went happily to bed. We used bluetag to do this. The result is really nice, and he is so exciting about all of this!

And, yes, we didn’t make Pluto because it is not a planet. But, don’t worry, he already knows there are other things in the Solar System: the Sun, asteroids, comets and five dwarf planets (Ceres, Pluto, Eris, Haumea and Makemake), as well as many planets have also moons! We’ll eventually make many of them.

I’ll need a bigger wall…

(*) Why teaching Luke Greek letters? Well, stars are named with Greek letters (e.g., Alpha Centauri) , and I remember it took me a while to memorize that when I was a teenager. But, more importantly, Physics and Math equations are written with Greek letters. And I write many of these in his blackboards. Yes, I know, he is little, but he is absorbing everything and I’m sure it will not hurt for him to be familiar to, let say, the Newton Equations, although some times I’ve written Einstein General Relativity, Maxwell’s Equations, or Schrodinger Equation. Luke does not pay too much attention to all of that, but he loves reading the Euler Equation “e i π plus 1 equal zero”.

Starburst spiral galaxy NGC 3310 with Gemini North

Last Tuesday 1st of March the famous NASA webpage Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) released a very nice image of the galaxy NGC 3310 obtained with the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii (U.S.A.).

Nice image of the starburst spiral galaxy NGC 3310 in the Ursa Major obtained with the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii (U.S.A.). This image was obtained for the “Cosmic Poll” contest organized by the International Telescopes Support Office at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and appeared as APOD on 1st March 2016. Colours codify the light received in blue (B, blue) and red (R, green) filters, plus the emission of the ionized gas (Hα filter) coded in red.AAO ITSO Office, Gemini Obs./AURA & T. A. Rector (U. Alaska Anchorage).

NGC 3310 lies at a distance of around 50 million years from us, within stars of the Northern constellation of the Ursa Mayor (meaning we cannot see it here from Australia, well, it has a maximum elevation of ~5 degrees from Siding Spring Observatory). The spiral structure in NGC 3310 looks like what we expect for our own Milky Way galaxy, with plenty of star-forming regions (in red-pink colours tracing the Hα emission). However in the case of NGC 3310, the star-formation activity seems to be more extreme.

It seems that NGC 3310 started experiencing an interaction with a dwarf galaxy around 100 million years ago. This interaction has triggered a very strong star-formation event (that is why NGC 3310 is defined as a starburst galaxy), and has “broken” the external areas of the galaxy as consequence of the intense tidal forces. In the image, all regions showing red-pink colours (tracing Hα emission) are nebulae. These regions are found almost everywhere within NGC 3310, sometimes even forming some peculiar alignments of red-pink-ish regions as that “ray” that goes from the centre of the galaxy till the upper left corner. It is interesting to note that, although the interaction with the dwarf galaxy happened ~100 million years ago, the fact of finding this large amount of Hα emission informs that the star-formation activity is still important today. The colliding dwarf galaxy was probably engulfed by NGC 3310, its remaining debris could be that diffuse arc-like structure we observed in the outskirts of the galaxy in the upper part of the image.

These are the kind of objects (starburst galaxies) and the kind of features (enhanced Hα activity, tidal distortions of the stellar component of the galaxy, tails, rays…) I studied in a sample of dwarf galaxies for my PhD Thesis (I still have to tell all of that here…).

Beside tracing the nebular (Hα) emission, the image also allows to distinguish that the majority of the stars in NGC 3310 have blue colours, even in its external areas. Again, this fact informs that the dominant stellar populations in this galaxy are relatively young, as only young stars emit a lot of light in blue and ultraviolet colours.

Although it was not said in the APOD I would like to remark that the idea of observing this galaxy in the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope came from the International Telescopes Support Office at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO). In particular, mi colleagues Elaina Hyde, Richard McDermid, Caroline Foster-Guanzon and Stuart Ryder (AAO) organized a very interesting outreach initiative, the Cosmic Poll, asking the people to emit a vote for which kind of object would they like to be observed at the 8.2m Gemini Telescope. The winning entry was “an individual galaxy”, and later they decided to observe NGC 3310. Furthermore they organised an on-line event,a live-stream with the Gemini North Telescope (is available on YouTube) explaining how the telescope works and giving details of the observatory. The Gemini Observatory website also included this in its blog. After processing and cleaning the images, the final result is that you see in APOD.

I couldn’t help myself, though, and decided to play a bit with the colours, levels, contrast and lights of the image to try to get an enhanced image of this very nice object. In my opinion, the central part of the galaxy is a bit too bright (it should be, of course, the real difference in brightness between the central part of NGC 3310 and the diffuse stellar streams in its outskirts is several orders of magnitude, but for illustration purposes I have found that it is a good idea to minimize that) and the outskirts of the galaxy are not that easy to see. So here it goes my enhanced image of NGC 3310 with Gemini North:

Comparison between the image of the starburst spiral galaxy NGC 3310 obtained by the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope and published in APOD on 1st March 2016 (left) and the same image enhanced by myself (right). Credit: AAO ITSO Office, Gemini Obs./AURA & T. A. Rector (U. Alaska Anchorage), Enhancement: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ)

What do you think? What image do you like more?

“Astronomía para Principiantes”, my new collaboration with radio SBS Australia

Last December I was contacted by journalists from radio SBS Australia in Spanish to be interviewed about my work and my life as a Spanish astronomer in Australia. The interview was prepared by Anna Sagristà, who included it in the section “Latinos en Australia” (Latins in Australia) and released on Sunday 13th December in radio SBS2 97.7 FM. Here is the podcast, in case you want to practice your Spanish:

http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/api/radio/player/podcast/441762?node=381058

Thanks to this interview I had the chance to talk to them about Astronomy and how scientific research in astronomy works. They were indeed really interested about listening to me talking about stars, planets, galaxies and more, and they liked the way I was answering their questions. Just a couple of days after the interview they phoned me again to talk about a new exoplanets discovery plus the results of the IAU NameExoWorlds contest (yes, we did it! “Estrella Cervantes” is already on the skies!). You can listen to this interview, released on 17th December 2015, here:

http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/api/radio/player/podcast/442632?node=381786

In early 2016 they asked me to start a collaboration with them. And this way the section “Astronomía para Principiantes” (Astronomy for Beginners) in radio SBS Australia in Spanish was born. This is just a ~monthly 6-8 minutes section talking about an interesting astronomy topic or some recent news about Astronomy. The first podcast was released on Sunday 8th February, we talked about the “predicted IX Planet in the outer parts of the Solar System”. You can listen to it here:

http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/api/radio/player/podcast/479670?node=408532

Screenshot SBS Australia in Spanish

We still have to work a bit to get it polished, but I’m really happy and excited about this new adventure in Science Communication in Australia.

Additionally last Friday I was also interviewed, of course, about the first observation of gravitational waves, detected by the LIGO experiment in September 2015, but announced in a very expected press conference last Thursday 11th February. The podcast of this interview, which was prepared by Marcia de los Santos, can be found in this podcast:

http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/api/radio/player/podcast/482376?node=410434

So if you want to practice your Spanish and at the same time know a bit more about Astronomy, you’ll have a chance to listen to me in radio SBS Australia en Español FM 97.7 every month in “Astronomía para Principiantes”. This will be at around 1:15pm on Sundays, but I’ll announce exactly when these are happening via Twitter.

Finally I want to thank journalists at radio SBS Australia in Spanish, and in particular to Anna Sagristà, for the opportunity they are providing me to communicate astronomy to the general public in Australia.

 

Video: Space is just totally big and amazing

Last November some friends of the new Sydney on-line magazine A-star, Ryan Wittingslow and Harry Simpson, visited Siding Spring Observatory (Coonabarabran, NSW) to prepare a documentary about Astronomy and the telescopes at site. This is the nice video they have released, entitled Space is just totally big and amazing:

Documentary Space is just totally big and amazing prepared by A-star after their visit to the telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory. Credit: A-star.

As it happened while I was supporting astronomical observations at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), I was interviewed as part of the video. Although I talked about some few things (my research, my job at the AAO and my times as a young amateur astronomer in Spain), they only used my comments about astrophotography. Indeed, they asked me to include some scenes of my astronomical time-lapses on the documentary, and I think the result is great. I really love to see my astro photos and videos so well used. Thanks Ryan and Harry for this report!

CALIFA: City of Light

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

Next April 2016 the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field spectroscopy Area (CALIFA) survey will make public to the international astronomical community the datacubes belonging to 600 galaxies observed by this survey using the PMAS (Potsdam Multi Aperture Spectrophotometer) spectrograph, that is installed at the 3.5m Telescope at Calar Alto Observatory (Almería, Spain). The release of the CALIFA DR3 (“Data Release 3”) will be coincident with this interesting Conference in Cozumel (Mexico).

My friend Rubén García-Benito (IAA-CSIC) has prepared the following “teaser” of the CALIFA DR3, which uses a 3D movie he has prepared using the CALIFA data. The teaser, entitled “CALIFA: City of Light”, is available in Youtube and in YouKu (for Chinese astronomers):

“CALIFA: City of Light”, teaser announcing the release of CALIFA DR3 in April 2016, that will make publish the 3D data of 600 galaxies observed for this survey. Credit: Rubén García-Benito (IAA-CSIC)

I think it is a quite original idea for giving a bit of extra publicity to the CALIFA DR3, don’t you think so?

Related Posts

Dissecting galaxies of the Local Universe with the CALIFA survey, 1 October 2014.

The oldest stars of the Galaxy

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

Last month the prestigious journal Nature published a letter led by PhD student (and friend) Louise Howes (@Lousie, ANU/RSAA, Australia). This scientific paper, with title Extremely metal-poor stars from the cosmic dawn in the bulge of the Milky Way, uses data from the 1.2m Skymapper Telescope, the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (both at Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia) and the 6.5m Magellan Clay telescope (Las Campanas Observatory, Chile) to study very old stars in the Milky Way bulge.

Image of the Galactic centre obtained using Skymapper data. Credit: Chris Owen (ANU/RSAA).

Image of the Galactic centre obtained using Skymapper data. Credit: Chris Owen (ANU/RSAA).

The aim of the research was to look for signatures of really old stars: stars that old that perhaps the Milky Was was not even born when they were created! How do astronomers know that? Just studying the chemical composition of the stars via deep spectral analysis. Only hydrogen and helium (and just a bit of litium) were formed in the Big Bang: the rest of elements have been created or inside the stars (oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, iron) or because of processes happening to the stars (e.g., supernova explosions, that create heavy elements such as gold, silver, copper or uranium). As time goes by and new generations of stars are born, the amount of metals (for astronomers, metals are all elements which are not hydrogen and helium) increases. Therefore if we discover a star with very few amount of metals, we will quite sure we are observing a very old object.

Loiuse has been using the 2dF instrument at the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the MIKE spectrograph at the Magellan Clay Telescope (Chile) to get deep, high-resolution spectra of candidate old stars in the Galactic bulge. The candidate stars were identified using optical images provided by the 1.2m Skymapper Telescope. With these observations, Louise Howes and collaborators have detected 23 stars that are extremely metal-poor. These stars have surprisingly low levels of carbon, iron and other heavy elements. Indeed, they report the discovery of a star that has an abundance of iron which is 10,000 times lower than that found in the Sun! These stars were formed at redshift greater than 15, that is, we are observing in our own Milky Way stars that were formed just ~300 million years after the Big Bang!

On top of that, the study suggests that these first stars didn’t explode as normal supernova but as hypernova: poorly understood explosions of probably rapidly rotating stars producing 10 times as much energy as normal supernovae. The high-resolution spectroscopic data have been also used to study the kinematics of these very old stars, that are found on tight orbits around the Galactic centre rather that being halo stars passing through the bulge. This is also characteristic of stars that were formed at redshifts greater than 15.

Short 3 minutes video discussing the results found in this study. Credit: ANU.

I’m happy to say here that I’ve been the support astronomer for many of her nights at the AAT the last couple of years. And I’m extremely happy to see that, even because of the bad weather we have had sometimes, they managed to get these observations published in Nature! Well done, Louise!

More details:

Scientific paper in Nature: Howes et al. 2015, Extremely metal-poor stars from the cosmic dawn in the bulge of the Milky Way, 11 November 2015.

Scientific paper in arXiv

ANU Press Release