“Stargazing in the Calyx”, new Science Communication Event series at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens

Article originally written by Ángel R. López-Sánchez for the “AAO Observer” 132, August 2017.

In June 2017 the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) started a new Science Communication collaboration with historic Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The events “Stargazing in the Calyx” combine a short talk given by an astronomer followed by a stargazing session with amateur telescopes.

People are enjoying the view of the sky through amateur telescopes during the “Stargazing in the Calyx” science communication event at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens on Tuesday 4th July 2017. Credit: Christina McGhee (Sydney’s Botanic Gardens).

The first of these events was held on Monday 19th June 2017. It was so successful that the following “Stargazing in the Calyx” session, scheduled on Tuesday 4th July, was sold out in just 8 minutes after the tickets were available.

The organization of these events have received a hugely positive feedback, both about the venue (the brand-new “The Calyx” building at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens) and the atmosphere (people enjoyed dinner with drinks under the stars) and the entertaining and knowledgeable talks about the Southern Sky (given by AAO and Macquarie University astronomer Ángel López-Sánchez).

AAO/MQU astronomer Ángel López-Sánchez giving his talk “Introduction to the Southern Sky” as part of the “Stargazing in the Calyx” event at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens on Monday 19th June 2017. Credit: Christina McGhee (Sydney’s Botanic Gardens).

Besides some clouds and Sydney’s light pollution, participants really enjoyed the views of planets Jupiter and Saturn and the Moon through the telescopes, as well as observing globular cluster Omega Centauri and the famous “Jewel Box” star cluster in the Southern Cross, as well as learn to recognize the constellations of the winter nights at the southern hemisphere. Some of the telescopes were kindly provided by CSIRO, Sydney University, Macquarie University and some amateur astronomers who were also invited to these events.

The next “Stargazing a the Calyx” event is scheduled on Tuesday 3rd of October. We expect they will be repeated each 1 or 2 months.

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“The Story of Light: Surveying the Cosmos”, in Vivid Sydney Ideas 2017

Article originally written by Ángel R. López-Sánchez for the “AAO Observer” 132, August 2017.

Following the success of our sold-out Event “The Story of Light – The Astronomer’s Perspective” for ViVID Sydney Ideas 2015, and “The Story of Light – Deciphering the data encoded on the cosmic light” (see photos and the video of this event), the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) continued its collaboration with ViVID Sydney 2017 organizing “The Story of Light – Surveying the Cosmos”.

This successful science communication event was held at the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney) on Sunday 4th June 2017. Having an audience of 300 people, it was sold out more than two weeks before the event.

“The Story of Light – Surveying the Cosmos” was connected to the 2017 Southern Cross Astrophysics Conference: Surveying the Cosmos, the Science from massively multiplexed surveys, that was held in Luna Park, Sydney, between 5th and 9th June 2017.

Poster for the AAO’s “The Story of Light – Surveying the Cosmos” Science Communication event for Vivid Sydney Ideas 2017. Credit: Angel R. Lopez-Sanchez.

In this event, five professional astrophysicists discussed how astronomers map the Cosmos using the big data collected with optical and radio telescopes by large astronomical surveys.

How do astronomers explore the Universe? Astrophysicists use extremely sensitive telescopes and instruments to collect the light emitted by stars, gas and galaxies. The analysis of this data provides the information needed to unlock the mysteries of the Cosmos.

However, this is not an easy task. Over the last two decades large international collaborations have been formed with the aim to map the skies, catalogue celestial objects, extract their properties and perform statistical analyses. These large astronomical surveys are now providing major advances in our understanding of the Cosmos at all scales, from searching for planets around other stars to detecting gravitational waves.

Australia is at the forefront of these collaborations thanks to the unique instruments at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and the development of radio-interferometers as the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP).

Panel members and MC of AAO’s “The Story of Light – Surveying the Cosmos” Science Communication event for Vivid Sydney Ideas 2017. From left to right: Katie Mack, Alan Duffy, Simon O’Toole, Tara Murphy and Ángel López-Sánchez. Credit: Duncan Wright (AAO/UNSW).

The panel members were Dr. Simon O’Toole (Australian Astronomical Observatory), who talked about surveying stars and exoplanets, Dr. Ángel R. López-Sánchez (Australian Astronomical Observatory / Macquarie University), who discussed how we surveying the galaxies, A/Prof. Tara Murphy (University of Sydney / CAASTRO), who invited us to surveying the invisible Universe, and Dr. Katie Mack (University of Melbourne), who talked about surveying the deep Universe. The event was hosted by famous astrophysicist and science communicator A/Prof. Alan R. Duffy (Swinburne University).

After short (15 minutes) talks, the panel answered questions about the Universe and challenging Physics questions as the nature of the dark matter and the dark energy. They also received some more philosophical questions that engaged the audience.

More information:

AAO joins organization of International Science Communication Festival “Pint of Science”

Article originally written by Ángel R. López-Sánchez for the “AAO Observer” 132, August 2017.

In 2017 the Australian Astronomical Observatory joined the international Science Communication festival Pint of Science. The festival started in the UK and runs every May in over 150 cities across 12 different countries, including Australia. This year Pint of Science took place in 13 cities across Australia (including Sydney) over 15, 16 and 17 May 2017.

The Pint of Science festival aims to promote Science and Science Communication in a very relaxing atmosphere: in a pub with a drink. It brings scientists to a local pub to discuss their latest research and findings with the public.

Poster of Sydney’s “Atoms to Galaxies” for Pint of Science Australia 2017. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

The Australian Astronomical Observatory joined CSIRO, the ARC Centre of Excellence CAASTRO, and the Spanish Researchers in Australia-Pacific (SRAP) association as a sponsor of Sydney’s Pint of Science Festival in 2017. Our astronomer Ángel López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU) co-leaded the organization of the “Atoms to Galaxies” talks. These sessions included talks about Physics, Math, Chemistry and Astronomy and were hosted at Bar Cleveland, in Surry Hills.

Sydney’s “Atoms to Galaxies” program (which was the largest for Pint of Science Australia 2017) included talks about applied maths, search for exoplanets, explore quantum computing, play with the light, learn the origin of the chemical elements, map distant galaxies and challenge the laws of Physics.

Angel López-Sánchez during his talk “The Cosmic Origin of the Elements”.

The first night, “Elements in Space”, included talks by AAO astronomer and engineer Kyler Kuehn, who talked about astronomy neutrinos presenting the work he conducted in Antarctica for his PhD Thesis, and by AAO and Macquarie University astronomer Ángel López-Sánchez, who transported the audience to distant stars and galaxies to know when and how the atoms that compose our body were created.

Kyler Kuehn (AAO) before starting his talk “Pint of neutrinos”. Credit: Ángel López-Sánchez.

In the third night, “Decodifying the Light of the Cosmos”, AAO astronomer an eResearch administrator Simon O’Toole described how we use the light collected by optical telescopes to search for planets around other stars, with the ultimate aim of finding an “Earth 2.0”.

Simon O’Toole during his talk for “Pint of Science” festival “Searching for Earth 2.0”. Credit: Angel López-Sánchez.

Astronomers George Hobbs (CSIRO), Luke Barnes (University of Sydney) and Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO), as well as physicists Dr. Sergio León-Saval (University of Sydney) and Prof. Jason Twamley (Macquarie University), and mathematician Emi Tanaka (University of Sydney) completed the “Atoms to Galaxies” program.

Rebecca Brown during her talk for “Pint of Science” festival explaining how the Starbugs developed for the new TAIPAN instrument at the UKST work. Credit: Rebecca Brown.

Besides organizing Sydney’s “Atoms to Galaxies” talks for Pint of Science Australia 2017, the Australian Astronomical Observatory was also present in the “Tech me out!” session Space Oddities on Wednesday 17th May. AAO’s optical engineer Rebecca Brown gave the talk “Capturing the Light of the Universe“, where she summarized the technologies used in optical telescopes, how they work and what we can learn, including example technologies developed at the AAO.

 

Addendum:

The details of the talks for the “Atoms to Galaxies” events in Pint of Science Sydney 2017  (info extracted from this AAO website) were:

Monday 15th May: Elements in Space

Tonight we will explore the conjunction between math, chemistry and astronomy. First Dr. Emi Tanaka (University of Sydney) will talk about how statistics feeds us, introducing the basic mathematical tools of statistics and their application in agriculture. Then Dr. Lamiae Azizi (University of Sydney) will be talking about how mathematical sciences coupled with computing have the potential to improve our lives. Finally, astrophysicist and science communicator Dr. Ángel López-Sánchez (Australian Astronomical Observatory / Macquarie University) will transport us to distant stars and galaxies to know when and how the atoms that compose our body were created.

More details and tickets for “Elements in Space” in the Pint of Science website.

Tuesday 16th May: Challenging the Laws of Physics

Tonight we will aim to change the Laws of Physics. Our first speaker, Prof. Jason Twamley (Macquarie University), will talk about quantum computing and why this research is so important. Then, astrophysicist Dr. George Hobbs (CSIRO) will explain what mysterious pulsars are and why their study is so important for physicists. After the break, cosmologist Dr. Luke Barnes (University of Sydney) will challenge our understanding of the physical constants to demonstrate that we live in a finely-tuned Universe.

More details and tickets for “Challenging the Laws of Physics” in the Pint of Science website.

Wednesday 17th May: Decodifying the Light of the Cosmos

Tonight we seek to get a better understanding of what the light can tell us about the Universe. Our first speaker, Dr. Sergio León-Saval (University of Sydney) will show us some of the photonic instruments that are now used in optical telescopes to direct the light of the stars from the optics to the detectors. In the second talk Dr. Simon O’Toole (Australian Astronomical Observatory) will describe how we use the light collected by optical telescopes to search for planets around other stars, with the ultimate aim of finding an “Earth 2.0”. Lastly, Dr. Baerbel Koribalski (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science) will describe how radio-astronomers study the light of distant galaxies emitted in radio waves using facilities as the new “Australian SKA Pathfinder” (ASKAP) interferometer.

More details and tickets for “Decodifying the Light of the Cosmos” in the Pint of Science website.

Mysterious Tabby’s Star dims again: observations needed

Let’s face it: KIC 8462852 (also Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star) is a weird star. Since its unusual light variations were discovered by citizen scientists using data of NASA’s Kepler space telescope in September 2015 many, many things have been written by professional and amateur astronomers, science communicators and “searchers of mysteries”, as an interesting hypothesis about its behavior was that it could be signs of activity associated with intelligent extraterrestrial life constructing a Dyson swarm. Of course, this just run wild in general media, and many astronomers since them have been asked by journalist to talk about “Mysterious Tabby’s Star”.

In particular, this theme soon captured the attention of some of my friends at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC, Spain), as they weekly produce an amazing ~2h science communication podcast Coffee Break: Señal y Ruido (Signal to noise). I’m proud to participate in this podcast from time to time, remotely from Sydney. Coffee Break: Señal y Ruido is, at the moment, one of the most important science communication podcasts in Spanish, with tens of thousands of listeners every week, and broadcasted weekly in several radio stations in Spain and South America.

Well, as the “core” of Coffee Break: Señal y Ruido are IAC astronomers, they decided to submit an observing proposal to get time to obtain spectroscopic data of Tabby’s star using the 1.2m Mercator Telescope, located at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma, Canary Island, Spain). The proposal is led by Marian Martínez González, with Héctor Socas-Navarro, Andrés Asensio, Carlos Westendorp and Carlos González in the team. They got time last week, and were observing till last Wednesday night. They did a great job in social media (please follow @pcoffeebreak) under the hashtag “CB_Tabby“, explaining how observations are conducted in professional telescopes and the results they were obtaining on the fly.

On Sunday night, observations were already showing “something weird” happening again in Tabby’s star. These features were detected by spectroscopy, no photometry. They contacted the very same Tabetha S. Boyajian (Tabby), the initial study’s lead author, who is leading an international follow-up of the star. She sent this message to her collaborators alerting of the weird behavior in Tabby’s star:

And indeed follow-up observations continued during the week. Last night, Friday 19th May 2017, the alert of confirmed by other telescopes: Tabby’s star had dimmed 3%!! This is the plot obtained by The Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) network:

Plot showing the relative brightness of Tabby’s star with time, obtained by Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope network. The lowest point shows a 2% drop.
LCOGT

This LCOGT plot shows the brightness of Tabby’s star relative to the star’s normal brightness: the lowest point shows a 2% drop! Tabetha S. Boyajian (Tabby) triggered the alert:

Many media, including Sky and Telescope, New Scientist and Popular Science, have included the news in the last few hours, that is also running wild in social media. But none of these are saying that the actual alert comes from the observations lead by Marian Martínez González (IAC) and “Coffee Breakers” at the 1.2m Mercator Telescope at the beginning of the week! I really think this is not fair, and proper credit to the team that actually triggered the alert at the beginning of the week must be given.

Now, professional astronomers are triggering the “targets of opportunity” to observe Tabby’s star with small and big telescopes. But amateur astronomers are also invited to contribute too!

Star KIC 8462852 in infrared (2MASS survey) and ultraviolet (GALEX). Credit: Infrared: IPAC/NASA, Ultraviolet: STScI (NASA). File from Wikipedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KIC_8462852_in_IR_and_UV.png

KIC 8462852 or Tabby’s Star is a 11.7 magnitude star visible with telescopes larger than 5 inches (130 mm) in a dark sky. It is located in the constellation Cygnus (hence, it is visible for all the Northern hemisphere and part of the South hemisphere, although a bit too low for latitudes below 20 degrees south). If you have an equipment that allows to get accurate photometry using several broad-band filters and are interested on contributing to real scientific observations, please don’t hesitate: try to observe KIC 8462852 these days.

Successful BBC and ABC Stargazing Live TV events at Siding Spring Observatory

Article originally written by Ángel R. López-Sánchez for the “AAO Observer” 132, August 2017. Credits of all the photos: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Colorful lights in dome of our Anglo-Australian Telescope in preparation for the Stargazing Live TV shows.

During two weeks in late March and early April 2017, famous physicist and TV presenter Professor Brian Cox co-hosted two “Stargazing TV” shows emitted live from Siding Spring Observatory in the BBC and in the ABC. The stage of these major TV events was our Anglo-Australian Telescope, (AAT) at Siding Spring Observatory, on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, NSW.

BBC Stargazing Live shows at Siding Spring Observatory were emitted on the early morning of Wednesday 29th, Thursday 30th and Friday 31st March 2017 (evenings of the previous days in the UK). BBC Stargazing Live TV shows were hosted by Professor Brian Cox and TV presenter and comedian Dara Ó Briain, with the participation of biologist and BBC presenter Liz Bonnin and Broome-based amateur astronomer Greg Quicke (who was very popular in social media, receiving the nickname of #SpaceGandalf).

During BBC Stargazing Live astrophysicist and science communicator Lisa Harvey-Smith (CSIRO) was also interviewed. Astronomer and journalist Chris Lintott (Oxford University) was in charge of reporting the news of the citizen science project “The Search for Planet 9“, led by astronomers at the Australian National University and launched in the first episode of BBC Stargazing Live. This citizen science project uses images taken with the Skymapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory to search for a new planet in our Solar System.

#StargazingABC live episodes were emitted the following week (Tuesday 4th, Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th April 2017). Hosts Professor Brian Cox and TV presenter Julia Zemiro were joined by astronomers to inspire Australia to explore our Universe and tackle astronomy’s most intriguing questions. Astronomer Lisa Harvey-Smith (CSIRO) also participated as TV presenter for the #StargazingABC shows.

AAO’s Fred Watson, Steve Lee and David Malin were interviewed several times during the ABC and BBC Stargazing Live shows.

SAMI observers at the Anglo-Australian Telescope shared the dome with ABC crew while preparing instrument and telescope for observations on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd April.

For #StargazingABC first episode, the Milky Way, AAO astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Steve Lee prepared a new astronomical color image using data taken with the CACTI auxiliary camera of the AAT, which was broadcasted in the episode. This image shows Diffuse gas and dust in the heart of the Carina Nebula. The bright star is Eta Carinae, a massive double star at the end of its live that will soon explode as a supernova. The “Keyhole” is the dark cloud in the centre of the image.

Both Stargazing Live ABC events were very successful. #StargazingABC live episodes reached 2.7 million viewers across metro and regional Australia. They also had a huge impact in social media. ABC 1st TV episode reached over 240K people and had more than 8K reactions in Facebook, comments and shares, similar numbers to those obtained with ABC TV’s New Year’s Eve Family Fireworks stream. Regarding Twitter, the #StargazingABC hashtag reached 18.4 million users and produced 16.8K tweets from 6.3K unique contributors. 12.8K of these tweets were produced during the broadcasts, making #StargazingABC trend no.1 in Australia.

Credits of all the photos: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

More information: AAO news: ABC Stargazing Live at the AAT.

Image

Eta Carinae and the Keyhole Nebula

Eta Carinae and the Keyhole Nebula

Diffuse gas and dust in the heart of the Carina Nebula. The bright star is Eta Carinae, a massive double star at the end of its live that will soon explode as a supernova. The “Keyhole” is the dark cloud in the centre of the image.

Image obtained as part of the “ABC Stargazing Live” events at Siding Spring Observatory (NSW, Australia), 4 – 6 April 2017.

Data taken on 3rd April 2017 using the CACTI camera in 2dF at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope. Color image using B (12 x 60s, blue) + [O III] (12 x 60 s, green) + Hα (12 x 60 s, red) filters.

More sizes and high-resolution image in my Flickr.

Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (Australian Astronomical Observatory and Macquarie University), Steve Lee, Robert Patterson & Robert Dean (AAO), Night assistant at the AAT: Wiston Campbell (AAO).

Image

Milky Way rising, LMC, and AAT

Milky Way rising, LMC & AAT

Milky Way, Large Magellanic Cloud, and Anglo-Australian Telescope. Combination of. 6  frames, each of 30 seconds, CANON EOS 5D Mark III, 16mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600. Thursday 2 March 2017. The dome was illuminated in one of the frames by a car leaving the building.

More sizes and high-resolution image in my Flickr.

Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU).