Tag Archives: Outreach

My contribution to 2018 #StargazingABC

How can I say it in just few words? It was both very exciting and exhausting, with a little bit of bitter too. But, overall, last week at Siding Spring Observatory was one of the best experiences I have had in a long time working at the telescope, combining science research, amateur astronomy, outreach and science communication during the Stargazing ABC Live shows.

The AAT is ready for #StargazingABC. Hosts Julia Zemiro and Prof Brian Cox are sit in the piano, while Brian still rehearsing. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

When I’m writing this, at 6:44pm 30th May 2018, I’m still observing at the Anglo-Australian Telescope. I’m doing it remotely from Sydney. It is my last night in a very long run (18 nights in May) for my own research project, which I will detail here eventually. I’m exhausted and need a good break, body and mind can’t survive this crazy rhythm, sleeping an average of 4-5 hours per day, and without any break during the weekends.

But let me at least quickly mention here my contribution to the 2018 Stargazing Live shows:

1. I provided A LOT OF information about Astronomy and the Anglo-Australian Telescope to the ABC and BBC crews. This is something that I’ve been doing during the last months, and might be considered as part of my role of “AAO Science Communicator Officer”.

2. I provided plenty of astrophotography and video-timelapse material, which was used during the shows. The most important of these is the new timelapse video “Stargazing at Siding Spring Observatory“, that you can enjoy here:

3. I spent some of my scheduled time at the Anglo-Australian Telescope to prepare a nice, new image of a beautiful astronomy object, that was later discussed during the show. It was the planetary nebula NGC 5189, for which I provided extra information in the previous post.

4. But the most important contribution for the show was actually observing with the AAT two transients reported by the citizen scientists who participated in a program to search for type Ia supernova in other galaxies. After confirming that the transient was there, we got spectroscopic information using KOALA+AAOmega, reduced the data, analysed the data, confirmed that both transients were type Ia supernova in distant galaxies, and wrote a science report with the discovery!

This was something I originally didn’t plan to do, but, as I said, it was my own research program that scheduled at the AAT during the StargazingABC, so I decided to do it and it got a reward, as this also allowed us to submit two science reports with the discoveries!

These two nights were really exciting! I really want to thank my friends and colleagues Lluís Galbany and Yago Ascasibar, as well as the AAT Night Assistant Kristin Fiegert (AAO), for their wonderful help in all of this.

The discovery of the transients and the confirmation that they were type Ia supernova in distant galaxies has appeared in many media news these days, including in ABC Science News, and also here: “Citizen scientists find two supernovae and (slightly) revise the age of the cosmos“.

It was also a privilege talking with Prof Brian Cox, who is absolutely great, and even recorded a short video with me for my son. Thank you a lot, Brian!

Prof Brian Cox and me are ready for #StargazingABC.

Where is the “bitter” I mentioned in the first paragraph? Well it is when the credit is not given. And not credit was given to me during the shows. I was still hoping at least having my name in the screen, in an ideal world even participating in person during the shows. But with my name (Ángel) and my strong English accent… well… perhaps in another life… I know what I did and I know how important my contribution was, and as I said I really enjoyed a lot all the time.

I hope I’ll be back if #StargazingABC returns in 2019!

PS: If you are in Australia, you can watch anytime the 3 episodes of 2018 #StargazingABC following this link to the ABC webpages.


SciComm experiment: #SuperBlueBloodMoon vs #LunarEclipse

As I expected the news about the Lunar Eclipse happening on the 31st of January 2018 was in the media and social media all around the world… even though in many countries (Europe, South America) the Lunar Eclipse was not visible.

In my humble opinion, many of the articles in general outlets and media were not very well written and actually very hype, which created that people were actually confused about what was happening.

Of course, I complained a lot about how the news were presented in the media. I’m a huge defender of inviting people to look at the sky (I’m continuously doing it!) but not exaggerating what people should expect to see. In this sense I’m an “old-schooler” as I really consider facts and naming things properly are important.

After having some discussions with friends in social media about all of this, I decided to create a poll in Twitter to explore this more (thanks @DarkSapiens and @vrruiz).

Furthermore, following the “noise” in Twitter, I had the feeling that young people care less about the actual name of the phenomenon than older people. That is, young people didn’t dislike naming the event as a Super Blue Blood Moon.

And that was the beginning. As a scientist I wanted to test if my hypothesis was right.

Hypothesis: At least in Twitter, as I see in my timeline, young astronomers/science communicators seem to prefer or at least are less molest with the term #SuperBlueBloodMoon than old astronomers/science communicators.

Experiment in Tweet: I’m testing an hypothesis. Could you please choose your age range (=older or younger than 33) and if you like/dislike or prefer ? I’ll use this to write a post about using hype in astro news. Thanks and please share.

Below is the screenshot with the question and the results. Huge thanks to the 580 people who contributed in this poll (11% of my followers).

The conclusions that we can get from these results, that as I’ve said apply for my vision in Twitter, which is biased for the people who I follow or follow me, are the following.

First, the majority of my followers/people who answered this question are older than 32 years (60%). Fair enough.

Second, combined, only 19% of the answers agree with “I like SBBM”. I’m happy about this. And this was actually expected, because there should be a huge bias in the people that follow me in Twitter.

But the interesting thing for me is that, attending to these results, younger people like SBBM more than older people. The ratio between YES/NO is 25% for <33 years and only 15% for >=33 years.

Without any additional statistical analysis including uncertainties, this result seems to support my hypothesis and the reason of this experiment: young astronomers/science communicators seem to prefer or at least are less molest with the term #SuperBlueBloodMoon than old astronomers/science communicators.

But I also asked two extra questions.

Question 1: Also, should Media/Astronomers use SBBM= instead of LE= to publicise the event and reach a wider audience? Thanks!

The results here are also interesting. 3 people in 5 agree that using SBBM is hype (yes!). I was expecting this answer would have been around 2/3, but it is still a good proportion.

In any case, I also got some feedback about this:

27% of the answers (a bit more than 1 in 4 people) support using SBBM in the title of the news as long as the facts are explained in the text (which was rarely the case).

Very few people (7%) support using SBBM to attract people. And attending to the results provided by the experiment above, the majority of the answers are coming from young astronomers, as example my AAO colleague and friend Becky Brown:

My conclusion here: although some people think than using SBBM is a good thing to attract people to the news or observing the sky (but see next question), the majority of the people consider that SBBM is hype and should not be used, unless the facts are well explained in the text of the news.

Question 2: What do you consider is the most important consequence of using instead of for publicising the event?

Well, here 61% of the answers agree that “it is not that good to do that” as science/pseudoscience mix and people were confused. And indeed people were confused! During the last week I’ve been giving some virtual talks in Spain with students, and I received the question “what was the SBBM?”. They didn’t know it was a lunar eclipse, and they show some connections with astrology (!!!).

A couple of extra examples in the UK and Australia were provided as comments by two astrophysicists:

Still, 27% (more than 1 in 4) of the answers agree on using SBBM for getting the extra attention by Media (I assume that considering facts are explained, something that didn’t happen very often).

Only 12% of the answers agree that using SBBM instead of Lunar Eclipse encourage people to look the sky.

My conclusion to this question: although it might help to encourage people to look at the sky and for sure will attract the attention of the media, we should refrain to use SBBM as it confuses people at the same time that mixes science and pseudoscience.

What are your thoughts?

The “Super Blood Blue Moon” is just a lunar eclipse

In the last few days I’ve already answered some few emails and questions in social media about the Super Blood Blue Moon happening on the night from 31st January to 1st February 2018. What is this? Is this really important?

Short answer: No, it is not! This is just a lunar eclipse. The rest is hype to sell the story.

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds - 8 October 2014 - Sydney

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds – 8 October 2014 – Sydney. More information and high resolution images in my Flickr. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Long answer: Let me use an email I wrote yesterday replying the questions asked by a journalist about this astronomical event.

1. Can you please define “super moon” “blood moon” and “blue” moon as they occur individually?

—> Supermoon: this is a term that many astronomers (me included) don’t like, as it was introduced by an astrologer (not an astronomer) but it is now very popular. It is just the moment the full moon is happening near the perigee (the Moon in its closest point to Earth). But, that is the important thing, the difference in size of a “supermoon” with respect an average moon is that a supermoon is ~5-6% larger than the average moon. That is almost nothing!!! Many people are confused with the “14% difference” between the supermoon and the micromoon (when the moon is near the apogee, the farthest point to the Earth).

I insist: it is VERY difficult for our naked eye to distinguish a supermoon from an “average” moon.

You can read a lot about this in the post I wrote two years ago and also in the second episode entitled “Blueberry Moon” of the new science podcast “The Skyentists” produced by Kirsten Banks and me.

—> Blood moon: If we astronomers don’t like the term “supermoon”, we really hate the name of “blood moon”. This is just a lunar eclipse!!

—> Blue moon: the now “standard” definition of a blue moon is when a second full moon is happening within the same calendar month. That is, it was full moon on Jan 2nd, the second full moon this month in Jan 31st is a blue moon.

HOWEVER, strictly talking THIS IS NOT TRUE FOR EASTERN AUSTRALIA (NSW, Tasmania, Victoria) and New Zealand, as the moment of the full moon is actually at 00:26am Feb 1st (Sydney/Melbourne time). It is true for Queensland (at 11:26pm Jan 31st), Alice Spring (at 10:56pm Jan 31st) and Perth (9:56pm Jan 31st).

In any case, the ONLY IMPORTANT real astronomical event is that this is a lunar eclipse (the rest is added to create some hype).

You can get plenty of information about the lunar eclipse in this webpage in timeanddate.com and also in this PDF file from NASA Lunar Eclipses.

All the important information for the lunar eclipse happening on the 31st Jan 2018. Credit: F. Espenak / NASA. Here the PDF file.

Australian astronomers have also written about this lunar eclipse. I recommend to have a look to this nice article published by Tanya Hill in The Conversation and also this article by Alan Duffy in Australia’s Science Channel

2. Is this the first time a super blue blood moon has occurred in 150 years?

Probably not, I don’t know, we actually don’t care about this much… It is just a lunar eclipse!!!!

3. How significant is this lunar event?

As I said, it is just a lunar eclipse. That is the point. The rest is added.

4. We are in north-west Victoria. What can people expect to see?

It does not matter where you are in Australia (or in the world, as long as it is night) to see this event. The only differences will be the local weather conditions… if the weather is good, you’ll see a very nice lunar eclipse. It is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the sky!!

5. Are there any tips to getting the best view of the eclipse, or what would be the best times to see it?

The best moment to see the eclipse is when the moon is completely covered by the Earth’s shadow. This happens between 11:52pm and 1:08pm, with the maximum eclipse at 12:30am. You’ll see a red-orange moon in the sky, pretty spectacular.

Addendum 31st Jan: I’ve been using the hashtag #itisjustalunareclipse in social media to say that, at the end… it is just a lunar eclipse!


31 January 2018 — Total Lunar Eclipse in http://www.timeandate.com
PDF file with all info of the lunar eclipse from NASA Lunar Eclipses.
Supermoons, post published in this blog, 11 Nov 2016
A blue blood supermoon is coming, by Alan Duffy in Australia’s Science Channel, 24 Jan 2018
The next Full Moon brings a lunar eclipse, but is it a Super Blood Blue Moon as well? That depends…, Tanya Hill in The Conversation, 29 Jan 2018.
A beginner’s guide to the Moon, Ian Musgrave and Genelle Weule in ABC News, 31 Jan 2018.
The “Trifecta” Lunar Eclipse on January 31st, great article by Kelly Beatty in Sky & Telescope, 29 Jan 2018.

AAO #Scicomm events during Australian National Science Week 2017

The AAO organized and/or participated in 7 events during Australia’s National Science Week in August 2017, including the very successful and sold-out events “Star Tales of Winter Nights” and “Stargazing in the Park”.

Astronomers at the AAO’s “Star Tales of Winter Nights” event at the Powerhouse Museum during National Science Week 2017. From left to right: Adam Schaefer, Dr Devika Kotachery, Dr. Ángel López-Sánchez (MC), Carlos Bacigalupo and Rebecca Brown. Credit: Ángel López-Sánchez.

The event “Star Tales of Winter Nights”, hosted at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum had a very similar structure than our ViVID Sydney Ideas events: 5 astronomers talking about science and later answering questions from the audience. The speakers were Rebecca Brown, Adam Schaefer, Dr Devika Kotachery, Carlos Bacigalupo and myself. This event was another big success for the AAO.

Setting up the telescopes for AAO’s “Stargazing in the Park” in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

AAO’s Ángel López-Sánchez, Stuart Ryder and Duncan Wright (from left to right) ready for “Stargazing in the Park” in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

On the other hand, the “Stargazing in the Park” in Sydney’s Centennial Park was another sold-out event, with more than 120 people enjoying first a short lecture about the AAO and introduction to stargazing and later looking at the sky through the telescopes.

AAO’s Stuart Ryder attending visitors at the AAO desk during the “Science and Tech” expo at Chatswood Library on Saturday 12th August. Credit: Ángel López-Sánchez.

During National Science Week 20017 the AAO also participated in two of the events organized by the recently created “North Sydney Science Hub” . First on Saturday 12th August in the “Science and Tech” expo at Chatswood Library, and later in the Public DiscussionBig Data And Visual Analytics – What is it good for?”, on Thursday 17th August, also at Chatswood Library, being myself one of the panelists of the discussion.

Panel for the Public Discussion “Big Data And Visual Analytics – What is it good for?”, on Thursday 17th August, also at Chatswood Library. From left to right: Mark Ballico (NMI), Tomasz Bednarz (Data61 and UNSW Art & Design), Angela (CSIRO) and Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO.MQU).  Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

“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.

“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.



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.