Tag Archives: Science Communication

Video: Understanding the colours of nebulae

Today I’ve released in my YouTube Channel the very first video of a series that seeks to connect professional astrophysics with amateur astronomy and outreach. This video, is entitled “Understanding the colours of the nebulae“, or why square brackets are important when naming metallic transitions in nebulae.

Do you know how profesional astrophysicists and amateur astronomers get vibrant colour images of nebulae? In this video I provide insights of the Physics behind these images. I emphasise why the ionic transitions of metallic elements (i.e., any element that is not hydrogen or helium) in nebulae must be written with brackets, as they are not recombination lines but collisional excited lines, that is, a kind of forbidden lines that only appear in extreme low-density gases because of the collision of ions with free electrons in the gas.

The video includes my subtitles in both English and Spanish.

An extended article about the video will be added here soon.

I hope you like it! And remember:

Measure the light pollution in your street this Sunday

My “SpaceNews” for the episode of “The Skyentists” that Kirsten and me released yesterday was to talk about the citizen science project that is running this Sunday, 21st June (Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere) with the aims of measure the light pollution in Australia and New Zealand.

You have all the information about the event on the webpage of the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, and PLEASE do register to participe on it. It is very easy and fun to do: just observe the sky with your unaided eye and estimate how many stars do you see using the Globe at Night Web App.

This citizen science project is also part of the Guinness World Records ™ Official Attempt for Most users to take an online environmental sustainability lesson in 24 hours.

As you know, I’ve been fighting the big problem of the light pollution for decades, and not only because it negatively affects us, astronomers, but also because of the huge environmental impact that the light pollution is, with plenty of negative effects in flora, fauna and our health, and on top of that it is a stupid way of wasting our resources (and MONEY) and contribute to CO2 emission.

Hence, I’m helping as much as I can to promote this citizen science project and make the people aware of what we are missing because we are not illuminating properly our cities.

Science in Public has prepared a media release about it, and I have contributed with several of my astronomical images and timelapses.

This morning, Marnie Ogg, CEO of the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, has been interviewed by the famous weather presenter, meteorologist and science communicator Nate Byrne in the public Australian TV channel, ABC, about it.


And I’m very happy because, for some few seconds, I was on TV!!!

I’m very grateful to Niall Byrne (Science in Public), Tanya HaNate Byrne and Marnie Ogg for using my images and videos for all of this, but also for crediting them.

So, now you know, this Sunday evening don’t stay inside your house: get your kids, your friends, your family, your parents, your boyfriend or your girlfriend and look at the sky to help us measuring the light pollution in Australia, and perhaps even beating a World Guinness Record!

Update: Below I compile the links to articles in the media that have used my images for talking about all of this.

  1. Longest night, darkest sky, COSMOS, 17 June 2020.
  2. Look up! Help find the darkest sky, Gazette, 19 June 2020.
  3. Count the stars in the Southern Cross during winter solstice and map light pollution in your suburb, in ABC News, 19 June 2020.
  4. Stargazing to aid light pollution research, The Young Witness, 19 June 2020 (Photo NOT credited).
  5. Light pollution to be mapped during winter solstice on Sunday, Queensland Country Life, 19 June 2020.
  6. Light pollution is bad for us and for wildlife. So what can we do to solve the problem? in ABC News, 20 June 2020.
  7. Winter solstice 2020: Australia has a chance to break a stargazing record, The Guardian, 21 June 2020
  8. Help measure who has the darkest skies in Australia, The Canberra Times, 21 June 2020.
  9. Help measure who has the darkest skies in Australia, The Land, 21 June 2020.
  10. Can you see the stars? Who has the darkest skies?, Clarence Valley Independent, 21 June 2020.
  11. We can all be stargazers – and now is the perfect time to start, Clarence Valley Independent, 21 June 2020.
  12. Help measure who has the darkest skies in Australia, The Rural, 21 June 2020. (The same article has been published in a total of 33 newspapers!!! I’m not going to list all of those here, some of them are: Illawarra, Central Western Daily, Mudgee Guardian, Hunter Valley News, Bendigo, Glen Innes Examiner, Wauchope Gazette, Moree, Barossa Herald, Margaret River Mail, Walcha News, South Coast Register, Sunshine Coast Daily, Busselton Mail…)

The Betelgeuse hype

Although we are “enjoying” the Christmas break, today I’ve been contacted (thanks to Rami Mandow @CosmicRami) by Kelsie Iorio, an ABC News Digital journalist who was preparing an article about the situation of the red supergiant Betelgeuse.

The article published in ABC News, entitled “Is Betelgeuse, the red giant star in the constellation Orion, going to explode?“, can be found in this link. It includes comments from Rami Mandow, Associate Professor Michael Brown from Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and myself, with some other tweets from several astrophysicists who are talking about the “mysterious dimming of Betelgeuse“.

The red supergiant star Betelgeuse in Orion was the very first star after the Sun we got a direct image of its surface. That is because it is a huge star: if it were where the Sun is its outer layers will reach the orbit of Jupiter! This image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. More info in the APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) on April 19th, 1998. Credit: A. Dupree (CfA), R. Gilliland (STScI), FOC, HST, NASA.

But I want to share with you my full interview here, and keep it for my records, so here it goes.

The Betelgeuse hype

Interviewer: Kelsie Iorio  (ABC News Digital )

Interviewee: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO-MQ)

Q: For those who don’t know, what is Betelgeuse and what is it doing at the moment that’s out of the ordinary?

Betelgeuse is a bright star in the famous constellation of Orion the Hunter. It is a red supergiant star, meaning that it is star that is much more massive than our Sun (10 – 15 times) and that is already in the latest stages of its live. The star will eventually explode as a (type II) supernova. We astrophysicists know this will happen “soon”, but “soon” in Astronomy means 100 thousands years or perhaps even more.

During the last month observers worldwide have measured a dimming in the brightness of Betelgeuse.

This is actually completely ordinary, as it is well known and documented that Betelgeuse is a variable star (that means that it’s periodically changing its brightness).

Social media has again played a role here with the “hype” of the brightness of Betelgeuse: it is a normal situation that is happening at the moment and we can explain the dimming of Betelgeuse in many ways (a small shrinking of its huge size, solar spots, magnetic activity, a combination of factors) without the need of thinking that is going to explode now.

But people have been talking about that and many of them would love to see Betelgeuse explode! (I do not).


Q: Why is the astronomy world so excited about what’s happening?

If Betelgeuse really explodes as a supernova this would be a great opportunity for use to study how massive stars explode and get a better understanding of stellar evolution and stellar interiors. It will create a point-like object as bright as the Moon that would be visible even during the day, that will be fading during months till disappear.

However I must insist: the dimming of the brightness is the typical behaviour of the star. It is periodically changing its brightness and it has had this “low” brightness in the past. Even Aboriginal Australian knew this star changed brightness!


Q: Can we see Betelgeuse from Australia? For people who haven’t seen it or don’t know how to look for it, what does it look like from earth?

Of course! This is a star located very close to the celestial equator, meaning it can be seen essentially from everywhere (just not from the very same South Pole and around). Right now it is clearly visible to the North-East at the beginning of the night. The constellation of Orion is one of the most famous constellations of the sky and can be very easily recognised even by non-experts. Just use a stellar map (there are plenty free in internet, I recommend http://skymaps.com, and also plenty of apps) and you’ll see it. Despite it has noticeable dimmed in the last month, Betelgeuse still is one of the brightests stars in the night sky.

As any other star Betelgeuse is just a point of light, even when using a powerful telescope: stars are very, very, very far away from us to see them like a little disk. Betelgeuse is at a distance of around 700 light years.


Q: What do you think will happen to Betelgeuse next? Is it likely to explode?

No, it is very unlikely we see it exploding. The latest astrophysical research conducted about Betelgeuse clearly shows that it should still have a life of around 100 thousand years. Again, that is almost NOTHING in the cosmic scale, but a lot for us.

As it has done plenty of times in the past, Betelgeuse will eventually gain brightness again and all will be back to usual, continuing being sometimes a bit brighter sometimes a bit dimmer during the rest of all our own lifetimes.


Q: Is what’s happening with Betelgeuse a rare event?

No, it is not a rare event.

There are PLENTY of variable stars in the sky. A nice example is the star Mira in the constellation of Cetus (the Whale). This star sometimes can be easily seen with the naked eye and sometimes it is imposible to see, needing binoculars or telescopes to detect it. And it is not going to explode as supernova!


Q: Do you believe it’s important for the wider public to have a basic knowledge of astronomy and understand what’s happening in situations like this? Why?

I think it is important because everyone loves Astronomy but nowadays it is very easy to be confused because of the mixed bag of content found in social media and the internet.

I could tell the story about why supermoon are NOT a thing, but that is for another time (or read it here: https://angelrls.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/supermoons/)


Article in ABC News: “Is Betelgeuse, the red giant star in the constellation Orion, going to explode?“, Kelsie Iorio, 28th December 2020.

Twitter helping in a busy week

You might or might not know that I’ve been trying to be very active in my favorite social media network, Twitter, for the last years. I joined Twitter in 2011 just to promote my Spanish blog “El Lobo Rayado“, that is why my username still is @El_Lobo_Rayado (*)

In some way, micro-posting in Twitter has had a huge impact on the way I do science communication. For example, I used to write long posts in my Spanish blog explaining or discussing astronomy news, but now I do that in Twitter, and almost everything in English. Twitter drastically changed my presence in the web, also helping me to promote science communication events, and at the same time contacting very interesting people.

Social media and science communication have evolved A LOT between 2011 and 2019, that’s for sure.

Twitter has been increasingly popular for researchers, astronomers in particular, and a bit of “networking” is also done there. Conferences usually have a hashtag to follow, sometimes even a full twitter account, and that has been my way of capturing and summarizing the talks, sometimes providing comments or discussions to the topics that were discussed. And even, I must confess, writing Twitter posts including some photos of the talk is now the way I’m taking notes during the Conference.

I’m doing that using threads, that is, connecting all my tweets one after the other. Some people of Twitter use threads to tell a story as if it was a post in a conventional blog… but breaking the post in many (10-50 or even more) independent tweets. I don’t like that. In my personal opinion, if you want to tell that much, just write a post in a blog and provide the link in a single tweet! But that is my humble opinion, I can understand that other people DO LOVE to write threads (and even they first prepare them in a separate document to know how many tweets are needed and/or schedule the individual tweets seeking the highest impact).

What was missing? Compiling all those tweets in an easy way! If you are familiar to Twitter you know that, after some few days (it depends on how active you are) it is not that easy to find a particular tweet. In the past we had Storify to collect tweets, not necessarily from the same account. It was quite good, although it involved a bit of extra work compiling tweets and sorting them. But Storify was closed a year ago (and with that some of us lost plenty of useful information, as the tens of #AskAAO sessions we used to have in the old “Australian Astronomical Observatory”).

Luckily recently a new tool came into play to help us with that. It is the Thread Reader App, that allows the user to get a full post compiling all the tweets in a thread. How to do it? Easy: just send a tweet to @threadreaderapp at the end of your Twitter thread including the word “unroll“… and magic happens!

And that is what I’ve done today to compile my tweets of Monday and Tuesday… busy as I’m both attending the “ASTRO-3D Science Meeting 2019#A3Dscimeet19 AND helping in the international science communication festival “Pint of Science#PintAU19 #Pint19AU in the evenings…

Here they are the posts with all my tweets during the week:

I have to say… I should be at the #A3Dscimeet19 right now but I had some few “urgent” things to do at the university, and later I got some few emails and… well… here I am in my office writing this.

But I’ll update it later with today’s thread. Done!

(*) I say “still” because I’m seriously considering changing it to a “more English-speakers friendly” username…

Visiting the Macarthur Astronomical Society

Yesterday I was visiting my friends at the Macarthur Astronomical Society (MAS), which is based in Campbelltown, at the south of Sydney. I have had the privilege of visiting them several times in the last years, where I talked about different aspects of Astronomy, from the “Light of the Universe” to the “Colour of the galaxies” till “Amateur Spectroscopy“.

This time I was presenting my very own research, the Hi-KIDS project (the “HI KOALA IFS Dwarf galaxy Survey“, that I have to eventually publicize here too.

My talk was entitled “Dissecting Dwarf Galaxies with The AAT“. The abstract  was:

Dwarf galaxies provide fundamental clues about galaxy origin and evolution. Many of them have irregular shapes and have processed little their gas, although they possess many old stars born billions of years ago. Still, many dwarf galaxies are very gas-rich and are currently forming stars, sometimes in a spectacular way. With these new observations using the powerful KOALA+AAOmega instruments at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope we are “dissecting” these dwarf galaxies to characterize the properties of the gas and the stars within them. Combining these new data with deep radio observations at 21 cm of the diffuse, cold gas within and surrounding these dwarf galaxies we will get a better understanding of the local and global star-formation processes in galaxies, the feedback of the newborn stars into the galaxies, the importance of inflows and outflows of gas, and the chemical evolution of nearby dwarf galaxies.

You can find some photos of the talk in the Facebook webpage of the Macarthur Astronomical Society.

I have to say that this is a very welcome audience and that I have always enjoyed a lot the visit to MAS. They have an invited speaker almost every month, getting many Australian (and overseas) astrophysicists to talk to them. You can have a look to the full list in the MAS webpage.

Thanks for having me and see you in another astronomy event or talk soon!