Friday, December 15, 2006

And the Results are in

Its been a successful few days workwise, the allocations from the Gemini TAC (telescope allocation committee) have come in and all three of my proposals for the coming semester have been awarded time. Adding up to a grand total of 72 hours or around 8-10 nights of 8m time its a big success but also comes with big problems, namely getting all the PhaseII work done in time for the deadline in January. Its going to be a busy Christmas.

The three proposals actually break down into two projects, one is continuing our work of using Globular Clusters around galaxies to determine the formation history and Dark Matter content of the galaxies. I'll probably write a big post about this when I finish the papers I'm working on now.

The other is examining the stellar populations of S0 galaxies, these galaxies are an interesting intermediate galaxy type between star forming Spirals and old dead Elliptical galaxies. By looking at their stellar populations we hope to be able to determine how these galaxies formed, with a view toward determining the possible future of our own Milky Way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sometimes I Despair

Sometimes it just seems that the world is being over run by a tidal wave of fundamentalist nut jobs.

Check out this BBC story about the creation "museum". Just look at the scene of the kids playing with baby T-Rexs.

The main thing that I take away from this is the 40% of the worlds richest nation are either sheep, brainwashed or just plain idiots. The thought that just one normal person could be convinced by this rubbish is deeply disturbing, perhaps its time we came up with some way to fight back for reason and sense, otherwise all us rational people are going to be caught up when this bunch of religious fundamentalist madmen decide to take on some other bunch.

Personally I'm hoping to move to Mars, at least you can guarantee you won't have to put up with this lunacy there, its fairly unlikely that any of these types that won't read anything but the Bible is going to make it that far.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A "Short" History Of The Dark Side - Part 2

In the previous post we saw how in certain circumstances it is possible to explain supposedly missing mass in terms of standard physics. I'm now moving onto a case where it appears that this isn't possible, the strange "Dark Matter" that seems to permeate space.

Its been known since the 1930s that if you add up the mass seen in clusters of galaxies (like that shown above) there isn't enough mass to account for the motion of the galaxies in the cluster. This is exactly analogous to the situation in GCs, where instead of individual stars appearing to be moving to fast its now entire galaxies moving too quickly. Over the years some of this missing mass has been found, in the form of very tenuous hot gas that resides between the galaxies in the cluster. The image below shows the Centaurus cluster as seen in X-Rays, the X-Rays are produced by the hot gas in between galaxies in the cluster. The gas itself is also of great use in determining the mass in the cluster, this is because we can measure the temperature and density of the gas and from this infer the gravity that must be present to stop the gas expanding out of the cluster and into intercluster space. Although this gas is very diffuse when its mass is added up it still adds up to more than the mass contained in the galaxies in the cluster but still it only makes up a small fraction of the total mass we know must be in the cluster from the motions of the galaxies.

Over time other manifestations of this missing mass has been seen, it was observed that spiral galaxies rotated too quickly to be explained by just the visible mass, then it was noticed that the stars in elliptical galaxies where also speeding around too quickly, finally that the GCs and dwarf galaxies around normal galaxies were themselves moving too quickly to be explained by the luminous mass of the parent galaxy. Other effects were noticed that do not rely on the kinematics of objects, it was observed that the bending of light due to the gravity of galaxy clusters and individual galaxies was too severe to be explained by the visible mass.

As it became clear that this invisible mass was a real phenomenon and not due to some problems with our models people attempted to explain this missing mass. Initially people attempted to explain this missing mass in terms of stellar remnants (like in the GCs) and/or gas and dust that doesn't emit light strongly. With our increasing ability to observe at different wavelengths of light where we would expect gas and dust to be emitting radiation it became clear that this gas and dust could only explain a small fraction of the missing mass. Similarly stellar population modeling showed that it was almost impossible to explain the missing mass as being due to stellar remnants, it would require far too many stars to have already died by now, this would only be possible if initially most stars that formed in a galaxy were very massive. This is not observed in nearby galaxies and from what we know of star formation is not expected to be the case in most situations.

So what is the solution to the puzzle? Well the one that is most popular is inclusion of some matter which is not made of the same material as normal atoms, this Dark Matter is non-baryonic and only interacts with luminous matter through the force of gravity, if it did interact in any other way we would be able to see it. This solution seems like a fudge, except that it can be used to fit all of the problems I have listed above and more, something which the other contending model has difficulty with. This other approach (called Modified Newtonian Dynamics or MOND) is to assume that gravity behaves differently on different scales, this approach can reproduce many of the observed effects but not all, and is generally distrusted because gravity in general and general relativity in particular is seen to work so well in every observation we have to date. At the present much work is being done to investigate and try and detect a Dark Matter particle, if one is found it will be the crowning achievement of modern astronomy, if it is not observed then we have major problems.

However just as the astronomical community was reaching consensus on the existence of DM another set of observations appeared that has led to another dark substance. We will look at this in my next post in the series.

A "Short" History Of The Dark Side - Part 1

I am often asked what an astronomer does and what the main problems facing astronomy are today. The first question is easily answered, an astronomer spends most of their time in front of a PC trying to make sense of confused data that is never enough for the task. Occasionally you get to go observing to out of the way places like Hawaii or Chile, or to conferences in equally exotic locations where you argue over minor points inside a lecture theatre from dawn till dusk, avoiding the always lovely weather and interesting locals. Somedays it seems to be hard work, but on others you find something that no one has ever known before and on others still you get to sit 4 and a half kilometers in the air on top of a huge volcano and watch the sun set over the Pacific in absolute quiet. Its probably the best job in the world on days like those.

The other question is more difficult, it depends on which sub-field you work on, but I would guess that most people would agree that the most pressing area of research at the moment is investigating the so called "Dark Sector". That part of the Universe that is due to exotic particles or strange forces of nature. In this and the following posts in the series I'm going to try to pull together what I understand about Dark Matter and Dark Energy, perhaps even offer a few opinions. This first post does not actually deal with unusual objects or forces but explains a similar set of observations that can be explained using standard physics, I am doing this so that in the later posts I can explain the fundamental differences between the two cases, so onto the main post.

As an astronomer I am used to the fact that we are rarely able to see everything we need to to understand a given object completely. This is simply a by-product of the fact that we don't have infinitely sensitive instruments, so there will always be objects that are difficult or impossible to detect, objects like brown dwarfs and isolated neutron stars or black holes.

In many systems we cannot see these objects directly but we can observe the influence in other ways, in particular through the effects of their gravity, for example in the cores of Globular Clusters the velocity of the stars is so high that it can't be explained by all the mass we can see, if there wasn't some unseen mass whose gravity was holding the GC together the cluster would simply blow apart. This is fairly strong evidence that there must be something else at work here. Happily the amount of missing mass in GCs is consistent with what we would expect of the type of stellar populations that make up a GC, so we would expect some fraction of stars that are not large enough to make it to main sequence (Brown Dwarfs) and some stars to have already expended all of their fuel and to have died by now (white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes). These objects are simply too faint to be seen in the GC which is why their mass is "missing". When you add up all the mass that should be in these stars its about enough to explain the mass deficit in GCs entirely in terms of normal (baryonic) matter.

In the second post in this series we will look at observations of galaxies and galaxy clusters and examine why the approach used for GCs cannot explain missing mass in these systems.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Great News from Sunderland

I love this story, a couple of old ladies in their 70s are wanted by Police in Sunderland in relation to a stolen wallet. Now they may have had nothing to do with it, but still I love the way the news has been going in Sunderland recently, idiots with fireworks and possibly criminal grannies. Brilliant.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Attempted Darwin Award

I love this story from the bbc. Its perfect Darwin award material, if only the damage had been done about 5cm away. In short some genius decided to launch a firework rocket from his backside, apparently its been done on Jackass, well without the extra help the Jackass team had it all went a bit wrong. The aptly name Black Cat Thunderbolt rocket (it all happend in Sunderland home to the Black Cats, or the filthy Maccam B**tards if your from nearer the Tyne) then proceeded to cause a scorched rectum, thats got to sting.

Then There Were 4

It looks as if India is about to join the very exclusive club of nations that can independently support manned space operations. According to a story found here the Indian Space Research Agency IRSO (?) has decided to get ambitious and propose a manned space program costing $3 Billion a year which is more than 3 times its annual budget at present. Good luck to them. I hope things go well and that a bit more cooperation between the space going countries can be achieved.

If only governments over here could be just a little more abitious, I note that looking at the wikipedia article on GDP that the richest "country" in the world is the EU with 18 times as much GDP as India. Of course there are many complications here that means you can't take a simplistic GDP view of things but you would still think that the europeans together could make a go at an independent manned space program. Its not like a space program is a total waste of money, all of the money is spent on Earth and invested in real economies. Anyway I suppose we should be pleased for the ambitious ground based programs we have here, CERN, ITER, ESO etc.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Government Interference

Reading through Live Science I came across another one of those articles that makes you want to scream. It can be found here. I suggest anybody interested in governments meddling with research should check it out. The short version is that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in the US has been attempting to suppress research that does not fit with President Bush's abstinence only solution for unwanted pregnancies and STD transmission. We can only hope that now he is essentially left quacking after the mid term elections common sense may prevail and science can be left to enlighten rather than forced to fit particular prejudices.

The Earth

As an astronomer I tend to spend a lot of time looking upwards and outwards at some of the most incredible and powerful events in the Universe. So much so that I often forget just how amazing the Earth can be, the BBC News website tends to have a different interesting science picture everyday, sort of a Science Pic of the Day if you will, todays picture is a perfect reminder of just how incredible things can be on Earth.

It shows an area of Namibia called the Brandberg Massif, the whole thing is a single lump of granite which punched its way through the Earths crust 120 million years ago during the break up of the Gondwana supercontinent. The dark ring around the massif is caused by the rocks that were pushed out of the way as it broke the surface.

That something that size (it covers 650 square km) can push its way through the Earth crust just shows the immense pressures and energies still bound up in our active seemingly benign little ball of rock.

Another Great Astronomy Pic

I've just come across this great picon the badastronomy blog. Its really cool as it combines radio (red), optical and X-ray (blue) images into one. In the image you can see the radio jets thrown out by a supermassive black hole in the central galaxy of a large cluster, these jets are busily blasting a trillion solar masses of gas out of their way to form a cavity around the galaxy. This cavity can clearly be seen in the X-Ray image as the dark regions that line up with the jets. It just shows what extra information you can get by combining the information from many different wavelengths.

For a much fuller and more literate explanation of the whole thing check out the badastronomer blog here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Wonder of YouTube

Ah the wonder that is YouTube.

I've just come across a collection of Wierd Al videos on there.
These are brilliant, just look at all the visual gags, its like watching Airplane!.

Like A Surgeon.

Amish Paradise.

The Saga Begins

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hawaii Earthquake - Update

The latest from Gemini-North seems to be that so far they haven't found any major damage due to the earthquake, though the chillers required a bit of patching up. Fortunately for me, GMOS and its associated calibration unit, seem to be fine, fingers crossed.

Apparently it's going to be a few days before they are certain everything is ok, they aren't confident enough to move the telescope to check that the secondary mirror is ok.

Let's hope they get things up and running as soon as possible.

On a related note it seems that the JCMT and UKIRT came through unscathed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Distorted View of Beauty

I just came across this incredible video on youtube. It really points out just how we have ended up having such a distorted view of beauty these days. It shows what can be done with one average(ish) looking woman, lots of makeup, time and digital effects.

It kind of reminds me of all the fuss during the Lebanese-Israeli conflict about doctored photos, I don't really hear anything about how advertising is intellectually dishonest.

New Element

Scientists in California and Russia have succeeded in making the heaviest element to date, element 118, or as it provisionally called ununoctium (Latin for "one-one-eight") or eka-radon (beneath radon on the periodic table).

They acheived the feat using a method I thoroughly approve of, brute force. They basically fired 40 billion billion atoms of calcium-48 at a target of californium-249 at such high speed that the nuclei overcame their mutual repulsion (due to the large amount of positive charge located there) and fused. In total it took 3000 hours and in that time they produced 3 atoms of 118. I don't feel that bad about asking for 100 hours of observing time any more.

The work is pretty cool, the teams aim is to search for the "island of stability" a theoretical region of the periodic table where very heavy atoms like this can be stable for macroscopic timescales. The 118 only lasted around nine ten-thousandths of a second, but heavier elements in the sland of stability are theorised to have half lives of several seconds to minutes, long enough to do chemistry with the atoms.

Here is a link to the Washingtonpost article about the discovery.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More from The Onion

This is probably my favourite story from The Onion of all time,

"Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory"

It perfectly sums up the utter absurdity of Intelligent Design. Enjoy.

Hawaii Earthquake - Mauna Kea Operations Affected

At 7.07am on Sunday (15th) there was an earthquake just off the kona coast of Hawaii, it measured 6.6 on the richter scale and has royally screwed up observations from Mauna Kea for the next few days at least.

I have a personal/professional interest in this because the guys at Gemini-North were actually observing my S0s project earlier in the evening. The latest news from Gemini-North is that it could be several days before they are confident enough everything is safe enough to get back to normal operations. Good luck.

Here is the latest from Gemini-North, and here is a short newsweek Q&A about the Earthquake. I can't find any official word from Keck or JAC about this yet, but I'll keep my ears open.

Derby Day

Well people in the department can hardly have missed the excitment in the air over todays keenly awaited astronomy 5-a-side derby. Though ending the game as an unused sub myself I can at least say I was there to drink in the atmosphere of 10 out of shape, sweaty astronomers running about for 20 minutes. Many years from now people will still discuss how things may have been, should Raul been fully fit for the game, however he wasn't and as such the Astro boys were left lacking their main outlet. Cosmic took advantage of this, with some solid defending by Rich, more solid keeping from Nic and Tony keeping himself busy up front as usual, the boys in red eventually ran out deserved 2-1 winners.

Well done us, and for fun here is what I imagine the celebrations would have been like after the game, had I played and scored.

Oh My God!

I want one of these. The physics it has built in is incredible.

Craig has just pointed out what this kind of physics can lead to when released onto the internet. Guys clean yourselves up, take a shower, drink a few beers and go meet some women.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Space News: 2

More interesting news from, research to be published in ApJL by Miley et al. (2006) used the HST ACS to look at a forming galaxy cluster at z~2.2.

They found the galaxy in the centre of the image above (which they call the spiderweb galaxy) to be made up of about 10 smaller clumps, which are believed to be smaller star forming galaxies in the process of merging. This galaxy seems to be a progenitor for a large cluster dominating cD galaxy, like the ones seen in the nearby Universe.

What is very interesting is the large star formation rate in the structure of 100Msun / year, with such a high star formation rate it doesn't take that long to form all of the stars in a large elliptical galaxy. This feeds nicely into my own research which involves measuring the ages of stars in large elliptical galaxies, we generally seem to see that large elliptical galaxies formed most or all of their stars before a redshift of about 1.

In conclusion everything seems to fit very well with a hierarchical merging formation for these large galaxies, exactly as we would expect.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More Daily Show: 2

The more I see of Jon Stewart the more I like, I wish he was running for President.
I know you guys at work don't really understand my obsession with the politics in the states, but the more I see of the way things are over there, the more I think "There but for the grace of God". Plus the daily show is damn funny.

Giving the Devil a shoeing, or Bill O'Reilly if you prefer his real name.
Or dealing with the state of journalism (crossfire).
Or the gay marriage debate.
The minimum wage.

The Onion

Just came across this from The Onion.


Plus check out the "stories" on the right. One in particular is genius.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Crank Watch: Case 2

I think its about time I got back to my usual pastime of crank watching (and baiting).

The reasons for choosing crankhood as an occupation are legion; simple mistakes followed by bloody minded insistence on your own correctness (a la Arp), madness, social disfunction, inflated opinion of oneself (I'm smarter than Einstein etc.), the desire to be noticed, the chance to earn the respect of a bunch of poorly-washed barely-literate loons and of course the need to spend some time doing something other than surfing the 'net for porn.

However in my personal opinion the worst reason is obvious: religion. It's surely madness to base an attempt at a scientific theory on some religious beliefs. I'm glad to say that most of the major organised religions have come to the conclusion that science tells us how the world works, they tell us how the afterlife works. Nowadays they generally don't get involved in claiming how the world works, mostly due to the fact that time after time they get proved wrong, best not to argue with the science and just worry about the moral implications.

Well some people are unfortunately not that enlightened. I've just come across a bunch of geocentrists! yeah I thought no one could be that nuts either, but there you go, never underestimate the stupidity of strangers. Check out their website here. Their basic reason for believing that the Earth is the centre of the Universe is that it says so in the Bible, good start. But just look down their list of other reasons for why it is valid!

Kepler murdered Tycho Brahe because he was a geocentrist! Now there's a story and a half. Interestingly modern investigations do seem to show that Brahe died from mercury poisoning, still quite a leap to blame Kepler.

Most of their other reasons are simply due to the fact in GR you can choose any reference frame you want, so if you are stupid enough you can choose one where the Earth is stationary. This does of course have implications, the most obvious being that the Universe must be rotating round the Earth once every 24 hours. So for distant galaxies that rapidly builds up to speeds greater than light, now technically this is allowed as it is space that is rotating not the galaxies, but come on! Whats more likely, that one insignificant planet is moving or the entire Universe has been arranged perfectly such that everything moves around it? Honestly. Just check out the monster "discussion" of the theory at the bad astronomy bb.

Apparently telecopic observations show that the Earth is at rest, that's news to me and I've made quite a few telescopic observations.

Also apparently Einstein "invented" relativity to escape the geocentric evidence. So how come it works, perfectly, every single time its tested?

The guys who wrote the book however are a bit touchy, here is a quote from the blog the authors are involved in:

So the devil's drumbeat continues : the modernist claims of credibility invariably return to the strawman of Galileo vs. geocentrism. One can take it to be the logo of modernism, its defining mark and the signature stamp of the demon, the bludgeon by which orthodox dissent is beaten into silence.

Well, what did they expect the Spanish Inquisition? I doubt it, No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Sorry couldn't resist. Check out the rest of the madness here.

Disclaimer No Cranks were harmed in the making of this post, we'll not physically, though a few egos were bruised, probably.

Space News

Wow, I think this is the first post actually about research in astronomy.

I came across this article about research into quasars. Its pretty good, I'm really only posting this because I seem to spend an awful lot of time arguing with Arpians about whether Quasars are in fact supermassive black holes in galaxies very far away (they are) or if they are objects ejected from nearby galaxies (they most certainly are not). This work just puts another nail in the coffin of Arps ideas, its actually getting pretty crowded on that coffin lid, I'm not sure they'll be able to fit many more nails in.

Anyway back to the science, the research led by Xinyu Dai and Christopher Kochanek of Ohio State University looked at a pair of quasars that have been gravitationally lensed by an intervening galaxy. This lensing allowed them to measure the size of the accretion disc of the Black Hole (BH) accurately, finding that the accretion disc is around 14AU (that's 14 Earth orbital radii to us). Its also emitting X-Rays, telling us that the accretion disc is very hot, as you would expect as gas rapidly spirals into the BH.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More Daily Show

I keep coming across these videos on YouTube, The Daily Show just gets better. Or maybe its just that they have had more material of late.

Jon Stewart on Larry King.
The Daily Show.
Bush on Oil.

On Stem Cells.

On Gaydar.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Definition of Irony

I must admit to having a few problems with irony myself, but today I think I have found an example that perfectly sums up this tricky concept.

The simple version is that some redneck is demanding that the book Fahrenheit 451 be banned from schools, the book itself is all about a world where books are banned. Now I'm fairly certain that the irony will be lost on the moron making the complaints, which apparently centre on the fact that the book describes the burning of books including the Bible. So what is the best way to deal with a book that shows the evil of censorship and totalitarianism, simple ban it. To read more about this particular cretin, have a look here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

FOX News?

Just come across a great video about FOX news and their tactics. This one is a classic, there is a huge scandal in the US at the moment about a Republican congressman who has been sending lewd emails to underage boys. Obviously this is pretty bad news for the Republicans a month before elections, but have no fear! their friends at FOX news have a cunning plan. Its so simple its brilliant, simply say he is a Democrat!

I think Joseph Geobbles described this tactic best
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

Check out this video its great.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Good Night 3.

Some people have asked for a bit more detail on the goings on over the pond. Here are some CNN stories that explain some of the details.

At youtube here.
And here.
And here.

and a page with quotes from Harry Reid the ranking Democrat in the senate. Sorry I don't have the originals, too busy at the minute. Click here.

I guess the sad thing is that it has already happened here, to a certain extent, and there just following our mistakes. I guess it makes a change to the usual way around.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Good Night 2

So it appears that I wasn't the only one that noticed the bill currently doing the rounds in the states (the one that allows torture and effectively ends habeus corpus).

As usual the Badastronomer is on the ball. Check it out here.

Ashingtonese - Part 3

Another installment of Adams Ashington dictionary.

"Bought" in English is to acquire something with money, but in Ashington it was a Sesame Street character. "Bought disnt like Oarnie nay mare"

"All" - means everything whereas in Ashington it is a title similar to a duke. "The all of Lancaster is a posh cunt"

"Herb" in English is something used to enhance the flavour of food, whereas in Ashington it is part of a cooker. "The cooking herbs ahaad."

"Snare" is something used to trap an animal, in Ashington it is frozen precipitation that usually falls in winter. "Ya bugger the snare's starting to torn t' slush"

"Add" means to combine two or more things to get a total, in Ashington it a term used to describe someone in their dotage "Berb started t' gan a bit funny when he got add"

"Term" is an academic time period, in Ashington it is the name of a gentleman. "Term backed fowa winnaz at Cambois dergs yistiduh"

"Torn" in English means to rip something i.e paper in Ashington it means to move or cause to move in a circular direction wholly or partially around an axis or point. "Dennis waasn't able t' torn eez wife owa in bed, she waaz owa muchuva heffa nooa days"

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Good Night

Its been a dark week in the world, but one news story stood out for the magnitude of its implications and the little response it seems to have generated.

I am of course talking about the end of freedom and democracy across the pond. Somehow don't ask me how Bus has managed to have a bill passed that fundamentally changes the powers of the President. There are several points of major concern, the first is that although technically recognising the Geneva conventions the bill allows the President to decide what they actually mean, no need to ask all the other nations that signed up to a common standard, if he thinks hanging upside down is ok, then its fine.

The second is actually worse, and amazing that he got away with it. It authorises the President to detain whoever he sees fit, for as long as he sees fit, regardless of the status of the individual (citizen, foreign national etc.). It also makes it clear that Federal judges are to keep their noses out of such business. Good bye Habeus Corpus.

The third part is also astonishing as it pardons the Bush administration and anyone connected to it for any war crimes that they may have ordered since 9/11. So when the records are opened and we learn of the torture chambers in far away lands directly run by Cheney and his crew, where do we look for justice?

This bill is so obviously unconstitutional it can't possibly stand, but for a while at least the number of "free" peoples (a term I beleive Bush himself is keen on) is reduced. I think it is ironic that whist apparently spreading freedom abroad he does as much as he can to destroy it at home.

I think Churchill best sums up my feelings at this time, with his famous adress to the French people after the fall of France. To the people of the USA.

Good night then: Sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. brightly it will shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.

Only a Matter of Time

First off apologies, it has been a very long time since my last post, but I do have an excuse, 4 telescope proposals and a new website to work on. Expect a link any to it anyday.

Anyway back to the main point of this blog, bad science, and crackpot theories.

I read something this morning that has thoroughly saddened me. Check it out at the BBC here. The basic gist of it is some idiots have decided that because the US is having such fun with all this Intelligent Design bullshit perhaps we should have a bit over here too. They're using essentially exactly the same tactics as in the states, claiming that "many" scientists do not agree with Evolution and that this means there is some "controversy" over whether or not it is right. What crap.

If your really interested in "Truth in Science" look at their website here. It amazes me that people that lack the ability to think rationally can come up with such pretty websites, or devise clever misinterpretations to fool the unwary. Lets have a look at some of them shall we?

First the many scientists disagree with evolution bit that they all spout, where does this come from? Well from here. Well, well, well its run by the famous Discovery Institute, those honest brokers of knowledge and truth, or more accurately the most right wing Christian nuts you are ever likely to run into. Seeing this I think your probably doubtful about their "scientists" as I was, but lets look at the list of scientists that disagree with evolution, there are 600 of them. Here is where you can find the pdf of the list of scientists. If you look at it you may notice something I did, the vast majority of those "scientists" are people whose only qualification to be called such is a PhD, and in the vast majority of cases in a subject totally unrelated to biology. Most of them are probably bloody bankers now. Hmm this is really the best you can do guys? Out of many millions of PhDs in the world, you find 600, most of whom have no connection to the subject in question. Well done, slow hand clap all round. I think if you looked at this statistically they have probably succeeded in proving evolution the most widely accepted theory in history.

The rest of the Truth in Science is essentially the same old rubbish, find one tiny inconsequential problem that still isn't fully understood and claim that it disproves evolution. Just check out their section on the evidence for evolution, which is mostly just an attempt to mention problems, they never actually talk about the successes of evolution. Distort and Distract, distort and distract. I'd love to see them show us a peer reviewed paper which presents evidence for ID, yeah right.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Great

Some more classics from

John Stewarts The Daily Show: Alright most of you don't get as pissed off by Fox "News" (read as propaganda) as I do, but watch this and maybe you'll start to.

The Astronomers Dream?: Better than a MacPro? Add a cup-holder and it very well may be? If you're curious about the question marks, see above.

More Linkage

More great linkage from the badastronomer blog.


You remember Eric Idles galaxy song from "The Meaning of Life"? Well neither did I, until I heard it again, anyway someone with more time to spare than even me has put a flash animation to the tune.

Worth a look for the song more than the animation. Lets see how many of you can spot some errors in it.

Good News

The good people at Gemini (South) have been busy taking my data over the last couple of days, so far they have got about 2/3 rds of my allocation. So 12 hours in the bag, hopefully the last 6 will get done in the next day or so, assuming the weather doesn't improve too much, wow an astronomer actually wanting bad (ish) weather, thats new.

This data was from the first proposal I wrote and involves looking at the spectra of S0 galaxies. Now if only the people at Gemini (North) get a chance to look at my northern sample I'll really be in business.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another pretty picture

I've finally knocked up a picture of something other than an S0 galaxy, this is of another early-type galaxy, so still a bit dull looking. The galaxy NGC 3923 is an elliptical galaxy with some fairly obvious shell structures (click on the image for a larger version). I'm working on some Gemini data for this galaxy now, hopefully we will have the paper sorted in a month or two. This picture was created from g', r' and i' images from the GMOS instrument on the Gemini-South telescope in Chile.

Interesting things to note in this picture other than the shells are the two cool redshift ~0.3 spiral galaxies towards the south east, and again plenty of Globular Clusters in the halo of the galaxy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

S0 What 2.

I've just made up another picture using the brilliant(ly named and in use) Stiff. This one is of another S0 galaxy NGC 4417, sorry about all the S0's I'll make up something more interesting soon I promise.

NGC 4417 is a fairly standard edge on S0 located in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, I may include it in my proposal but it seems to have a very weak disc so it may not be worth it.

Most of the very small blue dots you can see in the halo (the diffuse light) of the galaxy are probably Globular Clusters, the other main area of my research.

Note: For those who are interested the image was made from data taken by the very good people involved in the ACS Virgo Cluster Survey. The picture was created from two images, a F435W exposure and a F850LP exposure, clearly you can't get three colours needed for a picture from two filters, so I made another image (the green one) by averaging the two pictures. This is the reason why the image seems a bit less colourful than other images, but overall I still think its fairly pretty. Check out the thousands of background galaxies around the main galaxy.

The black line across the middle is the gap between the two CCDs in the ACS instrument. The Virgo Cluster Survey didn't dither the images to fill in the gaps, because it would take up too much time.

I have a higher resolution TIFF if anyone is interested. But its a pretty hefty 52Mb.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

S0 What?

Every once in a while in this job you come across something that is totally cool. While compiling a target list for a proposal I'm working on I came across this little baby.

NGC 5866, its an S0 (thats S-zero) galaxy, and as such usually looks pretty dull, especially when you only have one observation in a single filter, like below.

You may notice more than a passing resemblance to my own favourite S0 NGC 3115, check out an image I made of it here (Note this was not made with the HST, it was done on the ground through some poor seeing and thats why by comparison it looks crap).

When you point the HST at NGC 5866 and take images in three different bands you can get this though:

For a really cool zoomable version of this picture, as well as more details on the galaxy get over to here. Try zooming into the strong dust lane, its incredible how fine the detail is.

I'm actually interested in the discs of galaxies like these, you can see the disc just peaking out from behind the dust towards the 5 and 11 O'Clock positions, it's very blue which is very interesting. Now the blueness could just be an artifact of the way the image was made from the different filters used to image the galaxy, so I downloaded the original files from the HST archive and had a bit of a play around, the short story is that the disc probably is blue. But I also found a couple of other observations in different bands (filters) that with a bit more work should let me make an image that reveals a bit more. I'll keep you posted.

As most of the astronomers know, a stellar population that is blue can look like that for one of two reasons, because its made up of young stars, or its made up of very old stars which have very few elements heavier than Helium. Both these cases would be interesting, but my moneys on it being a young stellar population, a metal poor disc just doesn't make that much sense when there is all of that dust around, we'll find out if I get the observing time I want.

I'll explain why its interesting after the proposal deadline. :)

Nut of the Week.

After a quick look at the badastronomyblog I came across this link, its basically by some right wing nut that thinks the dwarf planet formerly known as Xena has been renamed Eris as some sort of dig at the war in Iraq.

His reason? Well, Eris (thats her up there apparently) is the Greek god of strife and discord, and Mike Brown the discoverer works in California and, er, well, thats it really.

Here's a quote, something I note he doesn't bother with that much, I mean what statements is he talking about? I don't know, he hasn't bothered reprinting them.

Come on! The only obvious thing is that he was taking a cheap shot at world affairs (and one can only assume at the USA). Why assume the anti-war vibe? Because of his own statements, coupled with the fact that he is from the California Institute of Technology.. located in far west Moonbat country.

Of course back in the land of the lucid the name was chosen because of all the flap this object has caused in the astronomical community (i.e. the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet). Some of you know I think the definition stinks, mostly because if you follow it exactly the Earth, Jupiter and Neptune are no longer planets either. Whoops.

However this nut, thinks that somehow the name has been chosen to make a point about the War in Iraq, well if it was its pretty lame really, I mean how many of you would have figured that out? Not me thats for sure. How many Americans have a good enough knowledge of Greek mythology to pick that one up? Or maybe that was the point, we're all meant to be laughing at the joke but not explaining it to them right?

What do you mean that's what the email said?

I never got any damn email.

Uh oh, I'm in trouble now.

Seriously though, I think everyone should leave him a message or two, urging him to start back on his medication, I already have.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ashingtonese: Part 2.

I decided to find a few more examples of the Ashington dialect I came across the above from the free magazine newcastle stuff. They also have some more examples on their website here. For those of you wanting to really learn the lingo, they even have a book.

All this got me thinking, we're from a fairly wide geographical area, does anyone else have any strange pronunciations or uses of words? Im sure Jim(1) must, plenty of druidic sayings for around the sacrifice, I mean campfire. But what does everyone else have? I know Ruth pronounces no like an Aussie (think Noi), despite coming from Chester, but what about the rest of you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My brother (the middle one), is a bit of a scholar of local culture, after perusing his myspace page I came across some gems. The first one is on the correct pronunciation of words in Pitmatic (the accent of south east Northumberland), hopefully this will prove to be of great use to Noam in his continuing attempt to master the mother tongue. Reprinted below are some examples, take it away Adam.


In Ashington due to our rich culture (European capital of culture 1923 with Pegswood) we have a diverse dialect and all you non Ashington folk are jealous as fook.

In English "warm" means hotter than cold but in Ashington it is fishing bait.
In English "hornier" means to become increasingly aroused in Ash it is a sports injury.
In English a "bairn" is a child but in Ash it is a stipulation under law that means you cannot do something for a fixed period of time, such as driving.
In English "dared" means to instruct someone to do something to prove that the person carrying out the task has testicular fortitude but in Ash it is the male parent.
In English a horse is an animal that a cowboy would ride but in Ash it is the vehicle used to carry a coffin in a funeral procession.
In English a blurb is a short description of a book but in Ash it is a form of contraception.

If anyone is confused by this I'll post some explanations.
Further to my last post I stumbled across this link. It makes it clear just how ridiculous all the conspiracy theories around 11/9 really are.

Notes from Coffee - Seriously Not Happy

Myself and Jim(1) just went down to coffee where I received one of the greatest disappointments of recent times. As anyone has glanced at this blog will have noted I really don't like conspiracy theories, cranks and pseudoscience. I always assumed that working in a fairly prestigious Physics department would insulate me with having to share air space with the type of morons that believe that drivel, unfortunately not.

During coffee, it proved impossible not to hear a guy at the next table actually considering the mad ravings of Steven E. Jones. If you don't know who he is, he's a mad Physics Professor at the BYU university in the US, he believes that the world trade centres were destroyed not by two fucking huge fully fueled planes hitting them, but by demolition charges set by the government. Apart from that he also believes that Jesus visited the New World, see his "evidence" here. But anyway I'm getting sidetracked. I would link to the paper where his evidence for this theory is to be found, but its been removed and I haven't yet found another copy.

My point is that the whole theory is utterly mental. Why allow terrorists (or your stooges) to fly planes into a building if your going to blow it up anyway? Why not just blow it up and claim terrorists snuck bombs in? I don't get it. Why bother blowing it up if your going to hit it with planes? I'm damn sure that 40 tonnes of jet fuel burning next to steel bars would tend to destroy the structural integrity of a building, even if it didn't actually melt the bars.

Maybe I'm being to harsh on the guy at coffee, but still this is meant to be a place of rational thought. I guess that I should be happy that he was generally derided for his credulity.


Well done to our very own Cosmic Pancake maker Dr. Noam Libeskind. After what he describes as "a pretty cool" viva and three years of hard work, he has now traded in an M for a D for the front of his name. As a celebration we went for a drink afterwards at 3.30pm yesterday. Mysteriously at the same point there was a "hardware fault" that crashed the entire network and meant that people didn't feel so guilty about sacking off work so early. Noam was a little merry due to the fact that he had been too nervous to eat during the day, so very quickly descended into the loud yank that we all know and love.

I blame this merriness for his ensuing poor performance in the evening poker game, where I managed to treble my money in short order. Much fun was had by all, except Noam when I explained that his very nice sunglasses allowed people to read his cards in the reflection. I decided to point this out just as he put them on, so avoiding the temptation.

There has been discussion of keeping a record of our poker wins/losses, if the people involved last night could tell me their winnings/losses from last night I will begin the record.

11/09/06 £3 buy in (big money game)
Mark : + £7
Jim : + £0.55
Noam : - £3
Hugh: + £0.55
John H:
Juilan: - £3

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Well now I'm depressed

Just watched Closer on DVD, I saw the play a year or two ago and had totally forgotten just how brutal it actually is. Its refreshing to see a film that actually shows relationships as they can be. Of course Natalie Portman stripping is also a huge plus. If you haven't seen it, you should, unless you've just been dumped by the other half that is.

To make things worse, I'd already watched Lord of War this afternoon, another excellent film that doesn't sugar coat anything. Don't fancy the arms business myself though, think I'll stick to the astronomy business, less need to worry about mad African dictators.

On a related note I see that Zimbabwe is now setting up a Chinese style internet censorship program (here), which means at some point someone sitting in some nondescript cubicle in Harare will come across this blog. Nice thought. So just in case may I take the opportunity to say well done to Robert Mugabe for destroying one of the richest most advanced countries on the continent and setting it back 30 years. Moron. Oh and I do know that in Zimbabwe its illegal to insult the President. However I clearly can't be in Zimbabwe, the power has stayed on here long enough to post this rant. Good luck to everyone in Zimbabwe, the madness has to end at some point.

I think I'll cheer myself up by listening to the new Audioslave album. Uh Oh.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Happy Times

It must be that time of year again because I'm working fairly diligently on a Saturday, I'm sure my astronomer friends know exactly what I mean, but for the rest of you not in the know I'm talking about proposal time. The most stressful time of the year (and it happens twice a year). Astronomers spend their lives either proposing to get time on an instrument or reducing the data they got previously in hopes that that will satisfy the telescope allocation comittee and therefore allow them to get their hands on even more data. Its all a vain hope, you can never satisfy a TAC.

This next month will involve me running around (figuratively, it all happens online), trying to figure out how long it will take on a particular instrument to do what I want, and whether I'd be better off being less ambitious in my goals.

The goal this time is to beat last times allocation, which was 53 hours over 3 proposals, this time it looks like I could well be up to 5 proposals, asking for 120 hours of 8m time. If the coke machine isn't refilled soon we could all be screwed.

P.S. Expect a post about some cranks A.S.A.P.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Measure of a Town

(Thanks to The Onion for the pic.)

I've just come across a very amusing story on the BBC news website, it turns out that my home town is the tenth worst place (or best if your into that) in the country for obesity, go Ashington! (aka Wansbeck), so now we have reached dizzying heights in polls for fatness and teenage pregnancy. I'm waiting for the alcoholism stats now so that we can make it a sweep.

Check out the story here and see how your town does.

Slightly worryingly now that I reside in Durham City, it appears that I'm sandwiched (bad choice of word probably making the chubbies back home hungry) between two even fatter areas (Easington and Sedgefield). I would tend to think that a strong selection effect is probably in evidence in Durham though, its a fairly hilly city, the kind of place that puts off people that weigh appreciable fractions of a ton, or at least forces them to lose some weight.

Nevertheless after checking my BMI is a fairly respectable 21.6 I've decided maybe I should be heading to the gym a bit more regularly.

The End of the World - Or at least productive work

Normally I can't really fault the smooth running of the department, if something breaks its generally fixed rapidly, reasonable requests for new equipment are supplied without question, however of late I have begun to notice a creeping problem that if left alone may well lead to the demise of this prestigious instution as a world renowned centre for learning. I speak of course about the coke machine located just below me (the only one in the building). As anyone who has ever worked in research involving the use of computers will know, a steady supply of Coca Cola is as essentially to the act of programming as the electricity that drives the computers.

Of late some changes have been made which I think probably reflects naivety on the part of whoever stocks the machine. Of the 6 options in the machine 5 of them are now either Z brands (Fanta Z, Dr. Pepper Z. Sprite Z.) or diet Coke (two slots), leaving only one lot of good old fashioned "full fat" coke. I'm not sure about who stocks the machine but either they do not understand the demographic of these brands correctly, or they are attempting some sort of social engineering, attempting to improve our health. Either way I'm against it, I can only hope that they notice soon that they've made a major cock up, the problem being that the propper coke sells out two days after a refill, the diet coke 5-6 days later, and the rest never get emptied. Surely this isn't good for business.

On another coke related rant, I just paid 60p for a can of Dr Pepper Z (no coke available) only for a Fanta Z to emerge. Just not my day today.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Straight from the Asses Mouth

After trolling the archives of (hey my girlfriends away) we've uncovered a couple of gems.

Ghost Car: Jim1's theory on this is that an actual ghost is responsible. Quoth he "no human would drive this way."

State of disunion: As if we needed confirmation. Flawless.

Crank Watch: Case 1 Continued

In a previous post we have visited the "Researchers" of the, it turns out that these nuts have a "discussion" board, the reason for the inverted commas there shall become clear.

It turns out that our heroes of independent research Norval and Gale have a less than standard approach for dealing with enquiries regarding the basis for their theory. Check out the conversation here (Click through Open Public, Scientific Discussions, Crater Chain Discussion, DeBunkers Opinion). It all begins to go pear-shaped about half way down, and eventually degenerates into a childish "you smell", "no I don't", "yes you do" type of argument.

Makes you wonder if polite questions from anonymous paper reviewers should be dealt with by questioning their sanity, or repeated counter questions about waterfowl doesn't it?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Further to the posts of Craig and iBaDaiRon I thought it was high time I entered the strange world of Autodynamics. To any of you not familiar with the subject I suggest a quick look at the wikipedia article here, but the basic tenet seems to be this: Einstein WAS WRONG!!!, about EVERYTHING!!! In brief a physicist called Ricardo Carenzani decided in the 1940's he didn't like the look of Special Relativity so he decided to come up with his own version. Some of the basic conclusions from his own version (dubbed Autodynamics) are: Einstein was wrong (unsurprisingly), there is no such thing as the neutrino, and there are several new particles (picogravitons and electromuons) and decay chains that have never been observed.

Now this is all fine an dandy (just another Einstein was wrong nut), except this one is devised by someone with some background in physics, so you think maybe he has come up with something interesting until you try and do anything with their new equations. For this part I'm going to copy directly from their own website here (note this is from autodynamicsuk the British offshoot):

According to the Web page, the velocity sum equation in AD is:

Bsum = sqrt(1 - (1-B1^2) * (1-B2^2) * ... * (1-B3^2))

Well, I plugged in the following scenario:

B1 = 0.926 * 10^-9 = 1 km/hour B2 = 0.926 * 10^-9 = 1 km/hour

Going through the equation, I obtain:

Bsum = 1.31 * 10^-9 = 1.41 km/hour

If the velocity sum equation means anything like the velocity equation in SR, then this is telling me that if I am walking a 1 km/hour, and I see Bob pass me at 1 km/hour, then Bob is moving at 1.41 km/hour.

What' s wrong here? Is the equation misstated? Am I misinterpreting the equation (and if so, what does the equation mean)? Is AD invalid at speeds

Answer: ***You are right. There is no mistake in your calculation.

Classic Mechanics give 2 km/h SR gives 1.9999 km/h AD gives 1.41 km/h

The rest of the answer goes on to state various mistaken opinions about when and where SR or AD conserves energy/momentum. But personally my favourite part of the response is this:

*** Any theory is not intrinsically right or wrong. Regarding your statement "What I do care about is whether it's close to reality or not," we can say that "reality," as an absolute concept, doesn't exist. A theory is closer to "reality" when more experimental or observational results can be explained.

Er. But the AD result does not match even CM never mind SR, I dont know about you but I think its fairly well established that if you looked at the speedometer on two cars driving driving in the situation described they would read 1km/h and 2km/h. So what part of what he is describing matches the observational results?

I could go on, looking at the website one is continually astounded at the layers upon layers or rubbish, some highlights to come in future posts include: the picograviton (or the Le Sage Ultramundane Corpuscle), no neutrinos and particle propellant.

Back Yard Science : The Measure of a Man

Thinking about Johns attempt to lose some weight (See here)
it occured to me that this provides ample opportunity to do attempt some good old fashioned back yard science (well bath tub science).

I've been told that muscle is 22% denser than fat, so if John succeeds in exchanging fat for muscle we should be able to measure a change in his density.

To this end an experiment was devised, beautiful in its elegance and simplicity, thanks go to Craig, John2, Jim1 and John for their input. It only requires that John takes a bath (we don't need to be there), but before entering the bath he ensures that the bath is filled to just below the overflow. He then enters the bath and briefly submerges, displacing a volume of water equal to his own, which then quickly runs down the drain. After the bath he must measure the volume of water he needs to add back to the bath to make it reach the overflow again. Simple!

Myself and Jim1 shall act as controls in the experiment (though clearly not at the same time), as we are not going to attempt to improve ourselves in the near future. Feel free to try this at home. We will be posting various results on the various blogs involved.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Crank Watch: Case 1

When I decided to start keeping this blog I planned to use it to ruminate on some of the more outlandish theories in the world of science (and astronomy in particular), the goal was going to be somewhat higher brow, a path towards enlightenment for all.

However having spent some time checking out some of these "independent thinkers" I've decided to hell with it, they're all nuts. It may be just shooting fish in a barrel but I'm sure it'll provide some entertainment on the upcoming dull winters evenings if we just point out the flawed logic, terrible misunderstandings and criminal liberties that they take with the truth.

Onward to our first genius. Find it here.

At first clance it seems to be a general bit of wierd bible study. Generally I would tend to stay away from that sort of madness but something caught my eye. Click through to here. It appears our friends at kingdom research believe all the craters on other solar system objects are the result of some sort of war between aliens. Obvious isn't it. I mean its not like we've never seen natural objects hitting solar system bodies. Oh but wait, we have, dozens of times. Like say a bloody great comet hitting Jupiter.

My favourite bit is this in reference to the picture at the top.:

"2. Many of these crater chains show darkened or lightened "splash" areas along the lines of cratering. Comment by exmilitary personnel; (And we are in agreement!)
"It appears that what ever was being shot at, got hit, and hit hard." "Something on the left got hit on the ground and the one on the right, above ground in flight."

Our opinion about what got hit? We don't know yet."
(that was their bold emphasis)

Well there you go, you learn something new everyday.

The joy of TEX

Urgh, its been a nightmare of a day. LaTEX won't do what I want it to do for my paper and TEXshop isn't helping. Damn.

Spent most of the rest of the day trying to write a wavelength calibration program but haven't been able to match the spectral lines in the line list to the ones I can see in the Arcs. The lightbulb went off 5 minutes ago, I, as usual had made a stupid assumption and confused two different sky lines. Still the object spectra look quite pretty, if I can only rectify them properly I'll be happy.


I've been looking at some Globular Cluster data for NGC 3115 recently, its data I took at the CFHT in March '05 but due to more pressing demands I've only got to it recently. I'm trying to write an IDL package that will reduce the CFHT MOS data more efficiently than IRAF, at present I'm trying to deal with the Wavelength Calibration and rectification problems, which are a real pain. In 5 minutes of despair I decided to make a colour picture of the galaxy to clear my head, and here it is. It just shows you how cool the STIFF package for making pretty astronomy pictures is.

Although it looks pretty the picture is fairly meaningless, as I had only two bands (B and R) so had to interpolate so that I could get three to match to R,G,B.

Still you can see that this S0 galaxy has a fairly strong disc, if I get the time I may produce an image to show that the disc is bluer than the rest of the galaxy too.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

All aboard the bandwagon!

It recently become apparent to me that time is passing, in the not too distant future we (as in the present generation of Durham astrophysicists) will have passed to pastures new. This is my attempt at ensuring that we all keep in contact in some manner.

I also hope to combine the best of the blogging experience that I have picked up from the mofos, room311, astroshack and nprs research. So look forward to a bit of my work, musings on the state of radio 2 or the latest biscuits at coffee as well as the odd bit of debunking pseudoscience rubbish.