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.