Sky at Night Magazine

New vodcast from Sky At Night Magazine

snvodcasttitleThe new vodcast from the BBC’s S@N Magazine. © Sky At Night Magazine

Keen-eyed readers of the Sky At Night Magazine website will have noticed that the magazine has just launched a new vodcast. The first episode covers the Mars Science Laboratory and how it will land on Mars whilst Paul Money gives us top tips for observing, amongst other things, Comet Lulin. Plus there’s a section about the new Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. You can find the vodcast on the magazine’s podcast/vodcast page here.

Are you 2009’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year?

apotyimage1The night sky provides a wealth of astro-imaging targets. Image credit:

Each month the astro-magazines, Internet forums and websites fill with countless stunning amateur images of nebulae, galaxies, the Moon and more. Often they’ve been taken with a huge range of equipment; from a point and shoot camera held over the telescope eyepiece to many thousands of pounds worth of equipment and CCD cameras. It’s no secret that today accomplished ‘amateur’ astronomers, with quite modest equipment, are producing images whose quality is on a par with (and in some cases far excels) those from professional telescopes, taken a few decades ago. You just have to look at the monthly reader Hotshots pages of Sky At Night Magazine to see what amateur astro-imagers are capable of nowadays!


To celebrate the burgeoning nature of this exciting aspect of astronomy the Royal Observatory Greenwich, in association with BBC Sky At Night Magazine, have just launched the 2009 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. It’s open to everyone around the globe so, if you’ve taken an amazing astro-image that you want to show off to the world, now’s your chance to enter. There are several categories, to cover the many different celestial subjects, including; “Earth and Space” which is for landscapes with an astronomy interest, “Deep Sky” for galaxies and nebulae and “Our Solar System” for pictures of the Sun’s celestial family. The overall winner will receive £1000, with runners up etc. receiving other prizes. Getting youngsters interested in the night sky is also vitally important for astronomy, as both a hobby and a science, so there’s also the Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for entrants under 16 years of age.

When the results have been decided there’s going to be a free exhibition of the winning images at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich from 10th September 2009 to 10th January 2010. You can find out more and read all the rules on the National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory’s website here. I’m on the judging panel and I genuinely can’t wait for the images to start coming in, so I can see the fruits of your labours. So good luck to those of you who enter and let’s hope 2009 brings us all some nice clear skies to savour!

APOTY logo courtesy & copyright NMM/Royal Observatory Greenwich

“Landing a lab on Mars”

methanemslWill MSL now land close to a methane rich area (in red)? Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The recent story about methane being detected in Mars’ atmosphere has lead to huge interest around the world, simultaneously renewing fervent media speculation of the “is there/isn’t there life on Mars?” question. There is, as there often is in these things, a lot of excellent analysis of the news out there in the blogosphere. So I’ll point you to Emily at The Planetary Society and Discovery Space’s “Wide Angle” for the run-down, as well as Chris and Dave who tackle aspects of the political and journalistic back-story of the result.

One thing that has already been noticed by some, including Nature’s Eric Hand, is that one of the places that the methane appears to be originating from was also on the potential landing site list for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. It’ll be exciting now to see if the MSL, due for a 2011 launch, will be sent there or another of the methane rich areas. Wherever MSL is sent it will have to be able to touchdown right where the scientists want it to; which brings me nicely onto my plug. In the February issue of Sky At Night Magazine I have a new feature entitled “Landing a lab on Mars”, all about how the MSL will use an ingenious landing system to get down safely and precisely onto the red planet’s surface.

As for if there are gassy microbes on Mars? Well, MSL’s drill probably won’t be large enough to get deep enough beneath the Martian surface to sample what’s there. Maybe the planned ExoMars rover will just reach, with its 2 metre long drilling capability. But who knows exactly how far below the surface these processes (geological or biological) are actually occuring? It may be some time before a direct sample is made.

New BBC S@N article — “Frenetic fields”

freneticfieldsNGC 1275 as seen by Hubble and (inset) a magnetic active region on the Sun.
Credit: NASA, ESA and Andy Fabian (Univ. of Cambridge) & Hinode JAXA/NASA

I have a new feature article published in the January issue of BBC Sky At Night. It’s called “Frenetic fields” and is about magnetic fields in space and how they are responsible for shaping the Universe — everything from how they power the solar wind, to how they feed black holes and create galactic sculptures. You should be able to pick up the magazine in all good newsagents/bookstores early next week, as I’ve already seen it in a few places here in Bristol.

Inspirational instruments

Back in early June, two colleagues and I from BBC Sky At Night Magazine went down to Selsey to make a short film about the recent renovation of Sir Patrick Moore’s telescopes. We were lucky with the weather and managed to spend a whole day filming in the Sun, surrounded by Patrick’s telescopes and their observatories.

Above: Sir Patrick’s 2.8 inch refractor Credit: BBC Sky At Night magazine

Patrick told us about the history of his telescopes; from the 2.8 inch refractor, which he published his first paper* with, to the famous 12.5 inch which he used to map the Moon. Recently they have been restored by a skilled engineer and they are looking fantastic and (most importantly) are in perfect working order. Patrick’s observatories were also renovated by members of the Stargazers’ Lounge forum and two representatives from there joined us on the day, to be interviewed.

The film we made is now on the coverdisc of the September issue of Sky At Night. It’s my first stab at presenting anything on camera, so be gentle, I’m still learning. Below is a short trailer for the video. Also look out for my cover feature in the magazine on ‘The next supernova’ (pages 36-41).

*Small craterlets in the Mare Crisium, for the BAA Journal, written by Patrick when he was 14!

50 wonders you must see before you die

I have the cover feature on the new issue (August) of BBC Sky At Night magazine. It’s about the fifty sights you must see in the night and daytime sky, related to astronomy of course, before you die.

It’s ten pages long and there are some amazing celestial views that even a seasoned astronomer might not have seen yet! August’s issue is packed full of great features as well, plus all our regular slots, so be sure to grab a copy when it hits the shelves next week. Stay tuned to the blog for some more big news coming in the next few days.

Cover image courtesy: BBC Sky At Night magazine

BBC Sky At Night magazine podcast – Episode 2

Episode number two of our podcast is out now. In this episode we have an interview with Stuart Clark about the Tunguska event that happened 100 years ago this June. It’s thought that a comet devastated large parts of Siberia when it exploded over a vast expanse of forest in 1908, felling 80 million trees! Stuart investigates the importance of this event and the mystery that surrounds it for our cover feature, in the magazine, this month. Lots more in the podcast too including my interview with Paul Money about June’s stargazing highlights, storms on Saturn and how to become and astronaut. Listen to it here.

Above: This light toned storm on Saturn has lighting 10,000 times more powerful than that seen on Earth. Find out about it on the podcast. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Britain’s Moon shot

I have a new feature article (my first cover feature!) in April’s issue of BBC Sky At Night magazine, which is in the shops on Tuesday 18th March.

fc_large.jpgThe article covers the proposed MoonLITE probe, a UK mission to send a small spacecraft to the Moon deploying four missiles to study the lunar surface. The missiles (or ‘penetrators’ as they are actually called) will impact the surface and remain there working for about a year. They will create a seismometer network as well as carry out geological and chemical analyses of the lunar surface. It’s a fascinating proposal. You can get the full story and read several expert interviews in the article.

You shouldn’t fail to miss the cover in the shops, the graphic designers and illustrators who worked on this article have really brought the story to life. So if you do spot the magazine grab a copy and find out how the UK may soon be joining the return to the Moon!

N.b. If you are in south-east England on Wednesday (19th March), at 10:30am, tune into BBC Radio Kent as I will be speaking live with Dominic King about MoonLITE. If you are in or around Cumbria I will be talking live to Ian Timms about the mission on BBC Radio Cumbria at 12:40pm the same day.

Save the skies…

…save the world. That’s the title of my new article in March’s issue of BBC Sky At Night magazine. In the article I discuss how the aims of astronomers and environmentalists have converged. I argue that if we can reduce our wastage of light, create more efficient lighting fixtures and get councils and local authorities to dim or at least reduce their lighting usage then we can not only save the night skies but reduce our carbon emissions. Hopefully in doing so we can be a little less harsh on our environment. If you are concerned that these sorts of measures may result in a wave of criminals and ne’er-do wells sweeping the streets then it’s worth reading the material on this page on the Campaign for Dark Skies’ website.