PostHeaderIcon Buy a rocket or part of

It’s been a while but now I’m back.

How would you like to own a part of a rocket? Well inter-orbital systems of Mojave (CA) are offering just that. Their fractional ownership program gives a percentage of profits from the first four of their Netptune V low cost space launch vehicles, $5k gets you 1% and with payloads selling like hotcakes you’d be crazy to miss such an opportunity….there is just one snag. They don’t actually have a viable launch vehicle, but with rocket engine firing tests successful it looks like it won’t be long before they’ ll be ready to roll. That Lunar X prize might just be in sight after all. More info at


PostHeaderIcon The most distant galaxy known to man

Those clever boffins in Japan have done it again!

Japanese astronomers said Wednesday they had found a cluster of galaxies 12.72 billion light-years away from Earth, which they claim is the most distant cluster ever discovered.

Using a powerful telescope based in Hawaii, the team peered back through time to a point just one billion years after the Big Bang, the birth of the universe.

“This shows a galaxy cluster already existed in the early stages of the universe when it was still less than one billion years into its history of 13.7 billion years,” the team of astronomers said in a press release.

The discovery was jointly made by researchers from the state-run Graduate University of Advanced Studies and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.

They found a “protocluster of galaxies”, which is expected to help scientists understand the structure of the universe and how galaxies developed.

The study is to be published in the Astrophysical Journal of the United States.

Researchers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have previously announced the discovery of a possible cluster of galaxies around 13.1 billion light-years from Earth, but that has not yet been confirmed, the Japanese researchers said.



PostHeaderIcon How bright is bright

I just got through doing this month’s university assignment that was amongst other things about magnitude. So here is my whole assignment in half a page.

Magnitude is the measure of how bright a star or other celestial object appears. Fairly easy to understand eh? Well as I found out its not quite that simple.

The problem is that we look at things from the point of view of our little planet and that screws everything up. I mean, the sun is what we call a spectral class G2V star (more about that next week) with an apparent visual magnitude of -26.74. The lower the magnitude the brighter the object appears so -26.74 is very bright. In a big city the highest magnitude object visible to the naked eye is about +4.5 anything else is drowned out by light pollution.

So back to the sun and its enormous magnitude. The problem here is that the sun is a pretty average star of average brightness in a pretty ordinary galaxy (excepting the fact that you and I live in the same galaxy which makes it somewhat special!) so why such a large magnitude?Well the response is because its near to us duh! So to even things out we developed a system of absolute magnitude. This is a measure of brightness based not upon our point of view but on the basis that if every star was viewed from the same distance away then how bright would it appear. Using this other method the magnitude of the sun is about +4.83 which means that in large city on a distant planet on the other side of the milky way galaxy (say about 25,000 Parsecs away [multiply by 3.26 to get light years]) the sun would not even be visible!

But it does not end there. We use something called bolometric magnitude to further refine absolute magnitude by taking account of the effects earth’s atmosphere, effecs of clouds of interstellar dust, gravity and the entire electromagnetic spectrum and not only visible light.

Well that’s enough for now so I say “bolometrics to it all”- I am going to the pub for a beer!





PostHeaderIcon ESA’s VEGA rocket launch success

Why is it that every time I see a rocket being launched I feel like a little boy discovering something new for the very first time. Its awe inspiring no matter how many times I have seen it or something similar before! – Human ingenuity knows no bounds.

Congratulations to the European Space Agency on its latest venture  See the video here!

PostHeaderIcon When the sky explodes

A violent explosion high above a stretch of the Podkamennaya Tunguska river in Siberia over 100 years ago is still today the subject of research and debate as the scientific community attempts to answer the question; “Why did the sky explode with an apparently spontaneous and spectacular blast equivalent to the power of a 10 Megaton nuclear bomb, enough energy to vaporise everything directly below it and equivalent to 500 bombs of the type that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945?”.

Curious? Well let’s say that a 50 – 100m wide asteroid hit the earth and caused  massive damage! Read all about it here  and then tell me that the dinosaurs did not become extinct because of a 10 Km wide meteorite!


PostHeaderIcon We cannot be alone!

It’s just not possible that we are alone in this universe!

Only yesterday the NASA Kepler space telescope found 26 planets outside of our own solar system! Known as exo-planets or extra solar system planets these planets are found in 11 “new” solar systems with each solar system consisting of a star that the planets orbit around just like our own solar system. Kepler has only been looking seriously for two years, and then only at a small patch of sky but has so far found a total of 60 planets so lets dream about what it might find in the next ten years or so!

The orbit of newly found exoplanets

So if life does exist outside of this planet what could it look like? Well it probably would not resemble life as we know it. Because each species adapts to its own environment we could imagine all manner of lifeforms from bacteria and plants to massive dinosaur like creatures. Even if extra-terrestrial life resembles human beings they might not have skin, eyes or the senses that we use every day, indeed they might well have other senses or limbs that have adapted to their own planet, although more likely are bacteria like structures or plants……but who knows… the big bang threw all sorts of elements into the giant melting pot that we call the universe, and what comes out of that pot we cannot even start to imagine…or can we?


PostHeaderIcon Quote of the day

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Nothing to do with astronomy as such. I just liked it.


PostHeaderIcon A very special day

Some years ago, when I was about six, maybe seven years old I remember a special day at school when I was allowed out of lessons to watch TV in the communal assembly hall. What was was on TV that was so special that that I was allowed to miss my normal lessons? Well it was the first ever launch of NASA’s space shuttle. I don’t remember its name but I remember being in awe when I saw it lift off. I don’t remember much else about that day other than being amazed that people could propel themselves into space and potentially come back again to tell us about it.

Well yesterday was another one of those days and only second to that day when the first space shuttle lifted off. So what happened yesterday?

Yesterday was a marvellous day for mankind as we saw the launch of United Launch Alliance’s ATLAS V rocket carrying the NASA MSL (Mars Space Laboratory) aka “Curiosity”.

The launch was one of those moments that makes me sit back and think about how ingenious us humans really are….I mean this latest trip to Mars is really amazing. Just imagine that we (well I really meant those great folks at NASA) are going to send a rocket 350 million miles through unknown outer space and then drop a mobile laboratory the size of your average family car down a rope and onto a patch of land not larger than a football pitch…and all that remotely controlled from our own little planet. Oh yeah.. I almost forgot, then they are going to take photos, video and conduct experiments and send the results back to earth! That is like you or me playing darts and throwing a dart over 300 feet (100 meters) and still hitting the bulls eye! Kudos to the NASA team for even trying, lets hope that they succeed!

[EDIT] I just realised that the mission will take 9 months to land on Mars, that means that the spacecraft is travelling at an average speed of 54 thousand miles per hour – WOW!

More about Mars next time…..for now I leave you in awe of the MSL and ATLAS 5.



PostHeaderIcon Long time no post!

Sorry for not posting here for a while. I have been busy with my university studies.

Apart for getting a bamboozlingly good grade on my first assignment I have also been learning a bunch of other cool stuff.

It does not cease to amaze me just how lucky us humans are to have this planet. If we take a deeper look at our planet we can see that so many things in the Universe just came together as if by chance to create this place that we call “home”. For example we have an atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s radiation. Would you believe it if I told you that the sun is just one bloody big nuclear reactor producing 383 000 000 000 000 000 000 Mega Watts of electricity? As I mentioned in my last post that’s the same as 400 million billion nuclear power stations. In fact the atmosphere does such a good job of stopping all that nasty radiation from harming us that we are able to walk around without getting sick. Without the atmosphere a few seconds of exposure to the sun and we’d be toast! In fact the atmosphere does not only protect us from the sun but also from meteorites and other things that career towards us at galactic speeds.

Now as if that’s not enough, by some stoke of luck we happen to be just the right distance from the sun (about 149 million KM on an average day) so that it is not too hot, nor too cold, not too bright, nor too dark. And to add another perspective, what is the chance of finding a planet with water and oxygen needed to sustain life. To top it all off something knocked the earth onto a 23.5 degree incline and its this inclination that gives us our seasons and makes the poles colder and the equator hotter.

And even weirder is the fact that earth’s orbit around the sun is, as luck would have it, just the right speed to prevent that we have winter and summer in one day as happens with other planets (some planets have days that are longer that their years and winter and summer in the same day! So how good do we have it here on earth!)

One more thing, we all know that the earth is turning, well do you know how many degrees it turns every day? Remember that there are 360 degrees in a circle. Well the answer might just surprise you. The earth turns 361 degrees every day. No it’s not a typo it’s really three hundred and sixty ONE degrees every 24 hours!

Oh, and I almost forgot , there is the little issue of gravity, not too much that we are squashed like a bug on a windscreen but not too little so that we remain firmly rooted to our planet and don’t spin off into the vastness of the universe.

Well that’s all for today, next week I will explain in more detail some of these odd facts that I mentioned here.

Till then.Bye for now.


PostHeaderIcon Cool Club!

Late last week was my first theory lesson at the local astronomy club and I must say that I was impressed.

Apart from earning how to calculate distances and angles and other cool stuff that helps us find our way around the universe the four of us who were there learned how to calculate ” how long the sun still has to burn before it dies” , which is between 7.4 and 12 billion years depending upon how you factor in different unknowns.

We also learned that the power output of the sun is equal to about 4×10 to the power of 15, meaning its like four hundred million billion nuclear power stations! Now that’s pretty powerful.

Thanks our tutor “Didier”  who made it all easy to understand – even though he does speak very fast.  You can checkout Didier’s blog (in French) here.

Oh yeah I nearly forgot. That the words billion and trillion mean different things in different countries (a billion in the US is a thousand million, whereas in the UK and France its a million million. A trillion in the US is a thousand billion but in Europe is generally a billion billion) – confused? You should be! Fortunately it’s simple to remedey by using a standard scientific notaion.

Till later