April 2009 Archives
At a dedicated press conference held at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) yesterday, the International Year of Astronomy's Portal to the Universe - a one-stop-internet-shop for astronomy news - opened its doors to the public.
The latest Cornerstone project of the IYA, Portal to the Universe has been long awaited by journalists, scientists, teachers and members of the public alike. As well as collating astronomy news from a variety of sources, including the European Space Agency, the Royal Astronomical Society and the world's major telescopes for example, feeds from blogs and podcasts are also posted on the site along with live or near-live images of the Sun, spacecraft positions and telescope observations.
"It is clear that even in such a well-defined field as astronomy, there is much more 'information confusion' than you might think," says Project Manager Lars Lindberg Christensen. "There is a real need in the community for this kind of site, where astronomy content is gathered in one place and is easily accessible. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 seeks to bring the Universe down to Earth, and this Portal is an excellent way of achieving this. This website will provide a single entry point to stars and galaxies".
Thanks to technology such as RSS feeds, the Portal will act as a semi-automatically updating central repository of astronomy information from sources across the world. Data will be indexed and archived, providing a legacy that will long outlive the International Year of Astronomy itself.
"This release is just the beginning," says Christensen. "The project will develop with, and around, the community's needs, and lots of new features are planned, including adding resources such as educational materials, addresses for all astronomy stakeholders such as amateur clubs, planetariums and observatories."
The Portal to the Universe team encourages everyone to participate and submit RSS feeds for relevant news, images, videos, podcasts and so on. Astronomy Now has signed up; get more information on how to join at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/
Instruments are also being developed to directly image extrasolar planets in a single observation, by looking at the contrast between the host star and the planet. The SPHERE instrument (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) is nearly ready for the VLT and will enable detections of super-jupiters, while a design study for the ExoPlanet Imaging Camera and Spectrograph (EPICS) is underway at Oxford University for use with the E-ELT. Although it would not be ready until 2020 it could offer the ability to image Earth-sized planets.
The relation of this crater (nicknamed the Spider) to the radial troughs is still sparking debate.
"Although they may look very similar, we shouldn't carry assumptions of the Moon to Mercury," says Dave Rothery of the Open University, who kicked off the Mercury session with a review of MESSENGER findings from the first two flybys of 2008. Rothery says some of the key geological results are that the innermost planet has a large core and magnetic field and is dominated by volcanic activity.
Well, here we are at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield for the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS), incorporating the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) - one of the most exciting weeks in the UK astronomical calendar.
Joining us are hundreds of astronomers converging on Hertfordshire, and early birds to the event were treated to a delightful evening reception of wine, music, comedy and astronomy, starring the many characters of TV impressionist Jon Culshaw, and hosted by Alice Williamson and Robert Priddey of Hertfordshire with musical accompaniment by the Alwyn String Quartet and Phillip Mead on the piano. The audience was entertained by the likes of Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Tom Baker and of course Sir Patrick Moore, all courtesy of the talents of Jon Culshaw, who is apparently also a keen astronomer himself.
It was a fun evening, priming the pump for fun of a different kind over the next four days as we delve headlong into the varied areas of astronomical research, news and discoveries. We'll be posting news stories and interviews on our homepage www.astronomynow.com as well as blogging throughout the day. You can also get updates on Twitter and Facebook too!