Thursday, 15 May 2008

Budding young scientists urged to reach for skies

Received a funny email from Rob Hill asking me to look at this link; oh well, is it any surprise the Irish beat the UK to launching their projects for IYA 2009 before the UK's? perhaps its their knack for winning Eurovision year on year or something in the water.

Budding young scientists urged to reach for skies

By Breda Heffernan

Thursday May 15 2008

STUDENTS scanned the skies above Dublin yesterday, not in the hope of tracking alien life, but in honour of the world's most famous astronomer, Galileo.

With the summer holidays almost in sight, pupils are already being urged to put their thinking caps on ahead of next year's BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Next year will be the International Year of Astronomy and will be 400 years since Galileo first used a telescope to study the heavens. In honour of this anniversary, the annual science exhibition will have spectacular displays on the theme of astronomy at the RDS next January.

Now entering its 45th year, the exhibition hopes to attract a record number of projects in 2009. Last year, students from around the country entered 1,416 projects, covering every aspect of science.

Chris Clark, chief executive of BT, said: "The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is one of the finest showcases in the world for science, technology and mathematics. This 32-county exhibition provides a platform for our young scientists and technologists to come together to investigate theories, discover new technologies and advance current knowledge through innovation.

"Continued focus is needed on developing Ireland as a knowledge economy. We believe this exhibition en-courages schools throughout the island to have an interest in the skills that will help Ireland advance and thrive."

I wonder if it was the same Galileo who appeared at the ASE conference this year?!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Moondog bleached by the Sun.... Cosmic lyrics

Listening, trying hard to chill out while battling with 6 funding proposals now all wrapped round seeking funding for the IYA 09 projects. Listening to Underworld and this lyric stood out... Moondog bleached by the Sun. I've often done with this friends sat around when bored... asking them to come up with a title or a line from a song around a theme or a situation. What would be your Cosmic Soundtrack?

Mike Robe from UKRA has already beat me to this with his Rocket tunes CD that he was handing out to people at the UK Space Conference but here is something that might one day turn up as a Cosmic Diary compilation:

1. Intergalactic - Beastie Boys

2. Good Morning Cockeral - Underworld (moondog bleached by the sun)

3. Pearl's Girl - Underworld ( and old man einstein crazy in his attic)

4. ELO - Mr Blue Skies

5. Earth intruders - Bjork

6. Saturn 5 - Inspiral carpets

7. Two worlds collide - Inspiral Carpets - they also had a picture of Saturn on the from of the single

8. Outta Space - The Prodigy

9. Gustav Holst - The Planets Suite

10. Across the Universe - The Beatles - would you believe this track was beamed to the pole star by NASA? and now its started an argument between astronomers who are saying that if interpreted as a blattle cry it could start an alien invasion! If you don't beleive me, check out the link to the story... scary!

Sunday, 4 May 2008


Information on how Universe Awareness will be operating in the UK has been added to the Universe Awareness Website at . As UK Co-ordinator I am aiming to link up the current UNAWE efforts to the current UK science education networks and make the unawe resources and educational materials accessible to teachers across the four national UK regions.

The UK UNAWE network is growing by the day and next week on May 10th I will be giving a brief update on UNAWE and the Galileo Teacher Training Programme at the British Association for Planetaria AGM which will be held at the LIFE Centre in Newcastle.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Funding Opportunities for IYA 09

Well, as the clock ticks down to IYA 09 a number of funding opportunities have arisen to support the activites and events for next year. Here are just a few that can be applied for focusing on specific areas for the 11 Global Cornerstone Projects and International national projects.

IoP's UK based only Public Engagement grants - deadline May 2nd... get your application in quick!

EU Media 2008 International Cooperation:

More to be added later today!

Visit for joining the current IYA 09 International Funding Consortium or email myself at

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Its Another Tadpole Galaxy!!!

Wow, after discoveing 40 odd dwarf galaxies yesterday I had to stop myself from keeling over when I spotted this galaxy tucked away in the smaller thumbnails of the Hubble 18th anniversary press release. This is something phenomenal. Compare the galaxies below, the first is Markarian 273 and the other is the Tadpole galaxy. Many of the neighbouring galaxies in the field of Mrk 273 share the same morphology as the neighbouring galaxies in the Tadpole field. Just like I predicted. Shame I'm still writing that paper! At the moment I'm too busy grant bid writing to do proper research so I have decided to ban all telly and do research in the evenings whilst grant bid writing and creating educational programmes for IYA 09 during the day.
Markarian 273

Tadpole Galaxy/Arp 188

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Cosmic Diary

Since starting this blog last year I forgot to give a breakdown of what the Cosmic Diary actually is. Cosmic Diary is one of the 11 Global Cornerstone Projects for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The Cosmic Diary isn't just about astronomy, its about portraying the human side of the astronomers themselves. The Cosmic Diary will be a glimpse into the daily lives of astronomers worldwide, creating a blog in text and images, (and in my blog movies), reporting on their life, families, friends, hobbies, interests, their latest research findings and the challenges that face them in their research and work.

Outside the observatories, labs and offices, astronomers are parents, photographers, athletes, and musicians. At work they are managers, observers, graduate students, lecturers, grant proposers, instrument builders and data analysts.

More can be found on the IYA 09 website at:

So why is this a blog created under the banner of the Cosmic Diary project? In the UK and Internationally we still have a long long way to go before the global cornerstone projects as a whole are ready for next year. Some of the projects are pretty straight forward while others to implement will be extremely complex and will require an enormous amount of (wo)man power. My motivation for the Cosmic Diary is to assist in the coordination of the international collective taskgroups and grant funding. I am also a taskgroup member of Universe Awareness and the Galileo Teacher Training Programme, and also Universe Awareness co-ordinator for the UK. This year I have been able to represent the Association for Astronomy Education as their President and also the Space Education Council as their secretary. To move matters forward in the UK and worldwide, a UK collective is planning a conference to be held during IYA 09 to show teachers, educators, pupils, astronomers, members of the public and everyone in-between what the IYA 09 hopes to achieve, what we are planning to do and what we are currently doing. Many of the IYA 09 global cornerstone projects intend to carry on after 2009. Some like Universe Awareness plan to become a foundation where the project is implemented with project partners worldwide. Ambitious as this all seems, this can only happen as a collective consortium of astronomers, educators, the amateur astronomy community and everyday citizens. By utilising this blog it is hoped that people will be able to tap into the latest updates on the progress of IYA 09 and also to get a glimpse of an astronomers daily life , what it is like to be an astronomer and also obtain information on the latest activites, events and how they can participate. And hopefully you will also find it entertaining! astronomers have a sense of humour too you know) : )

Spot the Galaxies!

Today I was blown away by the latest Hubble release to celebrate 18 years of the Hubble Space telescope. Little did I know whilst flicking through the latest press release images I would make a major discovery!

For the past 7 years I have been working on the theory that dwarf galaxies have an uncanny resemblence to galaxies in their local neighbourhood. What strange mechanism could be causing these dwarf galaxies to share the same morphology as their neighbours? Could it be gravitational? could it be, as I presume electromagnetic effects due to the large amounts of plasma in the region? Who knows.... only lots more hours spent researching the pictures and comparing these with multiwavelength images of the same region will tell.

So here is a nice example of lots of galaxies with spiral and tadpole like morphpologies that have numerous dwarf galaxies sharing similar shapes dotted within the interacting plasma.

Spot the pair of dwarf galaxies at 8 o'clock of the bottom galaxy in this image second image! They are the exact same morphology as the two larger interacting galaxies.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Cosmos Education in Kenya

Oh and by the way, whilst on the subject of Susan, Egypt, Mearim and that dreaded stomach bug we picked up from eating a fruit cocktail in downton Cairo, here is a link to Susan's blog!

1st MEARIM IAU Meeting and IYA 09 UK Conference

Could we be having another CAP in the UK? Last year a number of astronomers and science communicators met in Athens for the Communicating Astronomy to the Public Conference and a number of us decided that there should be a CAP 08 or CAP 09 at least. Sat round the dinner table in Athens a number of us drunkenly decide that we should hold it in South Africa.... or should I say the question arose over dinner and Kevin Govender (as usual) shouted Africa!

So now with a CAP 10 taking place in the evaluation year of the International Year of Astronomy in SA we have a rather large gap of events taking place where the participants in IYA 09 can get together and consolidate what we are planning and what we have so far accomplished. At the moment myself, Tracey Parker of Leicester University (Widening Participation and UK Space School), Rob Hill of NISO and Ian Robson and Steve Owens are looking at having a pre-meeting at the ASTRONET Symposium on the Wednesday afternoon, perhaps as a parallel session or a lunchtime meeting to discuss who would be interested in attending the conference and what kind of setup it should have. At the moment myself and Tracey are in favour of having a show and tell setup rather than just a series of 15 minute presentations. Its better to show people and talk about what you are up to rather than some of the types of presentations at CAP 07 where some of the speakers forgot they were meant to be science communicators.... enough said (some of those presentations were rather tedious!).

Universe Awareness is getting there, painfully slowly with development and coordiantion by myself for the UK and a number of internationally based colleagues who are all equally enthsiastic and equally nuts, in a nice way might I add. Hey, this is what makes the UNAWE community so unique, you have to have a sense of humour and an undying passion to foolow your new found friends to foreign lands to see what they are up to and participate in delivering their activities... at some point those piccies of me and Susan Murabana (Kenya - Global Hands on Universe) in front of the Pyramids will appear.

The Galileo Teacher Training Programme will be developed for both primary and secondary schools. I'll expand on this later in another post, I suppose one good thing about the Cosmic Diary project as a whole is the way that astronomers are portrayed to the general public. Right now I am rambling as I am extremely tired after spending 7 hours in the office building our website for Setpoint Greater Manchester and organising filing cabinets for moving office. Oh, and also writing grant bids (which seems to be taking over my life at the moment but hey, someone has to do it!). Alex, my son is asleep now and I have spent some time today chatting to friends on Skype testing out our new webcam. I'm planning on going over to Italy next week to meet with Franco Paccini at Arcetri Observatory and take the aforementioned friends to see the observatory also and check out what Franco and Lara Albanese get up to with their education and outreach programme. They make these really amazing black silouhette puppets out of wood and card to teach the children in the region about astronomy and culture.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Universe Awareness and the UK Space Conference

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the 3rd Multidisciplinary meeting for Universe Awareness at the Lorentz centre in Leiden, Netherlands. I attended the 2nd meeting in 2006 and some of the old faces were there .

The great thing about Leiden is the amount of gorgeous restaurants available dotted around the town centre. Here we are at the Argentinian steak house which was the choice of our Columbian friends, they made a good choice!

UNAWE UK currently exists as a pilot project based in Greater Manchester schools but as UK Coordinator the next few weeks will see plans to roll this out nationwide materialise. The BA are very keen to have astronomy themed projects for young investigators and CREST Awards avaialble for IYA 09 and this is something I am currently developing to encourage school children from 5 years old up to participate in school.

If I had the opportunity to do that when I was 5 I would have been well chuffed! On a serious note engaging pupils in STEM from an early age will give children the opportunity to develop their skills and keep their interest in science alive during that transitionary period between primary and secondary school. The comparison of statistics of students going into STEM careers in Britain, and many of the G8 nations compared to India and China makes fascinating reading. With a drop out rate larger than most nations is it any wonder pupils are choosing other careers when there is practically no visibility for STEM related jobs? Gone are the days when we had a science minister migrating from a STEM Background.

Careers and visibility of routes into STEM jobs will be something that as a collective the Space Education Council hopes to tackle Check out the draft programme available now online for the careers day.

Saturday at the conference will see the final of the UKAYRoC competition, a few weeks back we had some amusing catastophes with two Bolton based schools. The aim is to launch two raw hens eggs to a height of 700 feet and to guide these safely down to then enter the final. Unfortunately both rockets with altimeters attached ended up as mushy cardboard spattered on the ground after impacting at speed with the asphalt, tip - make sure you invest in decent parachutes if attempting to enter for next year! Thank goodness the winds were blowing in the right direction on this day, the testing grounds of Bolton TIC are right next to Bolton Royal Infirmary. Perhaps scrambled egg and cardboard could be a new menu item? One of the rockets very nearly headed for a hospital ward window!

UK Space Conference

Well, not upated this blog for some time, partially due to the amount of activities I have been putting together for IYA 09 and partially due to a recent family bereavement with the passing of my grandmother : (

Next week will see the launch of the UK Space Conference which takes place at Charterhouse in Surrey from Thursday 27th March to Saturday 29th March. I'm really looking forward to this as I will be presenting a session there on the Friday aftenoon representing the Association for Astronomy Education. More about this later!