The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards

Via this post on the SPA BB:

The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards

This is a reminder that there is still a little time to submit nominations for the Sir Arthur Clarke Awards – the Space Oscars:

Hollywood has the Oscars® - We have the Arthurs! Your chance to help recognise UK space activity.

Each year, there are various awards for the best in film, TV, the theatre and music, but there is also an award designed to recognise and reward the best in UK space research and exploration. The 2007 Sir Arthur Clarke awards will be presented at a gala dinner at the annual conference of the British Rocketry Oral History Programme (BROHP), to be held next Spring at the prestigious Charterhouse School near Godalming in Surrey.

The BROHP conference now attracts over 300 delegates from around the world for 3 days of presentations on various aspects of space and rocketry.

The 2007 event runs from April 12-14 and you can find more details from www.brohp.org.uk. On the Saturday evening, the 2007 Sir Arthur Clarke Awards - the space Oscars - will be presented at a gala dinner. The Arthurs are intended to recognise and reward the best of UK space achievement. Nominations are invited from the public. Simply go to the website and fill in the on-line form.

A panel of distinguished judges will draw up the shortlist and vote in a secret ballot, but it is up to you to submit your choice of names.

You can make as many nominations in as many categories as you wish, but they must be submitted by the end of December.

So if you have been impressed, intrigued or inspired by some aspect of space exploration, then go to the website at www.clarkeawards.org and fill in the on-line nomination form.

Please do your bit to support space in the UK.

Jerry Stone
Director, The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards


Always double-check your dates

As I know from personal experience, it can be embarrassing when you get your dates wrong. But there are some dates you'd think some people would get right:

Around 60 people turned up to celebrate the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge - on the wrong day.

After negotiating with site-managers English Heritage, the crowd performed traditional solstice activities on Thursday morning, and left peacefully.

One reveller, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "We formed a ring and held hands, and touched the stones. The man with the green cloak was there.

"But there were an awful lot of red faces," she said.
Serves 'em right for not reading Stuart's Astronomy Blog. ;)

Results of the Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon

Joel Schlosberg has posted a list of links to lots of blogs that took part in the Carl Sagan memorial "Blog-a-Thon".


Remembering Carl Sagan

This post is being written in the spirit of the Carl Sagan "Blog-a-Thon".

I'm not really one to do the hero thing, not to any great extent. There are people ("famous" and "non-famous") whose ideas and actions have impressed me, people whose opinions matter to me, but I'm not sure I'd go all the way and say "hero".

If anyone came close it would be Carl Sagan.

Unlike many people who'll be writing something about him today (the 10th anniversary of his death) I don't really have a long list of memories or anecdotes about his work and its impact on me, but two key things do stand out.

The first is (no surprise here) Cosmos. I'm struggling to remember when I actually watched it, I'm pretty sure it was the early 1980s (on the BBC). I'd been rather obsessed with all things astronomy and space for quite some time so, as a young teenager, it felt like the programme had been made just for me (it was also a very welcome change from The Sky at Night). It's hard to describe the impact the programme had on me, about the best I can manage is to say that my interest in astronomy was reinvigorated and I've got a recollection that it was partly responsible for me finally deciding that I had to get out and actually observe.

The other key moment for me was when I first read The Demon-Haunted World. I was quite late to the book. I'd owned a copy for a number of years and, like with many books, it had sat on my (rather too large) "to be read" pile. Finally, in early 2002, just before my son was born, I got around to reading it (right after finishing Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow). The book had a huge impact on me. It wasn't a case of it helping me form an opinion on the subjects covered in the book — I had enough of those — it was the fact that someone had managed to write down those ideas and opinions in a clear and easy to follow way. It was, for me, an example of what Carl Sagan did best: communicate clearly.

As a father-to-be I was faced with many concerns that, until that point, hadn't really bothered me before: issues regarding education and communication, issues regarding how society conducts itself, issues regarding the acceptance of idiocy and superstition. Sure, I'd thought about these things and held opinions on them (some informed, some not so well informed), but the prospect of being directly responsible for another individual meant that they were right on my doorstep. That's why the (accidental) timing of my reading of tDHW meant so much to me: it helped me better understand my concerns, my worries, my opinions, and it did it carefully and clearly. Right book, right place, right time.

Other than the two experiences noted above, I should probably also say that I'm a fan of the novel Contact, and also the film based on it (yes, even though it's rather different from the book).

In a world where pseudo-science and superstition still have a hold, where many people still seem to think that such things are worthy of respect and equal treatment, clear communicators and advocates of the scientific method help hold back the tide of nonsense. Thankfully Carl Sagan left a body of work that should help maintain those defences.

Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.

— Carl Sagan, Cosmos.


BAA/CfDS/CPRE Star Count

I don't think I've seen this reported anywhere else: the BAA, CfDS and CPRE have organised a star count to run from December 20th to the 24th. The idea is, at some point between those two dates, you go out between 20:00 and 24:00 and count how many stars you can see in the "square" formed by the main part of the constellation Orion.

More details can be found on the BAA website.


Paul Sutherland, over at SkyMania, has written about Google's plans to link up with NASA on some interesting mapping sites. He goes on to comment on something he and I have spoken about before:

I am waiting for Google to act on a suggestion I emailed to them a while back - to produce a map of the sky that we could explore in a similar way to Google Earth. There is already plenty of data from observatories' sky surveys that could map the sky as a celestial sphere. Would anyone else like to see Google Universe?
Yes, I'd love to see something like that. And, funnily enough, yesterday, I stumbled on a site that appears to more or less fit the bill: Wikisky.

I've not explored it too much yet (I found it while in the middle of something else and posted it to my astronomy bookmarks list on del.icio.us with a view to having a proper look at some point later) but, on the surface, it does seem to have many of the features one would expect from a "Google1 Universe". There's a map of the sky that can be dragged about, has zoom, has detailed images and has links elsewhere.

Have a look at the getting started article to learn more about it.

1) Note to Google legal types, that's not an attempt to infringe on any sort of trademark, that's just an attempt to talk about a mythical product that some people would like to see.


A good night out

Finally, on Saturday night, I managed to break the bad run for December. Also, it was a rather different kind of observing session for me because it was the first time, since getting back into observing, that I've observed away from my own garden and in the company of someone else.

I met up with a fellow observer (based in Grantham) at Woodland Waters (it's about ½ way between our locations) with a view to seeing how good it is as an observing location. For the most part I was impressed. While there are some sources of light pollution on site they don't get in the way that much and it's much better than observing from my own garden. The big difference was how much sky there is available. With no houses to get in the way the view was pretty much horizon to horizon.

Most of the observing I did that evening was of an object I've generally managed to miss so far: M42. From my own garden Orion is hidden behind the house most of the time and, by the time it's in a position where I can see it, it tends to be rather low and lights in the village get in the way. On Saturday night I had a perfect view of it.

I also managed to observe M81 and M82 for the first time.

The other highlight of the night was my first telescopic view of Saturn for this apparition. The view wasn't that good, it was still rather low and moving in and out of view over some trees, but it was good to see it anyway.

Although I probably didn't observe as much as I would on my own (as much time was probably spent on conversation as was spent on observing), and even though I didn't log things as carefully as I would when observing on my own, I really enjoyed the evening. It was great to be observing with an unobstructed view and having company and being able to share thoughts and ideas added a totally new dimension to the experience of observing. It's something I aim to do again and as often as possible.


Mars: 2020

Yes, I admit it, I've stolen this from the Bad Astronomer, but this video really does deserve posting far and wide.

Caution: if you've not seen it yet, do not drink while watching it, you'll regret it.


December: So far so bad

So far December is looking like a pretty bad month for me. In the first week of the month I was away for a few days (down in London, even if I'd had clear skies the light pollution and the need to be up bright and early each morning meant that no real observing could take place anyway). That trip also meant that I had to miss the occultation of the Pleiades. Since then the weather has been pretty awful — even though we've had a couple of clear nights recently they've both been quite misty and hardly worth the bother.

I look forward to December, especially given that it gets dark nice and early, but it's starting to look like a wash-out for me. The forecast at the moment doesn't look too promising for the Geminids either (something I wanted to have a crack at, having finally acquired the meteor shower bug thanks to the Leonids).

So far it's even been a bad month for solar observing (something that is made all the more annoying given that sunspot 930 has been putting on a nice display — I have managed to view it twice but I've not had the chance to put those logs online yet).


Million pound star chart

First there was the Million Dollar Home Page, and then came all the copycat sites (which all appeared to try and do exactly the same thing — apart from at least one clever and amusing take on events). Finally, things seemed to have calmed down and that internet meme seemed to have faded.

Now it seems to be back, with an astronomy twist: BuyMeToTheStars.com. The site has been created by a chap called Michael Halls-Moore — a 24 year old graduate student studying for a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering in London. And the reason he's doing it? Let me quote from his FAQ:

Why Are You Doing This?

I believe that access to space should be available to everybody on Earth. It seems that only professional astronauts and the rich are able to fly at the moment. However, by making this site and raising the cash I am showing that it is possible for a common bloke like me to realise my dream.

The way I see it, if *I* can do it, then anyone can do it. Challenges like mine raise public awareness of space exploration in general. This then causes more funding to be allocated to new space missions which in turn provide indirect benefits to mankind. For instance the Apollo missions helped bring us the digital computer (imagine life without those!).

On a more personal note, I also want to try and see if I can actually achieve this crazy goal!
I can't say I fancy his chances but it's hard not to applaud his attempt to raise awareness about spaceflight (and astronomy too I guess).

If you want to follow what he's up to he's got a weblog although, annoyingly, it doesn't seem to have an RSS feed.

Edit: It has now.