Careful With That Saturn V Picture, Eugene...

Via slashdot:

"Get ready to surrender your data sheets, study reports and blueprints of the Saturn V to stay in compliance with ITAR. Armed guards are reportedly taking down and shredding old Saturn V posters from KSC office walls that show rough internal layouts of the vehicle, and a Web site that is a source for various digitized blueprints has been put on notice it may well be next. No word yet if the assignment of a Karl Rove protege high up in NASA has any connection."
This has got to be a joke, right? Tell me it's a joke. The US can't be that stupid, can it?


Getting More Involved

It's now well over 2 years since I joined the Society for Popular Astronomy and started to get involved, as a user, with their BB.

A little later on in 2005 there was a problem with the SPA website and, more by accident than design, I lent Jeff Stevens a hand with figuring out what had gone wrong. As part of that process I ended up being made an moderator on the BB and then, a short while later, got bumped up to administrator status.

After that I got to helping out with little bits of HTML hacking for the main site and even knocked together a couple of "fun" pages outside of the main content (first was the BB user map and, some time later, the astronomical event timeline).

Recently Jeff has had other demands on his free time and, sadly, found that he needed to step down as the SPA webmaster. It was suggested that I might like to step into the role. Well, I accepted and, as of last Saturday's SPA council meeting, it seems I'm officially an officer of the SPA.

It's quite exciting and daunting all at the same time. It also feels a little odd too. As a child I was a member of the Junior Astronomical Society (as the SPA was called then) and, to a young lad living in York, those grown-ups all the way down in London seemed very remote — now I'm one of them!

Jeff will be a hard act to follow (same goes for Paul Sutherland who was the webmaster before Jeff) and I hope I can manage to serve the society as well as he did.


Mars "Hoax": That time again?

Ian is reporting that the Mars "hoax" is back again.

That explains something.

This morning I was checking the stats for my astronomy site and I noticed that an old Mars as big as the Moon post had reappeared in the list of referrers. I've not seen that post in my logs for quite some time.

Well, it's almost August again isn't it?


More mobile phone astrophotography

Anyone who has read this blog for a while now will know that, on occasion, I've had a silly moment and tried to use the camera in a mobile phone to grab images of what I was observing (things like the Sun, Mars, the Moon, the partially eclipsed Moon, Saturn and even the Moon and Saturn together).

I've never had that much success, the images have never been that good (neither has the equipment) and, in each case, it's always been more about being a bit silly than about trying to get a useful image.

However, Ian Musgrave has, to my eyes, managed to capture an astonishingly good image of the Moon with his mobile phone.

Even more astonishing is his image of Jupiter. While the planet itself is devoid of any detail, he's managed to pick up three of Jupiter's moons.

On a mobile phone!


Zoo Spin

I've just been having a look at the Galaxy Zoo FAQ and saw this:

Q. Why record the rotation of the galaxy when it depends on your position? A different observer on the other side of the galaxy would observe it rotating the opposite way. And shouldn't they all be random?

A. Yes, they should be, but a recent investigation involving 1600 galaxies suggested that the odds of seeing a clockwise or an anticlockwise galaxy changed depending on where you look in the sky. If this is true, it suggests we're missing something about how the Universe is organised on large scales, and so we decided - with your help - to see if the effect is real. We are also interested in the correlation of neighbouring galaxies, for example whether a close pair of galaxies rotate the same way, and all observers would agree on such an observation.
That's a new one on me. How cool is that?


Population Question

A question to those in the know who might happen to read this weblog:

It's prompted by this thread on a BB I'm a member of, and specifically by something I was thinking about in this particular post. Actually, thinking about it, the question (as I've thought about it) probably goes back around 10 years, back to the days when I used to hang out in uk.rec.ufo (back in the days when usenet was generally fun and usable).

So, here's the background summary (which isn't really the question as such, but gives it some context): Fans of the Extraterrestrial hypothesis, as an explanation for UFO sightings, almost always tend to be of the opinion that the distance problem is a non-problem due to the fact that any visiting race is older than us and, obviously, have solved the problem of travelling at speeds greater than the speed of light.

But why should it be so? Why should we assume that humans are a youthful race in our galaxy (let's keep it simple and just think in terms of our galaxy)? Why can't it be that we're one of the first forms of intelligence to emerge?

This is where I got to thinking about the question I wanted to ask: assuming, for a moment, that life only forms in the vicinity of metal-rich stars (a safe assumption based on the available evidence, right?), this would mean that life would be forming around Population I stars. When I raised this in the thread I mention above someone got to wondering about the relative age of the Sun to other Population I stars. It was then that I realised I didn't know the answer to such a question. It was my understanding that the Sun was about as old as the oldest Population I stars but, when I went and did a little bit of searching, I couldn't find a clear answer.

So, after all that waffle, here's my question to anyone who might know: how old are the oldest known Population I stars, especially in comparison to the Sun? Is the Sun an "elder" member of Population I or is it a more youthful member?

Note that I'm aware of the accepted age of the Sun, and I'm also aware of the accepted life expectancy. It's the age in relation to all known Population I stars that I'm wondering about.

Anyone got any good pointers for an interested layman?


Astronomy Bloggers and Twitter

It's two months now since I created a Twitter account and made my first post (mainly because of Stuart's rather neat back). Since then I've been trying to hunt down astronomy bloggers and astronomy related people/things on Twitter and adding them to my watch list.

Here's who/what I've got so far:

Anyone got any others? Am I missing a handy little source of instant updates?


Number 10 Responds

The office of the Prime Minister has given a response to a recent petition regarding light pollution.

I've had a quick scan of the response and, at the moment, I'm unsure if it's a good thing, bad thing or somewhere in the middle. I should probably take a careful look at the content of the response and compare it with the information I can find on the CfDS website.

At the Zoo

I'm registered at the Zoo, how about you?


Fancy a Trip to the Zoo?

According to Chris Lintott Galaxy Zoo will be going live in less than a week.

It sounds like a pretty interesting idea:

Welcome to GalaxyZoo, the project which harnesses the power of the internet - and your brain - to classify a million galaxies. By taking part, you'll not only be contributing to scientific research, but you'll view parts of the Universe that literally no-one has ever seen before and get a sense of the glorious diversity of galaxies that pepper the sky.
I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works.