In Support of UK Astronomy #4

This email just in from AuroraWatch:

Dear AuroraWatch subscriber,

You may remember that in spring 2006 we contacted you to raise awareness of damaging funding cuts to the sub-auroral magnetometer network (SAMNET) - the scientific experiment on which the AuroraWatch service depends. We received over 2,500 emails of support which were forwarded to the research council who fund activities in this area. Unquestionably, this had the desired impact as we were able to secure additional funding to keep SAMNET and AuroraWatch running until April 2008. A big "thank you" to everyone who took part! AuroraWatch is alive and well, but alerts are currently quite rare since the Sun is currently at it's lowest point in the 11 year solar cycle.

Having survived a critical period, we were confident that we would secure additional resources to keep the system operating over the coming years (towards solar maximum and more disturbed geomagnetic conditions) and we were expecting a funding announcement before Christmas. Unfortunately, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (the agency who now fund Physics and Astronomy research in the UK) have recently announced an 80 million pound hole in their budget. This surprise announcement is going to result in massive cut-backs to the grants available to universities to carry out astronomy research and the closure of many astronomical and solar-terrestrial physics facilities. Indeed, you may have seen stories in the media about the cuts (typing "STFC funding cuts" into google gives a sample of some of the uproar).

One of the sweeping cuts announced is the withdrawal of support for ground-based facilities for solar-terrestrial physics - the area of astronomy concerned with our planet's connection to the Sun. As a result SAMNET faces closure and along with it, the AuroraWatch service. Other victims include the British ionospheric radars used to study the aurora and the UK's involvement in the Gemini telescopes.

In order to register the tide of anger at these cuts (in part brought about by cost over-runs elsewhere in the council's portfolio), an online petition has been started on the Prime Minister's website. We would encourage AuroraWatch subscribers to visit the site at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Physics-Funding/ and support the motion urging "the Prime Minister to reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy".

Also, if you are a member of an Astronomy Society, perhaps you could spread the word locally? Petitions with more than 200 signatories have to be responded to by the government. In the first day, the petition attracted over 2,000 signatories so we are guaranteed a response, but imagine how high that number could be if only a fraction of the 25,000 AuroraWatchers added their voice to the protests!

Thanks once again for your continuing support.

The AuroraWatch Team at Lancaster University

In Support of UK Astronomy on Facebook #2

Further to the Facebook application I knocked up, Tim Haynes has created a Save UK Astronomy Facebook group.

If you're on Facebook please think about joining.

In Support of UK Astronomy on Facebook

I'll admit here and now that I know nothing about developing Facebook applications so this is a very quick hack with no bells or whistles.

However, I was thinking it might be nice to have a Save Astronomy "badge" on my Facebook profile, so I quickly knocked up something to do the job. It ends up looking like this:

It's quick, it's dirty, but it works.

If you're on Facebook please considering adding this application to your profile.

In Support of UK Astronomy #3

More on the threat to astronomy in the UK:

Philip Stobbart made the following interesting post on the SPA's BB:

If you want to stick a topical slant on your letter, the Solar Terrestrial Physics community, which carries out observations of the Earth's upper atmosphere that are then used as inputs or validations of climate models are also being cut. In terms of ground based facilities run by the UK, the cut is 100%. In terms of ground based facilities contributed to by the UK, the cut is also 100%, which has sent quite a few of the international radars to the wall. They all run on very finely balanced budgets at the best of times and take decades to fund, design, build and get stuff out of. All done in the middle of the international heliospheric/polar year, which is a two year international research focus on STP.

A letter to the times was sent by one group here.

Results from the facilities to be shut or threatened by this include such minor things as the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer and observations of a part of the atmosphere that is very succeptible to changes in the global climate.
So, let me check that I'm reading this right: On the one hand we've got a government that claims that climate change is a serious issue and that something has to be done about the problem but, on the other hand, that same government is cutting out our country's involvement in producing data that informs the science behind the claims that the planet's climate is changing.

Interesting, don't you think?


In Support of UK Astronomy #2

Further to my earlier post, I've just received an electronic bulletin from the British Astronomical Association and, given that it's got lots of extra handy pointers, I'll reproduce it here (I'm hoping that it's okay to do so — given the nature of the issue I can't imagine that it would be a problem):

Dear BAA Member,

Astronomy is a subject close to my heart and to yours no doubt. You may therefore be alarmed to hear that its future here in the UK is under threat owing to recent announcements by the government. In particular, there have been dramatic developments within the Science and Technology Facilities Council or STFC: the research council that funds astronomy research in the UK. What seems to have happened is a fundamental shift in what the Council and the government see as research priorities, with severe cuts planned in research areas such as Astronomy and Particle Physics.

These cuts will lead to the closure of / withdrawal from a large number of major telescope facilities. In the area of ground-based astronomy, withdrawal from the Isaac Newton Telescope Group on La Palma, and from Gemini South are pretty much decided, but Gemini North, UKIRT, and the Liverpool Telescope in Hawaii are also under threat (we have already pulled out of the Anglo-Australian Telescope). This will be accompanied by cuts in research grants to universities which use these facilities. Likewise, Solar Physics and Space Astronomy will be hit. In short, astronomy research in the UK, currently amongst the best in the world, will really suffer.

All of this came with little warning, and with little consultation with the research community, and at a time when the government is concerned about the number of students taking up science topics in schools and at universities.

PLEASE HELP. A petition has been set up at:


which states, "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy."

If you wish to offer your support, and have not done so already, you may add your name to this fast-growing petition by going to the above web address and following the directions on signing the petition.

In my view, this is the most serious threat to UK Astronomy in decades and so any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Richard Miles

N.B. Background information is available at various websites including:

* STFC's decision to withdraw from Gemini

* STFC's delivery plan 2008/9-2011/12 (see p.6 for the plans in Astronomy)

* A BBC article on the STFC funding crisis.

* RAS 'dismay' at deep cuts in UK Astronomy research.

* UK pulls out of key physics and astronomy projects (New Scientist).

* Physics and astronomy research face "catastrophic" cuts (Nature).

* Science council struggles with cuts (Guardian Education).

* Listen to Radio 4's Today program with James Naughtie broadcast on December 14.

* Times Higher Educational Supplement.

Google Sky Map Pointers (With Added iPhone)

Ogle Earth has a couple of nice pointers to early uses of the new Google Sky API.

The iPhone demo is just too clever:

In Support of UK Astronomy

Further to last week's depressing news, Robin Scagell has posted this article on the SPA's BB. The main body, an email he's received from elsewhere, reads:

Dear all,

I forward to you this message from a colleague at UCL, for your urgent attention, apart from what you hopefully may have done about this by other means (like writing to your local MP, which is usually very effective, please also visit www.saveastronomy.co.uk).

There is now an approved (e)-petition online to collect signatures regarding the funding situation for physics and astronomy. Petitions with sufficient number of signees are forwarded to the government who then needs to come back with a response.

Its quick and easy;


Please sign it and then forward this on so that it might reach critical mass.

In addition, write to your local MP at:



some background information:


http://www.strudel.org.uk/blog/astro/index.shtml (scroll down to the STFC item)

Obviously, please forward this to as many people as possible. A government review on this matter is planned by early January.

best regards,


Edit: Please see over here for more pointers to more information about this problem.


Google Sky Map on the Way?

Via Ogle Earth:

Sky Maps coming soon: Being finalized in the Google Maps API Group: Google Sky’s data accessible via the Maps API, ready for embedding in your website.
That's great news (see the demo over here), this is the sort of thing I was hoping would turn up at some point. Google Sky is great and all but the ability to create applications on your own website that make use of their sky map... That could be very interesting.


Finally! Some Solar Action!

As I noted last month the Sun has been very quiet of late (as it turned out I didn't observe a single spot during the whole of November) and I've got used to popping outside with the Solarscope and seeing a totally blank Sun.

So I had a bit of a surprise today when I went out, fully expecting to see nothing, and saw active area 978. It's quite an impressive set of sunspots too. While no individual spot is that large the area itself is one of the bigger ones I've seen for a while.

If you've got a safe method of observing the Sun then get out and have a look. If you don't have a method of doing so, head over here instead.



I'm not a "real" astronomer, not by any sensible measure. But I still find this as depressing as hell.