Saturday, March 11, 2006

Blog move

Hi all,

This blog has been migrated to Word Press 2. You should automatically be redirected to the new server in a few seconds, if not then visit the new site.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Processed images from 06/03/2006

I've processed the best AVIs from the observation session mentioned in the my previous post. It was interesting to note the notable improvement in quality in the third image. The first image taken without a 2x Barlow turned out rather "pasty" quite possibly as a result of over processing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Imaging at the University of London observatory

Update: 07/03/2006 - 15:50:00 UT

Following some further very useful feedback from several people and helpful tips on adjusting colours and level in Photoshop, I have managed to improve the image further.

Update: 07/03/2006 - 11:20:00 UT

Thanks to David Tyler and Joel Warren for their feedback and retouched images.

Original message:

I had the opportunity to use the 8" Fry Telescope at the University of London observatory last night. The Fry telescope is an 8-inch Cooke refractor which was made in 1862. Seeing conditions were very poor, the atmosphere are damp and there were a lot of cloud cover. During brief moments of clear sky I managed to capture six AVI movies using the Philip Toucam Pro II. I've only managed to process one of the images so far. I'll post the rest of the images here very shortly. In the mean time, your comments on the this image would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks to Theo, the observatory technician for being available to help us out and set up the telescope for all of us who attended last night.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sheds and country mansions

British rocket science is housed in the most oddest of places. Tucked away in the Surrey countryside, up a narrow lane miles from nowhere in particular is the Mullard Space Science Lab (MSSL)

Who would think, looking at that picture, that this is the home to some of the latest and advanced space science payloads? MSSL has been in this business for numerous years and has contributed to the advancement of astronomical discovery in many exciting ways. Most recently it sent up equipment onboard the Cassini mission to Saturn. As well as many notable successes there have been a few disastrous failures. Whilst on a recent trip to MSSL, we got a guided tour of the facilities and had a chance to check out the numerous achievements at MSSL. Amongst some of the latest work to be done at the lab is the develop of equipment onboard the Solar-B mission.

The scene above shows an engineering model of Solar-B. You can see the various connectors, wires, computational equipment and sensor systems, camera's etc. Doesn't look like much at first glance, but once all this high tech gadgetry is packaged up in to Solar-B and sent up in to space it will provide scientists with a unique new insights in to sun. Solar-B is the follow-up mission to the very successful Japan/UK/US Yohkoh mission. Using a combination of optical, EUV and X-ray instrumentation Solar-B will study the interaction between the Sun's magnetic field and its corona to increase our understanding of the causes of solar variability. It will be launched later in 2006.

Pictured above are some pieces of dark history at MSSL. Back in 2002, Ariane Space launched its first new Ariane 5 heavy launch rocket. Unfortunately the maiden voyage ended in disaster and had to be aborted by ground controllers in mid-flight. Onboard was ESA's Cluster mission, large parts of which were built at MSSL. Salvaged from the marshes of French Guiana were some pieces of the debris and what you see pictured above is a segment of the Cluster probe that was recovered. Sitting next to it is one of MSSL enthusiastic PhD students who told us about the disastrous incident.

MSSL is a fascinating place to visit. Outside the main building you’ll find long sheds that look just like – well – sheds! From the outside you would never imagine that the lathes, drilling machines, work benches and other equipment was being put to use to build some of the most high-tech space equipment in the world. Elsewhere on site MSSL are developing new clean rooms – ultra clean environments in which they can assemble and construct some of the highly sensitive equipment that will eventually launch in to space. MSSL is an adjunct facility of University College London who have their main campus on Gower Street in central London.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Indian Space Research Institute Skylab

The Hindustan Times today reported that the Indian Space Research Institute will be launching a new space laboratory next June-July for trials to develop new alloys and drugs. The 525Kg capsule will use the micro-gravity conditions of space to research the creation of light-weight and long lasting alloys. Further tests will be carried out to develop spacecraft and aircraft materials.

The next mission expected in two years will generate data to design a container for future manned space missions. The capsule will be injected in to orbit by India's own home grown Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The mission is intended to demonstrate the recovery of space capsules. It would also test systems like the reusable thermal protection, navigation, guidance and control, hypersonic aero-thermodynamics, management of communication blackout, deceleration and floatation system and recovery operations.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Time Galleries at the Royal Greenwich Observatory

On Monday 13th February, 2006, my wife and I attended the opening of the newly refurbished Time Gallery at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Visitors are treated to an upgraded experience comprising interactive projection displays, videos explaining the concept of longitude and latitude and a plethora of different time pieces and watches on display. Centre stage is Harrison's four famous clocks. Over forty years, Harrison worked on resolving the problem of longitude which he eventually resolved with his meticulously engineered mechanical clocks which lead to the ability to navigate safely and accurately at sea for the first time.

The event was attended by Lord Sterling, one of the trustees and the head of the Millenium Lottery Commission who both gave very enthusiastic speeches with regards to the opening of the new gallery. Also speaking at the event was Peter Snow, the well known TV presenter famous for his loud ties and enthusiastic leaps and dives around virtual TV sets showing statistical analysis of election results. Peter has been following the progress of the new galleries and the development of the new Greenwich Planetarium over the last twelve months or more.

It looked like they had upgraded the green laser at the meridian line. It appeared VERY bright and was clearly visible way out in to the distance. The green laser is meant to be visible out to about 15 miles. Also open to view was the new Horology Centre. We went along to it and watched a young engineer carefully dismantle a pendulum that had been calibrated so that the metal parts making up the various components of the pendulum shaft can expanded and contracted according to the barometric pressure and temperature in-order to keep accurate time.

In the basement gallery we received an in-depth and lengthy description of how the original valve clock worked that produced the famous 6 pips on BBC Radio. The machine on display was the original dating back many decades, with all values fully working. Watching those values glow and whir was mesmerizing and listening to the engineer who restored it to working order and understanding the inner workings was very exciting.

The new planetarium is not open yet and won't be till 2007, however later this year the new space galleries are due to open. For anyone interested in the history of time, longitude and latitude the new Time Galleries are well worth a visit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I've been using an Astronomy book called Universe, 7th Edition for the last year and a half as reference material for the Astronomy course I am studying at University College London. It's taken a while to fully appreciate this book and it was only when I managed to complete a few home works that I realised what a superb book this really is. It's pitched at the under graduate student with a lot of excellent supporting material such as a CD ROM and hyper link references to extra resources on the publishers web site which directly relates to material in the book. The style of the book is very accessible and it makes subjects such as neutron star formation and stellar evolution quite easy to understand. The book covers a wide sperad of topics ranging from the basics of SI units, distance, time and angular measurements to the solar system, stars, galaxies, the interstellar medium and beyond. There is a fair degree of mathermatics in this books but nothing beyond basic high school algebra. If you're after a book to support your learning, this is a good one.