Astrolyricists #3 – Bomb the music industry! – Stand there until you’re sober

“We can’t see the stars tonight ’cause apartments generate ambient light”

Bomb the music industry! – Stand there until you’re sober

If you step outside on a clear night and look up at the sky, chances are you’ll see some stars. Not lots, but some.

Most of us live in towns and cities where ambient light from houses, cars, streetlights and other human-made sources create light pollution. This light pollution drowns out light coming from the fainter stars, so we only see the brightest ones, such as those in Orion’s belt or the Plough.

Orion over Cardiff. Credit: Stuart Lowe

Orion over Cardiff with the orange glow of light pollution on the horizon. Credit: Stuart Lowe

To really see the stars you need to get away from people! Heading out into a remote location on a clear night, away from the bright lights of the towns and cities reveals a spectacular sight. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and you’ll see countless stars, meteors, satellites, and the band of the Milky Way. Under really good conditions your eyes can even pick out the faint smudge of light that is the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million lightyears away. The International Dark-Sky Association maintains a list of Dark Sky Places which are ideal for such stargazing. Professional optical astronomical observatories are located in some of the most remote locations in the world, on tops of mountains or in high deserts, not only away from light pollution but above the clouds and much of the atmosphere.

Orion from a dark side with some bonus meteors. Credit: Darren Baskill

Orion from a dark side with some bonus meteors. Credit: Darren Baskill

Light pollution is becoming more and more of a problem. A recent study found that 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans live in locations where the Milky Way has become invisible due to light pollution. While this might not seem like too big a deal to many people, after all astronomers can just go to one of the dark locations mentioned above, there are other, perhaps more direct, consequences. Light pollution has been reported to negatively affect birdsmammals, and even humans. Not to mention that it seems like a waste of electricity to light up the skies instead of the ground! Luckily projects like the International Dark-Sky Association are campaigning to raise awareness of light pollution, and protect our remaining dark skies sites. You can help by participating in citizen science projects such as Globe at Night, which asks members of the public to report how many stars they can see in a particular constellation, in order to measure the light pollution where they are.

Despite all of this, it’s still worth having a look up at the sky from wherever you are. Even from the middle of a city you can still see the brightest stars, as well as the Moon and some planets at the right time of the night/month/year. I’m yet to go somewhere where the light pollution is so bad that I couldn’t see any stars (as Bomb the music industry! suggest) and have successfully done public stargazing events from the centres of Portsmouth and Manchester. So get out and look up!

Solar Eclipse 2015

I wrote the below post for the excellent Manchester Girl Geeks who will be heading over to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on Saturday 21st March for their eclipse event. If you’re local to Portsmouth, come along to Guildhall Square on 20th March to watch the solar eclipse with us, or check out our Stargazing Live event the following week. 

In the morning on Friday 20th March 2015 a partial solar eclipse will be visible from the UK. In Manchester the eclipse will start at 08:26 and finish at 10:41 with the maximum obscuration at 09:32. At this point, 90% of the Sun will be covered up and will look something like the image found here.

The timings of the eclipse and how much of the Sun gets covered up will be slightly different depending on where you are in the country. Where I work in Portsmouth, the maximum will happen four minutes earlier and only 85% of the Sun will be covered up. Go north to Edinburgh and the maximum obscuration will be 93% at 09:35. Of course realistically it won’t really look different wherever you are in the UK. To see the total solar eclipse, with the Sun completely obscured by the Moon, you’ll need to go way north, to the Faroe Islands or Svalbard.

Click here to see information about the eclipse in different locations

In this post we’re going to look at eclipses in more detail, including what an eclipse is, why they’re interesting, and, perhaps most importantly, how you can safely view March’s partial eclipse.

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Wario’s adventure in Jodrell Land

[Message from Jen: Wario had access to parts of Jodrell Bank that are only accessible to researchers at the Observatory. If you want information about visiting Jodrell Bank as a member of the public then please see the Discovery Centre website…]

I’ma Waaario! If you’ve been following Jen on twitter for some time, you may be familiar with me. My devious distraction techniques enabled endless procrastination for Jen and her office mates during their PhDs. Two weeks ago I was liberated from JBCA following a cunning and devious plan by Jen, and decided to stowaway in her car to see what mischief I could get up to the next day. Here’s what happened…


The car has stopped, I wonder where I am… Wherever this is, it looks like they get pretty bad satellite TV reception here to need a dish that big! Better take a selfie, I hear they’re the rage these days.



Ah ha!



Time for some light reading. Glad to see they’ve got my favourite journal in. Now’s where that classic paper from 2008 on how astronomers suckered over 100000 people into doing their work for them?!



Jen and collaborators have left the building to sneak into the SKA headquarters for some decent coffee (a dastardly plan that I approved of!) but left laptops open. What a rookie mistake! I’ve heard lots of people talk about ‘rm *’ over the years, I wonder what it does…



This is more like it!





Found another telescopemajiggy. Looks like they missed a spot when they painted it…


No idea why there’s a big bell here but I’d better ring it to check that everyone’s still awake on a Friday afternoon. It’s for their own good! Ah hahahaha…


Bagsied the controller’s chair while his back was turned. Now where’s that big red button?!



Time to sneak back into the car for the long drive south. I wonder what mayhem I can make at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation