As you see from the post dates, this blog is no longer maintained.


How was our solar system created?

This video at YouTube shows "Astronomer Tom Fleming demonstrates how our solar system was created out of a molecular cloud. Taken from the show "FirstScience presents: The birth of the Earth" on" Fleming teaches astronomy to non-science majors at the University of Arizona, and is Associate Astronomer at the Steward Observatory. 


Science fiction?

The European Space Agency news portal reports on a new video aimed at students:

"Whether it's Star Trek USS Enterprise, or the iconic space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey, science fiction has always provided inspiration and ideas for the scientists and engineers that design and build real spacecraft.

The, at times, fine line between science fiction literature and the developments in real life space activities provides the backdrop to ESA's latest Space-in-Bytes video lesson release, titled 'Science fiction – science fact'. "

'Science fiction – science fact', and the previous Space-in-Bytes videos, are available for download in 12 ESA Member State languages. Watch the flash version of the video here, or download the QuickTime version here.

Photo from European Space Agency


A Different View of the Aurora Borealis

Astronaut Don Pettit created an astounding video using a sequence of still images he shot of the aurora borealis from the International Space Station.
"Watch this extraordinary video he created by stitching dozens of still photographs that he made of the aurora borealis while on his 161-day mission on what he calls simply 'Station.'" (link)

For more on Dr. Pettit and the Earth from space, visit DotEarth

This video is at YouTube (you won't see it in school).


CERN Podcast

If you own an mp3 player, or can listen to audio on your computer, go to the CERN Podcast page and subscribe to the rss feed. You can also subscribe through iTunes.

What is CERN Podcast?

Take the biggest experiment in the history of the universe (well, this universe anyway). Take some well known people from all sorts of walks of life. Take a former keyboard player from D:Ream, now a physics professor. Mix them altogether for half an hour or so to serve up a cocktail of entertaining chat shows with a bit of particle physics thrown in. And you wouldn’t get that on Channel 4 would you?

The CERN Podcast photo stream is at this page on Flickr.

Listen to the September 30, 2008 podcast by cernpodcast

(direct link here)

Science and Politics

Ed Vaizey, MP for Wantage and Didcot, visited CERN last spring. He had a Q&A with John Ellis on the physics being done at CERN, was shown around ATLAS and had a chat with Brian Cox about science, politics and UK science funding.


The Sun

The Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope, operated by the Institute for Solar Physics, has captured images that let you see the sun in an entirely new way:

An animation of the sun, seen by NASA's Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) over the course of 6 days, starting June 27, 2005. (Courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium) #

On November 8, 2006, Mercury is seen, beginning a transit in front of the Sun. (NASA/TRACE) #

These 21 pictures are at The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs, from the Boston Globe newspaper. Be sure to click through to the page to see the other amazing photographs. There are also good links to more information about the Sun at the bottomof that page.

(Thanks to Dan Colman for the pointer!)


Mercury up close

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury and sent more than 1,200 high-resolution images back to Earth. This picture was taken at the closest approach to Mercury, when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 27,000 kilometers (about 17,000 miles). Read the whole story here, and look at the photo gallery.

photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


What happens on Mars?

This sequence of nine images taken by the Surface Stereo Imager on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander shows the sun rising on the morning of the lander's 101st Martian day after landing.

The images were taken on Sept. 5, 2008. The local solar times at the landing site for the nine images were between 1:23 a.m. and 1:41 a.m.

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander observed clouds drifting across the horizon in the early morning on the 119th sol, or Martian day, since landing (September 25, 2008).

(photo credit from NASA: Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University)


Are you a scientist?

Do you know
How windy is it on Venus?

Why Mars Polar Ice Cap is not on the Pole?

What does invisible dark matter have to do with a massive dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way?

What this video is showing?

( Photo: NASA. Click here to see a larger version.)

Find the answers by clicking on the questions. Learn more all the time by subscribing to the RedShift Astronomy News and have an easy to understand digest of science news delivered to your start page or feed reader.


Hurricane Dean seen from the International Space Station

Thanks to

This video is at YouTube - we can't see it in school


Mars Web Cam

ESA: Mars rotation 12 Sep - 8 Oct 2007 (link) point us to this news story: "The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) mounted on Mars Express was dormant after its first and only operational use in 2003. It is now back in action as the 'Mars Webcam', providing views of the Red Planet that are not obtainable from Earth." "The Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) is mounted on Mars Express, ESA's deep-space probe now orbiting the Red Planet." (link)

Students, teachers, scientists, photographers and the general public are invited to help us process the images, remove artefacts, increase sharpness and interpret what the images show. Read the details at this link.

ESA: First image of Mars volcanoes 23 Mar 2007

There's a gallery of images from the VMC at this page. "The VMC is not a scientific instrument per se and it was designed for relatively low-resolution, fixed-focus operation. Its images should therefore not be compared to those coming from other Mars Express instruments." (link) Photo on the right is the "First image of Mars volcanoes 23 Mar 2007" from ESA


Is it a Planet?

Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute, says that if a non-stellar object is massive enough to be round and orbits a star, it ought to be a planet.

This definition would include Ceres, 2the largest and most massive object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is less than half the diameter of Pluto."

Astronomy Magazine's website has a news story , "
The Great Planet Debate", about the meeting August 14 - 16 at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where Scientists debated about what makes a planet a planet.

Being Scientists, their definition of "round" is probably a little more complex than yours or mine: round is the shape of bodies that are in "hydrostatic equilibrium," where the pressure from an essentially fluid interior is balanced against gravity and centrifugal force at the body's surface to round the object. This makes planetary objects fundamentally different from small, irregularly shaped asteroids and comets."

If you want to find out more,

"Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and host of Nova ScienceNow, and who is in the camp that Pluto is not a planet, began his opening statements with "It's simple. The word 'planet' has lost all scientific value." He went on, saying "planet" doesn't tell you much and you have to ask all sorts of questions such as is it big or small, rocky or gaseous, in the habitable zone or not, etc. "If you have to ask twenty questions after I say I've discovered a planet, the word has lost its utility.""
  • Visit this page, which highlights the fine points of defining a planet:
"Labeling planets based on their dynamics around the sun distinguishes the planets as Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
>But if Earth were orbiting the sun out in the Kuiper Belt, based on a dynamical definition and the mass of Earth, it would not be a planet, Sykes and other scientists pointed out."
  • Visit this page, which follows the debate's progress:
"Sykes did not abandon his call for a new definition based solely on roundness, but agreed that the important issue is not Pluto's status or how many planets there are,broadening our perspective on the solar system. "It's not a battle over which list you want to have or what numbers you want to have, but what's the basis for looking at things [from different perspectives].""
Audio of part of the debate is posted here, with these links: Listen Now and Listen Now


CERN's Large Hadron Collider!

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.

What is matter? What is the universe made of? What is "dark matter"? What does all this have to do with Space? This video will help you understand what's going on at CERN.

If you're really interested, watch this video podcast "Brian Cox: An inside tour of the world's biggest supercollider":

Download links and more information about the TED talks at this web page.

You can also listen to this CERN podcast episode:
Chris Morris visits the LHC - Physicist Brian Cox guides satirist Chris Morris around the Large Hadron Collider. Produced by yada-yada for Cern

Information about the rap video:
There has been a lot of interest in the original mp3, lyrics, and vocals for remixing. You can find all that here: rgehadron.html

Images came from:,, the Institute of Physics, NASA, Symmetry, and Marvel

The talented dancers doubled as camera people, with some work by Neil Dixon. Stock footage is CERN's.

Will Barras is responsible for the killa beats:

The rapper has a day job (we agree this is a good thing) as a science writer." (link)



Do you want to know what it's really like to be an astronaut?

Watch the videos at the REEL NASA channel on You Tube. This playlist of 8 videos about the European Space Agency's Columbus launch includes What Not to Wear Behind the scenes with the astronauts of STS-122 suiting up for a training exercise weeks before their launch; Two Strapping Guys STS-122 Mission Specialist Leland Melvin talks to the men who help suit up and strap in the astronauts for flight training modules and the real deal; Teamwork: a universal language STS-122 Mission Specialists Leland Melvin and Hans Schlegal, European Space Agency astronaut, 'come together' here in this video as partners and friends.

Look at this page to see all the channels at REEL NASA.



We were talking in class about CERN and the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and the upcoming experiments. Here's a press release from CERN:
"LHC collisions present no danger and that there are no reasons for concern. Whatever the LHC will do, Nature has already done many times over during the lifetime of the Earth and other astronomical bodies." (link)

Here's a video from CERN about the LHC, explaining how it works.

This link takes you to the web page of the LHC. You can read about the schedule, the design, and updates on the operation.

This video is an introduction to CERN.



NASA and Disney have signed a Space Act Agreement for a series of and public outreach activities related to Disney-Pixar's new movie, WALL-E, opening in theaters nationwide on June 27, 2008.

This collaboration highlights the similarities between the movie's storyline and NASA's real-life work in robot technology, propulsion systems and astrophysics. Disney-Pixar's WALL-E is set 700 years in the future. The film's main character is the only rover-robot left on Earth. He meets a new robot named Eve, and together they take a journey through the universe.

"Great ideas for future exploration of the universe start with the imagination," said Robert Hopkins, chief of strategic communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We hope that with the help of our new robot friend WALL-E, NASA can encourage young people to learn about science and technology and become the explorers of tomorrow." (link)

Visit WALL-E's web site here, the NASA site here, and the Disney page for the movie here.

There are several posts on the VNOG blog (written by Victor Navone, the animator for WALL-E) about the development of WALL-E)

Wall-E Spotted in LA! from Blink on Vimeo.


Is there life on....?

This morning one of our Year 6 students asked me if I thought there might be life on another planet. His class had been talking about it, using this web site for a reference. I had recently heard this podcast from The Naked Scientists (Cambridge University) about life on Mars.

In one portion of the podcast, Chris Smith says
"Writing in this week's Science, Cornell researcher Steven Squyers and his colleagues describe how the movement of their rover, Spirit, which has a broken wheel, carved a furrow into the Martian surface, revealing a layer of very white-coloured material. Intrigued, the team turned the rover's instruments on the light coloured layer and identified it as silicate, a mineral which forms around structures such as hydrothermal vents and fumaroles when hot mineral-laden water emerges, cools and drops its cargo of salts.

"On Earth, environments like this contain abundant forms of life, and silica turns out to be extremely good at preserving them. So this discovery, say the researchers, is important for two key reasons. First it confirms that Mars had significant water in the past, but second it also pinpoints an important place to look for life in future."

Later in the show, he interviews Susan Conway, of the Open University, about what shaped the surface of Mars. Here's a bit of their conversation from the end of the interview:

(Chris has asked Susan her opinion about what formed the gullies visible on Mars in recent photographs. She explains that there are several hypotheses.)

Chris - What's your gut feeling at the moment?

Susan - I think it's water, personally. It's all up for debate, we'll have to see

Chris - If it is water, looking at the terrain, when do you think water last ran?

Susan - It could be anything in the last 100,000 years.

Chris - Which is very recent, isn't it?

Susan - it is very recent, yes.

Chris - Which means, if there was life there it could still have been viable up until 100,000 years ago which is a blink of an eye isn't it?

Susan - Yeah. If the water formed these features and then has gone back into the ground and we still have liquid water beneath the ground little micros still could be living there in the rock, eating the rock, eating the water and still sitting there waiting for us to discover them."
You can subscribe to the Naked Scientist podcast through iTunes, or on the program's web site.

You can download the Life on Mars episode below:
MP3 Podcast
Enhanced Podcast, with pictures and chapters.

If you want to read more about the concept of life, go to this Wikipedia for Schools page. There is an interesting article about extra-terrestrial life at this page of the Wikipedia for Schools,


Ulysses - freezing to death is the Sun? How does it work? What's Solar Wind? What's the heliosphere? What's a gravity-assist manoeuvre? What is "space weather"?

"Ulysses, a pioneering ESA/NASA mission, was launched in October 1990 to explore uncharted territories – the regions above and below the Sun’s poles - and study our star’s sphere of influence, or heliosphere, in the four dimensions of space and time.

Originally designed for a lifetime of five years, the mission has surpassed all expectations. The reams of data Ulysses has returned have forever changed the way scientists view the Sun and its effect on the space surrounding it." (link)

The mission will end because of "dwindling electrical power on-board the spacecraft, especially to power the internal heaters required to prevent the attitude control fuel from freezing. Once this fuel freezes, the spacecraft can longer be manoeuvred to keep it pointing at the Earth to maintain its data downlink". (Ulysses Mission Operations Team)

Go to Cold Peril: The Continuing Adventures of Ulysses to read the script of a podcast about the Ulysses Mission
Listen to this story via streaming audio, a downloadable file.

Read more about the Sun and the Ulysses Mission on these pages:

Ulysses Mission overview from ESA

How the Sun affects us on Earth

The Ulysses Space Craft

Click on the picture below to see it full size. It is a screen shot of the ESA's Space Science Missions web site display of information about 10 ESA missions by using a comprehensive 3D model Solar System environment. It shows where the 10 ESA satellites were at the moment I took the shot. Click on this link, then on the Space Science Missions choice, and then Solar System View. (There are other interesting views at that page, too. Go investigate it!)


Buzz Lightyear has finally made it into space!

Buzz Lightyear is on the ST124 Space Shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Visit this page for an interactive page of games, "live transmissions" and videos from Buzz.

(You could also read what the humans are doing on the flight...)

Life on Mars?

NASA's Phoenix Mission has landed in the northern polar region of Mars, and there has been lots of exciting pictures, podcasts and articles about the new findings.

Visit this page at the Naked Scientists web site, and listen to - or download - their podcast about "how looking in valleys (of the Martian landscape) could tell us what shaped the Martian surface, and how probing Martian mud could reveal signs of life past and present."

The Naked Scientists is "The Naked Scientists are a media-savvy group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public. Their award winning BBC weekly radio programme, The Naked Scientists, reaches a potential audience of 6 million listeners across the east of England, and also has an international following on the web." Their podcast is always fast-paced and fascinating.

You can listen to a podcast about the countdown for the mission at this link.

Visit the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander web page for the live pictures, videos, statistics and stories about the project.

Background on the mission is at this page.

There is an Odysen start page on the Mission here, which includes a news search widget for Mars, a news search widget for the Phoenix Mars Lander, a website bookmarker widget with links to NASA, and Movies on Mars, a Flickr photo widget, and a YouTube widget with Mars video clips.

Human Space Exploration

Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab

The European Space Agency has a story about Human Space exploration in the future (Think about it! You might be the explorer!)
"What is the overall concept of a human mission to Mars? And what is the right mix of human/robotic missions and international partners for future missions to the Moon and Mars?

To land, first, on the Moon and, later, on Mars - in the 2030 timeframe - scientists need a mix of human and robotic missions to know in advance what challenges must be met - to know how humans can survive for years under microgravity, to scout landing zones and to develop precise navigation and artificial intelligence techniques."

You can watch a video about the story at this link.


Dark Matter

This video, on YouTube, is from the PBS NOVA science program.
"We can't see dark matter, and some skeptics doubt its existence, but many scientists think it makes up 20-some percent of our universe. Astronomer Doug Clowe explains how the Bullet Cluster, a group of galaxies billions of light years away, may shed some light on this mysterious stuff.

Don't miss NOVAscienceNOW, airing every Wednesday night during the summer of 2008 on PBS. Watch past episodes of the program, try out interactives, and more on our Web site: "

Peter Fisher, Experimental Physicist, MIT talked about his work on dark mattter on the NOVA Science Now show, The Big Deal:
"The goal of high-energy physics is to understand the smallest things. How small is small? So there are molecules, there are atoms. Inside the atoms, there's a nucleus, inside the nucleus there are quarks. What's inside the quarks? Is there anything inside the quarks? And that connects with the picture of the universe, because by looking at smaller and smaller things, we understand the biggest thing, which is what the universe looked like, looks like now.

But after 101 years of tremendous intellectual achievement and a lot of hard experimental work, we've come to the conclusion we don't understand 97 percent of the universe, which is, I think, a big shock. And kind of a reminder of how puny we are.

Now, the 97 percent breaks into two parts, dark energy and dark matter. Dark matter, there's some kind of credible ideas that it could be particles. And the new experiments at CERN may be able to tell us something about those particles. But dark energy, no clue. None. Nothing.

That leaves a few percent which we understand very, very, very well. And that's the stuff in this room and on the Earth, and we have a very good theory for that.

So I'm doing a dark matter experiment. I'm actually going to look for the dark matter that's around us. And what I'm really excited about is that we make a big step forward in the big picture. Because ultimately you want a picture of the whole universe, everything—the history, the future, now. And in the next 10 years, all of this is going to come together, I hope. So that's why I'm excited."

There are more transcripts and video segments from NOVA shows about CERN at this link.


Saturn Calling

Red Shift Astronomy News points us to an article in the News Scientist with
"Jazz musician and composer Jeff Oster has incorporated the eerie sounds of Saturn’s auroras into a jazz piece called ‘Saturn Calling’, which won a 2008 Independent Music Award in the New Age category. "

Read the article, and click on the links to listen to the piece, and check out sound files made from Cassini spacecraft measurements of things like magnetic fields and radio waves in Saturn's environment.


"This blows away every gamma ray burst we've seen so far."

On March 21, 2008, NASA Science writes about a powerful gamma ray burst detected on March 19th by NASA's Swift satellite. The burst was so large it has shattered the record for the most distant object that could be seen with the naked eye. The burst, named "GRB 080319B", was one of four bursts that Swift detected that day, a Swift record for one day. (The quotation in this post's title is from Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.)

This photo shows GRB 080319B, among the stars of the constellation Bootes in a movie made by "Pi of the Sky", a Polish group that monitors the sky for afterglows and other short-lived phenomena. (You'll see the burst is right in the middle of the picture)
"Most gamma ray bursts occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. Their cores collapse to form black holes or neutron stars, releasing an intense burst of high-energy gamma rays and ejecting particle jets that rip through space at nearly the speed of light. When the jets plow into surrounding interstellar clouds, they heat the gas to incandescent visibility. It is this gaseous "afterglow" which was visible to the human eye on March 19th." (link)
The redshift of the burst was measured at 0.94 (A redshift s a measure of the distance to an object.
"A redshift of 0.94 translates into a distance of 7.5 billion light years,meaning the explosion took place 7.5 billion years ago, a time when the universe was less than half its current age and Earth had yet to form. This is more than halfway across the visible universe." (link)
Read the whole story here (Science@NASA), and more about gamma rays here.
The Swift satellite is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. It was built and is being operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and General Dynamics in the U.S.; the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory in the United Kingdom; Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy; plus partners in Germany and Japan.


Google Sky - your online telescope

On 13 March 08 the Google Lat Long blog announced "the launch of the web version of Google Sky, which turns your browser into a virtual telescope that can zoom and pan across the entire cosmos. You now have several ways to easily explore the universe:
  • Powerful search that lets you browse tens of thousands of named objects.
  • Three optical sky surveys that show you what your naked eye would see if it had a really good zoom lens. Try switching to infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, or x-ray to see the sky in a completely different light. Or blend between these views to create unique visualizations on the fly.
  • Galleries highlighting the best images from Hubble and many other telescopes.
  • Current planet positions and constellations.
  • Overlays of custom KML content. (Simply paste a Sky KML URL into the search box, just like on Google Maps.)
  • Last but not least, the Earth & Sky podcasts gallery is not to be missed, particularly for those who run a classroom.
All of this is accessible from any web browser, on any operating system, with no extra download required. And since staring up at the cosmos is an experience shared across the globe, we decided to make Google Sky truly worldwide, with 26 localized language editions (this marks our first Maps product to support right-to-left languages). Just visit to get started."

This YouTube video describes how to use the new Google Sky (you won't be able to see it in school):

"Explore beyond your world in your browser with Google Sky, Google Mars, and Google Moon.,,"

A second video you should watch is
Google Sky and Hubble in which Astronomers Dr. Carol Christian and Dr. Alberto Conti at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore talk about their work with Google programmers to "assemble a tapestry of Hubble images to embed in the desktop planetarium program."

This is a web application - you don't need to download and install anything in your computer. Go to and start exploring. The site works like a combination of Google Search, + Maps, + a photo album overlay.


Space Shutte Atlantis lands

The Space Shuttle Atlantis landed last week after a 13 day mission. One of the co-pilots ignited two small motors for 2.44 minutes to slow Atlantis down from 27,000 kilometers per hour to 250 kilometers per hour (km/h).

This made the Atlantis leave its orbit 340 km above the Earth, and begin its decent. It came down at 9000 meters per minute, landing at 9:07 AM at the Kenedy Space Center.

What kind of training do you think a pilot of a space shuttle needs? What kind of math do you need to understand to be able to make the calculations to get the space shuttle back to Earth?

Read more about the landing here, about the mission just ended (STS-122)here, and about the Atlantis in general here. You can read the blog from the mission here.


Hubble from a friend

House of Oddio:

Other people who work in our school are also interested in Space, and beautiful pictures. This post comes from Si, who many of you will know from class.

Powered by ScribeFire.


Timeline view of Google search results

Google has some experimental views for exploring search results. One of them is called time line view:
"The graph across the top of the page summarizes how dates in your results are spread through time, with higher bars representing a larger number of unique dates. Click anywhere on the graph to zoom in to that particular period of time, and use the text box to the right to specify any range of years, months, or days. Much as in map view, the results below the graph emphasize the dates contained on each page."

See how it works by looking at the results for this search on "space exploration". Type "space exploration view:timeline" into the search bar. The results below the graph are listed by date, below the information source.

What an interesting way to see information about a subject which includes an element of time.


How far is Saturn from the Earth today?

This picture comes from this web page of Solar System Live, by John Walker, where you can "... lets you view the solar system in a variety of ways for any date between 4713 B.C. and A.D. 8000. An ephemeris can be displayed for any location on Earth and, given orbital elements in the form published in the IAU Circulars, the orbit and position of asteroids and comets can be plotted."

There are other interesting pages to visit on Mr. Walker's site: a direct link to the NASA image of Switzerland from Space,
where "Every day around 10 A.M. Universal Time a new planet is created using random parameters, and an image of it, as seen from the bridge from your approaching starship, is produced. Imagine yourself gazing down on another living world and wondering how its people had shaped their world, and the world her people.",
Your Sky
"the interactive planetarium of the Web. You can produce maps in the forms described below for any time and date, viewpoint, and observing location. If you enter the orbital elements of an asteroid or comet, Your Sky will compute its current position and plot it on the map. Each map is accompanied by an ephemeris for the Sun, Moon, planets, and any tracked asteroid or comet. A control panel permits customisation of which objects are plotted, limiting magnitudes, colour scheme, image size, and other parameters." and
Calendar Converter which "allows you to interconvert dates in a variety of calendars, both civil and computer-related. All calculations are done in JavaScript executed in your own browser; complete source code is embedded in or linked to this page, and you're free to download these files to your own computer and use them even when not connected to the Internet."


Skywatch podcast

Podcasts are a great way to learn more about something that interests you. Check out the astronomy/science podcasts in the side bar of this page.

Use this mp3 player to listen to the 13 December 07 podcast of Skywatch:

You can subscribe to the Skywatch podcast by clicking this link
RSSRSS 2.0 feed Show notes and links for the podcast are here.