Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Paying it Forward : Don't forget to look up

After speaking to my colleagues at FT today, I would like to post something a bit personal.

Quietly and with a bit of free time , which was not booked on the telescope, which I then had allocated to me today, I pointed our Faulkes Telescope South, a wonderful educational resource run by the great people at LCOGT at an asteroid. This is something we do at Faulkes a lot, with projects engaging schools and young minds in astronomy, as we've had a lot of success with our asteroid programs with the IASC, my own team and teams from the BAA + more. It's now something we're developing more and more in to great school projects with comets and asteroids, and above all, it's valuable science too.

It's a wonderful facility to work with and for, as you get to see/hear via teachers about the look on kids faces when they take an image or find a new object. But today was (and only for a short period of time) something a bit more personal.

I took an image of an asteroid, named after someone who himself, as a young child, showed an interest in astronomy.  A young child who went on to write presentations, make maps, but never ever became a professional astronomer in his own right, despite showing a phenomenal level of intelligence.

He helped in the RAF during the war, and lost the person he loved during that sad and devastating conflict.

This young man continued to win many awards and plaudits throughout his long and illustrious life, and was admired the world over, despite being an amateur through and through, and with his colourful views on many topics, split people's opinions, but he did it in a way, that you still could not but admire his passion for astronomy. He played cricket until a ripe old age, whilst also helping mankind land on the Moon, and the Russians used his considerable skills too, for his maps of the Moon were the best in existence. He count count pretty much every single moonwalker as a friend, so much so, that when it came to him receiving one of the greatest awards in broadcasting, none other than Buzz Aldrin flew over to present it to him.

He played music with Einstein, and was one of the only people to ever meet the first man to fly a plane the first man in space, and the first man on the Moon, and until the day he died, dedicated his life to astronomy, outreach and engaging young and old in looking at the sky.

Above all thing he said to me once , was that his greatest legacy "was that he inspired millions of people to look up at the skies "

In honour of this great man, some years back now, the IAU granted a request to name an asteroid after him, an honour which is granted to those who find these celestial wanderers,and are then permitted to suggest a name for these bodies in honour of great people.I am sure the IAU agreed this citation in record speed.

The asteroid I pointed our telescope at today, a robotic telescope the like of which this man was instrumental in the initial formation of in Liverpool many years ago is 2602 Moore, it was an image of an object quietly moving through space, going around the Sun just like we are... taken with this telescope, remotely controlled from several thousand miles away.. taken in just a few minutes.

So this one's for Patrick, for whom this asteroid is name,  we'll hopefully use this data to help train school kids how to detect asteroids, something which could even help save our planet one day...who knows!... but..maybe, just maybe one of those kids, like millions of others across the globe, will ask "who was this man" and someone of my generation will tell them. And in doing so we may help inspire that kid to go on, and become an astronomer.. inspired not only by the image they have taken and the science they have done, but also by the man who inspired so many of us to do it.

So here is 2602 Moore, named in honour of Sir Patrick by the discoverer...This is a raw screen capture from the software we use to detect moving objects. I hope, in this topical time, when the show and its very future is being discussed, that people can look at what he achieved, and hopefully the BBC will come to a sound decision that takes astronomy broadcasting forward in to the 21st Century and beyond.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Comet for Stargazing Live

Astronomers coordinating imaging with UK Schools as part of BBC Stargazing Live week have remarkably helped discover a new comet. Analysis of the Minor Planet Centre's NEOCP target list by Faulkes Telescope Pro-Am programme manager Nick Howes and his colleague at the Remanzacco Observatory Italy, Ernesto Guido, showed that one of the newly detected but as yet unclassified objects was likely to be a comet. "We'd selected this target based on the preliminary data published by the minor planet centre" says Howes, but then the power of social networking helped out even more.

With only one set of limited observations on it by the Spacewatch Observatory, Nick communicated via the social network site Twitter with Jim Scotti, an astronomer in Arizona, who's observations were the first. "It became clear from speaking to Jim, that they thought they had something, but in following with IAU rules would not say what... but encouraged us to perform additional observations to make sure what we had was indeed what we suspected from the orbit...a new comet" The new object at magnitude 20, billions of times fainter than the human eye can see was then imaged by Howes/Guido using Faulkes Telescope North.

Fortunately, the elevation of the comet in the sky also permitted them to request additional observations from Peter Phelps at Hazlemere school in the UK. "The data from Faulkes North was not 100% clear, as the object was so faint, but we suspected it was a comet, and asked for more images". The extra images, from Faulkes South showed the comet very near to a bright field star, but were enough to convince Howes and Guido that it was indeed a comet.

 The minor planet centre later on the 8th January confirmed this and cited the Faulkes observations in the discovery circular and telegrams.

The new Comet is called P2012 A2 Scotti CBET is 3376 Cbet nr. 3376, issued on 2013, January 08, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude 19.5) by J. Scotti with the 691 Steward Observatory, Kitt Peak, on images obtained with the 0.9-m f/3 reflector + CCD on January 06.2. The new comet has been designated P/2013 A2 (SCOTTI).

 "To say we're over the moon would be an understatement, this was one of the trickiest comets we've ever worked on, faint at magnitude 20, with a minuscule tail, it took all our efforts for several hours to confirm it with the 2m scopes" says Howes. "It's fantastic that with the third episode of Stargazing Live coming up and focussing on comets, that we managed to nail this one during the airing of the live show"

The team have been observing and imaging comets and asteroids all week with UK schools, and on Wednesday 9th have a full day devoted to detecting and refining orbits on Kuiper belt objects in the far reaches of the solar system with a large number of schools. This is part of an ongoing research collaboration with the world famous Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

For more on the team and their discoveries visit