Wild Northern Skies

March 19, 2013

Only connect, as Goethe said. Or was it E.MForster? Or did I already already use that gag in an earlier post? Anyhoo. Two or so weeks ago commenters on my own nuclear blog post made me eat humble pie , liberally sprinkled with Thorium. Last week I was in Thurso, in the far distant north of our fair land. “Thurso” ought to mean  to Thor’s town, but sadly it doesn’t, actually meaning “Bull’s River” or some such. However, it is just down the road from Dounreay, for many years the home of Britain’s development programme in fast breeder reactors. The last Dounreay reactor, the “Prototype Fast Reactor” was shut down in 1994, but the plant still employs large numbers of people, because of the extended decomissioning programme. The aim is to return to a brownfield site by 2036..  Nuclear power ain’t simple. Also, the MoD still run some experiments there. Its all quite nicely explained in this wikipedia page on Dounreay.

Anyway, forMilky Way from Loch More, Caithness2012 Oct 7thGordon Mackie a such a remote area, with a population of a few tens of thousands, Caithness has a substantial sprinkling of high-tech and generally educated folk, who work for Dounreay and related activities, and an active and lively Astronomical Society – the Caithness Astronomy Group. These nice folk invited me up. Being in the distant north, it takes a whole day to get there even from Edinbrr, so I was there for several days, talking to multiple primary schools and doing a public talk as well as the usual astro-soc talk.

Caithness is a great place for amateur astronomy. Its as cloudy as most of Britain, but its DARK. When I asked the primary school kids who had seen a shooting star, 80% of the hands went up. I have never seen that in Edinburgh or London … and a large fraction of the populace have seen the Milky Way. You just walk out and there it is. The CAG chairbeing, Gordon Mackie, sent me the shot you can see to the left, taken at Loch More.

Aurora over Thurso CastleGordon Mackie2011 Aug 6th Caithness is also a great place for seeing the Northern Lights. Frustratingly, there was a massive CME arriving while I was there, but it was raining … Here is another Gordon Mackie shot to make up for it. Another ace astro-photographer is Stewart Watt. You can see his collection at “Under Highland Skies“.

But possibly the most exciting is Maciej Winiarczyk, who specialises in time-lapse astrophotography. He has lots of stuff on both YouTube and Vimeo. Take a look at this. But first pour a glass of Old Pulteney, sit back, and relax.

Oh, and its a nice place for a holiday.

A billion stars

March 29, 2012

Funny old day yesterday at NAM2012. I gave an emergency talk (filling in for a cancellation), picked up my share of the RAS Group Award for UKIDSS, sloped off to the pub with co-conspirators Nige Hambly, Mike Irwin, and Steve Warren, and then went to the RAS Dining Club for only the second time ever, at the Midland Hotel, where apparently Rolls met Royce.

Today is another fun day, especially for WFAU chum Nick Cross, who is giving a talk today announcing the public release of VISTA data.To make this a bit more fun, WFAU wizard Mike Read stitched together UKIDSS GPS data and VISTA VVV data in the Galactic Plane to make a zooomable mega image containing a billion stars. There is a press release here , Nick is on the Beeb here, and you can play with the zoomi-map thingy here. See if you can spot the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster.  When you are ready for a spot of serious science however, do a few SQL warm up exercises and then zip off to the actual VISTA Science Archive.

Update : nice plug on BBC News web site  which for a while was the No.1 most-read … and is still number 3 !

UKIDSS world release

January 10, 2008


As I warned just before Xmas in this post, the first world release of UKIDSS has now gone public, with a press release at the AAS. The blogosphere is picking it up, here, here and here. You have no idea how nice it feels after a couple of weeks of STFC-cuts politics.. This has been my baby since 1998 … but others have done much more work than me. Thanks especially Steve Warren, Nige Hambly, and Mike Irwin. Steve doesn’t seem to have a home page. This isn’t him.

Key links : explanations at the UKIDSS web site; data access at the WFCAM Science Archive; and Mike Read’s groovy pannable Milky Way.

Explore the infrared sky

December 21, 2007


Most of this week I was actually doing some science for a change, at a workshop in ESO with all my UKIDSS chums. We just issued our third data release, which with exquisite taste we have called DR3. UKIDSS is now the biggest Infrared Sky Survey ever made, in terms of database size, number of objects, and effective volume (but not sky area). DR3 is announced on the UKIDSS web site, and you can get the data at the WFCAM Science Archive (WSA). Or at least you can if you are European.. but also DR1 is about to go world public, so all the Americans can get at it. This will be announced at the upcoming AAS meeting.

Mostly the WSA is for serious pro work, not for public consumption of pretty pix. However, our secret weapon Mike Read has knocked up a lovely pannable zoomable mosaic of the Galactic Plane Survey. Its still kinda patchy, but full of gorgeous things. Try it out.