Sunday, May 17, 2009

Herschel and Planck - two great names, two amazing spacecraft

Why take a risk when you can take two? That was the nailbiting scenario planned by the European Space Agency on Thursday when it launched two highly sensitive and extremely important astronomical probes in the same launch vehicle. Planck and Herschel are now on their way on the next stage of their journey to an orbital position known as L2. Herschel is the largest ever space telescope with a mirror twice the size of that of Hubble, but operating at far-infrared wavelengths which are particularly valuable in probing star formation processes. It will be able to detect early galaxy formation and evolution by looking at extremely distant targets. For those of you that are relatively new to astronomy, the probe is named after the distinguished historical astronomer, Sir William Herschel who was assisted by his wife Caroline.

Planck, named after the great physicist, Max Planck, will study the distant cosmic microwave background radiation. For both such tasks you require low temperatures and this is one of the advantages of their particular location. You can learn more from this video which was produced last year.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

April came and went...!

Apologies for the long gap and the absence of April's programme. Ended up being completely swamped in work and with family commitments. Tsk, tsk. Dashing the expectations of my loyal following. I will make amends and double up the number of podcasts to compensate. There's a lot going on astronomically speaking, so plenty to talk about. Next topic though is likely to be the Sun, since it causing some intrigue amongst astronomers at the moment.....

Saturday, April 4, 2009


New month, new video! Just be patient and all will be revealed, with luck later this week. For the moment, however, time to enjoy the brighter days (for some of us, at least)...

Friday, March 20, 2009

20th March at 11:44

Happy vernal equinox! The Sun moves North into the summer zone as it passes the origin of right ascension. How's that for a technical sounding sentence? What does it mean...? ah now that would be telling, but spring has sprung and for those of you with winter gloom the bright few days we've had recently have rather symbolically illustrated the astronomical seasonal shift.

For Right Ascension, the zero point is known as the First Point of Aries, which is the place in the sky where the Sun crosses the celestial equator at the March equinox.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

subscribe to our podcasts

We're on iTunes now, so if you'd rather access our podcasts that way and pop them onto your iPod/mp4 player then simply subscribe in the iTunes store to this URL:

Monday, March 9, 2009


As you no doubt, now realise, the launch of Kepler was a success. So, it's all go now as we try to track down Earthlike planets over the next 4-6 years of observations.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Kepler launch imminent

Only a few hours to go now before the launch of one of the most exciting space missions yet. The Kepler telescope will gradually make its way to an earth-trailing orbit which balances out the gravitational pull and minimises the torque on the spacecraft allowing it to be stable and afix its gaze on a patch of sky and stare and stare and stare! Looking at the light from stars to detect the clues that reveal planets. It will be able to reach down to Earth size detection, something that has not been achievable to date. Any such detection of a planet like this in the 'goldilocks' zone around another star will be a great achievement, so fingers crossed for a successful launch.