Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dark Skies

Sark - Where the bloody hell is it? It's a Channel Island, about 350Kms from Paris and 300Kms from London. The island of Sark has become a 'Silver Tier Dark Sky Park'. This means that the visual limiting magnitude is between 6.0 to 6.7, there are other criteria, this is the simplest. The rating is endorsed by the International Darksky Association (IDA) and it was achieved by a resident of Sark that measured and assessed the every light fitting on the tiny island 5.5 sq ams. The island had a head start because there are no cars, so no street lights. The Government of Sark was ready to accept that with the rating comes conditions that will retain the island as Dark Sky Park. The island of Sark is not the only such park, the website of the IDA lists others, some with higher ratings.

I think back to my first ventures in Astronomy, and I can recall dark skies from suburban Sydney. In the night sky I distinctly recall seeing both the Large and Small Clouds of Magellan and the bright band of the Milky Way. I'd say the clouds of Magellan were still visible to the unaided eye as recently as the 1970's. These days the Southern Cross (Crux) appears to be fading and certainly the Coal Sack is almost impossible to discern from Sydney.

The year of 2010 was interesting for Astronomy around Sydney. The Beames Observatory at Linden, in the Blue Mountains gained a Heritage Listing. This included 40 hectares of bushland to assist in preserving dark skies. It is also now three years since the National Trust registered as a Heritage Item both the Night and Day sky over New South Wales. What's happened since - not much

Monday, January 24, 2011

Robot Astronomers

The 'Robot Astronomers' are to rise up. That's the opinion of 'New Scientist'. Here's a link to the article - you will need to register , it's free to register. Obviously I can't re-use their copy. For many years the amateur community has provided a service to astronomy by patrolling the skies looking for variable stars, supernovae, and all sorts of odd events. This article refers to a programme at the Palomar Observatory , see the image.

The upshot is that robot telescopes image the sky and computers then process the data. And then there is some form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can recognise the areas of the sky and ensure that the correct regions are processed when the images are compared for changes between observations. What they expect to see is changes in position or brightness. They can build a list of candidate objects from searching through databases of catalogues.

Of course what doesn't get mentioned is that - almost without a doubt somebody has to go out and visually identify a positive. It's still the case that experienced amateur astronomers can simply go outside at night, look up, and see if any stars have changed. It may take a number of years and dedication to acquire and tune these skills, and I'm sure these amateurs can push the robots to their limits.

Of course being a robot could come in useful, presumably I could reduce the set-up time for the telescope. Get the setup correct, ensure that batteries are correctly charged, remember where I put each eyepiece (in the dark), stay up late maybe, better still pack it all away in the early hours of the morning, or before it starts raining or starts collection dew.

Starting to look clear for to-night. Moon rise is 23:15, so there should some dark sky before it rises too high. Although the neighbours stay out late with their yard lights on during the recent hot evenings. The expected weather over Australia Day and the next few days is hot and wet, the satellite photo is clear. We'll just need to wait and see.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Favourite Website

Here is my favourite web page. It shows the cloud cover over South Eastern Australia in visible light. There is a short delay to the pictures being available and the images can be animated. I can see if there is an opportunity to do some observing. A lot of clear sky means the telescope can be used, patchy cloud maybe the camera, or in the near future a CCD/Lens combo.

You can see that this morning was a clear morning over Sydney, although now at 8am it's clouded up again - another week of rain and cloud predicted. Maybe another one of those years no clear sky until March and then cloudy again in April.

I've recently been looking through the Catalogue compiled by James Dunlop, some fantastic objects to be seen. He worked assiduously out at the then Parramatta Observatory - he must have had some clear nights.

Also, over the last few days, I watched an old recorded session of the BAA NSW, where Sir Patrick Moore spoke on his love of observing the Moon. It's a fantastic talk even if the 1985 quality is a bit low, and Sir Patrick bobs in and out of view from the dark side. It's labelled as 1985, although I thought he came out for Halley's Comet. I remember that year as on the 14th March 1986 - I opened the back door at about 4am - and there was Halley's Comet - just hanging in the sky - so I took a photograph. That year though - I recall - was also a cloudy year.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


So, one of my New Resolutions is to Blog more frequently. During the last year I wrote a few blog topics and didn't post. I'm part way through one on Fly-Fishing for Trout in New Zealand. This one however is on 'Books'. I reckon I must have about 1,000 books, thats 32 per shelf across 6 shelves per case across 3 cases, then I reckon about the same number of books stacked on the floor on tops of the shelved books, under beds, in boxes. I'm waiting for the day on of those news magazine programs turns up to do a story on the piles of books. You can try counting them in the photograph.

The books tend to simply accumulate, most get read, many get partially read, some get read more than once, some get used frequently, and others gather dust. Some recent work on the bathroom saw a lot of dust. So now I'm reorganising the books - Do I sell some, give them away (to charity), or keep them to gather more dust? To add to the books there's magazines, periodicals and journals. A number of years ago I sorted through many books and took some to a second hand dealer, and watched as he tallied up the value, 50 cents here, a dollar there, some I think managed several dollars. And again over the years, the collection builds again.

Having a few hobbies and interests is probably part of the issue, the collection spans topics such as; the Second World War, Astronomy, Fitness/Health/Cycling, Bushwalking, Technical Books from University days on Optics, Mathematics, History and Philosophy of Science, Fly Fishing, Model Trains, History of Australia. I'm sitting here wondering how to catalogue them all - pen and paper and start a list, maybe photograph the shelves at least that way I can be comfortable doing the transcribing. Maybe get a bar code reader and get the ISBN number. A cheap hand held USB scanner is less than $100, a hand held bluetooth scanner though is closer to $1000.00.

Do I really need all these books, one book, 'Discovering Astronomy' by 'Robert Chapman' ( no relation), published 1978, I have it dated inside as 1979. I liked it, although the Amazon reviews are not so kind, on the other hand I understood it, unfortunately I've had to mark it for disposal, it was a good starter for Astronomy in its day and still some interesting stuff in there.

Maybe I can split the books into charitable donations and saleable. I think at least 1 in 3 books will have to go, and all except a few periodicals and journals. Fortunately some organisations now publish as 'pdf'.

A lot of these books have my moniker and a date inside, some people like this others hate it. I like to think a book can come back to me if loaned and that the user can be reminded of who loaned the book. If you ever come across one you should drop me a line.

And then, there is all the IT books.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Economic Theory No.1

So, another 6 months and I'd better make a blog post. So, looking for work again. Maybe I should focus on that – it can often be an interesting time. I need to balance all my projects against looking for work, or maybe this time – starting a business. Whilst I'm not really into self-help therapies I do from time-to-time delve into the self-motivational stuff. A book I've just started to read is titled “Never Get a Real Job” by 'Scott Gerber'- the title appealed to me, I sometimes think I've never had a real job, and the when I've had them – I'm bored to tears. So far half way through – not really anything new to me – I think Scott has pitched the book at young start-outs. So far he's made the point – it's not easy, and don't expect success to come quickly, and if you're lucky – you wont starve or live on the street.

His motivation I think is that for most people the concept of real jobs is a figment of imagination. When I was starting in the work force, back in the mid 1980's it was becoming accepted that most people will have multiple career paths, probably changing their career upto 3 times. I think Scott is trying to make the point that people will need to regularly re-invent their career. This is as trategy I can accept, unfortunately I think many people can't see this, especially people who are still stuck in real jobs, and cannot see a way forward other than their garden path.

The changing economies of the modern western world are obviously in a bit of turmoil, so can they carry their populations forward, or was the old paradigm the correct paradigm.