Tag Archives: Astronomy

Telescopes, snow and so much food! (Asiago #1)

Group photo of NEON Observing School 2015 participants

Group photo of NEON Observing School 2015 participants

I don’t think I ever want to eat pasta again…

I’ve recently come home from the NEON Observing School in Asiago Observatory, Italy. This was a 10 day course designed to give Astro PhD students a chance to experience and learn about observing and data reduction, with a combination of lectures and group work. We also ate more food than I thought was possible; three course meals for lunch and dinner every day is not something I’m used to! Continue reading

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Cloudy in Belfast?

Participants at the Cloudy Summer School 2014 (QUB). Photo credit: Paul Woods

Participants at the Cloudy Summer School 2014 (QUB). Left to right, Nicole Reindl, Anne Fox, Patricia Bessiere, Larissa Takeda, Catherine McEvoy, Kingsley Gale-Sides, Megan Whewell, Tek Prasad Adhikari, Helen Meskhidze, Mattia Bulla, Catia Silva, Matt Nicholl, Andri Prozesky, Ted of School, Gary Ferland, Janet Chen, Tommy Nelson, Jake Turner, Richard Tunnard, Brianna Smart, Tom Finzell, Ting-Wen Lan, Joe Polshaw Photo credit: Paul Woods

In August (18th-22nd) I attended a Summer School at Queen’s University Belfast. The week was based around learning how to use a computer programme called Cloudy, which is an atomic physics code that simulates the spectrum you should expect to observe from many astrophysical objects and scenarios. Continue reading

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ISSI – Discussions, Presenting and Editing

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

In December, only two and a half months after I started my PhD, I wrote about a trip I was about to take to the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland.

When I got back I wanted to write about my experiences there, but it was on that trip that as a consortium we tried to work out a consistent picture for the strange data we collected of NGC 5548 over the summer. It was clear that we had an unexpected result and we wanted to minimise the risk of anyone else realising this before we had chance to publish, plus we decided as a group to submit to Science and therefore it was important to keep in mind their embargo rules.

As the first paper from this campaign was published last week, I want to go back and describe the experiences I had at ISSI. I have now spent two weeks there, one in December 2013 and one in May 2014, with almost the same people each time. I learnt a lot during both of these weeks at ISSI, but also found them very different; I will try to explain this in the rest of this post. Continue reading

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X-ray Universe 2014 – Dublin, Ireland

A full session hearing about Athena and the future of X-ray astronomy. Credit: @antmarcarr on Twitter. Click on the photo to go to the original tweet.

A full session hearing about Athena and the future of X-ray astronomy. Credit: @antmarcarr on Twitter. Click on the photo to go to the original tweet.

Last week I went to my first international astronomy conference, X-ray Universe 2014. This was organised by the XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre and had about 350 delegates, 217 talks and 135 posters.

I took a poster, showing my work so far this year, and the consortium I’m in had six talks about our NGC 5548 campaign on one afternoon (I’ve explained the main result we announced in this post).

While this was my first international astronomy conference, it wasn’t my first international conference, as I had attended the International Planetarium Society’s 2012 conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That one had 700 delegates, so the 350 people at X-ray Universe felt less intimidating than it would have done otherwise! Continue reading

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#STFCastro: Lyman-alpha forest

A forest. Not a Lyman-alpha forest.

A forest. Not a Lyman-alpha forest.

A couple of weeks ago now I attended the STFC Astronomy Introductory Summer School for incoming PhD students. I have a general overview post of the whole week here.

One of the first lectures was by Ross McLure from Edinburgh University. It was about high redshift galaxies and his particular research into them. These galaxies are extremely far away and therefore the light has travelled a very long way (and for a very long time) to get to our telescopes, so we see them as they were near the beginning of the Universe.

The part that stood out for me was his explanation of the ‘Lyman-alpha forest’. This is a feature in spectra of distant galaxies and quasars and something that has come up a few times when I’ve been reading about spectra but that I’d never been able to find an understandable explanation for. Continue reading

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#STFCastro: Overall Summary

Queen Mary University

Queen Mary University

Last week I attended the STFC Astronomy Introductory Summer School for incoming PhD students. It was held at Queen Mary University with something like 90 attendees. The accommodation was lovely – they weren’t huge rooms but large enough, and each had an en-suite bathroom. All attendees stayed in the same accommodation block which led to lots of chance meetings as you walked around to breakfast and lectures etc. Continue reading

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Star Formation in Verse

The subject I address today
Is that of star formation.
And what we’ve found out recently
About the situation.

Stars start out as clouds of gas and
Dust and bits of spinning stuff.
Collapsing gravitationally
Until they’re dense enough.

While reading this link I was one of those annoying people who read half a line at a time out loud and fall into giggles. You should become one too
Continue reading

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Keeping Up With Academia

By the time I begin my PhD I will have been away from academic study for two years.

A lot of academic work happens in two years. I was fully expecting PhD interviews to be full of the question: “How have you kept up with the latest research?”

The truth is I know more about the latest research now than I did as an undergraduate student. Continue reading

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Artist's impression of XMM-Newton spacecraft in orbit around the Earth.

Artist’s impression of XMM-Newton spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. Credit: ESA

XMM-Newton is a European Space Agency (ESA) X-ray observatory, orbiting the Earth. Launched in December 1999, it is the largest scientific satellite ever built in Europe.

As mentioned in my previous post, X-rays cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, so any observations of astronomical X-rays must be done by telescopes in orbit. Continue reading

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How to see Invisible Things: Multi-wavelength Astronomy

While my project will involve looking mainly at X-Ray data, in astronomy it is always important to keep the big picture in mind. Every different category of light is important and gives us individual information which should be considered. This is a summary of the different wavelengths of light astronomers use and the objcts they are particularly useful for.

(I first blogged this for the National Space Centre here)

Humans have been looking out into space for thousands of years and finding lots of weird and wonderful objects among the stars. Using only our eyes and various strengths of telescopes we can spot thousands of these astronomical features, but this is only a fraction of the fascinating and exotic phenomena out there.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The light our eyes recognise is a small selection of the whole electromagnetic spectrum; there are many different wavelengths of light and all of them tell us something about the objects they come from. To discover all we possibly can about astronomical phenomena, light of all these different wavelengths is gathered and analysed by specially designed telescopes. Continue reading

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