Archive for XMM

Herschel Views Andromeda (via The Herschel Space Observatory)

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 6, 2011 by telescoper

An amazing composite image of M31 in Andromeda using both infra-red and X-rays was recently obtained using Herschel and XMM space observatories. It featured in the BBC Stargazing Live programme earlier this week and I’m told that, typically for astronomy, the inspiration behind it was … beer.

Herschel Views Andromeda We've been sitting on this image since just before Christmas so that it could be unveiled during the BBC Stargazing Live show last night, but I've been aching to get this onto the blog ever since I saw it. This is a Herschel image of our nearest neighbour galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, also known as M31, along with comparison images at other wavelengths. [/captio … Read More

via The Herschel Space Observatory


Astronomy with Knobs on

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 12, 2010 by telescoper

I just saw a splendidly smutty blog post which contains graphic examples of astronomical objects in the form of male genital organs. Since this appears to be an entirely suitable topic for a Friday afternoon blog post, here is my suggestion of  a contribution to her gallery. It’s the X-rated X-ray satellite XMM Newton which, as you can see, has a disturbingly phallic appearance.

I wonder if astropixie might be able to make room for this one?

In the Bleak Midwinter

Posted in Biographical, Cricket, Poetry, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by telescoper

Apologies for my posts being a bit thin lately. It turned out to be quite a strange week, as I’ll explain in due course, but I thought I’d take the opportunity now to catch up a little bit. I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this contribution, but if you read this blog regularly you’ll be used to that.

We’re all now back at work after the Christmas break, but this was always going to be an unusual week because it’s the last one before the mid-year examinations start. During this time there are revision lectures, but the timetable isn’t as full as in term-time proper, so  it’s more like a half-way house than a genuine return to full-time work. Although I’m always glad not to be thrown into full-time teaching or examination marking straight away after the break, I always find this hiatus slightly disorienting.

This year things are even stranger than usual because, after largely escaping the bad weather that has affected the rest of the country since before Christmas, snow and ice finally arrived with a vengeance in Cardiff on Tuesday night. It wasn’t too bad where I live, quite near the city centre, but a lot of snow fell up in rural areas, especially up in the valleys, with the result that quite a few members of staff couldn’t make it into work.

Talking of the weather gives me the excuse to include this absolutely beautiful picture of snow-bound Britain taken by NASA’s Earth Observatory satellite:

The problem wasn’t so much the snow itself, but the fact that the temperature dropped steeply soon after it fell leaving roads and pavements coated with sheets of ice. My regular refuse collection, scheduled for Wednesday, didn’t happen because the trucks couldn’t make it through the treacherous conditions, and buses and trains were severely disrupted. I think there’s been a similar picture across most of the United Kingdom.

Incidentally, the well-known Christmas carol from which I took the title of this post began life as a poem by Christina Rossetti, the first verse of which goes

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

I don’t know why but, as the snow was falling heavily in the early hours of Wednesday morning, I woke up with terrible stomach pains, so bad that they kept me awake all night. I assume that this was some sort of belated reaction to yuletide over- indulgence rather than anything more serious because the discomfort eventually died away and I was left with mere exhaustion after losing a whole night’s sleep. Rather than risk walking in through the snow, I retreated to bed and slept most of Wednesday although I didn’t eat or drink anything the whole day.

Columbo kept me good company during this unpleasant episode. Usually if we’re in the house at the same time he sometimes stays by my side, but he’s at other times quite happy to potter around, or sleep on his own in  a place of his choosing.  I think he knew something wasn’t right, because he never left me alone all day which is quite unusual. Alternatively, he may just have found it warmer being next to me than elsewhere. Who knows?

My guts apparently having recovered, I went into the department on Thursday for a busy day of project interviews. These are held half-way through the third year in order to assess the students progress on their projects. In between the interviews I was trying to keep up with progress on the last day of the test match between South Africa and England taking place in Cape Town, where the weather was somewhat different to Cardiff. The match had been coming to the boil, eventually ending in a draw as England’s last pair once again staved off what looked likely to be a defeat. Shades of Monty last summer! Although it was clearly a gripping finale, I’m glad in a way that I didn’t get to follow it more closely. I always get an uneasy churning feeling in my stomach during tense passages of play, and after what had happened the day before I think that was best avoided.

Yesterday (Friday) was the date of the January meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, and I decided to show my faith in the public transport system by making the round trip to London.  No-one can accuse me of having lost my spirit of adventure! Some trains had been cancelled, but those still running seemed to be on time and I thought the odds weren’t too bad.

The specialist Discussion Meeting featured a programme dedicated to the legacy of XMM, a highly successful X-ray satellite that has just had its funding axed by STFC. Later on, during the Ordinary Meeting there was an interesting talk by Alan Fitzsimmons about the impact of a small asteroid with the Earth that took place in October 2008,  and Matt Griffin presented some of the stunning new results from Herschel. RAS Discussion meetings are always held on the 2nd Friday of the month. Astronomical historian Alan Chapman reminded the Society that the corresponding meeting 80 years ago, on 10th January 1930,  was an important event in the development of the theory of the expanding universe.

Fully recovered from my tummy problems, I rounded the week off with a trip to the RAS Club for a nice dinner at the Athenaeum. Turnout was a bit lower than usual, presumably because of the inclement weather. This was the so-called Parish Meeting, at which various items of Club business are carried out, including the election of new members and Club officers. Professor Donald Lynden-Bell recently announced his retirement from the position of President and this was his last occasion in the Chair; the resulting Presidential Election was a close-run affair won by Professor Dame Carole Jordan. The election of new members is an archaic and slightly dotty process which always leaves me wondering how I managed to get elected myself. At one point during these proceedings the Club finds itself to be “without Officers”,  whereupon the most junior member (by length of membership rather than age) suddenly becomes important. On this occasion, this turned out to be me but since I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, I fluffed it. If I’d known I might have seized the opportunity to stage a coup d’etat. Other than this, it seemed to go off without any major hitches and eventually we dispersed into the freezing night to make our ways home.

As usual on Club nights I took the 10.45pm train from Paddington to Cardiff. In the prevailing meteorological circumstances I was a bit nervous about getting home, but my fears were groundless. The train was warm and, with Ipod, Guardian and Private Eye crosswords, and the last 100 pages of a novel to occupy me, the journey was remarkably pleasant. We got to Cardiff 4 minutes ahead of schedule.