In a recently released report the National Research Council lays out several options NASA could pursue in order  to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard if they cross Earth's orbit. While impacts by large NEOs are rare, a single impact could inflict extreme damage, raising the classic problem of how to confront a possibility that is both very rare and very important.

Far more likely are those impacts that cause only moderate damage and few fatalities. Conducting surveys for NEOs and detailed studies of ways to mitigate collisions is best viewed as a form of insurance, the report says. How much to spend on these insurance premiums is a decision that must be made by the nation's policymakers.
I enjoyed presenting on Project Calliope two weeks ago, at the 215th AAS meeting.  I have a partial podcast of my talk in preparation, but in the meantime, here are the visual slides from my presentation (and also up as a PDF at  The most important theme I covered was the shift from a tech mindset (build a crack engineering team) to a social mindset (gather a circle of interested people able to talk this up).   Though the value of the talk was in the dialog, not the slides, this does provide a useful basic primer on the how and why of launching a personal picosatellite.

Project Calliope
Science&Social Media

Wednesday 6 January 2010

There have been only two standing ovations at the AAS in his memory, said Society president John Huchra, and the other heralded a presenter who later won the Nobel Prize.

That’s how astronaut John Grunsfeld’s invited talk ended Wednesday morning.  Grunsfeld flew on the recent Atlantis mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, whose newest photos have renewed for many the awe Hubble images inspire.  Despite significant obstacles, including stuck parts and having to loosen several dozen tiny screws while wearing spacesuit gloves, the mission was a smashing success, a fact the astronaut knew full well:  “I’m pleased that I’m still able to show my face to the AAS,” he said after Huchra presented him.
University of Iowa (UI) astronomers have made the first clear, rainbow-like, radio telescope images of a distant stellar coronal loop, at the eclipsing, non-nova binary star Algol, found in the constellation Perseus.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has just released a new image of NGC 6334, an emission nebula discovered by astronomer John Herschel in 1837 and dubbed the Cat's Paw Nebula. 

This new portrait of the Cat's Paw Nebula was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen.
AAS day two

AAS day two

Jan 19 2010 | comment(s)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

There are several ways to spot an exoplanet.  The two most common are the radial velocity and transit techniques.  Radial velocity measurements detect changes in the star’s light due to its back-and-forth motion in response to its planet’s gravitational tug.  RV observations and astrometry—similar idea, but you can actually see the star move, not just detect the motion in its light spectrum—have brought us the bulk of exoplanet discoveries (nearly 400) and provide a minimum mass estimate for the planet. 
You can (and should) listen to my first ever podcast, at "365 Days of Astronomy", which is either about a) why we put telescopes on mountains and in space or b) why science in Antarctica rocks!  From the 365DOA site:
Ever wonder why astronomers loft telescopes higher and higher, to mountains and via balloons and satellites? Astrophysicist Sandy Antunes explains, and in the process gets an accidental lesson from a Linda Banish, a rock-climbing colleague, on why Antarctica is the best place in the world for science.
I am not one for New Year's resolutions.  January 1st does not particularly stand out to me, frankly.  This year, however, I felt the need to turn over a new leaf.  And so, amongst the various changes I wish to undertake in my semi-professional life, I have decided to actually give regular attention to this blog.  (No promises for thesis deadline weeks, however.)
Where are we?  Cosmically, I mean.  We have barely made steps to get to the edge of our solar system, via Voyager 1 and 2.  It's ironic that we can see back 13 billion years using telescopes, but we have little idea of what 'stuff' is out there-- matter, dark matter, energy.  Or even what is just outside our local solar system.
I just posted a tweet storm from this week's 215th AAS Conference.  The specific session was a workshop on "Astronomy Employment: Past and Future".  The panelists were Beryl Benderly (Science Careers journalist), Rachel Ivie (AIP), Jim Ulvestad (NRAO), and Steve Beckwith (Univ. of CA), and their opinions were both frank and highly welcome at dispelling illusions about the ivory tower of academia.

This is the cold, hard reality of professional astronomy, presented from the inside.  Here are the quotes and tweets from the workshop.

"More people are beign qualified as scientists than can be employed" (B. Benderly) #aas215