Tag Archives: astronomy

Four dimensional digital universe (4D2U) and its Mitaka software

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) has made a free downloadable software available according to a Feb. 9, 2016 Japan National Institute of Natural Sciences press release (also on EurekAlert),

The door to the digital Universe has been flung open! Mitaka, a free downloadable software program to visualize the Universe based on real astronomical data, now accommodates a variety of the languages found on planet Earth. With this upgrade, many people all over the globe can use a PC to navigate through the digital Universe in their native language.

Mitaka version 1.3 with French. The default version includes the external files for French (courtesy NAOJ)

Mitaka version 1.3 with French. The default version includes the external files for French (courtesy NAOJ)

The press release goes on to describe the project which is making the software available,

The Four-Dimensional Digital Universe (4D2U) Project of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) was launched in 2001. This project aims to visualize the latest astronomical data obtained by observations and numerical simulations. The 4D2U project has developed various contents visualizing the Universe, including the software known as “Mitaka” and dozens of movie clips. These contents are regularly shown in the 4D2U Dome Theater in the NAOJ Headquarters. They are also very popular among schools and science museums in Japan and other countries. At the 3D theater of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawai‘i, the 4D2U contents are on permanent display and have received a favorable reception from audiences. However, until now Mitaka has been available only in Japanese and English. There have been many requests from various countries for the multilingualization of Mitaka.

In the latest version of Mitaka, ver.1.3, the displayed language is defined by several external files. Users can modify the files to change the language to any one they would like, not only languages using the Latin alphabet, but also including other character sets defined in Unicode, such as Brahmic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Hangeul. Right-to-left scripts such as Arabic, will be supported in future versions of Mitaka. “In the future, we will increase the number of language information files contained in the default version of Mitaka” said Tsunehiko Kato, the developer of Mitaka. “If a language is not contained in the default version, anyone can create his/her own language files. I really hope that Mitaka will be widely used around the world for educational purposes, live shows, exhibitions, and personal use in many languages.”

Various astronomy data are contained in Mitaka: orbits for 20 thousand asteroids; stellar positions based on the Hipparcos and Tycho Catalogues; and galaxies based on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The structure of the Milky Way Galaxy and the gravitational lens effect of the supermassive black hole in the center of our Galaxy are constructed based on theoretical models. Mitaka also actively incorporates the latest data, such as the surface textures of Pluto and Charon obtained by NASA’s New Horizons probe. With Mitaka, users can fly out from the Earth, traveling to the edge of the known Universe.

Mitaka and the movies developed by 4D2U are available free of charge on the project web site. Currently, only three movies are listed on the English page, but more than a dozen movies will be added in the near future. These movies are provided in several formats: flat screen or dome screen (fish-eye) versions, with 2D or 3D options.

“Mitaka” is the name of the city in western Tokyo where the NAOJ Headquarters is located. NAOJ Mitaka Campus houses several historical telescopes, including the 65-cm Refractor built in 1929. It is also home to modern instruments such as the TAMA300 gravitational wave detector, the Solar Flare Telescope, and the special purpose computer GRAPE.

You can download ‘Mitaka’ from here and you can visit the 4D2U website here.

Does the universe have a heartbeat?

It may be a bit fanciful to suggest the universe has a heartbeat but if University of Warwick (UK) researchers can state that dying stars have ‘irregular heartbeats’ then why can’t the universe have a heartbeat of sorts? Getting back to the University of Warwick, their August 26, 2015 press release (also on EurekAlert) has this to say,

Some dying stars suffer from ‘irregular heartbeats’, research led by astronomers at the University of Warwick has discovered.

The research confirms rapid brightening events in otherwise normal pulsating white dwarfs, which are stars in the final stage of their life cycles.

In addition to the regular rhythm from pulsations they expected on the white dwarf PG1149+057, which cause the star to get a few percent brighter and fainter every few minutes, the researchers also observed something completely unexpected every few days: arrhythmic, massive outbursts, which broke the star’s regular pulse and significantly heated up its surface for many hours.

The discovery was made possible by using the planet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which stares unblinkingly at a small patch of sky, uninterrupted by clouds or sunrises.

Led by Dr JJ Hermes of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics Group, the astronomers targeted the Kepler spacecraft on a specific star in the constellation Virgo, PG1149+057, which is roughly 120 light years from Earth.

Dr Hermes explains:

“We have essentially found rogue waves in a pulsating star, akin to ‘irregular heartbeats’. These were truly a surprise to see: we have been watching pulsating white dwarfs for more than 50 years now from the ground, and only by being able to stare uninterrupted for months from space have we been able to catch these events.”

The star with the irregular beat, PG1149+057, is a pulsating white dwarf, which is the burnt-out core of an evolved star, an extremely dense star which is almost entirely made up of carbon and oxygen. Our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf in more than six billion years, after it runs out of its nuclear fuel.

White dwarfs have been known to pulsate for decades, and some are exceptional clocks, with pulsations that have kept nearly perfect time for more than 40 years. Pulsations are believed to be a naturally occurring stage when a white dwarf reaches the right temperature to generate a mix of partially ionized hydrogen atoms at its surface.

That mix of excited atoms can store up and then release energy, causing the star to resonate with pulsations characteristically every few minutes. Astronomers can use the regular periods of these pulsations just like seismologists use earthquakes on Earth, to see below the surface of the star into its exotic interior. This was why astronomers targeted PG1149+057 with Kepler, hoping to learn more about its dense core. In the process, they caught a new glimpse at these unexpected outbursts.

“These are highly energetic events, which can raise the star’s overall brightness by more than 15% and its overall temperature by more than 750 degrees in a matter of an hour,” said Dr Hermes. “For context, the Sun will only increase in overall brightness by about 1% over the next 100 million years.”

Interestingly, this is not the only white dwarf to show an irregular pulse. Recently, the Kepler spacecraft witnessed the first example of these strange outbursts while studying another white dwarf, KIC 4552982, which was observed from space for more than 2.5 years.

There is a narrow range of surface temperatures where pulsations can be excited in white dwarfs, and so far irregularities have only been seen in the coolest of those that pulsate. Thus, these irregular outbursts may not be just an oddity; they have the potential to change the way astronomers understand how pulsations, the regular heartbeats, ultimately cease in white dwarfs.

“The theory of stellar pulsations has long failed to explain why pulsations in white dwarfs stop at the temperature we observe them to,” argues Keaton Bell of the University of Texas at Austin, who analysed the first pulsating white dwarf to show an irregular heartbeat, KIC 4552982. “That both stars exhibiting this new outburst phenomenon are right at the temperature where pulsations shut down suggests that the outbursts could be the key to revealing the missing physics in our pulsation theory.”

Astronomers are still trying to settle on an explanation for these never-before-seen outbursts. Given the similarity between the first two stars to show this behaviour, they suspect it might have to do with how the pulsation waves interact with themselves, perhaps via a resonance.

“Ultimately, this may be a new type of nonlinear behaviour that is triggered when the amplitude of a pulsation passes a certain threshold, perhaps similar to rogue waves on the open seas here on Earth, which are massive, spontaneous waves that can be many times larger than average surface waves,” said Dr Hermes. “Still, this is a fresh discovery from observations, and there may be more to these irregular stellar heartbeats than we can imagine yet.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A Second Case of Outbursts in a Pulsating White Dwarf Observed by Kepler by J. J. Hermes, M. H. Montgomery, Keaton J. Bell, P. Chote, B. T. Gänsicke, Steven D. Kawaler, J. C. Clemens, Bart H. Dunlap, D. E. Winget, and D. J. Armstrong.
2015 ApJ 810 L5 (The Astrophysical Journal Letters Volume 810 Number 1). doi:10.1088/2041-8205/810/1/L5
Published 24 August 2015.

© 2015. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an earlier open access version available at arXiv.org,

A second case of outbursts in a pulsating white dwarf observed by Kepler by J. J. Hermes, M. H. Montgomery, Keaton J. Bell, P. Chote, B. T. Gaensicke, Steven D. Kawaler, J. C. Clemens, B. H. Dunlap, D. E. Winget, D. J. Armstrong.  arXiv.org > astro-ph > arXiv:1507.06319

In an attempt to find some live heart beats to illustrate this piece, I found this video from Wake Forest University’s body-on-a-chip program,

The video was released in an April 14, 2015 article by Joe Bargmann for Popular Mechanics,

A groundbreaking program has converted human skin cells into a network of functioning heart cells, and also fused them with lab-grown liver cells using a specialized 3D printer. Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine provided Popular Mechanics with both still and moving images of the cells for a fascinating first look.

“The heart organoid beats because it contains specialized cardiac cells and because those cells are receiving the correct environmental cues,” says Ivy Mead, a Wake Forest graduate student and member of the research team. “We give them a special medium and keep them at the same temperature as the human body, and that makes them beat. We can also stimulate the miniature organ with electrical or chemical cues to alter the beating patterns. Also, when we grow them in three-dimensions it allows for them to interact with each other more easily, as they would in the human body.”

If you’re interested in body-on-a-chip projects, I have several stories here (suggestion: use body-on-a-chip as your search term in the blog search engine) and I encourage you to read Bargmann’s story in its entirety (the video no longer seems to be embedded there).

One final comment, there seems to be some interest in relating large systems to smaller ones. For example, humans and other animals along with white dwarf stars have heartbeats (as in this story) and patterns in a gold nanoparticle of 133 atoms resemble the Milky Way (my April 14, 2015 posting titled: Nature’s patterns reflected in gold nanoparticles).

You say pants, I say underpants when it’s all about the scientific lingerie

I’d forgotten the Brits say pants where we Canucks say underpants, a type of linguistic confusion which can lead to crosscultural snafus, as it did for me this morning (Aug. 23, 2013) on reading Stuart Clark’s Guardian Science blog posting, Pants named after astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (Note: Links have been removed),

You know that science communication has reached a whole new level when someone names a pair of women’s pants after an astronomer.

Today [August 23, 2013], internet-based retailer Who Made Your Pants? launches a line of women’s pants called Cecilia, named after Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the pioneering 20th century astronomer who explained the composition of the stars.

I’ve been an admirer of Payne’s achievements for a long time and couldn’t resist using her as a character in my novel The Day Without Yesterday.

She changed the face of astrophysics with her 1925 PhD thesis, in which she demonstrated that the sun was made almost exclusively from hydrogen and helium. Only 2% of its mass came from the other chemical elements, such as iron, oxygen and silicon.

Her name was chosen for the undergarment in a popular vote on the Who Made Your Pants? Facebook page. Customers were offered a choice between Cecilia, cell donor Henrietta Lacks and astronaut Sally Ride.

Becky John, who runs the company, and is also an organiser of the Winchester Science Festival says, “We will always name our pants after women who have been forgotten.”

Clark’s piece is amusing (he’s got a good punch line at the end) and informative and I recommend reading it.

As for Becky Johnson’s company,  Who Made Your Pants?, here’s a bit about the company from the About Us page,

Who Made Your Pants? is a campaigning lingerie brand based in Southampton, UK. We’re about two things – amazing pants, and amazing women.

We think that every day should be a good pants day, and that there should be a little bit of gorgeous under everyone’s clothes, something just for them. So we buy fabrics that have been sold on by big underwear companies at the end of season, stop them ending up as waste and turn them into gorgeous new pants that have a great start in life. They’re designed to sit flat under clothes, have no VPL [visible panty line], and be comfortable and all day fabulous.

We also think that it’s not really on for anyone to be made to work in bad conditions just for a cheap pair of pants. Who could feel lovely in something made in a bad place? So we make our pants in a great place. We’ve a little factory in Southampton where we create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time. The first job everyone learns is making the pants. We hope that all jobs within the business can be filled by the women as they gain skills though – if someone is interested in marketing, or finance, we’ll arrange training

When I first clicked through to the company website I was expecting to see what the Brits call trousers and found this instead,

Named for astronomer Cecilia Payne, our first side seamed shortie is made from smooth comfortable strecth fabrics and topped with reclaimed lace. A pretty lettuce edge hem finishes them off - and we can't wait to show you the next colours we have planned... [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

Named for astronomer Cecilia Payne, our first side seamed shortie is made from smooth comfortable strecth fabrics and topped with reclaimed lace. A pretty lettuce edge hem finishes them off – and we can’t wait to show you the next colours we have planned… [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

The company also has a ‘Rosalind’ as in a Rosalind Franklin pant,

Named for Rosalind Franklin, the higher cut shortie is based on a shape our designer saw and loved in Brazil. Smooth lycra or jersey is edged with reclaimed stretch lace for a stay put, no VPL, all day every day style. A great shape to show off gorgeous print fabrics [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

Named for Rosalind Franklin, the higher cut shortie is based on a shape our designer saw and loved in Brazil. Smooth lycra or jersey is edged with reclaimed stretch lace for a stay put, no VPL, all day every day style. A great shape to show off gorgeous print fabrics [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

It seems to be a ‘Rosalind Franklin’ week here as I embedded a rap created by a grade seven class for Tom McFadden’s Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles) about her in an Aug. 19, 2013 posting (scroll down to the end of the post for the video). For anyone not familiar with Rosalind Franklin and the controversy, here’s an essay about it and her on the San Diego Supercomputer Center website.

Francophone science blogging

Québec’s Agence Science-Presse (ASP) has published a list of francophone science blog postings that will be featured in an April 2013 anthology that they will publishing. From the Jan. 14, 2013 posting by Antoine Bonvoisin on the ASP blog,

Et voici enfin la liste des billets sélectionnés pour l’anthologie des blogues scientifiques ! Cette édition 2013, qui sera une première avec des textes publiés entre le 1er novembre 2011 et le 31 octobre 2012, a donné lieu à 173 propositions provenant de 98 blogueurs.

Le livre paraîtra en avril [2013], tenez-vous prêt ! Cette première expérience donnera lieu dorénavant à la publication d’un recueil chaque année. Blogueurs, si vous avez manqué le coche, ne ratez pas la prochaine édition et faites-nous parvenir votre contact à cette adresse (courriel et adresse du blogue). Vous pouvez aussi suivre l’actualité de ce projet sur ce blogue ou sur les réseaux sociaux (Facebook et Twitter).

The listings are largely organized by the institution with which the bloggers are associated, e.g. C@fé des sciences, Radio-Canada, Fondation David-Suzuki, l’Université de Liège, as well as,  a listing for independent bloggers all of whom are drawn from ‘le monde de la francophonie’ (francophone world or french-speaking world).

Here are a couple of the postings I found particularly amusing/interesting,

Karel Mayrand – Monsieur Harper : mon pays c’est l’hiver

This is from the David Suzuki Foundation (Québec) and I loved the reference to Gilles Vigneault’s anthemic song, “Mon Pays,” a song that has been strongly associated with nationalistic feelings in Québec. From the Canadian Encyclopedia’s “Mon Pays” entry,

This chanson has assumed a political character. Benoît L’Herbier, for example, describes it as “a Quebec anthem if there is one at all, hummed with self-respect and pride” (La Chanson québécoise, Montreal 1974). In an interview with Pierre Nadeau, Vigneault denied having intended to compose a national anthem (L’Actualité, September 1979).

Given the post is addressed to Stephen Harper (Canada’s Prime Minister) and is written by someone from an organization that has long campaigned over environmental awareness and climate change issues, it seems the song is being returned to its original metaphorical roots while evoking its ‘assumed political character’ (from the Canadian Encyclopedia; Note: Some links have been removed),

“Mon Pays.” Song commissioned from Gilles Vigneault by the National Film Board for Arthur Lamothe’s 1965 film La Neige a fondu sur la Manicouagan. Vigneault wrote both the words and the music and completed the song in 1964. The opening phrase – “Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” (“My country is not a country, it’s winter”) – provides a good illustration of the metaphoric character of the song, in which Vigneault speaks above all of winds, cold, snow, and ice. The weather of northern Quebec can be viewed as a metaphor for its cultural isolation. But “in this land of snowstorms” the author still vows to remain faithful and hospitable like his father before him, who built a home there: “the guestroom will be such that people from the other seasons will come and build next door to it.” He also evokes in the second verse the solitude of wide open spaces and the ideal of brotherhood.

Here’s the 2nd and final post I’m highlighting,

Riadh Ben Nessib – La Galaxie d’As Sufi (Andromède)

Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi was a great Persian astronomer who amongst many other accomplishment made the first recorded observations of the Andromeda Galaxy. The posting, written March 28, 2012) recounts a session at an astronomy conference where a strong case is made for petitioning the International Astronomy Union to affix a second name to the Andromeda Galaxy and have it also known as ‘As Sufi’s Galaxy’. Here’s more about As Sufi from Wikipedia’s Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi essay (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

He was one of the famous nine Muslim astronomers. His name implies that he was a Sufi Muslim. He lived at the court of Emir Adud ad-Daula in Isfahan, Persia, and worked on translating and expanding Greek astronomical works, especially the Almagest of Ptolemy. He contributed several corrections to Ptolemy’s star list and did his own brightness and magnitude estimates which frequently deviated from those in Ptolemy’s work.

He identified the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is visible from Yemen, though not from Isfahan; it was not seen by Europeans until Magellan’s voyage in the 16th century. He also made the earliest recorded observation of the Andromeda Galaxy in 964 AD; describing it as a “small cloud”. These were the first galaxies other than the Milky Way to be observed from Earth.

He observed that the ecliptic plane is inclined with respect to the celestial equator and more accurately calculated the length of the tropical year. He observed and described the stars, their positions, their magnitudes and their colour, setting out his results constellation by constellation. For each constellation, he provided two drawings, one from the outside of a celestial globe, and the other from the inside (as seen from the earth).

The writer, Riadh Ben Nessib, is an independent blogger and I believe he’s associated with the Tunisian Astronomy Society amongst many other organizations including the Association of British Science Writers (as per this Facebook page).

Take control of a 17th century scientific genius (Newton, Galileo, Keppler, Liebniz, or Kircher) in The New Science board game

Thank you to David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis) for the Sept. 16, 2012 posting (by way of Twitter and @JeanLucPiquant) about The New Science Game currently listed on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site. From the description of The New Science board game on Kickstarter,

The New Science gives you control of one of five legendary geniuses from the scientific revolution in a race to research, successfully experiment on, and finally publish some of the critical early advances that shaped modern science.

This fun, fast, easy-to-learn worker placement game for 2-5 players is ideal for casual and serious gamers alike. The rules are easy to learn and teach, but the many layers of shifting strategy make each game a new challenge that tests your mind and gets your competitive juices flowing.

Each scientist has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. No two scientists play the same way, so each time you try someone new it provides a different and satisfying play experience. Your scientist’s mat also serves as a player aid, repeating all of the key technology information from the game board for your easy reference.

The “five legendary geniuses’ are Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Gottfried Liebniz, and Athanasius Kircher. The Kickstarter campaign to take control of the five has raised $5,058 US of the $16,000 requested and it ends on Oct. 17, 2012.

The game is listed on boardgamegeek.com with additional details such as this,

Designer: Dirk Knemeyer

Artist: Heiko Günther

Publisher: Conquistador Games

# of players: 2-5

User suggested ages: 12 and up


Players control one of the great scientists during the 17th century Scientific Revolution in Europe. Use your limited time and energy to make discoveries, test hypotheses, publish papers, correspond with other famous scientists, hire assistants into your laboratory and network with other people who can help your progress. ’emphasis mine] Discoveries follow historical tech trees in the key sciences of the age: Astronomy, Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. The scientist who accumulates the most prestige will be appointed the first President of the Royal Society.

The activities listed in the game description “make discoveries, test hypotheses,” etc. must sound very familiar to a contemporary scientist.

There’s also an explanatory video as seen on the Kickstarter campaign page and embedded here below,

David notes this about game quality in his Sept. 16, 2012 posting (Note: I have removed a link),

The game was heavily tested by the folks at Game Salute, and comes with the kind of quality details you might expect from games like Ticket to Ride or the various version of Catan.  If you’re interested in getting a copy of the game, it will run $49 U.S., plus shipping for destinations outside the U.S.  See the Kickstarter page for more details.

You can find out more about Conquistador Games here.

Glass bubbles on the moon contain nanoparticles

There’s something quite charming about this June 12, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A stunning discovery by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) soil scientist Marek Zbik of nano particles inside bubbles of glass in lunar soil could solve the mystery of why the moon’s surface topsoil has many unusual properties.

Dr Zbik, from Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Faculty, said scientists had long observed the strange behaviour of lunar soil but had not taken much notice of the nano and submicron particles found in the soil and their source was unknown.

Dr Zbik took the lunar soil samples to Taiwan where he could study the glass bubbles without breaking them using a new technique for studying nano materials call synchrotron-based nano tomography to look at the particles. Nano tomography is a transmission X-ray microscope which enables 3D images of nano particles to be made.

“We were really surprised at what we found,” Dr Zbik said.

“Instead of gas or vapour inside the bubbles, which we would expect to find in such bubbles on Earth, the lunar glass bubbles were filled with a highly porous network of alien-looking glassy particles that span the bubbles’ interior.

“It appears that the nano particles are formed inside bubbles of molten rocks when meteorites hit the lunar surface. Then they are released when the glass bubbles are pulverised by the consequent bombardment of meteorites on the moon’s surface.

“This continuous pulverising of rocks on the lunar surface and constant mixing develop a type of soil which is unknown on Earth.”

This video from the Queensland University of Technology is in 3-D (I believe this is the first I’ve hosted a 3-D video here),

Here’s more about this video and Zbik’s work from the YouTube page,

Discovery of possible source of the lunar regolith fine fraction from liberation of particles born within impact generated vesicles in the lunar impact glass. 3D image obtained using Transmission X-Ray Microscope (TXM), shown here as the anaglyph, reveals fine structure within vesicle in the lunar impact glass.
Marek S. Żbik, Yen-Fang Song, Chun-Chieh Wang, and Ray L. Frost, “Discovery of Discrete Structured Bubbles within Lunar Regolith Impact Glasses,” ISRN Astronomy and Astrophysics, (2012), Article ID 506187, 3 pages.

More details about the discovery can be found in the June 12, 2012 news item on Nanowerk or in the Queensland University of Technology June 12, 2012 news release,

“Lunar soil is electro-statically charged so it hovers above the surface; it is extremely chemically active; and it has low thermal conductivity eg it can be 160 degrees above the surface but -40 degrees two metres below the surface.

“It is also very sticky and brittle such that its particles wear the surface off metal and glass.”

I loved the video and watched it twice, all 17 secs. of it.

Using copyright laws to censor a science blogger?

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick highlighted an incident where an astronomy blog was taken down with a DMCA (US Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice earlier this week over an astronomy dispute. From Masnick’s July 22, 2011 article,

James Litwin points us to a report about how someone — and, tragically, the party is never actually named — filed a DMCA takedown notice to Blogger to try to take down Ian Musgrave’s Astroblogger site.

According to Nancy Atkinson on the Universe Today blog’s July 20, 2011 posting, the Astroblog site was unavailable for a few days,

Astronomer and blogger Ian Musgrave from South Australia has been active in debunking the misinformation and nonsense that is being disseminated about Comet Elenin. He has written several wonderful posts featuring the actual realities of this long-period lump of dirty ice that has, for some reason, attracted the attention of doomsdayers, 2012ers, and end-of-the-world scaremongers. Earlier this week, Ian’s Elenin posts on his Astroblog were taken down by the web host, as someone filed a claim for alleged violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “Given that there is no copyrighted material on these pages, with either material generated entirely by me or links to and citation of publicly available material, I believe this was just a frivolous attack on people countering Elenin nonsense” Ian said.

Atkinson goes on to provide all of the information Musgrave generated over a number of days on Astroblog in a single posting. I think it’s a convenient to catch up with this issue for someone like me who until Masnick’s article had never heard about Elenin or the concerns it has generated.

Thankfully, Astroblog has been reinstated and Musgrave continues to post about Elenin and other matters. His July 22, 2011 post features a story about how an individual, citizen scientist (amateur astronomer) bought time on a remote telescope (in the Canary Islands) to test an hypothesis about Elenin,

There has been a lot of angst about the size of comet C/2010 X1 Elenin on the internet, with some people worried it is either a Brown Dwarf Star or the Satellite of a Brown Dwarf. Both Leonid Elenin and I have used maths and simulations to show that the comet must be small, but people continue to be anxious, and are discussing the matter endlessly on various discussion groups.

Except a commenter called Astronut, who did something unthinkable, rather than endlessly nattering he actually tested the hypothesis that Elenin was big.

He bought time on a remote telescope (one of the Slooh scopes) in the Canary Islands, and measured the position of asteroid (74732) 1999 RQ176 twenty -four hours after it’s close encounter with comet Elenein on May 20.

I won’t give any more details, please read the story to find out what happens next but, if you don’t have time to do that, you can rest easy.

I’m sorry to see a copyright law as a form of censorship.

Buckyballs in space

Astronomers are excited! They thought they’d found buckyballs (buckminster fullerenes) in some stars about 15 years ago but that finding still hasn’t been confirmed with laboratory data. Meanwhile, a new team including Jan Cami from the University of Western Ontario (Canada) and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountainview, California recently made an unexpected discovery—buckyballs—while examining a planetary nebula (remains of a star shedding its outer layer of gas and dust as it ages). According to the news item on physorg.com,

“We found what are now the largest molecules known to exist in space,” said astronomer Jan Cami of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We are particularly excited because they have unique properties that make them important players for all sorts of physical and chemical processes going on in space.” Cami has authored a paper about the discovery that will appear online Thursday [July 29, 2010?] in the journal Science.

Buckyballs are made of 60 carbon atoms arranged in three-dimensional, spherical structures. Their alternating patterns of hexagons and pentagons match a typical black-and-white soccer ball. The research team also found the more elongated relative of buckyballs, known as C70, for the first time in space. These molecules consist of 70 carbon atoms and are shaped more like an oval rugby ball. Both types of molecules belong to a class known officially as buckminsterfullerenes, or fullerenes.

You can also find the news item at Nanowerk where an alternative video clip (featuring an interview with Jan Cami discussing buckyballs) to the the silent animation featuring buckyballs and their movement  available on the physorg.com site.

The folks at Rice University must be thrilled since proof of the existence of buckyballs on this planet is strongly associated with discoveries made by scientists at Rice (my May 13, 2010 posting provides a fuller picture of some of the twists and turns associated with that science story).