Tag Archive for 'news'

Discovery of the Fomalhaut C debris disc

This isn’t a photo for a change. It’s a graphic from a press release about my discovery of a debris disk around Fomalhaut C.

Artists illustration of Fomalhaut C, with Fomalhaut A in the background. Credit: Amanda Smith

Artist’s illustration of Fomalhaut C, with Fomalhaut A in the background. Credit: Amanda Smith

The story has travelled far, including (but not limited to) ABCastrobites, Centauri Dreams, CNES & CNRS (French), Discovery News, Natureslashdot & Universe Today.

Save BBC World Service

Go to www.savews.com and sign a petition to save the BBC World Service from cuts.


Climate change opinion change?

There is a BBC article today, noting how a recent poll shows an increase in the number of people who don’t believe in climate change (what we used to call global warming). Apparently three months ago, 15% of people in the UK didn’t think climate change was taking place, now 25% think so. The conclusion is that recent events, a “series of high profile climate-related stories, some of which made grim reading for climate scientists and policymakers” has caused the change. However, 73% of folk aware of said news hadn’t let it change their minds, apparently “people tend to make judgements over time based on a whole range of different sources.”

So people can be swayed by news and change their minds on the existence or otherwise of global warming or otherwise in three months, yet at the same time get a feeling for what’s happening over longer timescales. Somewhat contradictory conclusions? Yet the results are obviously “very disturbing” and “action is urgently needed.” Action to educate that global warming is real that is.

Indeed, I agree more education would be great, and with that how about some education about critical thinking? While the surveyors note that it’s “very unusual indeed to see such a dramatic shift in opinion in such a short period,” they still take the results at face value, rather than wondering if perhaps the differences between the two surveys are an indication of their error due to some systematic effect. While there may have been some real change in the number of (landline owning) people (try running it monthly and looking at the scatter), I find this blind faith in the results being representative of the real world a bit hard to swallow.

Corruption Perception Index

New Zealand: Perceived as the worlds least corrupt country in 2009. Does this result mean we’re (NZers) simply the most gullible people? (It’s not clear whether the perceptions are of individuals of each country however)

Vicotria Bushfires

ABC has an amazing website dedicated to telling the entire story of the 2009 bushfires


Astronomy: quite useful actually

astronomy saves lives and is useful for once!


The (political) barometer?



NYT Wordtrain

The New York Times has a cool “wordtrain” showing words summing up how people feel about the US election. Most interesting is how people supporting each candidate feel. If the words are anything to go by, Obama has already won…


Cool rss reader

MSNBC has a very cute rss reader… I use Newsfire which seems to work ok, though now seems a bit short on bells and whistles.


Global warming caused by sunspot cycles: what?

So I thought it was pretty bad when I got junk email about global warming being caused by sunspots. However, that pales in comparison when I hear that someone managed to get an article in the Melbourne Age. The sun is at the end of one of it’s 11 year sunspot cycles, true, but the effect of changes in the insolation due to changes in this cycle are miniscule, about 0.07% according to these guys. At least this guy has a sense of humour… and sums things up pretty well.

Anyway, if the sunspot cycle is 11 years, why haven’t I had an ice age in my lifetime?


Some absolutely brutal photos from Kenya. What is wrong with the world?


Mac ads

I haven’t made the jump to Leopard yet (waiting for some of the bugs to be ironed out…), but there’s a clever ad on the New York Times home page…


Light air rises

Normally hot air rises, but light air does also, in the way that it escapes from the atmosphere more easily than things like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. If we’re not more careful to conserve helium when we get it out of the ground in the future, our kids might miss out on the fun it brings when the party’s over and it’s time to talk funny. As a side effect, science will also suffer


MIT Museum

With nothing planned today, I thought I’d go for a look at the MIT Museum. The museum has been in the news here lately, when they opened the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery.

The “innovation gallery” is a room with some stuff related to current MIT research, like their City Car (which is really clever), and some submarine stuff. My favourite was a sensor thing that looked at a tray of beads, and then projected contours onto them from above. Nifty.

The museum proper has a bunch of different exhibits, on things as diverse as proteins and robotics. Being a techy geeky kind of guy, the robotics was very interesting. I had no idea they had build robots that could run, and even do flips! Another highlight was the art of Arthur Ganson, very cool clockwork like sculptures.

Well worth a visit if you’re in Cambridge.

Fear not…

…for I am with thee (Isaiah 43:5, and other translations).

However, it looks like there’s still hope for the godless among us, thanks to some clever scientists who have found a “pathway for extinction of contextual fear” in (presumably godless) mice.

Being able to do the most fearful things, like asking a girl out for example, may be simpler in the future when the cure for fear comes out. If it comes as a tasty liquid medicine, and avoids side effects such as loss of the ability to operate heavy machinery, then it just might replace the current favourite for fearful situations. Only time will tell whether it’ll retail for $7.95 and be as good as a Long Trail Hefeweizen…

Middlesex Fells

Having been back in Boston for a whole two days I felt like getting out and doing something. A few people mentioned that there was something at the end of the Orange Line, if you could avoid getting shot on the way. While there aren’t any decent maps on the Middlesex Fells pages, I found a good pdf one on a biking site.

Getting there is simple, go to the north end of the Orange line and walk up Washington St until you hit one of the many ‘gates’ along that road, I went up Goodyear Rd and started there along the Rock Circuit Trail. This trail appears to hit every outcrop on the eastern side of the Fells, and goes through many and varied kinds of forest. The circuit took about 2.5 hours for the round trip, not including the 15 minutes or so from the T stop.

Middlesex Fells

The walk is similar to the Blue Hills Reservation skyline trail, which has a number of views of the city. It’s a much smaller park, but is perhaps easier to get to. From the little time I spent there it appeared the density of people was rather less too.

The rest of the photos are here.

Independence Day

Along with lots of people who are real bona fide Americans, I celebrated July 4th yesterday. Every year Bostonians gather along the banks of the Charles River, to soak up the atmosphere, listen to some music, and watch a good ol’ fashioned fireworks show. This year they also got wet.

I took my camera for a walk along the esplanade around lunchtime, to see hundreds of people enjoying a lovely afternoon by the river. I didn’t go into the sound shell area, which was pretty packed having been open since 9am. A number of new citizens were sworn in, a little history was read out (the declaration also appears as the editorial in the Globe every year, thus saving the editor a days work).

people walking around in boxers?

After a ‘few’ celebratory cocktails with the Aussie/CfA crew, I returned to the river to watch the fireworks, in the rain unfortunately, but didn’t dampen our spirits…

july 4th fireworks

Photos here.

Spring has sprung

Spring has come on quickly here. Just over a month ago there was a snowstorm, and now the trees are leafing up and there is grass. This is the view out my bedroom window. I’ll take one every few days and make a year round montage like the one I did for the construction of the AITC at Mt Stromlo.

the view out my window in Boston

The grass has been encouraged heavily, the harvard gardeners are evidently under strict instruction to re-sow the lawns as soon as possible to keep the tourists who come to touch John Harvard’s foot happy. If only they knew what the students did to it

World Cup Cricket Final 2007

Oh dear… what a mess, just not cricket…

A large number of Aussies (and some Kiwis) gathered at Tommy Doyles Irish pub (where were the pies?) in Cambridge to check out the final of the cricket. Following a scintillating innings by Gilchrist, Sri Lanka struggled to keep up with the run rate.

In the end there were some communication issues and the game ended in the dark (and we were in the dark about what was happening…).

About time the Aussies gave someone else a go I think.

Delayed flights and expensive internet

Wonderful Auckland International Airport. As I sit here next to a food machine people are leaving Gate 10 in droves. Apparently the flight has been delayed further to a departure time of 23:00, rather later than the scheduled time of 19:40. Instead of leaving I’ve so far chosen to sit and surf for something like NZD$10 an hour on my shiny new macbook pro. As an AIA shareholder I’m a little disappointed, though I’m sure there are bigger forces at work…

This isn’t exactly the start I was hoping for on my big trip to the USA. I did expect to go through security multiple times, which I have. I did expect large queues, which I got. I hoped to get away without anyone checking how much my road case with two laptops weighs, which is did.

In my absence Canberra has been inundated with an awesome hailstorm. ANU has closed for the next few days to clean up the mess!

Sydney Big Day Out 07

I went to my first Big Day Out this week and it was huge! Thousands upon thousands (~55,000 in fact) of flag wearing Aussies made their way to the home of the 2000 Olympics to watch such acts as Muse, Tool, Jet, Lily Allen, John Butler etc. etc. I had a lovely day though was a little sore in the back by the time we got back to the hostel at about 2am.

We arrived nice and early, having already visited ATMS, thus avoiding any transport and 50m ATM queue woes. The audio provided by Jands was largely impressive, the stacks of 760’s in the Boiler Room sounded as clear and solid as anything I’ve heard before.

My favourite act of the day is hard to pick. James Taylor played some nice breaks, though very early in the day unfortunately. John Butler and his Trio had a banner saying ‘Nuclear Free Australia’ and encouraged people to vote in between paying an excellent set. Muse were awesome and energetic, with a good light show to go with. Tool were ok though I’m not a major fan… Shapeshifter have a singer now, and still at their best sans singer going fast with talented drummer and loud synth riffs.

Other highlights include the shiny solar-powered ‘Clubtainer’ in Lilyworld, and the walk-in pinhole camera…

After such a long day, we went for BK back in town and a wind-down beer at a quiet pub. Thanks Mary, Sayuri, Wolfi, and Emma for a rock ‘n’ roll day.

Photo will appear here soon.

more press release madness

On Monday an ANU press release went out and all hell broke loose. Well I did three radio interviews and made it onto PM, Radio National’s evening news which is quite an achievement aparrently.

My 15 minutes of fame is now over. There are a bunch of links to how my story got pasted over the internet on my PhD publications page.

It even made it into Nature’s research highlights!

snowy super-Earth press release

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have put out a press release relating to our recently accepted ‘super-Earth’ paper (astro-ph/0609140, ApJL). It’s also on Universe today which is very cool.

This blog has rewritten what happens and makes some good points about what a super-Earth really is, and about disk masses which do have a wide range. Our model uses a disk that is reasonably massive, for this and dynamical reasons we don’t expect planets much larger than ~5 Earth masses to form in this manner.

There are even a few sites I’ve never heard of that have the release: Spaceflight Now, and Space Daily.

It seems a tad unfortunate that today a light plane crashed into an apartment building in Manhattan. It’s probably best when press releases go out on ‘no news’ days… (because this is obviously front page news)

In case you’re wondering, below is an artists image of a super-Earth, an icy planet several times further away from a dim ‘red dwarf’ star than the Earth is from the Sun.

it really does look like this


if you’ve seen the news about there being a lot less comets these days and wondered what all the fuss was about, you can go have a look at Paul’s web page.

my own work will be along before xmas (or else!)