Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Life Cycle of Stars - Planetarium GCSE script

This blog is an extended version of the script made for the first ever use of the inflatable planetarium  ...oooh exciting :)

This first show is based loosely on the Life Cycle of Stars...aimed at students studying GCSE  Physics and GCSE Astronomy. If the kids are younger than GCSE or below, nicer to start with Planets and Ecliptic and star signs stuff, detailed in Optional Start, leaving out more complex stuff on Neutron Stars and Black Holes.
Stellarium commands are in blue
Red notes are optional facts to add, and depend on age of audience and time.

The talk should take 20-30 mins depending on how much science/mythology you elaborate on. Suggest that it is nice to do this show condensed into 20 mins at the end of We are Astronomers… to give a 40-45minute show.


Me with the dome :)






From blue young stars to black hole death




Optional easing-in start

Do this if audience have no real knowledge of the stars and planets - best starting point for younger kids, if GCSE probably not needed can jump straight in at Finding North, but check!

In stellarium start with sky as it is with sun (a for atmosphere) and ground, g. and at current time  8 .
Ask ‘Can we see any stars in the night sky?’
 Expect responses such as ‘Only the Sun, no because it’s too bright’-

Ask  ‘so why can’t we see the other stars in the day?’ -
Get response cos our star the sun, too bright, light bounces off atmosphere, stops us seeing the other stars. Mention the light pollution in cities bouncing off the inner atmosphere stopping us seeing stars even at Night!

Speed up time and see sun moving across the sky, ask why the sun is moving?
Explain that sun is not actually moving it’s us that is moving about on our axis and this makes the sun appear to rise in the East and set in the West. Normal time rate Get to some time tonight , about 9pm by speeding up, then switch to Normal time.

Turn the sun off (a) and the planets and ecliptic on < , >.
Explain what the ecliptic is (all the planets in our solar system are in the same plane so as we look out at them they all seem to follow the same path on the sky, (red curved line in stellarium) Point out the planets they should be able to see tonight.

Turn on the constellation pictures of all the stars signs (c – constellations v – names  r - art ). Explain that a constellation is a grouping of stars made by the ancient greeks they used them to navigate and made up stories about different constellations.   You will notice that all the zodiac constellations, ie. Star signs lie along this line called the ecliptic. These star signs divide the ecliptic up into 12 equal zones, which is why they are 12 of them.  (Leave constellations on but pictures off! r)

From here can either start explaining how to find North and follow show from there , or (Cut out north and Cass and Andromeda )
Go straight into Orion and start talking about life cycle of stars just within Orion.

Finding North


Big Dipper to Cassiopeia
Starting with Big dipper, which is an asterism, part of the constellation ursa major, which means the Great Bear.  And Ursa Minor, which means small bear. The lowest too stars in the saucepan point to North Star.

It looks like a saucepan, with a handle and a place to put your beans, counting from the 2 stars at the end of the pan, count in a straight line about 5/6 steps (at a step distance of the gap between those 2 stars). There you will find Polaris aka the North star.  Many people think North Star is the brightest in the sky! It isn’t! it is only important because it is directly above the North Pole, and stays above the north pole as the earth spins on its axis causing all the other stars to spin around! Think about spinning top (from Christmas cracker) the top part, which you spin around with your fingers, doesn’t appear to move while the sides of the top are whizzing around. The middle of the top represents the North Pole with the North Star is right above it. Make sure they realise none of the stars actually move, and it’s us that are moving?

(speed up time L in Stellarium so they can see stars going around in arcs)
Mentioned Axis of Earth ( if time mention Southern Hemisphere doesn’t have a star above south pole :( They use Southern Cross and point to an area which is above/below the South Pole)

Circumpolar stars -Cassopeia to Andromeda

Make sure can see both Cass and big dipper

Ask ‘what is a constellation? ‘     Explain these are 48 constellations in total.
Turn on constellation art press ‘r’ key
Patterns of stars in sky, imagine the ancient Greeks without TVs very bored so used to join the stars together like a dot to dot, Mention that the Saucepan/Big Dipper is an Asterism not constellation, as it is part of the great bear. Turn off constellation art  r
Circumpolar stars
Explain that the constellations of Cassiopeia and Andromeda and Ursa Major etc are Circumpolar constellations and never set.

Cassiopeia
Cass looks like a W or an M for McDonalds, find her from the Big Dipper by drawing a line through North Star. Cass is a queen married to King Cepheus (he is in sky near by looks like a house drawn by a child). Andromeda is Cass’s daughter.

Andromeda

Locate Andromeda.. go along same line from Polaris, to Cass, and thru to Andromeda.. (Search Fn-F3 for M31, and zoom in using / in stellarium)
When in Andromeda constellation, say it is our nearest spiral galaxy Andromeda (in local group.) Andromeda looks a lot like our own galaxy and you can imagine if you were flying in space outside our Milky Way it would like very similar to Andromeda.
Mention that Andromeda is actually alot bigger than the Milky Way, has many more stars!, make sure they know the Milky Way is our galaxy! Say that the light from Andromeda is actually blue shifted! Ask if they know what this mean? So MW and Andromeda are actually moving toward each other in space, attracted to each other by gravitational forces due to their large masses, in 4.5 billion years they will collide making a much larger galaxy.

Milky Way (MW)
Make sure they know MW is our galaxy, talk about the reason for the name, i.e. the ancient Greeks thought it looked like someone had spilt milk across the sky. Spiral arms are dust and gas that is orbiting a supermassive black hole which exists at the centre of all galaxies. We are in Orion arm of our galaxy. (Leads into talking about Orion, then can miss out Andromeda and Cass story if not much time)

Can mention other satellite galaxies, LMC and SMC.


Andromeda-Cassiopeia story


Cassiopeia
(only do this story if have time!, best for Year 8 and below.)

If you have seen the recent film Clash of the Titans you will know this story already, but you might not know how it relates to the stars…
Put on constellation art r , Make sure all people in story are in sky and point to them with laser

Cass Queen and Mother and daughter Andromeda were both very beautiful but Cassiopeia committed a 'sin' in the eyes of the Greek gods, by saying that herself and her daughter were even more beautiful than the sea nymphs. This made Poseidon, god of the sea really mad so he struck the water with his Trident and flooded the lands, calling up the sea monster, Cetus, to destroy the kingdom. Cepheus her husband the King, was scared for his kingdom so he asked an oracle how he could save the kingdom and she said "you will you have to sacrifice your daughter to the sea monster to save it"...
So he decided he would sacrifice his daughter, so Andromeda was chained to a rock with the sea monster sent on her. Luckily Perseus who was very strong and handsome decided he would save Andromeda so he flew to her on Pegasus and said, "Hey I'll kill the monster if become my wife" so of course she did, since he was handsome, and there was the fact she was just about to face certain death. However, the story doesn’t end here though, because the people of the kingdom were not happy that Perseus and Andromeda were together, one person with a problem with this was a former lover of Andromeda, he set 200 hundred warriors to attack the couple (and her mother was involved in organising this, also, you can see from this story that Andromeda parents weren’t really very nice, her mother especially evil). Luckily Perseus had the head of the Medusa which he used to wear on his belt (handy!) and anytime you look into the eyes of Medusa she will turn you all to stone, so he was able to turn them all to stone by angling her head at the 200 warriors. The Gods flung Cassopeia into heavens as punishment for causing all this to happen for being so vain. She sits on her throne the W in the sky and as we learned earlier she is circumpolar goes from M to W she is being banged on her head (with her skirts flying up over her with each revolution)...And Perseus and Andromeda lived happily ever after! Turn off constellation art r 


Milky Way to Orion

Orion the hunter
From Cass through Perseus to Auriga then Orion, or Search for Orion Fn-F3 M43, 
Orion
The constellations we see depend on the time of year. Because the aswell as the earth is spinning around on its axis , which gives us day and night, the earth is moving along its orbit around the Sun, this gives us seasons and also means we are looking into different parts of the sky during the course of the year. The constellation Orion is a Winter Constellation, and is very famous because of the 3 stars which make up orions belt.
Point out 3 stars and then turn on constellation art, explain about him being a hunter, shape of his body then turn off.





Orions belt 
3 stars these are young blue stars, baby stars if you will. Introduce Betelgeuse on the shoulder. Ask which stars are hottest type of stars or coldest?

Zoom in / Search Fn-F3 M43 Orion Nebula, Talk about stars being born out of dust and gas. In Orions sword. Star forming region nursery. Like Orion is pregnant. Tell them about the different colours recap, blue, young star, yellow, teenage star, red giant star dieing... then finally death brings...large explosion...BOOM! Our Sun, is considered to be a low mass gently throw outerlayers out in a planetary nebula, burned out core that remains is a White Dwarf.
High mass stars like Betelgeuse which I will talk about in a moment, end their lives by , powerful supernovae explosions which can be as lumionous as an entire galaxy of stars! These Supernovae throw out particles called neutrinos, and leave behind a Neutron Star or a Black Hole. (If kids old enough mention that if Star was bigger than 1.4 times the Mass of sun NS if bigger than 3 times the size of sun BH.)

Heavy elements formed inside star are now enriching space, recycling,
new stars are born from this. We are all made from the elements formed in stars :)*****

This Image shows the full cycle of the stars life.
For example the process of Fusion combines H to He then to Oxygen then to Carbon, and us Humans are known as Carbon based life forms.




Betelgeuse –arabic for armpit of the central one.

This super giant star has been in news recently because astronomers think it might blow up or go supernovae very soon (in fact it may have already blown up). This is red star, which is cooling down because it is coming to the end of its life. Our star the Sun is in the stable phase of its life. If we think of the new born stars (protostars) as mainly made of H where the process of Fusion hasn’t started. The sun has been Fusing it H into He steadily for 4.5Billion years, this steady phase is called the main sequence, and it will be another 4.5 billion years before it runs out of all its H and swells up into Red giant star. When the sun ends its life it is not big enough to cause a supernova explosion it will just leave a small star called a white dwarf.
Betelgeuse is a supergiant red star about 500 light years away - that means it would take the light from Betelgeuse 500 years to reach us on earth. So when astronomers are looking at B they are actually seeing the star in the past, as it was 500 years ago. This is why it is difficult to tell if has blown up.  Now nothing can travel as fast as light, for example the Sun is 8 light minutes away from us. This means light from the sun takes 8 mins to reach us. So even if for some reason the sun suddenly stopped emitting light to us, it would be 8 minutes before we would know about it.
B is so big if you placed it into our solar system in the place of the sun it would extend out past Mars and the asteroid belt and into the orbit of Jupiter. The reason why it is so big that it has run out of H and can’t fuse atoms together. This means the forces on the star are no longer balanced which is why the outer layers start to swell outwards and eventually it will go boom! When it does go ‘boom’ even though it is over 500 light years away it will be very bright, we may even be able to see it for several weeks in the daytime. However, do not fear if it does go supernovae within our lifetime (could go bang tomorrow could be the next million years) it won’t affect us, apart from the firework show.

For kids older than Year 9 can say astronomers call the young blue stars, O stars these are 33,000 K, hottest, and the coldest, M stars, red 3,700K (say degrees), compare this with the temperature of the sun 6,000K.  Can also explain light year, 6trillion miles! (6 with12 zeros which is a distance equivalent to 240 million times the circumference of Earth.

Sun
When our sun becomes a red giant star in about 8 billion years from now it will actually swell up so big it will knock us out of orbit.




Crab 


The Crab, and the Neutron Star at the centre
Try not to repeat stuff, which is talked about for Betelgeuse with the Crab Go to Taurus, NW of Orion, Search for Fn F3 M1 / zoom in then back out\, on one of horns of the Bull, Taurus.
Link with B if talked about it, explain that this is the Crab nebula, star that went supernovae in 1054 and the Chinese saw it first. Now even though it is 6,500 lyrs away (about a 100 times further than B), it was brightest thing in the sky except for moon, so this just shows you how bright these explosions are when massive stars die! It got its name, the Crab, because it has these extended filaments make it look like a crab? see if you agree in photo later...if doing photos.

The Crab Nebula, has exploded and left a very dense type of star at its centre, called a Neutron star. These stars are extremely dense, Ask if they know what dense means?
Give example that a NS the mass of our sun would be the size of a city like Southampton.
Or another way of thinking of it, one tablespoon of material from a NS would have the same weight as Everest. Neutron star held up by neutrons only, everything else has been squashed out by the strong gravitational forces acting on the star, which act due to its great mass. In order to escape from the surface of a NS you would have to travel at 1/2 the speed of light, which is equivalent to about 300Million miles an hour! Pulsars are an example of a spinning neutron star, which is spinning due to the conservation of the angular momentum of the original star.

Make sure zoomed out \ and can see all of Taurus….

Pleiades are the most famous star cluster in the night of sky and the Greeks said this cluster was like the ‘fleas on the back of Taurus’
These are bright white/blue stars called then seven sisters; you may have seen these on the badge of the Car, Subaru. The native Indians used these as an ancient eye test. If you could see maybe 6-9 by the naked eye you could become a hunter, but if you can only se about 3 or 4 you had to be a farmer. This doesn’t apply if you are looking from Soton because of light pollution from the city you will be lucky to see Taurus, never mind the Pleiades. This cluster actually has hundreds of stars, which are gravitationally bound to each other. Zoom in to see Pleiades / by searching for it. FnF3

Can zoom back out and speed up time L, to see Orion chasing Taurus across sky he is a hunter after all.


Sirius


Orion's belt - follow to Sirius

Line drawn from Orion’s belt to Sirius


, point out with laser , Talking about different stars, leads on to asking if ‘Anyone know what the brightest star in the sky is?’
Sirius, which is Greek for ‘glowing or scorching’ is an example of a massive young white star and also that this is the brightest star in the sky and is on the eye
Zoom in to /collar of Orion’s dog.
Ask ‘why is it so bright?’-
Hopefully they will say because it’s close by, yes it is only 8.7 light years away which when you compare it with Betelgeuse its very close, another reason why it is so bright is because it is actually 2 stars in what astronomers call a binary system, the one star is size of sun, and other is twice size of sun.



Black hole M87


Navigate from Crab in Taurus to Virgo or, Search Fn-F3 M87 (back to ursa major/big dipper, thru Bootes, and then Virgo is there) Zoom / see elliptical galaxy

M87 is an example of a black hole. Black holes are either formed at the end of the life of a star and these small black holes can exist within our galaxy, the MW and have masses about 10 times that of the sun, other supermassive black holes like M87 are 1000, million times that of the sun!! These are thought to be formed in the beginning of the Universe when large galaxies were merging together (M87 is at the centre of an elliptical galaxy Jet goes out 5,000 light years, which is astounding when you think that about as far as we are from the Crab Nebula.). For a collapsed or dead star with a mass of about 8 suns where there is such extreme gravity between the remaining mass, that even the neutrons can hold up the star, and these neutrons get squashed out, making a hole in space time. Ask ‘What speed do you need to travel to escape from a black hole?’- Hopefully answer is speed of light, which is equivalent to a speed of 600 million miles an hour! Go onto explain this is why we can’t see black holes. Astronomers (as shown in We are astronomers) use the EM Spectrum to look at the light from stars, be it the gamma rays, X-rays or visible light that we can detect with our eyes. Black holes suck in all those different types of light, so the only way astronomers know they are these is by measuring the speed of objects which are orbiting them, or looking for high energy X-rays being given off by material falling into the black hole.

Compare with our Sun as a BH.
If you replaced our own Sun with a black hole of the same mass, the planets etc would all still orbit around in the same way, we wouldn’t get sucked in, the only time you get sucked in is when you get too close.

Now it might shock you to know that our Solar System is orbiting in our galaxy around a
Supermassive black hole

These supermassive BH were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. They exist at the centre of all galaxies, a million times that of sun. The BH in our MW is actually 4 million times mass of sun! Ask ‘how do you think astronomers know the mass? Cos they can’t just weigh it with a scales?’ Using Keplers Third Law, equation which relates the speed of orbits stars to the mass of the thing they are orbiting, exactly how we measure the mass of the Sun.

Astronomer measured high speeds of stars orbiting around an object known as Sagittarius A* which is at the centre of our galaxy the MW. Can zoom / into Sagittarius A*/ search for Sagittarius using Fn-F3. Can’t see much there, turn off the constellations , c and search fnF3 for M25 this is a near by cluster of stars explain that at the centre of our galaxy astronomers measure the speeds and orbits of stars just like that’s how they know there is a supermassive black hole there!

Ending thought about black holes.
Most people think of black holes as monsters but Astronomers now think they play a large part in the early formation of galaxies. As we learn more about how galaxies were formed in early universe it seems that the BH at the centre plays a large part in forming galaxies, remember that the jet from the centre of the galaxy can reach into other galaxies, these jets of particles might start star formation to occur in galaxies where it might otherwise not have occurred. This means that without our blackholes the universe might of not formed galaxies. And without galaxies there wouldn’t be stars, without the stars, no solar systems of planets and with out planets, no humans, so black holes may not something to be afraid of.





Pictures to show at end of show


First explain Messier looking for his fuzzy blobs.....why alot of items we talked about have M numbers, i.e. M1 and M87.

Andromeda & Milky Way- spiral galaxy, milky way from earth see LMC and SMC

Planetary Nebula - what will happen to Earth.

Supernovae! Crab with NS at centre, nice chandra Xray image
video by nasa at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_Nebula
can we warp this and show them at the end?

Red giant (Betelgeuse ?)

M87, cool pics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_87

Pleides

White dwarf

Orion - different coloured stars.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Telescopes on the Roof

This blog is about the telescopes on the roof at Southampton Physics and Astronomy Department.

This is the script for the talk I normally give when showcasing our dome observatories. 

The department has 2 Meade telescopes that look just like this one.

The Tour of the Observatory
Notes by Sadie Jones- updated 6 June 2012
_____________________________________________________

1.    Keys to be collected from Sadie or Malcolm.  Please read user guide in the hut up on roof!  Students are to be given torches if its dark and a risk assessment is to be produced and guidance followed.
2.   Show the students the Observatory room first, explain the maps on the walls and computers and that modern astronomy is not done with astronomers looking with their eye to the telescope, but instead the astronomers watch that the correct objects are observed from the Hut…(most of the analysis of data done at a later date)
3.   Explain the two huts and how they rotate to allow the telescopes to look out of the gap, explain the use of the domes to protect the telescopes. Tell them the cost of 2 domes such as these (????)
4.   Turn on the domes at the wall in the Observatory room and let the student open and rotate them themselves with your guidance.
5.   Explain that one of these telescopes is like that used in Tenerife. Ask the students if they can think of why Southampton is not the best place to observe from and why Tenerife is?

6.   Take the students out to the telescopes (crawl under the door). Say ‘We have 2, 10 inch Meade telescopes here’, now when I say 10 inch I am referring to the size of the mirror (point to it)…Explain how light comes in and bounces off the primary and secondary mirror and then into the eye or CCD camera which is attached.

7.   Does anyone know what other object can be used inside a telescope to focus light? Hopefully they will say lenses if they need a clue point to your glasses. Explain 2 types of telescopes refractor and reflector.
refractor =lenses, reflector = mirrors .

8.   Now ask them what they think they would do to observe a certain galaxy or certain star, what important information does the telescope need in order to point at this galaxy…?? Hopefully you can help them toward the fact that GPS is used so that the telescope knows its position on top of the roof at Physics. Then it just needs to know what angle it needs to point at. One of easiest ways to ‘align’ the telescope is to point it at something easy like the moon by using the view finder, and then to tell the telescope it is on the moon. It can then work out where your galaxy is in relation to moon. This is called calibration.
So we have found our galaxy and are happily observing it and after a few minutes it is no longer within the view finder, the telescope is at exactly  the same alignment? What has happened?...Help them to the fact that the earth is spinning on its axis so this means the stars and galaxies appear to move across the sky over the night. Can they think of a way to stop this? Help them to the fact that you can make the telescope move around at the same rate the galaxy moves across the sky, so it is always in eye piece. This type of mount is called an Equatorial mount – which means it turns with rotation of sky. Mount rotation axis is aligned on pole star (north star) so one axis is parallel to rotation axis of earth so only need to track on one axis (and so can point out which way north is very accurately)
When you have calibrated the telescope you can can rely on the computer (point to computer) to locate objects i.e. Saturn, NGC 4051 etc.

9.   Explain about the light collection of the mirror i.e. 10inch refers to the diameter of the mirror = bigger, more light collection, but you also want the light to …Need better explanation here? (Andy?)
Need to find a happy medium since the light could be bounced back and forth a lot more, but then you lose light?!  For any photographers, these are equivalent to a 2500mm f/10 lens.

10.     Schmidt-Cassegrain design, allows compact design with spherical mirrors that are easier to make.  Schmidt is the corrector and the Cassegrain is the hole in primary mirror. Focus is behind primary mirror.

11.      Tenerife trip for the 2nd years - only exceptional students go.

Might want to mention about how cold it is in Tenerife, Hawaii etc where the telescopes are because so high up!! These places chosen because of the lack of clouds, which is good for astronomy (but does not keep in the heat....but the astronomers can be in relative warmth in the Observatory ....Students observe by night and sunbathe by day.
Optical astronomy is very different to radio astronomy which can be done in the day. But that is a whole other story...(dark art)


12.      These telescopes can image something about 1/2 the size of moon. A 10” Meade should have a field of view of about 15’ (a quarter of a degree, or half the width of the moon) with a big imager on the back, and a theoretical resolution of about 0.6 arcsec (0.6/60/60 degrees). The resolution will depend really on the number of pixels across the CCD. If you have a 16Mpix CCD (4000x4000 pixels) to view a 0.25 degree field, that should be quite well matched in resolution, putting 2 or 3 pixels across the telescope point spread function. Of course, with seeing (ie atmospheric) conditions, we never get close to that here!

13.      The CCD attached to the computer has a resolution like digital Cameras. For example your friend with 12M pixels has a better resolution and their camera can distinguish features in your face (eg spots!), but your other friend with the 6M pixel camera takes a photo and you cant see the spots :) In astronomy we often want very good resolution so we can see the finer details in our galaxies or in the regions around a black hole.

            Could also mention the size of the sensor, because megapixels isn’t the whole story. The size of each pixel defines how much light you can collect, so a good astro CCD will be much more sensitive than the tiny sensor in an iPhone (for example). A proper CCD (or a full-frame DLSR) is probably 10-50x bigger than a webcam sensor.

9.        Undergrad projects that use the telescope: -

·      Star variability
·      Astrophotography
·      Craters of the Moon
·      Solar telescope? Sunspots?
·      Extra solar planets -using transits, look for the brightness of star decreasing when the planet passes between us and the star...students like this one especially because of the aliens angle.
·      Transits and Moons of Jupiter

Nice to take them back in Observatory room and show them some of the good posters from Tenerife, Ruths is a nice one showing Transiting planets which Christian has.

Christian also now has spectrograph, so we can take spectra – measuring the temperatures of stars, seeing what stars are made of, planetary atmospheres.

Keen students may use telescopes with permission to look for Meteor showers etc.

Things you need: -

The Key!  & a poster from Tenerife? of students’ projects on the pc in the hut… or some photographs taken with the telescopes (Sadie has some of Liz’ and Nicks’ photos up outside her office )

Monday, 11 October 2010

Fibre Optics & LOFAR at Intech


At Intech last Monday I participated in an outreach event linked with Science Week. The event was aimed at 6th form students making A-level choices. Myself, Pearl John , Tana and other SEPNET people spoke to school children about fibre optics and the new LOFAR radio telescope.

Light-Sound Demo

We used a piece of kit which has a microphone (a tube with foil stretched over one end) and a headset seperated by about 2metres, which are not connected and get the children to speak into the microphone and watch their shock when their friend can hear them at the other end.

The only thing 'connecting' the tube and headphones is a beam of light, usually a laser. We explain that the speech and sound information said into the mic tube is getting carried along the light wave...? how is this working..?

A piece of foil is stretched over a tube which is caused to vibrate in a certain way depending on what the student says. Scientists would say that the sounds in being modulated with the light wave. This means that the speech information is sent along the light wave and can be received by a detector 2 metres away connecting to the headphones the student's friend is wearing.

optical voice link
Credit: PhysicsLessions.com
We go onto explain that this light modulation with lasers is how the fibre optic cables work . Fibre optics are responsible for connecting us all together via the internet, and allow us to have mobile phone conversations.


Fibre Optics



fibre
Fibre Optic display


lofar
LBA antenna outside Intech
Myself and Tana Joseph also used our techniques which we learnt on the LOFAR LBA Build to make a demo LOFAR antenna. We then explained to the children (outside) launching bottle rockets, how the antenna worked.




Suggestions for the future

Thursday, 5 August 2010

My PhD Research

At a 'new media' in science engagement course that I attended yesterday I was informed about blogging and asked to write about my research (without jargon) in approximately 200 words by Jon Copley (@expeditionlog), here i write my first blog, slightly extending on the 200 word version I cobbled down on the course. I hope this blog will be the first of many in my attempts to engage with all members of the public who wish to know more about astronomy...Here goes...!

Since the re-write I have been told by my dad who has read the original blog that it is not in fact jargon free so the passage below titled My Research Take 1 is the further edited version. It is so hard to write jargon free when you are used to using Jargon...science communication is hard!

Since writing this post back in 2010 I have been again asked by my colleague Pearl John to prepare a few paragraphs on my research...so this attempt is titled My Research Take 2 , this was written in May 2012.
Please do give me feedback on 'Take 2' as I am continually trying to make it as accessible as possible.

My Research Take 2 


The ultimate goal of my research is to better understand the surrounding environment of black holes. Astronomers still do not fully understand AGN and their part, if any, in forming the galaxy it is the centre of.  I did research on the galaxy NGC 4051 which has a supermassive black hole at it's centre. One might think that black holes are a rare thing in our universe but they are actually thought to exist at the centre of all galaxies. The one at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is very 'quiet' and we only know of its existence by measuring the high speeds of stars at the centre of the galaxy which appear to be orbiting a very massive something. We know it is a black hole and not just a massive something/turtle because physically anything that is 3 times the mass of our Sun could not withstand the forces on the object which result from it being so massive.

The black hole pictured here is not a 'quiet' beast, like the one at the centre of the Milky Way it is  very active, which means matter in the disk of material around the black hole falls in (accretes) inwards, toward the black hole . We think there are large magnetic fields which come out of the 'poles' of the black hole, just like the magnetic field from the poles of our Earth. These magnetic fields are extremely powerful and particles that do not fall into the black hole get accelerated outwards along the magnetic field lines, we see this stream of particles as a jet from the black hole. 

The jets are imaged here using the C array of the Very Large Array(VLA) which is a radio interferometer/telescope in New Mexico, USA . I looked at the centre of the galaxy, NGC 4051, during 2001 every few days to see if the radio core (the darkest part, at the centre of the image) was changing in brightness over time. If the core got brighter over a few days this meant that particles were being injected into the jets at a higher rate than normal. The extended structure shown as contour levels around the core of the galaxy represents the jets that are emitted from the black hole. For my research, I was only interested in the central part of the galaxy because I was not only looking at how the radio brightness at the centre changed but how the X-ray brightness changed. To study the X-rays from NGC 4051 I looked at it with the RXTE X-ray telescope at the same time as I looked with the VLA. I wanted to see if the number of X-rays coming from the core of the galaxy increased when the brightness of the radio increased. An increase in radio and X-ray at a similar time shows there is a relationship between the disc of material around the black hole, which gives out X-rays and the jets which extend from the 'poles' of the black hole, which gives out radio.

The jets from black holes are very mysterious and can extend to sizes far larger than the Milky Way itself, they could be involved in catalysing star formation in nearby galaxies. In fact, we shouldn’t think of black holes as  'monsters'  that gobble every thing up, astronomers are realising that they may actually play a large part in the formation of stars and galaxies in our Universe.






My Research Take 1

My research is about supermassive blackholes. One might think these are a rare in our universe BUT they are actually thought to exist at the centre of ALL galaxies. The one at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is very 'quiet' and we only know of its existence by measuring the high speeds of stars at the centre of the galaxy which appear to be orbiting a very massive something. We know it is a black hole and not just a massive something/turtle because physically anything that is 3 times the mass of our Sun could not withstand the forces from being so massive...therefore a Black Hole is the only thing it can be.....

...This means our Solar System on the Orion Arm of the Milky Way is slowly rotating around a massive hole.


The black holes (BH) I study are not 'quiet' beasts but instead are very active, they have disks of material around the BH much like the disk of our own Milky Way........the matter in the disk falls in (accretes) onto the BH . From the BH there are large magnetic fields, if you imagine these fields as lines along which particles that do not fall into the BH get accelerated it can help you to understand jets. These 'active' type of BH are officially called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). We believe that the large mass of the BH (more than a million times more massive than the Sun!) causes these strong magnetic fields, electron spiral around these fields and do not fall onto BH instead they producing jets . These jets of material come from both the top and bottom of the BH, these jets can extend out so far into the universe, and have lengths which themselves are of the order of the size of the Milky Way itself.


The disc around the BH  emits radiation at X-ray wavelengths and the jets emits at radio wavelengths. To investigate the physics of the AGN we measure the radio brightness and X-ray brightness simultaneously. To detect the X-ray and radio waves we use the X-ray telescope the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer and the Very Large Array , a radio interferometer in New Mexico, USA respectively. We look at how the light/brightness in X-ray and Radio varies with time and note the time that peaks occur in both curves. We compare the lightcurves and look for time lags i.e. times when X-ray and Radio light might increase at similar times. The time lags between the light curves tell us about material emitted in the disc and in the jet. From this we can deduce information about the physical nature of the blackhole. i.e. if both peak at same time this tells us the disc and jet around the BH are connected and 'know about each other'.


What is particuarly interesting is the relations between jet (radio) and disc (X-ray) brightness/light hold for the smaller blackholes called Galactic Binary BH's (10 times size of sun as opposed to AGN which are a million times as massive). These smaller black holes exist within galaxies, so we can investigate those within our own Milky Way relatively easily. This means we can look at the smaller, closer by blackholes in order to learn more about the supermassive black holes or AGN's. This is particularly useful because even now astronomer know very little about black holes and the jets and disk around them.


The ultimate goal of this research is to better understand the environment of the black hole. Astronomers still do not fully understand AGN and their part, if any, in forming the galaxy it is the centre of. 


Jet's are also very mysterious and can extend to sizes far larger than the Milky Way itself, they could be involved in catalysing star formation in nearby galaxies. Infact, black holes might not be the 'monsters' we are lead to believe they are, they may actually be responsible for alot of galaxy and star formation in our Universe :) .
Centarus A - Galaxy with a super-massive black hole


Being a radio telescope at the Very Large Array, USA