Category: IYA

I sigh, EUSci

By Phil Plait | April 3, 2009 3:30 pm

For those few of you left who aren’t sick of hearing my voice, I did an interview with the podcast EUSci that’s now online (here’s the direct link to the mp3). We talked about IYA, JREF, my book, astronomy… you know, all the ho-hum usual stuff!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy, IYA, JREF

100 hours of astronomy!

By Phil Plait | April 3, 2009 8:56 am

Cripes, I’m getting behinderer every day, so I missed posting about this: The 100 Hours of Astronomy effort began yesterday! It’s a cornerstone project of IYA, to do 100 continuous hours of astronomy-related observations or activities.

For example, telescopes all over the planet are observing the skies and webcasting it all live.

There are star parties all around the world; Popular Mechanics has an alphabetical list of the ones in the US.

Even space probes are in on it; the Cassini Saturn probe team posted their favorite Saturn images on their site in honor of Galileo.

100 Hours was honored in an APOD image, too.

You can follow all this by going to the 100 Hours site, and get info as it happens on their Twitter feed, too. And don’t forget to classify those galaxies!


A million galaxies in a hundred hours

By Phil Plait | April 2, 2009 6:30 pm

Remember Galaxy Zoo? It’s a project using professional images of galaxies, but has citizens — that means you! — classifying them. It’s the crack cocaine of the internet; once you start it’s hard to stop.

Well, the folks in charge of it have decided to use that addictive quality to their advantage. This week is the IYA’s 100 Hours of Astronomy effort, where observatories and other ventures are doing all sorts of outreach including live observations, all spanning the 100 hours of time from April 2 – 5. And Galaxy Zoo wants to classify 1,000,000 galaxies in those 100 hours!

Sound crazy? They’re already halfway there! [Incidentally, in the time it took me to write this blog entry 9000 more have been classified.] If you’ve fiddled with Galaxy Zoo before, you know how much fun it is: all you have to do is take a simple test so that they know you can classify galaxies (into elliptical, irregular, and spiral (both clockwise and anticlockwise)) and once you do, off you go. They’ve made some improvements to the process since I last wrote about it, so even if you’ve been there before, it’s time to revisit. It’s fascinating, it’s fun, and you’re using real data and doing a real contribution to science.

So get in there and start classifying!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA

Colbert mocks me again

By Phil Plait | April 2, 2009 10:14 am

Oh, when will this tyranny of astronomy-related censorship ever end?

I am referring, of course, to The Colbert Report, which has on every astronomer in the world but me. Stephen, what must I do? I wrote a book about the end of the world, and I even threatened to have Buzz Aldrin punch you. And yet you still invite Derrick Pitts on your show, and not me?

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Derrick Pitts
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor NASA Name Contest

Sure, Derrick did a really good job, being funny, talking about what Galileo did, and why it was important. But where was the talk of giant asteroid impacts, the vaporizing of our planet by a gamma-ray burst, or the danger of a gigantic solar flare wiping out our electric grid?

Oh, Stephen, when you go for the real information and not the scare factor, what’s next? Unicorns? Rainbows? Politics?

Sigh, maybe when I’m in NYC in a couple of weeks, I’ll see if Neil Tyson can hook me up. I hear he’s had some sort of tangential relationship with The Colbert Report in the past.


Galileoscope update

By Phil Plait | March 25, 2009 2:49 pm

I’ve been getting some mail from folks who are a little unhappy with the customer service when they’ve ordered Galileoscopes — a big effort by IYA to get good but inexpensive telescopes into the hands of people across the globe. The IYA just posted about this: basically, it’s being run by a very small group of volunteers who have been a bit (well, a lot) overwhelmed with the response. They assure us the ‘scopes will be shipped in late April.


That’s good news! I’m very excited to get mine — as I wrote earlier, I think it might be able to show the ISS as an extended body, and not just a point of light. How cool would that be?


Bits and pieces, part n

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2009 6:57 pm

A few things:

1) I have been informed by my blogdaughter (I showed her how to get socially networked at an American Astronomical Society meeting last year!) Alice that her blog Alice’s AstroInfo has moved to a new URL (that link goes to the current address). So update your links if you haven’t yet, and/or drop her in your feed reader if you haven’t been reading her stuff.

2) Skepticamp guy Reed Esau tells me that there are two Camps this weekend: one in Phoenix (with the truly awesome Michael Stackpole), and one in Vancouver Canadia.

3) I’ve mentioned this before, but just a reminder that 100 Hours of Astronomy is coming up in early April. Get ready.

4) Also, as many people have noted, I wonder if amateur exorcist and Louisiana doomer Bobby Jindal is scratching his head over volcano monitoring now?

Urban astroninjas

By Phil Plait | March 18, 2009 4:00 pm

One problem with living in light polluted skies is that you grow up with no familiarity with them at all. You really, and simply, don’t know what you’re missing.

That’s why stories like this one, about two astroninjas bringing astronomy to the streets of NYC, are so cool. I’m really glad there are folks out there willing to literally bring the skies to people who otherwise would never know them.


Spread the joy of astronomy with a Galileoscope

By Phil Plait | March 10, 2009 9:18 am

400 years ago this year, people first started turning the newly invented telescope to the sky, and were astonished at what they saw. Galileo, not a fool when it came to self-promotion (though he stumbled a bit later in life), drew up what he saw and published it… starting a revolution in not just astronomy but in all of science, all of humanity. The aftershocks still reverberate today.

His telescope was crude by today’s standards; lens making wasn’t nearly the craft then that it is now. But it was enough to see craters on the Moon, satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and Saturn’s rings. And now, thanks to the International Year of Astronomy, you can experience what Galileo did and, even cooler, share it with others.


One of the Cornerstone projects of IYA 2009 is the creation of the Galileoscope, a replica of what Galileo used to view the heavens. This little ‘scope sports a glass 50mm (2 inch) lens, tough plastic casing, eyepiece, and a Barlow lens which doubles the magnification. Its construction is extremely simple, so a small child can assemble it in minutes with a little help from a grown-up. I saw one recently, and I was very impressed. It was well-built and quite functional. You can see images of it in action on the Galileoscope site.

The most incredible thing about this ‘scope is the price: you can buy one for just $15! The overriding goal of this project was to make the telescopes as cheaply as possible, so that they could be bought and sent around the world, fulfilling my very favorite goal of IYA 2009: getting everyone who is physically capable of it to observe the heavens.

To make that even easier, the people behind the Galileoscope project have set it up so that you can donate a telescope anonymously for only $12.50. When you do this, some organization somewhere in the world will get a ‘scope. It may be a school in Africa, or Viet Nam, or America, or in England. But some group that needs it will get your gift.

Before writing this post, I bought three: one donated anonymously, one for me to play for a night or two and then give to The Little Astronomer’s school, and one for you. That’s right, when they get here, I will be giving one away on the blog. I’ll announce it when I do.

But in the meantime, why not check out the Galileoscope page. If you’re a teacher, especially a science or history teacher, one of these will really bring the classroom alive. And whoever you are, why not donate one to someone, somewhere on Earth? We all deserve the sky, I think, and a gift like this literally delivers to the heavens to someone who needs it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA

Beauty without borders

By Phil Plait | February 25, 2009 7:04 am

Right now as I write this, Venus is a brilliant beacon of light in the western sky after sunset. After the Moon, it’s far and away the brightest object in the night sky, obvious to anyone who can see. It’s also the International Year of Astronomy, so a group of people has decided to merge the two events into one called Beauty Without Borders. Starting February 25 (today!) and going through March 1, they want everyone who can to go outside and observe this gorgeous planet. February 28 is the best day, as the crescent Moon will be near Venus, making a beautiful duet in the sky.

I think this is a great idea. Venus is so bright right now that I’ve received lots of comments on it, from asking me what it is to to people who can’t believe a planet can get so bright! So this is a fantastic opportunity to get people outside and looking up. Tell everyone you know!


Free thoughts

By Phil Plait | February 19, 2009 4:00 pm

I was interviewed a little while ago by the American Freethought Podcast, and it’s now online (here’s the direct link to the MP3). As usual, I ramble on about topics skeptical, the IYA, Darwin, the definition of the word planet, my book, JREF, vaccines, the future of NASA, and other fun stuff.

The interview intro starts at 12:00, and I come in around 18:00 but you should listen to the whole podcast, of course. They’re good skeptics and have a lot of interesting stuff on the ‘cast.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Astronomy, IYA

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