This morning was the Google I/O 2012 meeting, celebrating the first anniversary of Google unveiling Google+. At the meeting, keynote speaker Vic Gondotra talked about Google+ Hangouts — live video chats that can have several people broadcasting, and an unlimited audience. And look what they featured for the talk: the Virtual Star Party, held every week by my friend and Universe Today founder Fraser Cain!
Wow. You can see several regulars there too, including astronomers Pamela Gay, Gary Gonella and Mike Phillips. I didn’t happen to be in that star party that night, but I participate when I can.
The star party was Fraser’s idea a while back, and when he came to me with it I was initially skeptical — I’ve never been much of an early adopter — but Fraser and I have a rule: "Trust Fraser". And of course he was right. We did one of these for the Venus Transit and 7000 people joined us to watch live. Fraser has wrangled astronomers from across the globe to hook up webcams to their telescopes and participate in this. We’ve had sessions featuring the Moon, Saturn, nebulae, galaxies, clusters… all live, and piped right into your computer. And it’s not all one way, either, since we encourage our audience to ask questions and suggest targets. And of course there’s also the Weekly Space Roundup, too, where space and astronomy journalists do a live hangout and talk about recent stories. That was all Fraser’s idea, too.
I am incredibly proud of Fraser for doing this, and for Pamela and all the others who made this happen.
If you want to join in, just circle Fraser Cain on Google+. If you’re not signed up, it’s quick and easy. And don’t listen to the naysayers; G+ is way better than Facebook. I find the conversations there to be stimulating and fun, and of course the Hangouts are a blast. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve done a Q&BA Hangout. Maybe I’ll fix that this weekend.
Man. It’s really true: We live in the future.
I don’t have a lot to add to this incredible picture taken by astronaut André Kuipers of the Dragon capsule as it approached the International Space Station on May 25:
[Click to embiggen.]
Isn’t that spectacular? Actually, I will add something: the caption for this post indicates it’s over the Rocky Mountains. I got excited for a second, thinking maybe it was near my neck of the woods. But then I realized the icy mountaintops look nothing like they do here in Boulder. I checked anyway, and on Wolfram Alpha I found the picture was taken over Vancouver Island, which is where my friend Fraser Cain from Universe Today lives!
Huh. Small planet.
[P.S. Speaking of Fraser, I'll be doing a live video star party with him, Pamela Gay, and many others for the Transit of Venus Tuesday. We have telescopes lined up all over the world to view this last-chance-in-a-lifetime event! Stay tuned for more info, but I'll have the chat embedded here on the blog when the time comes.]
Image credit: ESA/NASA
Every week, my friend Fraser Cain of Universe Today gathers together a few scientists and science journalists to review the past week’s space and astronomy news. This week we talked about boiling planets, the demise of Phobos-Grunt, dark matter galaxies, and an Earth-sized telescope to zoom in on a supermassive black hole.
Participating were Fraser, Pamela Gay, Alan Boyle, Emily Lakdawalla, Jon Voisey, Nicole Gugliucci, Nancy Atkinson, and me. We do these on Google+, which has a feature called Hangouts On Air, which allows for live video broadcasts like this, and also the ability to save them on YouTube. We do these roundups every Thursday at 18:00 UTC (13:00 Eastern Standard Time). You don’t have to be signed up for G+ to watch them, but if you are (and it’s free and easy) we ask also that you +1 them, so we get an idea of how many folks are tuning in. Thanks!
Yesterday, I was in a live video chat session with several other scientists and science journalists. I wrote up the details of it yesterday, and it went pretty well! We had a lot of fun talking about the new GRAIL Moon mission, the fiery future return of Phobos-Grunt, 2012, and of course President Obama’s purported teleportation trip to Mars many years ago.
Well, if you wanna know more, now you can: the video’s online.
The plan is to do these every week on Thursdays, and have a rotating cast of characters over time. I hope you like it. And I strongly suggest people join up over at Google+. I really like it there, and post quite a few things you won’t see here or on Twitter.
Fraser Cain (from Universe Today) and I are trying something new… and by new, I mean new. We’re going to be holding a live video weekly astronomy and space roundup on Google+! We’ll have a roundtable group of scientists and science journalists discussing the latest cosmic news, explaining it, and letting you know what it all means. We have a pretty good group of folks lined up for this, and the first one will be held today, Thursday, January 5 at 18:00 UTC (1:00 p.m. Eastern US time).
[UPDATE: We're live now!]
These will be held on Google+ using Hangouts on Air – a live video stream that can be watched by an unlimited number of people. You have to be on Google+, and then circle Fraser Cain — that’s G+’s version of adding friends. He’ll have the link to the video feed in his stream once it’s set up (and I’ll update this very blog post as well). And once you’re in, you can ask questions for us in the comments section on the post! You can read more about this on Universe Today.
I’m very excited about these live video news session. For one thing, we’ve done this a few times already in a rather impromptu way, and it’s worked out really well. We can talk about news, switch from one person to another, and take questions from people watching. It’s all live and real-time — yesterday, we even had a live feed from a telescope in Bucharest where we observed the Moon! That was amazing.
Also, Google+ is turning out to be a really cool place to be, with a lot of very intelligent and thoughtful participants. It is not Facebook, with endless announcements of games, ads, and such. It’s far more of a discussion and an exchange of ideas. The addition of live video conferencing is a huge benefit too. Fraser and I think that this will change a big chunk of the internet… and maybe more. If you’re on G+ please circle me, and if you’re not, you’re missing out.
We have big, big plans. Just you wait.
But until then, I hope to see you on G+ for our roundup!
Yesterday, astronomers announced the discovery of a compact solar system orbiting a distant star, with two of the planets being very close to the size of the Earth.
My friend Fraser Cain, from Universe Today, put together a video chat Q&A about the discovery with me, Nancy Atkinson from UT, Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society Blog, and Alan Boyle from the MSNBC Cosmic Log blog. We talked about the discovery, how it was made, what it means for exoplanetary science, and a few other topics just for good measure.
Fraser did this using Google+ Hangout, the social network’s video chat software. They rolled out a new feature just a few days ago where a few people can chat on camera, and the whole thing can be broadcast on G+ at the same time. Not only that, but, obviously, it can be recorded and uploaded to YouTube as well. This is brand new stuff, and not widely available just yet, so we had some issues with it (notably Fraser’s window never was displayed on the main screen; the images he displays at 13 minutes in can be found on the Kepler website).
Since I’ve got you here, there’s one very cool thing I’d like to expand on. Later in the video, we chatted about the physical characteristics of the Kepler-20 system, including how the planets’ orbits were tilted, and how you can determine that from the Kepler data. I poked around on the web afterwards, and found that the Kepler site has an amazing feature; an interactive display of all the confirmed planets they’ve found. For example, here’s the one for Kepler-20-f, the outermost of the five planets in the system, and the one closest to the size of Earth.
You can watch an animation of it going around the star, with a display of how it blocks the light. You can also see how the orbit is slightly tilted to the line of sight, and how it cuts a chord across the star. It’s truly a splendid way to show folks what they’ve found, and I highly suggest playing around with it (though it may be slow due to heavy use right now). When it loads, click the button labeled "Perspective" and then click "go to view from Earth". That’ll show you how a transit works pretty well.
From those pages, I found that these planets do orbit their star almost — but not quite — edge-on. An orbital inclination of 90° would be edge-on, and the planets, in order from the star, have tilts of 86.5, 88.4, 89.6, 87.5, and 88.7°. I was surprised to see that there is a spread of even as much as 3°. I wonder why? The planets probably formed farther out and migrated in toward the star; we know planetary migration happens for many (if not all) solar systems when they’re young, including our own. As these planets got closer, they could interact more strongly via gravity. Maybe that amplified their tilts somewhat. Or maybe I’m totally wrong in thinking the tilts should all be aligned in the first place.
We’re still new at this game, so there’s a lot left to learn. But that, my friends, is where the fun is. May we have lots more fun systems like Kepler-20 to investigate.
If you’ll be in the Atlanta area on September 2 — the night before Dragon*Con — then I strongly urge you to attend the Second Annual Atlanta Skeptics Star Party. This is a charity event to raise money for the
American Cancer Society Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in memory and honor of our friend Jeff Medkeff, an astronomer who died of liver cancer two years ago. Jeff was a good man, naming asteroids after noted skeptics, and did a lot of work to promote critical thinking.
Last year’s event was fantastic: there was a full house of people listening to short talks by Pamela Gay and me, and then migrating outside to view the heavens. This year, the speakers include Fraser Cain (from the newly remodeled Universe Today), Pamela once again, and musician George Hrab (who made a typically over-the-top cool promo for it).
I won’t be there this year — months of travel for my TV show have made me long to be home for more than a week at a time — but I hope some BABloggees will be able to attend. And don’t forget: Surly Amy and I have teamed up to raise money for the event as well. It’s a great night, a fun time, and a way to help us all kick cancer’s butt.