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.
Fraser Cain, Nicole Gugliucci, Pamela Gay, and I are hosting a live video chat of the transit with many amateur astronomers across the world! I am embedding it below:
[UPDATE (21:55 UTC): First view of Venus silhouetted against the Sun's corona are coming in!
This shot is in the far-ultraviolet, where the Sun's thin atmosphere, called the corona, glows. You can see the Sun on the right, and Venus -- which is dark in the UV -- is the dark circle on the left. Amazing. Credit: NASA/SDO]
For more info, you can read my lengthy post with a ton of info, or watch my interview with Cara Santa Maria on the Huffington Post. I also have a nifty video made up of images taken of the 1882 transit, too!
On Sunday, I did a live video chat on Google+ where I took astronomy and space questions from folks and answered them as best I could. It was a lot of fun, with several hundred people showing up! I did some minimal editing of the session and put it on YouTube for your enjoyment:
The video resolution is not that great, I know, and I’m working on solutions for that. I’m looking into recording the feed locally on my PC so that I can upload a better version. If you have suggestions, I’m listening (but anyone starting a PC vs Apple war will be eviscerated; be ye fairly warned, says I).
I’m also always happy to get suggestions from people too. I have plans to do this on a weekly basis, and would love to improve it. Whaddaya got?
[P.S. In the "Related posts" below I have some links to the old Q&BA v.1.0 videos. Those got to be so time-consuming I had to stop doing them, but things have gotten much better since then! I'm looking forward to doing this more often now.]
[Apologies, folks, I totally forgot to update this post with the link. Hopefully most of you figured out how to find it. I'll do better next time; I'll make a checklist. ]
I will be doing a live video chat session — what I call Q&BA — on Google+ today at 20:00 UTC (3:00 p.m. Eastern US time). I’ll be using Google+’s Hangouts On Air, which lets an unlimited number of people watch live.
I’ll post a link to the Hangout chat session here when it goes live. You don’t have to sign up for Google+ to see it, but it does help in three ways: 1) whenever I do this again you’ll be notified more in advance by following my posts there; b) when you go to the post with the embedded video stream you can +1 it (G+’s version of liking something) so I can get an idea of how many people are following; and γ) Google+ is pretty cool and you should probably be on there anyway.
I will take questions from folks by reading the comments in the Hangout post, and also on Twitter. A little while after we’re done (it’ll last about an hour, I’m thinking), I’ll post it to YouTube so even if you can’t make it live, you’ll still be able to watch at your leisure.
Hope to see y’all there!
On Sunday, January 15th, 2012, the Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt fell to Earth after a failed attempt to get it to Mars. It burned up in our atmosphere some time around 18:00 UTC, though the exact time isn’t clear.
During its final orbit, I did a live video chat on Google+ with my friend, science journalist Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society, and we talked about the probe. The entire discussion is now on YouTube:
It’s an hour and a half long, as we were following the news and rumors of the probe in real time. The big question the whole time was: where and when did the probe fall?
It’s a good question. Moving at 8 km/sec (5 miles/sec) as it came in, it covered a lot of territory — as you can see in the map above showing the final track of the spacecraft. And since the final moments apparently happened over the Pacific ocean and southern South America — places where there aren’t many observers — it’s not at all clear just where, or even when, the spacecraft came in. As Emily and I discussed in the video, it’s possible that the US intelligence people may know, since there are many spy satellites that observe the Earth and may have seen the spacecraft’s demise. However, understandably, the government may not want to release that data. Or even acknowledge it.
Even now, days later, it’s still not clear what’s what. The Russian Space Agency and news organizations have released statements I find a bit difficult to swallow, to say the least — like this one "suggesting" US military radar damaged the spacecraft, or this statement from Vladimir Popovkin — the chief administrator of the Russian space agency Roscosmos — suggesting foreign sabotage. Seriously.
Emily has a solid wrapup of what’s known right now. I’ll post more if we find out more, but it seems unlikely. The Earth has a lot of real estate, and even with seven billion people we’re spread relatively thinly across the surface. We may never find out what happened with Phobos-Grunt, which is too bad. The more we learn about how and why spacecraft fail, the more likely we can prevent such problems in the future.
Image credit: Robert Christy, the Zarya website
- Phobos-Grunt to come down today
- Doomed Russian Mars probe seen from the ground
- ESA writes off Phobos-Grunt
- Phobos-Grunt scheduled to launch at 20:16 UT
- Final: ROSAT came down in the Bay of Bengal
- UARS official re-entry… and up next: ROSAT
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!