Sunday, May 1, 2016
It's so simple: martens are the genus Martes while weasels and some close relatives form the genus Mustela. Both belong to the same subfamily Mustelinae and are thus related (although recent genetic research seems to remove the Martes and others from that subfamily) - but they are neither the same nor is one a subset of the other. (In German confusion might arise as the genus Martes is known as 'Echte Marder' while the family Mustelidae that includes the martens, weasels and much more is called 'Marder', so Wiesel are Marder but no Echter Marder can be a Wiesel. In English the term 'weasel' usually refers to one Mustela species while the Mustelidae may be called "weasel family".) A little digging would also unveil that the beech marten is the only Mustelid known to bite into cables (the reason for which is a subject of interesting research all by itself) - weasels don't do that.
With one "weasel" article after the other appearing on the web (by one author copying from another without checking the simple facts one may conclude, a chain of errors going back to the early incomplete stories) I got almost angry: how were we to trust these sources on reporting correctly on the LHC's complicated science when they can't even name the critter correctly that bit into it? Eventually my trust in journalism was partly restored, though, by the German Press Agency DPA which in its article - widely distributed among German newspapers - named the animal precisely and correctly as a Steinmarder. Still not convinced that this is an important issue? Then check out this bizarre article from 2011 ...
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
One of the theory papers trying to explain the allegedly related gamma signal, however, was eventually hailed by the Center for Astrophysics in a Feb. 23 press release which led to several more media reports. But then came a counter strike by the ESA PR department with a press release on the Integral non-detection on March 30 once said paper had been accepted by the journal it had been submitted to. Way down in the text (under the 'fold' actually) the release stated that "if this [Fermi-reported] gamma-ray flare had had a cosmic origin, either linked to the LIGO gravitational wave source or to any other astrophysical phenomenon in the Universe, it should have been detected by Integral as well. The absence of any such detection by both instruments on Integral suggests that the measurement from Fermi could be unrelated to the gravitational wave detection." The arguments in the Fermi paper trying to fit the Integral negative as well were not discussed.
And now Strike Three in what has become a rare transatlantic battle of press releases: On April 18 NASA suddenly came around with a press release on the Fermi paper, now over two months old and apparently still not accepted by its journal. "Gamma-rays arising from a black hole merger would be a landmark finding," the text read, and the first author is quoted: "This is a tantalizing discovery with a low chance of being a false alarm, but before we can start rewriting the textbooks we’ll need to see more bursts associated with gravitational waves from black hole mergers." The non-detection of the signal by Integral and the - pretty adamant - claims by its observers that the Fermi result cannot be right (emphasized in discussions with this blogger, I may add), are not mentioned at all! And so the I'm-only-reading-press-releases faction of science churnalists is left in utter confusion - while everyone else is waiting for more concurrent LIGO and Fermi / Integral / etc. observations that should eventually settle the issue.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The most exotic venture discussed has also led to the most entertaining article of the Rosetta special in which the ESA-led making of the science fiction short "Ambition" is described as a super-secret operation eventually taking almost everyone by surprise. Here, for once, the actual struggle to succeed is coming to life while many of the other contributions to the magazine issue come over rather self-congratulatory, largely ignoring frustrations along the way and controversies erupting, some of which are even public knowledge. Or they are missing irony, e.g. when the introductory article talks about bringing a 'real-time' experience of the mission to the world (when the opposite was often the case, in stark contrast to the raw drama of Giotto's two comet encounters; best practice and/or failures from previous missions are missing in general). The same can be said when the 'Ambition' piece makes no mention of the fact that the key message of the movie was that comets brought water to the Earth when soon Rosetta's first major scientific discovery would be that at least this comet clearly didn't.
What the contributors - with exception of the one truly independent voice at the end - also gloss over is the major controversy over who's got to see which images from Rosetta's cameras when (that even left the ESA DG frustrated) and how it was semi-resolved with a moderately free sharing of NAVCAM imagery. Or how the unique chance was missed to illustrate the Philae (touch-and-go) landing at Agilkia on that very day with the complete ROLIS descent sequence which was available within hours but officially published only ten months(!) later. Absent is also Philae's biggest unscripted PR success when a MUPUS scientist suddenly revealed all the drama on Twitter - for once the space nerd community was served, too. But most sorely missing in the 48 pages are actual metrics beyond social media likes and anecdotes of how the unprecedented broad Rosetta communications effort really shaped the public's view of ESA: how many more in Europe and outside do now know about that space agency's very existence and/or appreciate its science activities? Were such numbers never researched (e.g. by not too complicated phone polling) or ...?
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Now, why care about severely manipulated or completely made-up sky pictures widely assumed to be real? Isn't space art yet another great way to convey the beauty of space? If labeled as such: of course it is! But the issue here is what Australian astronomy popularizer Ian Musgrave has termed "sky literacy": the ability to understand what's happening in the sky (and getting inoculated against severe misinterpretations of celestial happenings that others may shamelessly exploit). Unscientific fake images like the setting round Sun with the bizarrely brightened limb may seem only a small detail here (not recognizing Venus or other normal naked-eye sky phenomena is much more troubling), but we in the astronomy outreach community should behave responsibly on every level, shouldn't we? A 'borderline case' in this regard is a famous solar photographer who gets great H-Alpha images like this recent one - only to invert the greyscale on the disk but not of the prominences every time: a very confusing (and neither helpful nor IMHO aesthetic) process that has confused more than one professional astronomer desparately trying to understand what's going on - and leaves the broader audience in the dark, literally. Explaining narrow-band solar images is hard enough, but here a level of confusion is added without need.
The nonchalance with which many in the astronomy community are ignoring the issue of misleading space pictures on the web - let alone celebrating them - is disturbing, especially given the increasing awareness of image manipulation in real life and news media in particular. Here at least the professionals try to strive for the moral high ground: For example a manipulated - by NASA! - image from the Apollo 11 mission should be deleted, they say, from all image archives. Photojournalists have given themselves ethical guidelines, and not so infrequent scandals like a recent one in Austria with a 'spiced-up' photo from Syria underscore their necessity. The only astrophotographical organisation I know that has similar guidelines is The World at Night where all compositing is banned; unfortunately their - still developping - rules aren't online yet. Would it be too much to ask for astronomy outreach activists to at least try to stick to a similar standard, clearly labeling artwork as such? And, if available, always use genuine photographs of the sky of which there are so many outstanding ones around anyway.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Planet & star meetings in the evening involve Mars, Saturn & Spica: pictures of Aug. 10, Aug. 9, Aug. 5, Aug. 3 and July 24 (more and more). • In the morning it's Jupiter near Aldebaran, with Venus below: pictures of today (more), Aug. 10, July 24, July 18 and July 16 (more). And the Venus misunderstood - a severe case of sky illiteracy ... • Jupiter images of Aug. 9, Aug. 1, July 26, July 23 and July 22, plus the diameters of the Jovian moons.
The Jupiter occultation by the Moon in July was covered quickly here and here; more pictures & reports here, here (more), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. • More results from the Transit of Venus in June on 46 pages, 4 pages and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; also the ToV 2004 on RSA TV in 13 parts and old Indian ToV stuff. • And material from the annular eclipse in May here, here, here and here.
On the Sun a very long filament (more), also on Aug. 5. More solar views & news of Aug. 1, July 30, July 29 (more), July 28 (more, here, more, more, more), July 26, July 23, July 19 (more, more, more, more), July 17 (more, more, more) and July 15 (more, more). Also an older SDO vid, a July 4 flare movie and AR 1520 details. Plus predicting solar storms via neutrons (more), helioseismology surprise, planet missions and CMEs, the Hi-C and DFS rocket flights, riding plasma waves and Cluster results (more).
Aurora action in mid-August in several nights and around the world is also analyzed and discussed here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. • And further airglow sightings & analysis here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
An asteroid turned comet is 2012 NJ, covered here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. • Comet 96P/Machholz has split again: reports and pictures here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. • Comet Hale-Bopp has been imaged by an amateur now! • Comet PanSTARRS travel options (more). • Also the McNaughts P/2012 O2 (more) and P/2012 O3 - and the crazy Holmes paper has been published and covered here and here (missing the joke).
In other news the NEO close approaches of 2002 AM31 (more, more, more and more) and 2012 OQ - and why the Bruce Willis method doesn't work in NEO destruction. • Craters in Canada and Australia - and Uranus action. • Nova Sgr 2012 #5 (more) and #4 and SN 2011fe (more). • An Arabic Ramadan joke and long TV discussion. • An NLC meteor dust link claim (more, more), an NLC climate link claim and July 26/27 NLCs. • Finally some mysteries to solve: with the low Sun here and here (more), after a rocket launch here (more and more) and re. ball lightning here.
Friday, August 3, 2012
In the run-up to Curiosity's arrival, however, the MSL team had begun using the term "Mount Sharp" for this mound around March: a decision by "the mission's international Project Science Group" which was in stark conflict with the established naming rules for Martian features explained above, of course. There is no doubt that Robert P. Sharp deserved to be honored on Mars - alas you can only name big craters for a deceased Mars researcher. And the IAU this May also did exactly that, giving the name "Robert Sharp" to a 152 km wide crater, albeit not exactly an obvious one. Case closed? Not to the MSL management which - dare I say stubbornly? - continues to use the term "Mount Sharp" to this day, in press releases, during press conferences and even in a scientific paper - while independent Mars scientists use "Aeolis Mons", of course. And as this story and this tweet document, the MSL management has no intention to adhere to the Martian naming rules and plans to continue to use the "Mount Sharp" term, occasionally qualified as 'informal', while ignoring the mound's official name.
So what does the the IAU body responsible for naming features on Mars say? The current chair of the Mars Task Group happens to be the well-known U.S. planetary scientist Brad Smith (who was the Voyager Imaging Team leader and among the first to image the Beta Pic dust disk), who gave the following statement to this blog two hours ago: "It has become pretty much routine for science teams working with Mars landers and rovers to apply informal names to very small (<100 m features observed by their instruments. As a policy, IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) applies official names to features smaller than 100 m only very rarely, and only when such features are considered to be of special scientific interest. It is unusual for a feature as large as Aeolis Mons to be given an informal name, but this has happened occasionally throughout the history of Mars exploration by spacecraft. As a matter of convenience, informal names are often used during discussions within the science teams. Unfortunately, they may also come up when scientists communicate directly with the media.
"In the past, most of these informal names eventually faded away, but this is the age of the Internet and such names can become permanent even within the professional astrogeological community. I completely agree with your concern over the confusion that such names create, but I must point out that the WGPSN has no control whatsoever over the use of informal names by the various science teams. However, it is also important to note that these unofficial names are never listed in the official IAU database, and they do not appear on the official maps published by the USGS." It may be worth noting that on Wikipedia "Mount Sharp" redirects to "Aeolis Mons" (though incorrectly calling "Mount Sharp" a "former" name of the mound when it fact it was a faulty proposal that couldn't fly), while even ESA ignores the correct name. A third feature named by the IAU in May was Aeolis Palus, by the way: the flat area inside Gale where MSL will touch down and for which NASA hasn't even come up with an 'informal name' ...
So much for the bare facts - but why all the fuzz over a mound on Mars, one may ask? To this blogger it's all about history and not throwing out established solar system naming procedures on a whim and without even knowing what rules exist and why. Current Mars research is "standing on shoulders" reaching back into the 19th century and even further, and over the centuries what was found on the world most similar to ours has been named in clear ways that resonated with the public at large. There are options to honor great planetary scientists on Mars, and Robert Sharp has his crater now. But that doesn't even have to be a end of it: Long ago NASA named the Viking 1 lander on Mars the Mutch Memorial Station after a key team member had died in a tragic accident; the respective plaque is on display at the Nat'l Air & Space Museum, with the intent to carry it to the actual lander one day. Now is that a clever idea to honor someone great, or what? And no international rules had to be broken ...
Saturday, July 14, 2012
A CME should hit the Earth in the coming hours, following an X flare on July 12 (more plus videos here, here and here) from the big activity region (1)1520 (more, more and more): as so often confusion abounds about what's gonna happen as does the usual hype (also in Germany; more). Rather monitor what the the ACE satellite feels and follow this discussion thread, in German and full of data. Meanwhile pictures of AR 1520, AR 1515 - which flared a lot - and the full disk from today (at sunrise) and July 13, July 12 (more and at sunset), July 11 (more, more and more), July 10 (more, more and more), July 9 (more and more), July 8, July 7 (more and more, also an X flare in AR (1)1515, more), July 6, July 5, July 4, July 2 (also a SID) and June 30. Plus explosive solar activity, the Sun's interior motion and the H-IC and Sumi rocket flights.
In other news the 4th nova of the year has broken out in Sagittarius and reached 8th mag.: details here, here, here, here, here and here, also on Nova #3. • Comet 96P/Machholz is again in SOHO's FOV (more and more), PanSTARRS is doing well, the Siding Spring NEO hunt is in trouble (video and more) and dwarf planet Pluto has a fifth moon (more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more and more). • Amateur astronomers and exoplanets - and supporting Lowell Obs. • Aurora sound has been recorded (more - and other links here, here, here and here), plus South Pole pics. • A sprite imaged from the ISS (more and more). • NLCs on July 11/12 (more) and July 1/2 (more, more and more) - and from Calar Alto (German). • And another mistaken contrail (more).
Sunday, July 1, 2012
More pictures, reports & videos about recent rare events that merit being linked to: from the Transit of Venus here, here, here, here (more), here, here, here, here, here, here, here (page 95 = PDF pg. 5), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (more), here and here - and a 1-hour talk (2012 results from 0:29; context). • From the lunar eclipse a timelapse. • And from the solar eclipse pictures from Texas and Nevada, videos from Xiamen (with the chromosphere), Bryce Canyon and Mt. Fuji, a professional video from Arizona - and a commercial using a weird fake eclipse. • Also from the Sun the disk today, prominences on June 29, nothing on June 22, the disk on June 19 with departing AR 1504 and May pictures (more). • Plus another possible mechanism for corona heating (more, more and more), Earth B field FX and a solar science rocket launch.
Elsewhere in the Universe comet PanSTARRS on June 26, 500 pics of 6000 comets (so far), collected amateur discovery stories, TNO Salacia, a movie of NEO 2012 KT42 (more and more), Arecibo observations to size NEO 2012 LZ1 (more and more), the AG45 story again and rapid response ideas. • An old crater in Greenland (more and more) and new meteor showers. • Another Nova in Sgr faded quickly (more, more and more) as did Nova Oph, one of many novae around. • Also a call for observing an unusual occultation and a paper on amateurs & variable stars.
The noctilucent clouds have been active recently, see both from the ground and from orbit: a "real-time" gallery and selected pictures & reports from the nights June 26/27 (more, more and more), June 25/26 (more), June 24/25 (more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more and more), June 19/20, June 18 and June 17. • There have also been some aurorae after a flare while a U.S. show on June 25 was more difficult to explain. Pictures of June 19, June 18 (more and more) and June 17 (more); also from Scandinavia last winter and from the last 3 years.
And finally a very cool night sky picture (at -70°C) taken by Alex Kumar at Dome C in Antarctica. • A neat solstice demonstration from India and overly crazy star trails. • The Herschel project. • And the ISS & Tiangong in one shot (more), Tiangong 1 & Shenzhou 9 transiting the Sun, ~30 satellites in one image and things rockets put in the sky ...
Sunday, June 17, 2012
• Full reports and picture sequences come from Peenemünde, Fehmarn (more), Usedom, Travemünde, Norddeich, Lausitz, Erzgebirge, Unstrut, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Bad Lippspringe, Lichterfeld-Schacksdorf, Bielefeld and Munich in Germany, Austria (more, more, more, more, more and more), Greece (more, more, more and more), Italy (more and more), Denmark (more), Norway (more), Sweden (more, more, more and a slideshow; Venus only at 5:06), Finland, Hungary, Russia, Abu Dhabi, Chennai (pics), SPACE activities (pics and more), Delhi, Kutch and Bangalore in India, China, Bali (more and more), Australia (more, more, more, more and more), Timor Leste, Rapa Nui (more), Hawaii (more, Canada) and the states of California (more, more, more, more, more and more), Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, New Jersey and New York (more) of the U.S.
• Picture collections of the transit have also turned up here (incl. particularly scenic Baltic sunrises), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here while interesing • pictures are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. • Videos showing a working pinhole camera (good to know for future eclipses), the Mount Wilson webcast (in pt. 5 an interesting aureole interview; background) and from Svalbard, Bora Bora, Amrum, Waikiki, Hyderabad (43 mins) and Sydney, plus clips from a movie project and a wild animated cartoon of Le Gentil's problems ... • Stories about the transit are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here (from someone who just didn't get it). • Finally TV reports from Austria,Russia, Hawaii, NBC (earlier) and ZDF - and a long Indian preview talk.
Imaging Venus veeery close to the Sun before and after the transit was a popular sport: successes from June 9 (more and more), June 8 (more), June 7 (more), June 5, June 4 (earlier; more, more, more, more, more, more, more and more), June 3 (more), June 2 and June 1 (with Mercury; more); more pictures are linked from the various Rhodes pages. • Pictures of the partial lunar eclipse just before the transit are linked from this Rhodes report and can also be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, with stories here and here and many videos here. • And yet more images, videos and reports from the May annular eclipse have appeared here (just amazing), here (Lytro ...), here (weird balloon thing), here, here, here, here and here.
Once more a big sunspot crossed the disk: views of June 16 (AR 1504 in detail), June 15 (more), June 14 (movie until June 14, with flares, more, more and more), June 13 (more), a movie til June 12 and prominences on June 4, plus science on ultrafine corona loops and Fermi flare observations (more). • Amazing fresh Keck IR pictures of Neptune and Uranus, Saturn on May 28, Jupiter's smallest moon (more) and the planet and the Moon today and Mars on May 25.
The big NEA 2012 LZ1 - preview (more, more, more and more) - came moderately close to Earth: video clips, pictures and reports here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Plus studies on NEA 2011 AG5 (deemed mostly harmless), 2008 TC3 & its meteorites and general risk communication - and comet Garradd on June 9, meteorite science in Canada and more Dryas claims (uncritical report and mammoth complications).
Elsewhere in the Universe the APASS is delivering photometry of 40+ million bright stars. • Nova Sco 2012 discovery (more and more) and amateur spectroscopy. • Amateur-discovered planetary nebulae (more). • The noctilucent clouds are already going strong: some observations from the nights June 16/17, June 14/15 (more), June 13/14 (more and more, also from Scandinavia and Canada), June 10, June 4 and June 2. • There has also been some aurora activity, this morning (more and more) and on June 11 (more). • And finally a total recall from Meade ...