Bringing the Solar System Down to Earth

As a part of NASA’s ongoing Year of the Solar System – which is actually a single Martian year long, or 23 months – the excitement of planetary exploration is being brought to people around the world through a enthusiastic science outreach program called From Earth to the Solar System (FETTSS). A continuation of the well-received International Year of Astronomy 2009 From Earth to the Universe program, FETTSS provides over 90 beautiful high-resolution images of fascinating locations around our solar system; from the ice geysers of Enceladus to the plasma arcs of solar prominences, the cold dunes of Mars to the hot springs of Yellowstone, the FETTSS collection showcases many wonders of many worlds – and helps bring them within view of as many people as possible.

The images are displayed in public locations, hosted by organizations that raise all the necessary funding to have them printed and installed. The FETTSS site exists to provide the high-resolution print images as well as offer guidance as to how to best plan, market and set up an installation.

What’s wonderful about From Earth to the Solar System – as well as its predecessor From Earth to the Universe – is how it brings the fascination of science and astronomy to people who may not have previously given it much thought. By presenting large-format images with descriptive captions in common places – such as in an airport or outside in a public park – FETTSS hosts are actively capturing the interest of viewers and engaging them in astronomy – many undoubtedly for the first time.

People around the world are being connected with the most recent work of scientists and researchers in a way that’s attractive, informative and yet accessible. This is the key to any successful outreach program.

The images are at once artistic and informative, weaving together themes in astrobiology, planetary science, and astronomy. Including contributions from backyard astronomers, large telescopes in space, and even point-and-shoot cameras of field researchers, the collection represents the current state of exploration as seen through the eyes of the scientific community.

Currently an exhibit is just wrapping up in Corpus Christi, Texas, at the Museum of Science and History and was very well-received by both people and the press! The next scheduled event will take place in June at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

A FETTU outdoor installation in Geneva

FETTSS looks to build on the success of the 2009 FETTU program.

“We are hoping to replicate some of FETTU’s success and bring a measure of sustainability to the FETTU concept. ‘From Earth to the Solar System’ is taking a similar grassroots-type of approach to exhibit creation, and will hopefully help remove the barrier to ‘seeking science out’ for some visitors and help make setting up an exhibit more efficient for organizers,” said Kimberly Kowal Arcand, Media Production Coordinator for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and FETTSS principal investigator.

“With FETTU – and what we hope to find with FETTSS – there was a wonderful response from both visitors and organizers,” said Arcand. “We found, unexpectedly, a sort of emotional and personal connection to the images in the FETTU project and I’m interested to see if we find that again with FETTSS. I was personally overwhelmed with the response to FETTU… it was the most inspiring thing I have ever worked on!”

Already, exhibitors worldwide have expressed interest in hosting FETTSS installations… from Argentina, Serbia, China, Colombia, Canada, UK, Ireland, Egypt, Spain, Armenia, as well as from numerous locations in the US – many of whom had previously hosted FETTU events.

So with such a great program and strong response, the question remains: what’s next?

“From Earth to the Sun? From Earth to the Galaxies?” suggested Arcand.

With all that’s being discovered, whatever it is it’s sure to be another success!


For more information about FETTSS or to host an FETTSS event in your area, visit the main site here.

Here’s Your Chance To Spread the Joy of Astronomy Around the World

Donate your used astronomy books to the Astro Book Drive!


Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, and one of the most popular amateur hobbies around the world. In fact, there are thousands of astronomy clubs and groups across the globe, but in many developing countries they don’t have the resources to help educate their their members, as well popularize astronomy for students and the public.

“The enthusiasm of most of these groups are vast but they always come across the lack of resources to conduct programs,” said Thilina Heenatigala, from the Sri Lanka Astronomical Association, who has been instrumental in organizing astronomy book drives for fledgling astronomy clubs in developing countries the past few years.

Astro Book Drive is a project that works on helping improve astronomy education in developing countries by sharing resources. Right now, Astro Book Drive is gathering books and other resources for an astronomy club in Indonesia.

So, c’mon – you know you have some astronomy books, pamphlets and other items that you’d like to donate!

“Even though we are much advanced in technology and internet has a vast amount of resources,” Heenatigala told Universe Today, “most of the groups from developing countries are lacking resources to conduct astronomy programs and educate people. As coming from a developing country myself, I can tell you that one of the most basic, yet powerful ways to bring astronomy to developing countries is through the simple gift of books.”

If you’re like me, you probably have a surplus of astronomy materials lying; these materials are valuable to groups from developing countries.

“This is a global effort and anyone/group welcome to donate what they have, even one book can make big difference,” said Heenatigala. “I’m hoping to keep the book drive running from December through February 2011.”

The group from Indonesia, langitselatan (LS) – Southern Skies – is an astronomy communication and educator media in Indonesia run by young group of astronomy enthusiasts with the vision of getting astronomy in the local media, astronomy education and awareness throughout the country. Heenatigala said LS has been working tirelessly over the years to achieve these by conducting star parties, telescope training, teachers training, hands on activities, story telling session, astronomy discussion and talk shows and astro-presentation.

To expand their efforts, LS hopes to build a small library which will be used by the members, students and the local community. Through the library project, they hope to increase the reading habits of young students and teachers as well. To achieve their dream of setting up a library to improve astronomy education in Indonesia, Astro Book Drive calls the international community to donate Astronomy reading materials.

There are other book drives as well, and will probably be more coming up in 2011. The Astro Book Drive project was started in 2009 as part of the International Year of Astronomy.

“Usually the procedure is to get a group/institutes from a wealthy country to run a book drive for a group in developing country, where they donate from 3 – 10 boxes of books. But for the Indonesian book drive, I had to put an open call since it’s an effort to set up an Astro Library there.”

For more information on specifically the book drive for Indonesia, see this link

Astro Book Drive website main page.

You can see a list of projects at this link.:

365 Days of Astronomy Podcast to Continue in 2011

If you’ve been considering contributing a podcast to the 365 Days of Astronomy but just haven’t gotten around to it yet, there’s good news: the project will be continuing for another year — its third — in 2011. As far as we can tell, 365 Days of Astronomy is the most popular and successful user-generated podcast ever, as each podcast is listened to thousands of times. If you’re looking to share your experiences, thoughts, feelings, discoveries, or anything about space and astronomy, this is your big chance to find your voice and an audience to listen.

Since it is now the Year of the Solar System, it seemed like a good reason to keep this Energizer-Bunny project from the International Year of Astronomy going for another year. As the Project Manager, I hope you’ll join in, or at least check it out and start listening daily — if you aren’t already. Here’s the official press release:

The award-winning 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is proud to announce the project will continue for yet another year – its third year — and is now accepting sign-ups for participants for another 365 podcasts in 2011. 2011 encompasses the Year of the Solar System, which marks an unprecedented flurry of robotic exploration of space, and is the perfect opportunity for more of the public to become involved in creating podcasts to share astronomy with the world.

365 Days of Astronomy is a legacy project of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), and in 2009 was a major project of the IYA. For two years now, the project has published one podcast for every day of the year. The episodes are written, recorded and produced by people all around the world. “This podcast gives a voice to everyone in astronomy – professionals, amateurs, and those who just enjoy the amazing discoveries and images of our Universe,” said Dr. Pamela Gay, chair for the IYA’s New Media Group.

The 365 Days of Astronomy podcast is now looking for individuals, schools, companies and clubs to submit 5 – 10 minutes of audio for our daily podcast.

The 365 Days of Astronomy has gained a wide audience, and each podcast is heard by 5,000 – 10,000 listeners. The project was awarded a Parsec Award in 2009 for “The Best Info-tainment” podcast in 2009, and was nominated for the “Best Fact Behind the Fiction” award in 2010.

Participants can sign up to do just 1 episode or up to 12 episodes (one per month, subject to editorial discretion). People from every continent except Antarctica have submitted podcasts the past two years, and the 365 Days of Astronomy team encourages a more diverse population from even more countries to sign up for a particular day (or days) of 2011. A calendar of astronomical events is available on the project’s website to provide ideas but the podcasts can be about virtually any astronomical topic. “We are seeking a wide range of contributions, from simple concepts or how-tos to more in-depth discussions of complex concepts,” said Dr. Gay. “Over the past two years, we received a wide range of contributions, from simple at-home first-time podcasts to highly polished and professional recordings. We expect the same for 2011 and are looking to sign up a variety of participants, from amateur astronomers, classroom teachers and students to scientists, science bloggers and big media companies.”

The project is also asking individuals and organizations for financial support.

The podcast team also invites people and organizations to sponsor the podcast by donating $30 to support 1 day of the podcast, with your dedication appearing at the start of the show. For just $360, it is possible to sponsor 1 episode per month. Alternatively, you can also have a dedication message at the end of the show for a week, for a donation at the $100 level. These donations will help pay for editing, and posting of the podcasts.

For more information visit:

365 Days of Astronomy:

Astrosphere New Media:

Year of the Solar System:

Keeping the Spirit of the International Year of Astronomy Alive

As the International Year of Astronomy comes to a close, those involved hope to sustain the momentum gained during the year in communicating astronomy with the public. The IYA produced a number of excellent new media projects, creating fresh excitement and enthusiasm for astronomy and science. A new non-profit organization and website have been created to provide a brand- new “home” to sustain IYA projects such as the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and Second Astronomy in Second Life ™, as well as other existing and new projects. Astrosphere New Media Association is dedicated to promoting science and skeptical thought through internet-based technologies and distribution. Its efforts are focused on the creation of technologies and content that enable better astronomy communications and greater astronomy content access for the public.

The projects encompassed by Astrosphere New Media include the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, Second Astronomy, the popular Astronomy Cast podcast and a new project for 2010, We Are Astronomers. Additionally, Astrosphere will be hosting the archival websites from the US IYA.

The Internet provides a new way for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts to communicate and interact with the public. Astronomy communicators can use these new forms of communication — such as blogs, podcasts, social networks, interactive data tools, and community content sites (such as wikis) – to provide the public with dynamic web content through Web 2.0 technologies.

Astrosphere New Media Association will help facilitate this “new media” and new communications for astronomy.

“This project rose out of two needs,” said Dr. Pamela Gay, Executive Director of Astrosphere. “There are many of us working together in our spare time to communicate astronomy to the world. We’re building tools, writing content, and then giving it all away. What we needed was a central advocate who could work to find us a little funding for travel and servers and just help us get what we do out to the world. Astrosphere is here to be that advocate, and to provide IYA projects a home beyond 2009.”

The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is a community project that “airs” one podcast per day, 5 to 10 minutes in duration, for all 365 days of the year. The podcast episodes are written, recorded and produced by people around the world who donate a few minutes to share their passion for astronomy.

Second Astronomy, takes real world events into virtual realities, allowing the citizens of Second Life (TM) a way to experience projects such as From Earth to the Universe and The World at Night. Early in 2010 Second Astronomy will showcase John Gleason’s h-alpha astrophotography and roll out an island size Spitzer MIPSGAL/GLIMPSE walkable image. Later in the year, new virtual ‘as the eye sees’ telescopes will be rolled out, wrapped in a star party atmosphere and a cultural astronomy “sky stories” experience.

Astronomy Cast takes a facts-based journey through the universe each week with Fraser Cain (Universe Today) and Dr. Pamela L. Gay (Star Stryder). The podcasts are available online or through iTunes.

We Are Astronomers is a Beyond 2009 project that looks to capture the diversity of who we are as astronomers through pictures and videos. Astronomers include professionals, amateurs and armchair enthusiasts. To find out how you can help, email [email protected].

Other new media science and astronomy projects and even skepticism projects looking for collaborators, direction, support or a “home” are welcome to contact Astrosphere New Media Association at:

Astrosphere New Media Association
P.O. Box 804
Edwardsville, IL 62025
email:[email protected]

For corporations or individuals looking to support new media efforts, Astrosphere New Media Association is a non-profit organization, and your tax-deductible contributions will help make online astronomy possible, allowing above projects to continue and expand, as well as providing for other events such as live-streaming of astronomy meetings and conferences. Donations will pay internet hosting, provide salary for staff, and help cover the costs of the hardware and software used to make all programs possible. Contact [email protected] for more information.

365 Days of Astronomy to Continue in 2010

Calling all podcasters! The award-winning 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is proud to announce the project will continue for another 365 days, and is now accepting sign-ups for participants for 2010. Whether you’re a seasoned podcaster or if you have never picked up a microphone before, anyone with a love of space exploration and astronomy is welcome to sign up to do a podcast. If you’ve not yet heard of the 365 Days of Astronomy, it was a major project of the International Year of Astronomy, publishing 1 podcast for every day of the year. The podcast episodes are written, recorded and produced by people all around the world. As in 2009, the podcast team is looking to sign up a wide range of participants for 2010, from graduate students in astronomy to science bloggers to big media companies, to amateur and armchair astronomers. Here’s your chance to share why you love astronomy and space exploration! Check out the “Join In” page on 365 Days of Astronomy for more information

Exploring to the Beat of Pulsars

PULSE@Parkes project. Credit: Andrew Crosling

An innovative project that provides high school students in Australia the opportunity to work with the famous Parkes radio telescope will soon make the data available to schools around the world. The PULSE@Parkes project allows for hands-on remote observing of pulsars producing real-time data, which then becomes part of a growing database used by professional astronomers. “Students can help monitor pulsars and identify unusual ones or detect sudden glitches in their rotation,” said Rob Hollow from the Australia Telescope National Facility, and coordinator for the PULSE@Parkes project. “They can also help determine the distance to existing pulsars.”

Initially, the project was only available to schools in Australia, but PULSE@Parkes hopes to expand globally, allowing students to collaborate on monitoring pulsar data. The first international session will be held on Dec. 7, 2009 at Cardiff University in the UK.

“We had the challenge to develop and implement simulation radio astronomy activities for high school students, providing the opportunity for them to actually use a radio telescope facility and engage with professional scientists,” said Hollow, speaking at the .Astronomy (dot Astronomy) conference this week in Leiden, The Netherlands. “We also wanted to have students doing science that is appropriate for them and useful for professional astronomers.”

Students in Sydney controlling the Parkes radio telescope. Credit:  R. Hollow, CSIRO
Students in Sydney controlling the Parkes radio telescope. Credit: R. Hollow, CSIRO

Hollow said that even though radio astronomy data consists of squiggly lines, students are still engaged by the results, even without the pretty pictures produced by other astronomical instruments. “It works surprisingly well, and the visuals haven’t been as big an issue and we thought,” Hollow said. “But in looking at pulsars, the students do get the pulse profiles and they get immediate feedback.”

Plus, when the dish actually moves in response to the students’ inputs, they really become engaged. “There’s a real ‘wow’ factor in being able to control the telescope,” Hollow said. “The students pick it up quickly, and they really like that they are contributing to science.”

Recently, the first science paper was published using results obtained by students.

The program is done remotely, and students view webcams of the telescope and control room. They control the telescope directly via the internet, monitor the data in real time, and use Skype to communicate with astronomers at Parkes.

So far, Hollow said, they have done 25 sessions, with 28 schools, working with about 450 students. “This project is not just for gift and talented students,” he said, “and any school can apply.”

The Parkes Radio Telescope. Credit: R. Hollow, CSIRO
The Parkes Radio Antenna. Credit: R. Hollow, CSIRO

Parkes is a 64 m diameter radio antenna that was built in 1961. Hollow said the dish has received regular updates and is still on the cutting edge of science. Most famously, Parkes was to receive video from the Apollo mission to the Moon.

Hollow said he sees PULSE@Parkes as just the beginning of working with students. The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) will be coming online in just a couple of years, with thirty-six 12-meter dishes. “This will provide for very fast surveys that will increase the area of coverage and increase the capability for sensitivity,” Hollow said. “From ASKAP, we’ll be getting massive data sets, which will provide more opportunity for student and public involvement.

For more information, including an audio of what a pulsar “sounds” like, as well as info for schools and teachers, requirements, and how to apply visit the PULSE@Parkes website

IYA Live Telescope – M50

Did you get a chance to check out the IYA Live Telescope? Our last object was Messier 50 (also known as M 50 or NGC 2323) is an open cluster in the constellation Monoceros. It was perhaps discovered by G. D. Cassini before 1711 and independently discovered by Charles Messier in 1772. M50 is at a distance of about 3,000 light-years away from Earth. It is described as a ‘heart-shaped’ figure. You’ll find the video inside!

Open cluster Messier 50 (M50, NGC 2323) is a pretty and considerably bright object located in a rich part of stars and nebulae in constellation Monoceros, near its border to Canis Major. It is easily seen in binoculars and well resolved in even a small telescope.

This cluster was discovered on April 5, 1772 by Charles Messier, but possibly G.D. Cassini had already discovered it before 1711, according to a report by his son, Jacques Cassini, in his book of 1740, Elements of Astronomy.

Open cluster M50 is probably about 3,200 light years distant. Its angular diameter of about 15×20′ therefore corresponds to a linear extension of about 20 light-years, the central dense part being only about 10′ or 10 light-years in diameter. J.E. Gore, from photographic plates taken by Isaac Roberts in 1893, has estimated its population as about 200 stars in the main body. The cluster’s Trumpler type is given as I,2,m (Glyn Jones), II,3,m (Sky Catalog 2000) or II,3,r (Götz). The visual appearance is described as a “heart-shaped figure” by Mallas and Kreimer.

According to Kenneth Glyn Jones, the brightest star is of spectral type B8 and mag 9.0, while the Sky Catalog 2000 gives spectral type B6 and mag 7.85, and the age is estimated as 78 million years. 7′ south of the center is a red M giant, contrasting prominently against its blue-white neighbor stars. The cluster also contains some yellow giants.

Can I Have One More #Moonwatch With You?

Gazing at the Moon seems to be universal among humans. So why not share the experience with the rest of the world using the hottest social media tool? From Oct. 26-28 you can join in on Moonwatch on Twitter. Various Twitterers will be live-tweeting conversation and images of the Moon, planets and other astronomical objects. Moonwatch was headed up by astronomers from the Newbury Astronomical Society in the UK. Additionally, the Faulkes Telescope Network of professional telescopes will also be taking part and taking images with their 2-metre telescope situated in New South Wales, Australia.
Continue reading “Can I Have One More #Moonwatch With You?”

Have a Galileo Moment

Starting tomorrow (Oct. 22) professional and amateur astronomers around the world will be out in force to encourage as many people as possible to look through a telescope. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project, Galilean Nights, will be a global experience, with more than 1000 public observing events in over 70 countries. If you participated in 100 Hours of Astronomy that took place in April 2009, this event is similar, but this time astronomers will be focusing on the objects that Galileo observed, especially with the Moon and Jupiter well-positioned in the evening sky.

Event map of Galilean Nights
Check out if there is an event near you at the Galilean Nights website. You can relive the revolutionary telescopic discoveries made 400 years ago by Galileo. There’s also an astrophotography competition that’s going on right now. There are two categories, “Earth and Sky” and “Beyond Earth,” and the last day to enter is October 27th.

Additionally, observatories are making their facilities available for remote observing sessions. Anyone with access to the internet will be able to control telescopes around the world by taking part in these sessions will be able to take photographs of astronomical objects from their own personal computers.

Galilean Nights is a truly global event, with hundreds of thousands of people discovering our Universe from all sorts of locations and settings around the world. Get involved, and experience your own Galileo moment!

IYA Live Telescope: Mmmm, Mmmmm, Good!

If you’ve had an opportunity over the last few days to check in on our IYA “Live” Telescope, we’ve been keeping an eye on the Messier Catalog Objects for you… specifically some bright open clusters named M46, M47 and M48! If you didn’t get a chance to catch them while they were on the air, then feel free to have a look at our video capture…

Messier 46 (also known as M 46 or NGC 2437) is an open cluster in the constellation of Puppis. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1771. Dreyer described it as “very bright, very rich, very large.” M46 is about 5,500 light-years away with an estimated age on the order of several 100 million years.

The planetary nebula NGC 2438 appears to lie within the cluster near its northern edge (the faint smudge at the top center of the image), but it is most likely unrelated since it does not share the cluster’s radial velocity.[1][2] The case is yet another example of a superposed pair, joining the famed case of NGC 2818. M46 is about a degree east of M47 in the sky, so the two fit well in a binocular or wide-angle telescope field.

Ready for the next? Let’s go….

Open Cluster M47 (also known as Messier Object 47 or NGC 2422) is an open cluster in the constellation Puppis. It was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and independently discovered by Charles Messier on February 19, 1771.

M47 is at a distance of about 1,600 light-years from Earth with an estimated age of about 78 million years. There are about 50 stars in this cluster, the brightest one being of magnitude +5.7.

And before we go…

Messier 48 (also known as M 48 or NGC 2548) is an open cluster in the Hydra constellation. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1771.

M48 is visible to the naked eye under good atmospheric conditions. Its age is estimated to amount 300 million years.

As always, check when you have an opportunity to catch the IYA “Live” telescope in action!

Factual information courtesy of Wikipedia.