How To Measure the Universe

The Royal Observatory Greenwich is giving free presentations of "Measuring the Universe: from the Transit of Venus to the Edge of the Cosmos" from now until September 1.

Measuring distance doesn’t sound like a very challenging thing to do — just pick your standard unit of choice and corresponding tool calibrated to it, and see how the numbers add up. Use a meter stick, a tape measure, or perhaps take a drive, and you can get a fairly accurate answer. But in astronomy, where the distances are vast and there’s no way to take measurements in person, how do scientists know how far this is from that and what’s going where?

Luckily there are ways to figure such things out, and the methods that astronomers use are surprisingly familiar to things we experience every day.

[/caption]The video above is shared by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and shows how geometry, physics and things called “standard candles” (brilliant!) allow scientists to measure distances on cosmic scales.

Just in time for the upcoming transit of Venus, an event which also allows for some important measurements to be made of distances in our solar system, the video is part of a series of free presentations the Observatory is currently giving regarding our place in the Universe and how astronomers over the centuries have measured how oh-so-far it really is from here to there.

Video credits:
Design and direction: Richard Hogg
Animation: Robert Milne, Ross Philips, Kwok Fung Lam
Music and sound effects: George Demure
Narration and Astro-smarts: Dr. Olivia Johnson
Producer: Henry Holland

And the Winner is…! Astronomy Photographer of the Year Announced

Jupiter with Io and Ganymede, September 2010 © Damian Peachwi, nner of the 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.


Stunning photos alert! Here are some absolutely gorgeous, award-winning photos from amateur astronomers and photographers. Over 700 entries were in the competition for the 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year title, and the winners were announced last night at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This is the third year for the competition, which is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Sky at Night Magazine.

Damian Peach from the UK won the overall title with this detailed image of Jupiter and several of its Moons.

“There were so many beautiful images this year but this one really stood out for me,” said Dr. Marek Kukula, Royal Observatory Public Astronomer. “It looks like a Hubble picture. The detail in Jupiter’s clouds and storms is incredible, and the photographer has also managed to capture detail on two of the planet’s moons which is remarkable for an image taken from the ground. An amazing photo.”

And here are the winning images from the other categories:

Vela Supernova Remnant © Marco Lorenzi

Deep Space

Marco Lorenzi (Italy) with Vela Supernova Remnant (Winner)
Edward Henry (USA) with Leo Triplet (Runner-up)
Michael Sidonio (Australia) with Fighting Dragons of Ara (NGC 6188 and 6164) (Highly Commended)
Rogelio Bernal Andreo (USA) with Orion, Head to Toe (Highly Commended)
Steve Crouch (Australia) with Planetary Nebula Shapley 1 (Highly Commended)

Leo Triplet © Edward Henry
Fighting Dragons of Ara (NGC 6188 and 6164) © Michael Sidonio
Galactic Paradise © Tunç Tezel

Earth and Space

Tunç Tezel (Turkey) with Galactic Paradise (Winner)
Ole C. Salomonsen (Norway) with Divine Presence (Runner-up)
Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson (Iceland) with Volcanic Aurora (Highly Commended)
Andrew Steele (UK) with Red Moon rising over Oxford (Highly Commended)
Mike Kempsey – DT6 Photographic (UK) with Meteor at Midnight, Glastonbury Tor (Highly Commended)

ISS and Endeavour Crossing the Sun © Dani Caxete

Our Solar System

Damian Peach (UK) with Jupiter with Io and Ganymede, September 2010 (Winner and overall competition winner) And you can see Damian Peach’s video of Jupiter at this link.)
Paul Haese (Australia) with Dragon Storm (Runner-up)
Dani Caxete (Spain) with ISS and Endeavour Crossing the Sun (Highly Commended)
George Tarsoudis (Greece) with Crater Petavius, 8 February 2011 (Highly Commended)
Peter Ward (Australia) with May 7th Hydrogen-Alpha Sun (Highly Commended)

Lunar Eclipse and Occultation © Jathin Premjith

Young Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Jathin Premjith (India, aged 15) with Lunar Eclipse and Occultation (Winner)
Nicole Sullivan (USA, aged 15) with Starry Night Sky (Runner-up)
Peter Pihlmann Pedersen (UK, aged 15) with Crescent Moon (Highly Commended)
Tom Chitson (UK aged 15) with First-Quarter Moon (Highly Commended)
Jessica Caterson (UK aged 15) with Winter’s Moon (Highly Commended)

Starry Night Sky © Nicole Sullivan
Stargazing © Jeffrey Sullivan

Special Prize: People and Space

Jeffrey Sullivan (USA) with Stargazing (Winner)
Jean-Baptiste Feldmann (France) with Hunting Moon (Runner-up)

Special Prize: Best Newcomer

Harley Grady (USA) with Zodiacal Light on the Farm (Winner)

Robotic Scope Image of the Year

Marco Lorenzi (Italy) with Shell Galaxies (NGC474 and NGC467) (Winner)

For all the winners and other photos not shown here, you can see more at the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Flickr site . If you are in the UK, you can see an exhibition of the winning photos as the Astronomy Centre, Royal Observatory, Greenwich, from September 9, 2011 – February 5, 2012

More info at their website:, where you can also find info about the competition for next year — start planning ahead!

I was able to attend last year, and the Observatory and the exhibition is not to be missed for anyone interested in space and astronomy!