Where can you study science communication?

An excellent tool for all those wanting to study science communication!

Astronomy Communication Guide

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Students of Prof. A. Gerber, from the Rhine-Waal University in Germany have just launched a beta-version of a global search engine for science communication degree programmes.

Still being developed, the website currently offers an interactive map with about 70 programmes that young people can select depending on their needs and interests. More features are planned such as: video interviews with course leaders, news from universities.

You can access the map here.

The science communication programme at the Rhine-Waal University is also free of tuition fees.

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Space: the next frontier!

I haven’t written on the blog in a very, very long time, but what better opportunity to do so than a monumental space achievement!

Look at this video. Simply amazing. This is real footage! This rocket went to space, came back and landed itself on its own on this unmanned floating barge in the middle of a choppy ocean. This makes it reusable, and thus dramatically lowers the cost of sending things to space.
The 14-year old private company behind this feat – the vision of one man – has done what no space agency has ever done in 60 years. “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” said Isaac Newton, and thus SpaceX builds on decades of innovation & expertise in space technology by governments agencies like Roscosmos, NASA & ESA, to take us beyond and break new ground.
A revolution is taking place in terms of how we access space, and who can access space. What an exciting time to be alive!

Defining the objectives of a mega science project

SKAKSW_poster (1)Time for another blogpost as I fly back to the UK. I’ve just spent a week in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the organising team behind the first SKA Key Science Workshop where some 150 astronomers from 23 countries gathered.

As a non-astronomer, this was a fascinating meeting to sit in. It was the first of a series of such workshops to define the scope of the key science projects of the SKA and the large international teams of collaborators that will conduct them. Like any major observatory, telescope, or science facility, the SKA has a set of “objectives”. They are the key science drivers behind the facility. In the case of the SKA, key science projects are expected to occupy at least 50% of the time on the telescope in its first 5 years of full operation. That represents over 20,000 hours of observations!

Currently scheduled to start operating in 2020 with a partial array while construction is still ongoing, the SKA will probably see three years of commissioning and early science observations before key science projects start, occupying the period 2023-2028. Why 5 years? Essentially, because this should be enough time to represent a certain measure of “return on investment” for the countries involved.

You might think discussing these details 8 years beforehand is a bit early but there was actually much to talk about.

Science Working Groups – each dedicated to a specific area of astrophysics – sat down to discuss the scope of the observations they want to conduct and the possibilities for commensality – that is, for other groups to benefit from the same observations or data. Essentially, it’s saying “hey, we’re interested in looking at the same patch of sky for different reasons, why not do two or three things at the same time and make the most of the time we have?” or even “hey, your data contains a lot of things we might be interested in, let’s use it”. And because time on such a big facility will be very limited (the world’s best telescopes are heavily “over-subscribed”, meaning there are many more scientists who apply for observing time than there is available time), maximising commensality is crucial.

It was a fascinating insight into the inner workings of a developing major science facility. And in the true tradition of science, it was done in consultation with the community.

So what will these 20,000 hours be dedicated to? A lot of things. Among them, big surveys to map the sky. Like a survey to detect all the pulsars in the galaxy – some 10,000 of them – which should help us better understand gravity and maybe observe gravitational waves. There’s also the opportunity to do solar physics, observing things like CMEs which is helpful for space weather. We also hope to be available to characterise exoplanets by observing their aurorae, the interaction between their star and the planet’s magnetic field – providing valuable information both on the star and the planet’s interior.

And why Stockholm, Sweden? Well, Sweden is participating in the SKA, developing receivers that may be fitted on the SKA’s dishes. It’s also the home of the Nobel Prizes. This might sound down right arrogant, but some of the discoveries we expect to make with the SKA may be so fundamental that they could reap a Nobel Prize. Perhaps even someone sitting in the room this week will be back to receive one in a couple of decades!

So this was an important meeting, but it’s also important to remember this is only the start of the SKA. With the SKA expected to be operational during 50 years, the key science projects could be said to only represent 5% of the observing time during the lifetime of the telescope. And with the potential they have to change our understanding of the Universe, just imagine what the other 95% might bring!

For details, take a look at the #SKAKSW15 hashtag on Twitter.

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The Martian: a promising upcoming scifi movie!

The Martian is coming out in November, and it’s looking very promising!

The movie stars Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut on Mars who must survive until a rescue mission can be put together. The movie, directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, etc.) is based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.

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photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute. Pluto and Charon as seen from New Horizons with a color imager on April 9, 2015.