Monday, July 18, 2016

What makes a scientist?

@RealScientists is a scientific outreach Twitter-account that invites a new scientist to talk about their research every week. It is good fun and often very interesting including everything from actual details of data collection in botany and astronomy, to work/family-balance and career planning. Recently, @drclairemurray curated the account and asked the question:
Which was followed by a barrage of answers. Most of which wanted to set the bar really low so that curiosity alone would be a sufficient characteristic. I would rather we set a higher standard so that scientist is something you can strive to become, and have to strive to remain (although often I would like it to be easier).

From this perspective I would like to argue that scientists are like football players. As long as they continue pursuing their own original research and publish with peer-review as the lead or senior author they are still scientists. This is a high bar, and there are some points in this argument that warrant a bit of an explanation.

1: "continue pursuing" means that as soon as they quit actively doing research they also stop being scientists.

2: "their own" means that if they don't provide substantial intellectual input to coming up with the idea, designing and performing the work, and interpreting the results it does not count. This does not mean it has to be only theirs with no outside input, which would be silly.

3: "original research" means that it should be providing either new data, or new interpretations. Experimental reproduction counts, pure theory too, even meta analysis is alright.

4: "publish with peer-review" means just that. The results have to be double-checked by experts and have to be made available to everyone else both now and in the future through publication. This can mean that a bachelor thesis is an adequate start.

5: "lead or senior author" means that they should be the driving force behind publication. The actual position in the author list is not important for the argument, although it is very telling in a field like medicine.

We should, however, be aware that there is an argument for setting the bar low. If they get to identify as scientists already when they do their first experiment and continue to as long as they think rationally, maybe it would be easier to recruit new researchers; maybe the anti-science attitude in the society would decrease; maybe rational thought would be hip again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Widefield astrophotography setup

After posting a snap of my new widefield astrophotography setup on Facebook there was a question about how it was mounted. I thought that if there is one who is interested, there are probably more people out there considering similar questions. Thus, we will take a quick look at a way to mount a widefield camera and a guide camera side-by-side on the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 german equitorial mount.
The Samyang 135mm f/2 manual telephoto lens is an excellent widefield telescope, or so the forums say. It is a super-fast 67.5mm aperture telescope at f/2. We find it mounted on my modified Canon EOS 600D with a Baader Planetarium UV/IR astrophoto filter instead of the normal IR filter. In addition we can use the brilliant clip-in narrow-band filters for H-alpha, OIII and SII to get some of the functionality of a proper astronomical CCD camera. To this we add the 50mm Orion guide scope with a StarShoot autoguider.
The autoguider is mounted on an accessory bracket with a block for mounting on photographic tripods that has a standard tripod mounting hole on the bottom. The bracket and mounting block came with the telescope. Then we can just screw the camera and guider to either side of a standard Vixen dovetail bar. Finally we mount all of that ontop of a computer-controlled Sky-Watcher HEQ5 because: Stability!

Transit of Mercury 2016-05-09

The transit of Mercury happened! Luckily I could escape a little bit early on transit day and set up the telescope to catch us a transit. We see that the gear is a fairly basic set up based on a Sky-Watcher ED80 equipped with a neutral density photographic solar filter from Baader Planetarium and a Canon D600.
Although the day was a partially it worked out well with only the smallest bit of patience. Plus, some clouds are nice to have to cool down a little bit. The mount is a Sky-Watcher HEQ5 that, although it warns us never to point the telescope at the sun everytime we turn it on, can be easily set to solar tracking speed.
In the end I got a little bit sunburned and Skrållan, my then 9-week-old boxer puppy, found a bit of shade by the photo bag.
We saw the whole picture at the top of the page with Mercury to the left and a couple of sunspots in the middle. Below we see two 100% close-up cropped frames to get a better look at the details. The difference between sunspots that are irregular and are surrounded by a lighter penumbra, and the silhouette of Mercury that is perfectly (to the limit of the camera) round and smooth is easy to see.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Some nebulosities in Orion

Orion is one of the most spectacular parts of the sky with enormous, extended nebulas, including the brightest nebula in the northern sky. The aptly named Great nebula in Orion, often known as the Orion nebula, but we will leave that for another time and focus on two other bright and well-known nebulae.
To set the scene we start with a wide field image from a true dark-sky site at 4000m in northern India. It is only a single frame with about 30s exposure. But there is so little light pollution that it is actually hard to pick out the constellations among all the stars.

Anyway, here are the major stars in Orion. As we see they have mostly old arabic names, which is where most historical knowledge of the stars come from. Admittedly, from astrology, but at least they tried.

Now we will turn our attention to two of the nebulae to have a closer look. The Flame nebula, NGC2024, and the very well-known Horsehead nebula IC434.

First we switch from an 11.5 mm aperture f2 camera lens to a proper telescope. In this case a 106 mm f5 Takahashi FSQ ED at iTelescope's observatory at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia. It is located just by the 4-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope. It gives a nice view that includes both nebulae.

Then, we can switch to the 700mm BCL telescope, named for Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt, which is a beast among amateur equipment. This gives us a real close-up view of the Horse Head Nebula, which is where we leave off for today.