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  • 038 - Always was, always will be

    In today's episode of The Skyentists, astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez talk about Australian Aboriginal Astronomy. Kirsten provides a general overview of the importance that Astronomy has always had on Earth's longest-living culture: Australian Aboriginal people. In particular, she discusses how Aboriginal Australians draw constellations in the sky: connecting stars (as usually done in Western civilisations), using just single, bright stars like Arcturus, but also considering the "dark areas" of the Milky Way for creating "dark constellations", such as the "Emu in the Sky". Precisely the long, dark, Australian Aboriginal constellation "Emu in the Sky" (that crosses from the Coal Sack dark nebula in the Southern Cross to the Galactic Center in Sagittarius) is our "What's Up!" for this episode. For Space News, Ángel talks again about the problem of the light pollution, this time not only from the perspective of Astronomy, but also environmental, our health, the impact in flora and fauna, and its useless waste of energy (=money). For this, The Skyentists invite everybody to participate in the citizen science project lead by The Australasian Dark Sky Alliance aiming to measure the light pollution of our cities and towns this Sunday, 21st June 2020. Kirsten brings a very interesting new result combining two independent works about Titan in Saturn. They also answer some questions and provide some extra feedback about the previous episode. More in two weeks!

  • For this episode The Skyentists, astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, bring not 2 but 9 "Space News" (actually, 10 including the last one briefly mentioned at the end of the episode). Of course, some of them are (unfortunately) just mentioned, others will be explored deeper in future episodes. Kirsten discusses the news about the discovery of the "FBOTs" or "Fast Blue Optical Transients", while Ángel explains what FRBs or "Fast Radio Bursts" are and how combining optical and radio observations of FRBs and their host galaxies Australian astronomers have found the "missing matter" of the Universe. This "missing matter" cannot be confused with the "dark matter": the "missing matter" are atoms that we should expect to see in the Universe but for decades we were not able to find anywhere. They also answer some feedback questions using one of them for moving to the main topic of this episode. For this, Ángel immerses Kirsten in a spiral of plot twists while connecting Uranus and Neptune with the "migrations of planets" astrophysicists need to introduce for explaining the existence of "hot Jupiters" (massive giant planets very close to their parent star). Kirsten describes some interesting properties about hot Jupiters, and we learn a new astronomical term: "Ploonets". For "What's Up!" we encourage everybody to find Mercury in the evening sky, as today, June 4th 2020, it reaches its greatest western elongation (its maximum angular distance of the Sun, which is 24 degrees). In Southern Australia, this corresponds to see Mercury with an altitude around 14 degrees at sunset. We are already expecting your questions and feedback for the next episode!

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  • After a long hiatus consequence of the very unusual times we all are living, The Skyentists, astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez, are back to action. In addition to provide some quick comments about how their work and science communication activities have been affected during the last couple of months they also talk about recent astronomy news: the bright comet C/2020 F8 (Swan), the non-pink, non-super moon, and the apparent disintegration of exoplanet Fomalhaut b "Dagon". For "Space News" Ángel talks, surprise, surprise, about Betelgeuse, that has fully recovered its normal brightness, as a new research confirms that the reason of its unusual dimming was a dust cloud, while Kirsten celebrates the 30 anniversary of our beloved Hubble Space Telescope, for which she has been preparing some amazing short (< 1 min) videos in TikTok. Here and there plenty of feedback is answered (thank you!), including answering some clever astro-questions. The main topic of this episode is galaxies: they provide some "galaxy fun facts" and then discuss the "spiral density wave" theory that explains how the arms of spiral galaxies are created. For "What's Up!" they invite us to have a look to the beautiful edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4565, the Needle galaxy, located in the constellation of Coma Berenices. This episode has been fully recorded "online", and they had some funny "issues" with the recording, however, and besides some little jumps, delays, and pitch changes, they are confident that the sound quality is good enough and everybody enjoy this 1-hour episode. More in 2 weeks!

  • In this episode of The Skyentists astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks talk about the basics of astrophotography: what is the equipment you need for getting stunning photos of the sky, what other tricks do you have to use, and what you should consider if you want to start doing astrophotography. It is not the same taking photos of the Moon and the planets than getting deep sky objects! Ángel is very excited about all of this as he got his new equipment working well, resulting in obtaining some nice astro images from his backyard! For "Space News" Kirsten announces that a couple of stars and a exoplanet have officially received Australian Aboriginal names by the IAU (International Astronomical Union). Ángel brings 3 short topics for "Space News": the status of Betelgeuse, the "hibernation" of the famous "SETI@home" citizen science project, and "Radio Galaxy Zoo: LOFAR", a new citizen science project . For "What's Up!" they recommend to observe the open cluster M 46, that hosts the planetary nebula NGC 2438, for testing the knowledge and experience we got with our astro gear. They also answered some clever questions we have received for feedback, yeah!

  • That is the literal meaning of "Globular Clusters", which is the main topic of this episode of The Skyentists. Astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez describe the main properties of globular clusters and why they should not be confused with open clusters or with dwarf elliptical galaxies. Some interesting curiosities about them are also discussed, as well as they explore the origin of these very old, very "metal-poor", giant stellar systems. For "What's Up!" they talk about M 13, the great globular cluster in Hercules, which is visible from the Northern and a good part of the Southern hemisphere. Regarding "Space News" Kirsten brings an interesting new astronomy-related cocktail (wait to hear that!) and, again, Ángel talks about Betelgeuse... As predicted, the famous supergiant red star in Orion is recovering brightness. Observations conducted using the SPHERE instrument installed at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) managed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile have recently shown astonishing images of Betelgeuse: the dimming was in one of the hemispheres, perhaps related to some dust emission from the star, or perhaps because of the complex convective movements of the atmosphere, but not because of anything that was happening in its core. Both Ángel and Kirsten are very happy as they have received plenty of questions, meaning a good part of this episode is answering the feedback. Please, keep going!

  • In this special episode of The Skyentists astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks celebrate the "International Day of Women and Girls in Science". They provide their own thoughts about why having women in Science is important and why society (particularly girls) needs role models for this. Prominent women in Science, like Marie Curie, Henrietta Leavitt, Cecilia Payne, Emmy Noether, Rosalind Franklin, Margaret Hamilton, Jocelyn Bell, or Vera Rubin should be included in textbooks, something that is still not happening in many cases. Astrophysics PhD candidate Kat Ross joins them to share why she wants to make change in the NSW Physics curriculum to #IncludeHer, asking us to sign the petition "STEM courses must teach more about contributions of women in the field" here https://www.change.org/p/stem-courses-must-teach-more-about-contributions-of-women-in-the-field . For "Space News" Kirsten talks about a very peculiar and fast-rotating star and Ángel describes the SkyMapper survey telescope and its new Data Release. For "What's Up!" they briefly talk about the Crab Nebula. And, Ángel can't help it, they also provide an update of the situation of Betelgeuse. A bit of feedback is also answered, but we are eager to get more from you!

  • In this episode of The Skyentists astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez provide an overview of the many astronomical achievements obtained with the Spitzer Space Telescope (NASA), which mission is ending today, 30th January 2020. This small space telescope (its main mirror has a size of only 85 cm!) has observed the Universe in infrared light, providing astronomers astonishing views of star-forming regions, galaxies near and far, stars, exoplanets, diffuse cold gas and dust in the Milky Way, and much more. We have plenty of feedback for this episode, having a lot of fun with your mnemotechnic rules for "O B A F G K M", the standard stellar spectroscopic classification. For Space News Ángel brings again the famous red supergiant Betelgeuse, as it has continued dimming during the last couple of weeks. New research suggests that the current observed dimming (and also cooling, by 100 K) is consequence of the expansion of its huge atmosphere. It is expected that Betelgeuse reaches a minimum of brightness around late January - early February 2020, with an increasing of its brightness after that. Kirsten announces that she finished working at Sydney Observatory to focus on her PhD thesis at UNSW. She was in the public TV the other day (ABC's The Drum), where the name of "The Skyentists" was mentioned! For "What's Up" we invite everyone to look at the beautiful planet Venus (yes, in a dark place it casts shadows).

  • Despite what you might have read or heard during the last weeks, Betelgeuse is not going to explode as a supernova... yet... For explaining this in a bit more detail our Skyentists, astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, provide an overview of what we know about stellar evolution. Stars are born from cold clumps in molecular clouds. Then they spend the majority of their life burning hydrogen into helium in the so-called "main sequence". However, depending on the original mass of the star it will evolve and die in a very different way. The most massive stars will burn helium into other elements till they build an iron core, quickly exploding as supernova. Low-mass stars like the Sun will form a planetary nebulae with the naked core, which is now a white dwarf star. They also discuss how astronomers use the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram to understand stellar evolution, as well as define the most important spectral types in stars: O B A F G K M. We need your feedback here, what is your mnemotechnic rule for remembering the right order in the spectral classification of the stars? For "Space News" Kirsten brings a nice story that happened to her in Twitter and Ángel explains why the Hubble Space Telescope observed the massive spiral galaxy UGC 2885, which is now known as "Rubin's galaxy". For "What's Up!" we talk about the beautiful Rosette nebula (Caldwell 49) in Monoceros (The Unicorn).

  • Happy New Year! In this episode our Skyentists, astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez, provide a summary of the main celestial events during 2020... including some infamous "Supermoons", lunar and solar eclipses, planets ephemeris, and meteor showers. For "Space News" Kirsten updates about the very first interstellar comet 2I/Borisov and Ángel discuss the first results of the GALACTICNUCLEUS survey that studies the building-up of the Milky Way obtaining deep infrared images of the central regions of our Galaxy using the Very Large Telescope. We have feedback (yeah!) and we also do some recommendations of astronomy webpages to follow: the Astrophiz podcast (https://astrophiz.com) by Brendan O'Brien (@Astrophiz) and SpaceAustralia.com (https://spaceaustralia.com) founded by our friend astrophysicist Rami Mandow (@CosmicRami). For "What's Up!" we recommend to have a look to beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 in Eridanus.

  • Australia, NSW, and Sydney are on fire! During the last month we are suffering the most dramatic bushfires in more than a decade. They are releasing plenty of smoke that is extremely dangerous for our health, and indeed Sydney has been the city with the most polluted air in the world these days. Is all of this a consequence of climate change? In this episode our Skyentists, astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, talk about global warming, climate change and the huge difficulty to properly comprehend all these issues. They also summarise the recent white paper "The imperative to reduce carbon emissions in astronomy" by Stevens et al 2019, that is available in https://arxiv.org/abs/1912.05834 . The plot "how global warming stacks up" provided by NASA that they discuss today can be obtained in https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/30615 . For "Space News" Ángel talks about the dimming of bright red super-giant star Betelgeuse and Kirsten talks (again) about SpaceX's Starlink satellites. She panicked after watching a new simulation of planned 12,000 Starlink satellites which will be visible during a summer night (it is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGBuk2BTvJE ). For "What's Up!" they talk about bright Southern star Achernar. Kirsten also provides some ideas about "astronomical gifts for Christmas". In addition to Kirsten and Ángel, there are two extra voices on this episode, but you have to listen to all of it to know who they are.

  • And we are back for Season 3! For this episode of The Skyentists astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez first provide a very broad summary of our Season 2. This is the "Space News!" section for this episode, as in the last few months there have been some very interesting news that can be connected with the topics we discussed in Season 2. However, the star of the episode is our very own Kirsten, who has not only submitted her Honour Thesis (yeah!) but has been also accepted to do a PhD Thesis at UNSW, Sydney! She describes the research she has conducted for her Honour Thesis about Bright Cluster Galaxies (BCGs) trying to understand how they have gained their mass during the last few billion years of the Universe. For "What's Up!" Ángel describes some curiosities about the bright star Rigel in Orion. We don't have feedback for this episode, but will have it on the next one, so please don't forget to send us your questions and comments. Yeah, it's sooo good to be back!

  • The Universe is Big, so Cosmology, that is the branch of Astronomy that studies the big picture of the Universe (creation, evolution and fate of the Cosmos, as well as of the stuff it contains) is also BIG. For this episode our Skyentists, Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, try to provide a general overview of the Cosmology: the discovery of the expansion of the Universe, the Hubble–Lemaître law, the Lambda-CDM model, hierarchical galaxy formation, the cosmic background radiation, the large scale structure of the Universe, cold and hot dark matter, the discovery of the dark energy, the flat geometry of the Universe, and even Cosmology in the local Universe. For "Space News" Kirsten discusses a recent NASA announcement regarding allowing tourists to travel to the International Space Station, while Ángel briefly describes the observation of the cold gas around the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way by the ALMA radio-interferometer. For "What's Up!" we recommend to have a look to the beautiful red star Epsilon Scorpii, also known with the Australian Aboriginal name of Larawag. We have plenty of feedback for this episode, huge thank for that, keep it going!

  • In this episode of The Skyentists astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez talk about artificial satellites: what are they, where are they, how many are there, what they usually do, and more. Of course the reason of talking about satellites is discussing Space X Starlink satellite constellation, as plenty of conversations have happened in the last couple of weeks about how these objects might affect the view of the night sky for everybody and how they will affect to both amateur and professional astronomical observations. For helping to understand the impact of satellite constellations such Starlink we are interviewing astrophysicist Kyler Khuen, deputy director of technology at Lowell Observatory (Arizona, USA), who has been intensively working on this lately. Many interesting points are raised, emphasising that proper and continue conversations between all stakeholders (private space companies, astronomers, national space agencies, government and law makers) are needed to minimise the impact of satellite constellations. For Space News Ángel briefly presents a new research article that claims to have solved the problem of "the galaxy lacking of dark matter" (main topic in our Episode 8). For "What's Up" we choose a very famous and bright galaxy: M 104, the Sombrero galaxy. More in two weeks!

  • This a very special episode as our Skyentists, Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, participated as MCs in one of the Sydney venues of the international science communication festival "Pint of Science". They actually recorded the Astronomy event "Enter the Dead Star!" on Wednesday 22nd May using... wait for it... a mobile phone! Here we present a summary of the event, the highlights of the talks, the trivia, and their impressions about the festival and the night. We don't have space news, feedback or what's up in this episode. However we include the interviews we conducted to the speakers, astrophysicists Devika Kamath (Lecturer in Astronomy and Astrophysics, ARC DECRA Fellow, Macquarie University) and Sarah Reeves (Assistant Curator, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Powerhouse Museum), after the show. We couldn't help ourselves, though, and the last 10 minutes of this episode include our main points and concerns about the Starlink satellites launched last week by SpaceX. We will extend this discussion providing a comprehensive picture of satellites around Earth and the big issues arising with the expected new "satellite constellations" in the next episode. We hope to release this in a week, we are waiting for your feedback about all of this by then.

  • For this episode of The Skyentists, astronomers Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez talk about books, more precisely about astro-books, providing a list of 13 interesting books to learn and enjoy Astronomy and Space Science. This topic was recently suggested as a feedback question, so we are very pleased to answer it in a full episode. Besides this, we heard a couple of minutes of the amazing TEDxYouth@Sydney talk given by Kirsten last month. For "Astro News" Kirsten talks about the discovery of the "Moon-quakes" and Ángel introduces an important "cosmic controversy" that has recently arisen: when comparing the value of the Hubble constant obtained with the cosmic background radiation with that derived using nearby galaxies, the numbers do not match! Our object for "What's Up!" is the beautiful Jewel Box star cluster. We're waiting for your suggestions and recommendations of books, and any other kind of feedback, for our next episode!

  • After a long hiatus because of a combination of professional and personal reasons, The Skyentists, Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, are back. This is a kind of special episode as it is all focused in just one main topic: the amazing image of the "shadow" of the super massive black hole in the center of giant elliptical galaxy M 87 (aka M87*, but it is not a star) obtained with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Space News is this. The main topic is this. The feedback is this. And "What's Up!" is also this... well, for "What's Up!" it is actually the galaxy hosting the super massive black hole, M 87, in the centre of the Virgo cluster. They provide an overview of the properties of this fantastic image, give some insight into the radiotelescopes used by the EHT project, the techniques used to create the image, summarise the science and research papers released, and more! Please enjoy it and send your feedback for the next episode, that will be in ~1 month time.

  • In this episode of The Skyentists, Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez talk about women in astronomy and, in particular, the fundamental and still not well known work that a group of women, the "Harvard Computers", made between late 19th Century and early 20th Century. They provide an overview and summary of the achievements that Williamina Fleming, Antonia Mauri, Annie Cannon, Henrietta Leavitt and Cecilia Payne got in Astronomy and how, in some way, they provided the key ideas for the development of the Astrophysics in the 20th Century and beyond: variable stars, stellar spectra, stellar classification, the composition of the stars, and the distances to stars and galaxies. First, in "Space News" Kirsten is sad as our beloved Mars rover "Oppy" is no more, and Ángel briefly discusses a recent research digging the diffuse light of the outskirts of the galaxies observed in the Ultra Deep Hubble Image. They also provide the results of the poll about "what is Ultima Thule (aka 2014 MU69)". For "What's Up" they recommend to have a look to beautiful open cluster M 46 as it has a hidden surprise on it...

  • In this episode our Skyentists, Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks, describe NASA's New Horizons spacecraft: the first mission to the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt, in the outskirts of our Solar System. They summarize the main objectives of the mission, the instruments on board of New Horizons, and the results that this small spaceship has provided so far. These include amazing surprises in Pluto and Charon (Pluto's largest moon) and the recent flyby of the transneptunian object 2014 MU69 (unofficially also known as "Ultima Thule") early this year. For "Space News" Kirsten hopes that the next (and last) attempt of re-connecting with the Mars rover Opportunity ("Oppy") are successful. Ángel summarizes a new research from some colleagues at the Canary Islands Institute for Astrophysics (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain) who have reprocessed the data of the famous Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image, resulting in the image now revealing the external parts of many distant galaxies. For feedback we provide our "Top-10" list of objects for amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere. Our object for "What's Up" for this episode is the famous globular cluster 47 Tucanae.

  • This episode of "The Skyentists" brings the very first guest to the show. We invited our guest to describe the project they are conducting regarding observing the Moon... Well, our guest actually doesn't say too much at the end, but our Skyentists, Kirsten Banks and Ángel López-Sánchez, can't stop talking. They provide some general overview of what we know about Earth's natural satellite and a summary of the lunar exploration, including some "fun facts" about the Moon brought by Kirsten. They also give some details about the Chinese mission, Change-4, that is right now exploring a region in the far side of the Moon. They also answer some of the questions about the Moon received by social media, as well as provide some feedback about previous episodes. For "Space News" Kirsten talks about the New Horizon spacecraft, that just did a flyby of the "cosmic jelly bean" (a.k.a. "Ultima Thule" or, the real official name, 2014 MU69) and Ángel explains what means that the rings of Saturn are "raining" over the planet. The bright red star Betelgeuse is the object chosen for "What's Up". Don't forget to send us your questions and feedback for the next episode!

  • For the first episode of The Skyentists in 2019 astronomers Ángel López-Sánchez and Kirsten Banks jump into the exciting field of finding planets around other stars. They provide a summary of the observational techniques used by astronomers to discover exoplanets, emphasizing the two main methods: the transit (or mini-eclipses) method and the radial velocity or doppler shift (or "wobbly") method. They also characterize the general properties of the almost 4000 exoplanets already discovered and provide a list of the ~20 most exciting exoplanets (some of them seem to be taken from "Star Wars"). In "Space News" Kristen summarizes Space-X launches in 2018 and their plans for 2019, while Ángel talks about the recent research of 20 protoplanetary disks using the radio-interferometry ALMA. We answer some questions received for feedback (thanks!) and use the brightest star of the night sky, Sirius, for our "What's Up" section. More in 2 weeks!