Does your camera phone do this? – 46 billion pixels of Milky Way #amacrojot @profmcateer

One of the hardest parts of science is trying to study some parts of it in detail, while not forgetting that any one topic is just part of a much bigger picture. Sometimes we get so stuck on the details of the trees, that we miss the forest.  A team of scientists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have came up with a new tool to help us keep this perspective in astrophysics.

Over a series of nights in the last 5 years,  a campaign was carried out by the scientists in an attempt to create a catalogue of objects with variable brightness (e.g., when exoplanets crosses its stellar disk. They used telescopes based in Chile’s Atacama desert to shoot the same patches of the southern sky repeatedly over several days. Now they have taken all these data and compiled the largest astronomical image, ever. About 268 images have been aligned and captures in one image in order to create a vast 194-gigabyte galactic mosaic.

Even if you spend $10,000 on your 4K resolution, 8 million pixel tv, you’ll still be left disappointed. This stunning vista is comprised of an impressive 46 billion pixels. It so large that the researchers have provided a special online tool in order to allow viewers to take in the cosmic scene. Like google maps for the milky way. The online tool allows viewers to observe and zoom in on stunning aspects of the Milky Way in incredible detail. You can also search for objects such as stars and nebulae via the input box on the lower left of the screen.

A big milky way galaxy, finally captured in all glory, and all its detail.


Welcome to Laniakea, your home, #laniakea

Home, sweet home. A new discovery published today in Nature, shows that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is part of an enormous supercluster of galaxies. The name they have chosen for this supercluster is Laniakea, a word that comes from the Hawaiian words for “immeasurable heaven.” Stretching over 500 million light years across and containing over 100,000 galaxies with the mass of a hundred million billion suns, this new structure is the biggest gravitational object we know. All our structure is defined by gravity – without it there would be nothing – no planets, no stars, no galaxies, nothing. But at the largest sizes bigger than galaxies, another force kicks in – the mysterious dark energy that seems to accelerating the universe expansion.

Now scientists have a detailed enough understanding of the balance between gravity and dark energy to make our biggest ever map of our locality. And now we knowledge our full cosmic address does not end at our galaxy. Now we’re proud citizens of Laniakea. Better get your passport.

A stellar smile, #FlourineStar

Consider this when you are brushing your teeth this evening -that fluorine came from a dead star. Fluorine can only be formed in the conditions available inside stars much like our Sun. Then, in the moments before they die, these stars shed their outer layers, including the Fluorine. That is spat into the space between stars, the interstellar, where new stars are formed. So when our Sun and planets were formed from a mass of gas and dust, all the Fluorine present, must have came from one of our Sun’s ancestors.

Makes you think twice before you go to bed.

You can’t find the full story in

Galactic dung beetles


I never thought we could connect cosmology and critters, but then science does continue to amaze.
Celestial navigation has guided man around the world for several thousand years. From Columbus to Drake to De Gama, the stars showed them the way. Even I can safely use the sun to know whether I am driving north, south, east or west. But a new study suggests it could also be guiding dung beetles.

Marie Dacke, a zoologist at Sweden’s Lund University, studies the way animals navigate. In a study online this week in Current Biology, she and a team of researchers looked into the surprisingly sophisticated navigational habits of the dung beetle, finding that they too have their eyes on the skies. Dung beetles like to maintain straight lines as they run. As they’re going about their beetle business, when a pile of droppings catches their eye, they roll it into a ball and, walking backward, push it somewhere safe to eat. A straight course ensures they don’t return to the fierce competition back at the dung pile. Researchers placed African ball-rolling dung beetles in a planetarium, and found they could navigate just as easily with only the Milky Way visible as with a full starlit sky. Under overcast conditions, the beetles lost their way. Nocturnal beetles can stay their course even on moonless nights, guided by the stars.

Birds and seals have also been known to use the stars for navigation, but this is the first time insects have been found to use them for the same purpose. It’s also the first documentation of animals using the Milky Way specifically. And they have been doing this long before mankind worked it out.

Collision spectacular

The end of days will at least be fun to watch


The andromeda galaxy is currently about 2.5 million light years away from us. Go out tonight to see andromeda and the light hitting your eye left andromeda 2.5 million years ago, before dinosaurs were really getting going here on earth. In another 4 billion years it’ll be much much closer though- it will be right on our doorstop. Although the universe is expanding and so galaxies are rushing away from us, andromeda is speeding towards us. When it arrives, It’ll be an almighty collision.

Of course by this time the sun be entering its final stages, swelling up into a red giant stage where it will be bigger than the current orbit of Venus. Earth, and life as we know, it is doomed, but at least it’ll be fun to watch.

Collision not-so-imminent


Milky Way sure to smash into Andromeda — in 4 billion years

It’ll not happen anytime soon, but the Milky way is set to crash into our neighboring galaxy, andromeda. On the large scale, everything is moving away from everything else as the universe expands. But sometimes gravity wins the battle against expansion. In about 4 billion years the milky way and andromeda will collide. Stars are far apart so there will not be any head on star collisions -imagine a few grains of sands moving past each other. But the pull of gravity will likely throw our Sun into a completely different part of the galaxy. These collisions play a big role in the probability do finding life elsewhere in the universe, as we know life takes a long time to develop and these sort of unstable events could kill off early life. No need to worry about this collision though. In 4 billion years our Sun will have used up all its fuel and will have started puffing up into a giant star destroying any remnant life on Earth anyway.

Dark matter becomes darker

No dark matter here


This new report in astrophysical journal opens up new questions about the the not-so-small matter of dark matter. Dark matter is an essential element in explaining why stars stay combined in galaxies, and hence why galaxies stay close to each other. So it should be all around us. This news study tried to look for the evidence of it in our local neighborhood and came up empty. Of course a lack of evidence does not mean it isn’t there. You can see the usual reasons why studies this this will always be doubted- either the study is lacking in quality, statistics are small, or theory is misunderstood. In this case, the study seems good, but perhaps the method is incapable of finding dark matter. Either way this mysterious concept seems like it’ll confuse us more before it lets us into its secret.