Blog Space 23 April 2019

Heading home: Apollo 11's lunar lander approaching the command module after departing the moon.

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A new exhibition in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, at the Powerhouse in Sydney, Australia, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and take visitors back to this historic moment in space travel.

The exhibition, aptly named Apollo 11, opens on June 29, 2019, and will celebrate and explore the moment humans first landed on the moon.

More than 200 objects from the mission will be on display, including part of the Parkes Radio Telescope which received the first photograph transmission from the lunar surface.

“At the museum we have a strong connection to the history of space travel through our collection and an ongoing focus on astronomy at the Sydney Observatory,” says CEO Lisa Havilah.

The venue will also host a virtual reality experience developed with the University of New South Wales’ iCinema program, using 3D modelling from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, US. Visitors will be able to experience the moon landing from the perspective of Michael Collins, the astronaut tasked to remain in the Apollo Command Module in orbit around the moon.

Also on display will be a moon-themed piece by British installation artist Luke Jerram.

A series of talks and other events, including tours of the Sydney Observatory, will be prominently featured.

More details are available here.

Blog The Future 18 April 2019

Sydney's Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the site of many of the events in the forthcoming Sydney Science Festival.

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National Science Week will sweep across Australia this August, and New South Wales will celebrate with the fifth annual Sydney Science Festival.

From August 6 to 18, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) is producing a suite of discussions, exhibitions, workshops, and events on a wide array of topics.

The festival “celebrates Sydney’s diverse and multidisciplinary science community” according to organisers, and will take place at various venues throughout the city.

This year, the event promises to take on such crucial topics as climate change, space travel, and the future of the internet. The central theme explores how science is helping to create humanity’s shared future.

Australian mathematician Eddie Woo is the ambassador for the project.

“The festival’s continued growth each year has provided a fantastic avenue for our city to discuss and explore issues together,” he says.

“With questions about gene editing and artificial intelligence at the forefront of the news agenda, it’s a pivotal moment to look to science and question how our society thinks about these matters”.

Organisers highlight an evening stargazing event called Science and Music in the Park, where visitors can enjoy a performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst, performed by the Sydney Youth Orchestra.

PlantBank, a research group based at the Australian Botanic Garden in the Sydney suburb of Mount Annan, will host a panel discussion called “The Future of the Australian Space Agency” with key players in that effort.

At last year’s festival, more than 85,000 visitors attended 200 events.

Researchers, scientists or educators wishing to host an activity at this year’s event have only a few days left to submit expressions of interest. They can do so here. Deadline is April 26.

More information about the festival also is...

Blog Space 03 April 2019

The Small Magellanic Cloud, visible over Namibia.

Westend61/Getty Images

A new project seeks citizen scientists to help discover previously unseen star clusters, and maybe even unlock secrets of the history of our universe.

The project is a collaboration between the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and Northwestern University in Illinois, US, and is called the Local Group Cluster Search. The aim is to combine high-quality images of three irregular nearby galaxies – the Triangulum, and Large and Small Magellanic Clouds – with the detective skills of amateur astronomers.

Together with the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, the trio form what is known as the Local Group. Identifying star clusters within them will greatly aid astronomers in their quest to understand rapid and rare stages of stellar evolution, the structure and scale of star formation, the evolution of cluster populations, and how the cluster's host galaxies have changed over billions of years.

“Algorithmic cluster searches have trouble eliminating false detections due to chance groupings of stars, while human-classified catalogues provide a reliable sample of clusters down to very faint brightness levels,” says project leader Cliff Johnson.

The Local Group Cluster Search uses images from a 2017 project called the Survey of the Magellanic Stellar History, or SMASH for short.

Rather than using the more traditional glass photographic plates to capture the clusters, SMASH uses the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), which is a massive digital camera at the NSF’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Volunteers are invited to join the project and help search for new stars by going to

Blog Society 02 April 2019

Mariners have been doing it for centuries, but scientists are always seeking more accurate ways to calculate magnetic north.

Yevheniia Bondarieva/Getty Images

North might not be where you think it is, but a project called MagQuest is giving problem solvers $1.2 million to help find it.

The issue has to do with the flow of liquid iron in the Earth’s core, which causes the planet’s magnetic north pole to move, by as much as 50 kilometres each year.

The World Magnetic Model (WMM) helps predict how magnetic north might fluctuate and allow devices such as cell phones and airplanes to work properly by accounting for the difference between magnetic and true north.

Normally the model is updated every five years, but an unexpected magnetic jerk occurred right after the 2015 model was released, requiring an additional out-of-cycle update before the 2020 recalibration.

Michael Paniccia is a Geodetic Earth Scientist at the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the WMM program manager. He says that in the 1990s these shifts became less predictable, making out of cycle updates to the magnetic model more necessary.

An out-of-cycle update is essential for those using the model at 55 degrees north and above. In these locations, depending on carrier, smartphone compasses may be as much as one degree out of alignment.

Measuring the Earth’s magnetic field has been an evolutionary process. Dutch trading ships used simple magnets, while today’s airplanes have evolved to using satellite technology.

Paniccia says he hopes this project will lead to the next stage of that evolution, by inviting scientists and engineers around the world to submit proposals for funding to develop novel tools.

For those who might be able to help solve this problem of collecting data on a planetary scale, the NGA is awarding grant funding through a two-phase process.

Phase 1 seeks written concepts and ideas, and is open until May 16 this year, with up to 10 winners selected to share $200,000. Phase 2 will aim to put the projects into action and is expected to open in June 2019 and close in August. Up to five winners will be selected to share $1...

Blog Society 27 March 2019

Elizabeth Finkel

The Australian Society for Medical Research (AMSR) has announced that the recipient of its 2019 annual medal is former Cosmos editor-in-chief Elizabeth Finkel.

The medal was awarded for her contributions to science journalism and communication.

Since stepping down from the top job at Cosmos late in 2018, Finkel has been researching several topics, among them the surging field of gene therapy – an area in which she worked during a stint in the US.

“I hadn’t been able to express how gobsmacked I was that the sort of things I used to do to fruit flies at the University of San Francisco – supply them with new genes – are now being done in people to achieve ‘biblical’ results,” she says.

“Toddlers born with spinal muscular atrophy, who should be crippled or dead, are walking. I was thinking I needed a forum to get the message out: this is where blue sky research leads. Now I have one.”

Through the year, Finkel will deliver a series of lectures relevant to her new role as AMSR medallist, culminating in an address to the National Press Club.

The journalist and author retains a role at Cosmos, as roving editor.

Blog Space 19 March 2019

Jupiter has many moons, some newly discovered and as yet unnamed.

Zenobillis/Getty Images

In July 2018, Scott Sheppard and his team at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Hawaii, US, announced the discovery of 12 Jovian moons – and the public have been invited to name five of them.

Suggestions can be submitted until April 15, 2019, by sending a tweet to @JupiterLunacy, with written or video recorded reasons for the name chosen.

Include the tag #NameJupitersMoons.

“I’m excited to get suggestions, and especially eager to see video suggestions, from the public for what these five moons should be named,” Sheppard says.

The astronomer is something of an exo-moon specialist, having discovered 60 of Jupiter’s currently recognised crop of 79 satellites.

He also discovered 25 of Saturn’s 62, two for Uranus and one for Neptune, along with 16 minor planets, a few comets, minor-planet moons, and assorted celestial objects.

Clearly an expert in finding things, but how does he do it?

“To discover a moon, you need to image the space around Jupiter to very faint depths,” he explains.

“Only the world’s largest telescopes can do this. But you also need a big field of view since the space around Jupiter is very large. Very few large telescopes have large field of view cameras.

“Once you actually discover an object that appears to be a moon of Jupiter, you need to re-observe the candidate over months and years to actually officially determine the orbit. Thus, it takes time to confirm and object is an actual moon of Jupiter.”

The rules for naming new celestial objects are described by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

For the newly discovered Jovian moons, the organisation recently announced a change to the conventions governing the choice of names. Up until now, all the planet’s moons have been identified using the names of lovers or favourites of the Graeco-Roman god Zeus, or Jupiter.

For the latest batch, however, names deriving from...

Blog Society 06 March 2019

Patrick Davies Trumper and Phil Dooley in The Poet’s Guide to Science: a sceptic thinktank.

Adelaide Fringe

Theatre meets science in a comedic romp presented as part of the Adelaide Fringe – the largest annual celebration of alternative and independent art in Australia.

Science communicator and Cosmos contributor Phil Dooley joins forces with Shakespearean actor Patrick Davies Trumper for a fascinating and funny two-hander called The Poet’s Guide to Science: a sceptic thinktank.

The plot revolves around a character called Cy, who has lost his faith in science and visits his local doctor to try to revive it. The exercise is unsuccessful – so much so, in fact, the very soon the medico is equally distraught.

The pair head off in search of answers, and along the way encounter scientists from controversial research areas who cast light on age-old questions of facts and data, doubt and uncertainty belief and scepticism.

The result is a light-hearted invitation to laugh out loud and think down deep.

The Poet’s Guide to Science is directed by Michele Conyngham, and is on at the Queen Street Ballroom of Adelaide’s Rob Roy Hotel, from Thursday 14 March to Sunday 17 March.

Ticket are selling fast. They can be purchased here.

Blog Social Sciences 19 February 2019
World Science Festival co-founder Brian Greene, with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the background.

World Science Festival co-founder Brian Greene, with Neil deGrasse Tyson in the background.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Image

Throughout March, the annual World Science Festival Brisbane will see hundreds of expert presenters and tens of thousands of visitors exploring science and art throughout Queensland, Australia.

“The festival celebrates the intersection between science and the arts through gripping debates, theatre, interactive experiments and explorations, musical performance, bespoke events and major outdoor experiences,” says the event’s Christine Robertson

More than half a million visitors have attended over the past three years, and organisers are expecting more than 200,000 in 2019.

With more than 100 events for all ages and backgrounds, there is something for everyone. Here are our top 10 pics.

Time and the Creative Cosmos

Hosted by US physicist and event co-founder Brian Greene, and featuring the dance troupe Pilobolus, this event is billed as a “thrilling fusion of science and art”. Greene will pull back the curtain on mysteries of life and the universe. Suitable for all ages.

Where: Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), South Brisbane

When: 23 March, 8:00pm

Tickets here

Night at the Museum

Explore the Queensland Museum at night and see firsthand what happens when the doors shut. An ideal event for children and their families, the evening includes live music, science demonstrations, and hands-on activities. Suitable for all ages.

Where: Queensland Museum & Science Centre, South Brisbane

When: 23 March, 5:30pm

Tickets here

Street Science

The festival takes to the streets in this immersive and explorative block party. Moving across Queensland throughout March, scientists of all ages can explore interactive exhibitions and demonstrations. Free admission.

Where: Multiple locations

When: Multiple dates

Details here

Pioneers in Science

Adele Green, senior scientist at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Berghofer, discusses her research in skin cancer. Moderated by Rob Bell, attendees are encouraged to submit questions online in advance. Recommended for high school...

Blog Biology 06 February 2019
Lucky senior school students will have the chance to join qualified marine biologists on an expedition off the coast of Tasmania.

Lucky senior school students will have the chance to join qualified marine biologists on an expedition off the coast of Tasmania.

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

Secondary school students have the opportunity to become marine biologists for a week this April in Tasmania, Australia.

Organisers of an expedition run by the University of Tasmania and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) are inviting students in Years 11 and 12 to join a trip to Maria Island off the east coast of the island state for some hands-on learning.

“They’ll enjoy a once in a lifetime experience on Tasmania’s east coast while also learning how to collect scientific data in the field,” says Scott Ling.

The program runs between April 22 and 28, with five days spent on Maria Island and an additional one at the IMAS Centre in Tasmania’s capital, Hobart.

In addition to first-hand experience, participants will earn credit towards a University of Tasmania marine science degree.

"Students who do the course get to go diving as well as observing marine life along the shoreline and will develop keen skills of observation and an eye for detail,” says Ling.

“Many of the students who’ve done the course enjoyed it so much that they’ve gone on to the IMAS degree program at the University of Tasmania, which is ranked as one of the best places to study marine science globally.”

The course is open to students from all over Australia, and full scholarships are available for four Tasmanian and five interstate students.

More information about the program can be found here.

Blog Physics 31 January 2019

Physicist and entertainer Phil Dooley will perform an astronomer’s ode to the Earth at the Butterfly Club in Melbourne, Australia, from 4-9 February.

Dooley has a PhD in physics and is a regular contributor to Cosmos, among other science and news organisations.

His upcoming tour, titled The Most Amazing Planet in the Universe, is billed as “an uplifting show that will thrill you, entertain you and wow you”.

Dooley uses his training as a physicist, combined with his experience as an entertainer and musician, to tell stories and perform original songs about the beauty and wonder in the universe.

Each performance concludes with a question and answer session, where audience members can ask Dooley about his music and stories, as well as get answers to their questions about science and the universe.

“What I’ve realised as a science writer, is that there are some things that we find quite normal about Earth that are really quite weird,” he says.

A highlight of the new show combines Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune with images of the many different moons orbiting planets in our solar system.

As well as his performance work, Dooley works to help other scientists and researchers improve their science communication skills as a lecturer and trainer.

He aims to provide “insights to inspire scientists to think differently about communication, and practical tips to inspire success”.

Further information and tickets are available here.