When I was 14, I paused Blue Lagoon for a moment and gathered with my family in a darkened corner of our Sydney garden to watch another heavenly body streak across the sky.
Like many other teen activities, anticipation was better than the actual event. Halley’s Comet didn’t streak. It didn’t even shoot. Obviously the hermitic fireball couldn’t see Brooke Shields from outer space.
Given their distance from our far-flung vantage point, awesome facts about cosmic objects often eclipse the actual sight of them, even if those awesome facts are impossible to grasp. Light years are like national debts – add a zero here or there and it makes little difference to our perception of them. Perhaps that’s where their fascination lies, in their incomprehensibility.
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Brace yourselves! We’re approaching the start of one of the most important weeks in the Astrological calender. And you can follow the up-to-the-second countdown here.
Science types refer to it as the Transit of Venus. Yes, that does sound like the name of a bad 60s Swedish band, but actually it’s a very serious and important astronomical event, that’s best summed up like this: for the last time this century Venus will move across the Sun.
Yep, true story. It’s a planetary dance-off and we’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the hemispheres to see it. Well, “observe” it, anyway, so long as we have access to serious astronomical equipment like a telescope and are wearing a massive pair of Venus-proof sunglasses.
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With a total absence of intelligent life in the Capital Hill region of Canberra, we thought we’d ask a Canberra-based academic, the ANU’s Dr Paul Francis, if there’s any hope of something with a pulse up there…
The search for extraterrestrial life has been going on in earnest for decades now. Are we any closer to finding intelligent life?
It’s pretty clear that there is no intelligent life elsewhere in our own solar system. But what about on planets orbiting other stars? If you go out on a starry night, it could be that every star you see has planets with intelligent life, and that aliens are staring back at you from every star. Or it could be that there is no other life in the universe and all those planets are dead and dusty.
Will we ever be able to learn more about those distant worlds?
Going to visit these other stars is far beyond current technology, so the only thing we can do it listen for radio signals from them. Until now nothing has been detected. But our current surveys could only pick something up if one of the nearest few stars had a highly advanced technological race on a planet orbiting it, and this race was broadcasting enormously powerful radio signals in our direction. So it’s not really conclusive.
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As an avid consumer of news, I’m considering adopting a few new hobbies over the next few months.
They include: Developing a crystal meth addiction, having 12 sugars in my morning coffee, throwing cinder blocks through shopfronts, having unprotected sex with at least four people a day, permanently wearing one of those beer helmets and making a giant inflatable ark-type thing out of all those condoms I won’t be using.
In case you’ve been living under a rock in a Cold War-style nuclear bunker, the end of the world has been slated for 2012… or 2036… or something.
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If you haven’t heard about the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) it’s time to tune in. Along with its cousins the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and the US Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the GMT will be a telescope of an entirely different magnitude to any that has ever existed.
The Australian connection to the GMT is being forged in northern NSW through one of the grand elders of optical astronomy.
The recently reincarnated AAO – the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Coonabarabran – was the most advanced telescope in the world when it was opened in 1974. At 4 metres it was one of the largest telescopes of its day and the first to be computer operated.
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I have a theory that about 90 per cent of the viewer interest in motor sport of any kind is the potential to watch serious crashes.
Just look at what they show from the “highlights” of the Daytona series on Sports Tonight – it’s 40 cars doing quadruple flips over each other at 200 kilometres with the commentator yelling “whoa mamma!”
As space shuttle Endeavour waits on the Florida tarmac like so many QANTAS “express” flights, any interest we maintain in the NASA space program has similarly boiled down to the initial take-off explosion and whether or not the shuttle will blow-up before it touches back home. This is a shame because space exploration is an amazing and important human achievement.
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