Now is the golden age of armchair cosmology

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The big questions are being answered. Now is the golden age of cosmology. Astronomy, astrophysics, particle physics and the rest of the outward facing sciences are moving forward in leaps and bounds of credible theorizing and searching. Yes, a massive shift towards a truly profound understanding of how things work in this Universe. It comes as no surprise that with so much knowledge and data flowing that the elite temples of understanding such as Universities we risk submergence under the velocity of model change and data storage requirements. Further, elitism in the era of enablement can only be considered flawed. That is why I have been viewing with delight this week a number of free sources of learning, software and multimedia. Go for it NASA, ESA and the rest of the knowledge worker collectives.

Ok, I admit it, it is raining again in Amsterdam. No, it never rains here and I have been well and truly splashed by a fast moving taxi. I hope the pigeons know where the car lies and the tax people get to meet the owner. My children complained all the way home, as we got wetter and wetter. I needed moral support so I uncharacteristically opened a bottle of wine. It should have been whisky, but hey, the night is young. Looking for something to do as the water level rises I choose again to walk the well-trodden path to intellectual fulfillment, yes I trawled the internet and caught a few fish in the process.

Space things are fun. I love this age where commercial companies are building inflatable satellites or where you can download whole television series such as Sky At Night. I remember at the age of five watching Sky At Night in black and white and being amazed by the exuberant and friendly radiating energy of Patric Moore. Now, after all these years and a few hundred thousand letters of raining water on my head, I can see him again in color and yes, the special effects are much better. Thank you the BBC for a free quality product that is up to date and so in contact with its target community, astronomers.

What about Stellerium. Stellarium is a visually brilliant free software desktop tool that renders glorious photo-realistic expressions of the night sky. I can almost not believe how easy such a tool is to use and for the price of $0. As a developer, I wish I could program to such a level of quality and consistency.

The European Space Agency also supplies free knowledge in editable chunks. Have you seen the FITs data set. The idea is to engage students with real Hubble data. You may download a free filter for Adobe, play around to your hearts content and learn a little technique in the process.

What is next? How about chilling out with a picturesque slideshow or legally download a CD full of educationally wise content.

Dark Sun Sizzling - Credit: TRACE Project, Stanford-Lockheed Institute for Space Research, NASA Dark Sun Sizzling - Credit: TRACE Project, Stanford-Lockheed Institute for Space Research, NASA

The list goes on and on and on. I have no idea how many astronomy related free software products are out there in the wild. However, I do buy DVDs, from time to time, with hundreds if not thousands of free software tools. I am so tempted to buy a motorised telescope with CCD camera capabilities. But, then I would have to move out of Amsterdam to escape the light pollution—a step I am not quite prepared for yet. Now is the golden time of cosmology and sitting in your armchair and enjoying massive data sets and excellent graphics.

Now is the time of wine, cheese, free software and space agencies.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

For some time, I've been looking for an introduction to the cosmos for the uninformed lay person - starting with the solar system, then expanding to our galaxy's star system, topped off with models of the known universe (note: empahasis on the 'known' part) - showing the arrangement of galaxies, major bizarre objects, perhaps. A Part 2 would be an introduction to some of the current bleeding-edge projects underway to grasp a better understanding of these phenomena - from gravity-detecting probes to the gargantuan atom-smashing machine under construction in Europe! (There was a super documentary on its construction recently on TV).
Any suggestions? links? CD/DVDs?

Many thanks!

Harry K.
Ontario, CANADA

Alan Berg's picture
Submitted by Alan Berg on

A good place to look for books is the sky at night magazine shop:

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Alan Berg's picture


Alan Berg Bsc. MSc. PGCE, has been a lead developer at the Central Computer Services at the University of Amsterdam since 1998. In his spare time, he writes articles, book reviews and has authored three books. He has a degree, two masters and a teaching qualification. In previous incarnations, he was a technical writer, an Internet/Linux course writer, and a science teacher. He likes to get his hands dirty with the building and gluing of systems. He remains agile by playing computer games with his sons who (sadly) consistently beat him physically, mentally and morally at least twice in any given day.

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