As some of you might know I’m working on developing a video game called Blokker with BritBitGames. Also, some of you who have been following the progress might have noticed that updates have been a bit thin on the ground recently.There is a good reason for this.
BritBitGames was formed by myself and a couple of friends, and the main object of it is as an exercise in developing video games. I did some video game work back in the 90’s, before I got sidetracked into other career paths, but it’s been a while since I worked on a game, so, needless to say, I’m somewhat rusty.The rest of the team have no video game development experience at all. This means that while working on Blokker we’re also learning, or in my case re-learning, video game development.
The initial set-up of the game was fairly simple. Designing the sprites, putting them into the game and making them move was very easy and things started to slot into place. We had a lot of small updates in a short space of time and this resulted in a lot of new screen shots and videos. Recently, though, there’s been a slight change of pace as we’ve been experimenting with some new ideas and some fine tuning of existing ones. This has meant that updates have been a bit slower, due to the fact that we’re learning as we’re going, so we’ve not been putting out new screen shots or videos anywhere near the rate we were doing, and it may be giving the impression that we’ve stopped development. This isn’t the case.
The game currently has three completed levels and a test level for trying out new ideas. This may not seem like a lot for almost three months worth of work on a relatively simple game, but as this is a “learning on the job” project things are moving a little slower than we would like. Our current work involves making small changes to the existing levels to improve the game play. Once we have these levels the way we’d like we’ll begin adding more. I’m also in the process of designing a level select/map screen to combine the levels together, so that the player can unlock new levels and go back to replay existing ones to boost the score. I don’t want to reveal the level select screen until it’s completed (and it’s not really a looker at the moment) so I’m not releasing any screenshots. Also we figure it’d be a bit boring for us to release a load of new screenshots of the existing levels if all we’re doing is, say, changing how the enemies move in there “Hey look! Here’s our new screenshot of level 2… See the enemies now move left to right instead of up and down… Nevermind that it looks almost exactly the same as the other pictures of level 2 that we’ve posted”
So, that’s the main reason why there’s been a lack of news. I just don’t want to bore everyone with a load of very similar looking screen shots and videos. At least not until we’ve got something to show off.
An international team of astronomers, led by Felipe Braga-Ribas (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), has used telescopes at seven locations in South America, including the 1.54-metre Danish and TRAPPIST telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, to make a surprise discovery in the outer Solar System.
This new Hubble image is centred on NGC 5793, a spiral galaxy over 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Libra. This galaxy has two particularly striking features: a beautiful dust lane and an intensely bright centre — much brighter than that of our own galaxy, or indeed those of most spiral galaxies we observe.
NGC 5793 is a Seyfert galaxy. These galaxies have incredibly luminous centres that are thought to be caused by hungry supermassive black holes — black holes that can be billions of times the size of the Sun — that pull in and devour gas and dust from their surroundings.
This galaxy is of great interest to astronomers for many reasons. For one, it appears to house objects known as masers. Whereas lasers emit visible light, masers emit microwave radiation . Naturally occurring masers, like those observed in NGC 5793, can tell us a lot about their environment; we see these kinds of masers in areas where stars are forming. In NGC 5793 there are also intense mega-masers, which are thousands of times more luminous than the Sun.
A version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.
 This name originates from the acronym Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Maser emission is caused by particles that absorb energy from their surroundings and then re-emit this in the microwave part of the spectrum.
NASA, ESA, and E. Perlman (Florida Institute of Technology) Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
While exoplanets make the news on an almost daily basis, one of the biggest announcements occurred in 2012 when astronomers claimed the discovery of an Earth-like planet circling our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri B, a mere 4.3 light-years away. That’s almost close enough to touch.
Just a quick rundown of what I’ve been working on over at BritBitGames. The game is slowly taking shape and has had a bit of a graphical update over the last two weeks. I’ve also been busy working with the other guys on adding some puzzle aspects to the game play.
Anyone interested in reading the full update can check it out on our IndieDB page here
I really don’t know whether I should use this blog to promote the video game I’m working on or not. Ideally I’d like to keep the two separate, at least until I make a space based game, but this is where my biggest audience is at the moment.
So far I’ve mostly resisted the temptation and kept most of the news confined to the the game dev’s twitter account and the IndieDB page, but as I’m getting more and more involved in the development I find I’m doing less and less with this blog.
It has been fun doing the astronomy and I’ve met some really interesting people, some famous some not, but in recent months I’ve found that it’s not consuming me as much as it used to. Some of you who’ve read the blog for a while will have noticed that my posting quota has dropped quite dramatically since around the beginning of autumn last year.
I really don’t want to let it get to the point where the blog is completely neglected. Perhaps I should turn it into more of a personal blog where I post about things that interest me and what I’m doing, in this case games and astronomy, rather than keeping it locked doggedly to one subject.
As some of you may remember I recently set myself up as an independent video game developer. I have been endeavouring to keep the gaming posts away from this blog as much as possible as this blog is used for my astronomy based posts, but since this is where my largest audience is, and self promotion is important when you’re a small company, I don’t see any harm in a quick update on what I’ve been working on. Plus, I will be honest that I’ve not been posting as much astro stuff as I should, so it makes sense to utilise the blog for something.
The game I’m currently developing, along with a friend, is called Blokker. It’s a 2d ‘paddle and ball’ style game based on the likes of Breakout and Arkanoid. It’s still very early in it’s development, as we’ve only been working on it for month or so, but it is working well enough to show off some images, the latest news and a quick video.
There is still an absolute ton of stuff to do with it. For example I’d like to take the time at a later date to replace the current graphics designs with something nicer looking. The game also requires more levels (we currently only have two), enemies, features and we’d like to add a 2d vertical scrolling shoot-em-up mini-game.
In this new Hubble image two objects are clearly visible, shining brightly. When they were first discovered in 1979, they were thought to be separate objects — however, astronomers soon realised that these twins are a little too identical! They are close together, lie at the same distance from us, and have surprisingly similar properties. The reason they are so similar is not some bizarre coincidence; they are in fact the same object.
These cosmic doppelgangers make up a double quasar known as QSO 0957+561, also known as the “Twin Quasar”, which lies just under 14 billion light-years from Earth. Quasars are the intensely powerful centres of distant galaxies. So, why are we seeing this quasar twice?
Some 4 billion light-years from Earth — and directly in our line of sight — is the huge galaxy YGKOW G1. This galaxy was the first ever observed gravitational lens, an object with a mass so great that it can bend the light from objects lying behind it. This phenomenon not only allows us to see objects that would otherwise be too remote, in cases like this it also allows us to see them twice over.
Along with the cluster of galaxies in which it resides, YGKOW G1 exerts an enormous gravitational force. This doesn’t just affect the galaxy’s shape, the stars that it forms, and the objects around it — it affects the very space it sits in, warping and bending the environment and producing bizarre effects, such as this quasar double image.
This observation of gravitational lensing, the first of its kind, meant more than just the discovery of an impressive optical illusion allowing telescopes like Hubble to effectively see behind an intervening galaxy. It was evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This theory had identified gravitational lensing as one of its only observable effects, but until this observation no such lensing had been observed since the idea was first mooted in 1936.
The 1st of March 1780 was a particularly productive night for Charles Messier. Combing the constellation of Leo for additions to his grand astronomical catalogue, he struck on not one, but two, new objects.
One of those objects is seen here: Messier 65. "Nebula discovered in Leo: It is very faint and contains no star," he jotted down in his notebook. But he was wrong — as we now know, Messier 65 is a spiral galaxy containing billions upon billions of stars.
All Messier saw was a faint diffuse light, nothing like the fine detail here, so we can forgive his mistake. If he had had access to a telescope like Hubble, he could have spied these stunning, tightly wound purple spiral arms and dark dust lanes, encircling a bright centre crammed with stars.
Almost exactly 233 years later in March of this year, one of the stars within Messier 65 went supernova (not seen in this image), rivalling the rest of the entire galaxy in brightness. This, the first Messier supernova of 2013, is now fading, and the serene beauty of M65 is returning.
Sorry I’ve not been around updating this blog so much. I had a minor falling out with astronomy due to a project I was involved with that went belly up. It was nobody’s fault, it’s just that none of the people involved, myself included, really knew what we were doing and it failed. As a result my confidence in all things astro took a bit of a knock and I’ve been keeping a low profile.
As those who read this blog regularly might know I have been quite busy recently with my new project BritBit Games, an independent video game development studio, and as a result of this I did think about killing this blog off. But I’ve decided to keep it going.
I will continue to post astro videos, images and news, and the focus of this blog will be mostly that, but I’m also going to be posting occasional items from the BritBit blog, just videos and images, to show off what we’re working on over there. The main reason for this is because this blog has a much larger number of followers, and it makes sense to show off your work in the place where it’ll be seen by more people.
The BritBit Games idea came about because I used to be a games developer (back in the dark days of the Empire… ahem… I mean 8-Bit computers). Well, more accurately, I was a “Pixel Pusher”, a rather derogatory term for a person who designed graphics, or sprites, for games. I enjoyed doing it, but other jobs and commitments pulled me away from games.
As you can imagine, things have moved on somewhat since I was involved with making games. Games have gone 3D, the machines are more powerful, production values are higher and the programming languages have changed (I started out making games in BASIC on a C64 using machine code). As a result of this I’m starting out by creating simple 8 and 16-bit style games with a view to moving onto more advanced games later on, by engaging in a lot of studying and learning, to teach myself new things like working with 3D engines, brushing up on my drawing and design (which has become a bit rusty due to lack of use) and learning new programming and scripting languages. It helps that I’m working on the project with some people who know a lot more about these things that I currently do. (I think my grammar failed me somewhat in that last paragraph. Apologies! :P)
As I mentioned on the BritBit blog we will be releasing games, but the first ones are likely to be very simple demo’s that we’ll release for free through IndieDB. The main purpose of these early demo’s will be to hone our creative skills through small projects with the aim of turning one of them into a bigger project somewhere down the line.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’d like to thank everyone who continued to follow this blog during the quiet times, and I wish you all a Happy New year! Normal service is now resumed!
Lying over 110 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump) is the spiral galaxy IC 2560, shown here in an image from NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. At this distance it is a relatively nearby spiral galaxy, and is part of the Antlia cluster — a group of over 200 galaxies held together by gravity. This cluster is unusual; unlike most other galaxy clusters, it appears to have no dominant galaxy within it.
In this image, it is easy to spot IC 2560’s spiral arms and barred structure. This spiral is what astronomers call a Seyfert-2 galaxy, a kind of spiral galaxy characterised by an extremely bright nucleus and very strong emission lines from certain elements — hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and oxygen. The bright centre of the galaxy is thought to be caused by the ejection of huge amounts of super-hot gas from the region around a central black hole.
There is a story behind the naming of this quirky constellation — Antlia was originally named antlia pneumatica by French astronomer Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, in honour of the invention of the air pump in the 17th century.
This image, captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, shows a small part of the well-known emission nebula, NGC 6357, located some 8000 light-years away, in the tail of the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The image glows with the characteristic red of an H II region, and contains a large amount of ionised and excited hydrogen gas.
The cloud is bathed in intense ultraviolet radiation — mainly from the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to some massive, young, blue stars — which it re-emits as visible light, in this distinctive red hue.
The cluster itself is out of the field of view of this picture, its diffuse light seen illuminating the cloud on the centre-right of the image. We are looking at a close-up of the surrounding nebula, showing a mesh of gas, dark dust, and newly born and still forming stars.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of PGC 10922, an example of a lenticular galaxy — a galaxy type that lies on the border between ellipticals and spirals.
Seen face-on, the image shows the disc and tightly-wound spiral structures of dark dust encircling the bright centre of the galaxy. There is also a remarkable outer halo of faint wide arcs or shells extending outwards, covering much of the picture. These are likely to have been formed by a gravitational encounter or even a merger with another galaxy. Some dust also appears to have escaped from the central structure and has spread out across the inner shells.
An extraordinarily rich background of more remote galaxies can also be seen in the image.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.
At first glance, this Hubble picture appears to capture two space colossi entangled in a fierce celestial battle, with two galaxies entwined and merging to form one. But this shows just how easy it is to misinterpret the jumble of sparkling stars and get the wrong impression — as it’s all down to a trick of perspective.
By chance, these galaxies appear to be aligned from our point of view. In the foreground, the irregular dwarf galaxy PGC 16389 — seen here as a cloud of stars — covers its neighbouring galaxy APMBGC 252+125-117, which appears edge-on as a streak. This wide-field image also captures many other more distant galaxies, including a quite prominent face-on spiral towards the right of the picture.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
A piercingly bright curtain of stars is the backdrop for this beautiful image taken by astronomer Håkon Dahle. The silhouetted figure in the foreground is Håkon himself surrounded by just a couple of the great dark domes that litter the mountain of ESO’s La Silla Observatory.
Many professional astronomers are also keen photographers — and who could blame them? ESO sites in the Atacama Desert are among the best places on Earth for observing the stars, and for the same reason, are amazing places for photographing the night sky.
Håkon took these photos while on a week-long observing run at the MPG/ESO 2.2 -telescope. During this time, the telescope was occasionally handed over to a different observing team, giving Håkon the opportunity to admire the starry night — as well as to capture it for the rest of us to see.
The Milky Way is brighter in the Southern Hemisphere than in the North, because of the way our planet’s southern regions point towards the dense galactic centre. But even in the South, the Milky Way in the night sky is quite faint in the sky. For most of us, light pollution from our cities and even the Moon can outshine the faint glow of the galaxy, hiding it from view.
One of the best aspects of La Silla Observatory is that it is far away from bright city lights, giving it some of the darkest night skies on Earth. The atmosphere is also very clear, so there is no haze to further muddy your vision. The skies at La Silla are so dark that it is possible to see a shadow cast by the light of the Milky Way alone.
Håkon submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group. The Flickr group is regularly reviewed and the best photos are selected to be featured in our popular Picture of the Week series, or in our gallery.