365DaysDate: March 2, 2009


Title: Astrosvenska for Anyone: Space Swedish in Ten Ridiculously Short Lessons

Podcaster: Robert Cumming

Organization: Populär Astronomi

Stockholm University

Description: Learn ten hard-to-pronounce new words and take part in a brief but exhilarating tour of astronomy Swedish style. Featuring, as likely as not, the midnight sun up close and personal, distant exploding stars and a crash-landing on the moon.

Bio: I was born in Scotland, trained as an astronomer in Edinburgh, London and Cambridge. In the mid-1990s I ended up doing research about supernovae in Stockholm. These days I’m still in Sweden, still doing research (about how stars move in starburst galaxies) and editor for Sweden’s biggest magazine about space and astronomy, Populär Astronomi.

Today’s Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Kevin Marvel.


Hi, my name’s Robert Cumming.

Welcome to Astrosvenska for anyone – space Swedish in ten minutes. I hope you’re ready for some strange words  – and a slightly biased and selective look at the sort of space and astronomy stuff we get up to here in Sweden. Before anyone asks – I’m not actually Swedish. But I live in Stockholm where I do research in galaxies at Stockholm University, and work at the Swedish astronomy and space magazine Populär Astronomi.


Sweden is famous for its low-budget, high technology space missions.  Odin, say, or the European Space Agency satellite Smart-1, which demonstrated how to fly with solar electric propulsion, took pictures of the surface of the moon and finally crash-landed  there in 2006.

Next up are the twin minisatellites Mango and Tango. Minisatellites: minisatelliter in Swedish .  They’re going to test precision manoeuvring in space – technology for the next generation of space telescopes.

The plan is to launch them in late 2009.

Krister Sjölander is an engineer working on Mango and Tango at the Swedish Space Corporation. So what’s the most amazing thing that Mango and Tango are going to do?

Krister: The most spectacular thing will be the visual stuff that we will have, video of us doing some proximity operations with Mango around Tango.

Robert: Proximity operations?

Krister: Yes, we will move around it in close range so we’ll actually see the other spacecraft on video.

Robert: And you can have the two of them several kilometres apart and park them to within centimetres, is that right?

Krister: That’s right, we can go even hundreds of kilometres apart and then they would autonomously find each other.


One of Sweden’s best-loved singers is Ted Gärdestad. He died in 1997, but he left behind some memorably astronomical pop songs. For example Jag vill ha en egen mane: I want to have my own moon. Next on the list then: en egen måne, a moon of your own.

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, schools in the Swedish city of Uppsala are each going to make their own moon. What they come up with will become part of the world’s biggest scale model of the solar system, Sweden Solar System. In Sweden Solar System, the sun is represented by the Globe arena in Stockholm, and there are planets, former planets, comets and asteroids spread out over the whole country, at a scale of 1 to 20 million. Saturn is in Uppsala, and the Uppsala schools each get one of its moons: En egen måne for each of them.


In Sweden we like to put words together to make new ones. So if you take the Swedish for radar and the Swedish for meteor – that’s radar and meteor – you get meteorradar – meteor radar. Simple, isn’t it?

Meteors and radar are what Professor Asta Pellinen-Wannberg from the Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna works with, but she uses an even better word. Think about a meteor, a grain of space dust rushing in through the atmosphere, creating a shock wave ahead of it. When you bounce radar off that, you get a meteor head echo in English. In Swedish that’s meteorhuvudeko.

Asta and her colleagues use radar to try to work out where the dust that makes meteors comes from. Where do all the meteors come from? Comets?

Asta: Well, the things that we see with this radar are mostly sporadic meteors  so sometimes they probably come out from comets but they have thermalized in the background sporadic meteor population.


Are you ready for the next word? Midnattssolen – the midnight sun. North of the Arctic circle, the sun doesn’t go down around the summer solstice. It’s beautiful and exciting, but if you’re an amateur astronomer, it’s a bit of a pain. Observing from the far north is a challenge, more or less at any time of year. It’s either too light, too cold, or the Northern Light outshine the stars.

Ulf Jonsson is an amateur astronomer in Luleå in the north of Sweden.  I asked him what’s worse, sunshine all night in the summer or the freezing cold in the winter?

Ulf: Well it’s both of them. In the summer it’s the light – the midnight sun in the far north and the long days in the summer, which means that you can hardly observe anything else than the sun between May and August. In the winter, it’s the cold. Both the equipment and myself are hard to operate when the temperature is down below -20 or -25 C or so.


Next word on the list: supernova, which is the Swedish for, no don’t all shout at once, supernova. Exploding stars brought me to Sweden once upon a time and astronomically speaking they’re still a bit of a Swedish specialty. For example, amateur astronomer Gregor Dusczanowicz discovers supernovae from the observatory in his garden just north of Stockholm.

And here in the city we have probably more supernova researchers per square metre than anywhere else in Europe.

Supernovae have shown us that the universe is not just expanding, but  it’s accelerating too. Besides, more, they seem to be the key to the mystery of gamma-ray bursts.

Jesper Sollerman is one of those Stockholm supernova scientists I mentioned. What’s the next big thing supernovae are going to tell us?

Jesper: I don’t know, and that’s probably the most interesting thing with supernovae. Because if you’d asked me fifteen years ago, I would not have been able to tell you that supernova would be able to tell us about the acceleration, or about gamma-ray bursts. So I think that’s the interesting aspect of supernovae, that they tell us new things all the time.


Ready for another word then? Solfläckar – that means sunspots. As in the Swedish saying Även solen har sina fläckar – even the sun has spots. That means ‘nobody’s perfect’, more or less. Anyway, the nearest thing you can get to perfect picture of sunspots these days is from the 1-meter Swedish Solar Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands. Maybe you’ve seen them on the net or in magazines and newspapers.

I spoke to Mats Löfdahl, who’s part of the Swedish Solar Telescope team. I asked him: what’s the secret to making really good pictures of solfläckar, sunspots?

Mats: Well if by ‘good’ you mean high-resolution, which is what we are trying to achieve with the Swedish Solar Telescope, you need a combination of a good site, a good telescope, adaptive optics, luck, and image restoration. You need all this to come together to get a really good image.


Now here’s an even easier word for. I don’t even need to tell you what the Swedish word teleskop means.

I already mentioned the Swedish Solar Telescope, which is probably the country’s best one. The biggest telescopes in Sweden are the 20 and 25-meter radio telescopes at the Onsala Space Observatory. The biggest ordinary optical telescope is just down the corridor from my office at Stockholm University though.

So here we go up the lift, through the door into the dome, up the stairs…  and there it is, the split new AlbaNova Telescope. And this is what it sounds like. Well that was just me tapping the telescope gently with a pair of scissors, but you get the idea.


Nobelpriset – that’s the Swedish for the Nobel prize. We have to have one of them on the list, don’t we? The Swedish writer Harry Martinson won the Nobel prize in literature in 1974. The most famous thing he wrote is probably Aniara, an epic poem which is about as far away as you can get from an optimistic vision of our future in space. The hapless humans on board the spaceship Aniara face a bleak never ending journey into the depths of space, unable to return to Earth and with no other destination.

Astronomer Anita Sundman, you’ve read Aniara. Is space really as depressing as Martinson makes out?

Anita: No, not to me anyway, but that was the fifties, you know, that was completely different. Space was terribly empty and frightening and cold and everything in those days. Nowadays, I mean space is – crammed!


Thanks for listening!  For more astronomy and space in Swedish, try See you there. Hej då!

365 Days of Astronomy
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