Shooting stars!

I saw a shooting star! :D

I persuaded my partner to come out with me; we went to a field nearby where it was much darker and we could see the Milky Way! I pointed out Mars, Orion, Pegasus, Triangulum, Andromeda, the Plough and the North Star. That’s about as much as i know at the moment. We saw a very bright star, it seemed to be pulsating and flashing hues of red, green and blue. At first i thought it must be an aeroplane, but it stayed perfectly still, and on consulting maps since we got home it was almost certainly Vega. A very bright star, quite nearby, spinning fast, circled with dust and possibly one or more planets! :D

I am hoping to go out tomorrow evening and watch the very best of the Geminids meteor shower, but i wanted to go out tonight whilst it is so clear, in case it is cloudy tomorrow. I just turned back towards the Plough to get my bearings when i saw it – a meteor shoot straight across, really fast and really small, but no mistaking what it was. Unfortunately it was too quickly gone for my partner to see it too, but i feel really pleased that i saw it! :)

Everyone in Europe must seriously look for shooting stars tomorrow evening at 17:45 GMT. There’s going to be like an average of one a minute. You’re bound to see some if the sky is clear enough!

Everyone's an amateur astronomer!

Astronomy is suddenly cool, it seems! This morning one colleague came in and said, “I saw Mars last night!” Another said, “I saw Mars this morning, and possibly Venus too!” I said, “I think i might have seen Mercury this morning!” and another colleague sent us all an email alerting us to the Geminids meteor shower coming up this Friday! :D Yet another colleague was explaining to some others how you can find Mars very easily because Orion is pointing directly to it at the moment. The first colleague said, “I looked for the Plough but couldn’t find it” and i was all like, “Ahhh, the Plough comes up about 10 or 11 o’clock at the moment!” GET ME!! A few weeks ago i wouldn’t have been able to point out the Plough if i was staring directly at it!!

This is very exciting!! I am with my cousins on Friday evening when the best of the meteor shower will occur. I so hope to be able to take them out into the garden after the piano lesson and introduce them to the delights of cosmology and star-gazing! :) These days i can’t help but notice constellations and planets. I was just out for my run and Mars just kept catching my eye all the time! It is a very good time of year with these dark, clear nights.

My run was a bit slippery, though. I had to be careful. It is definitely getting easier – i am noticing a pattern: Monday night is hard because it’s a new programme. Mid-week is way easier than Monday by comparison. Saturday is hard, i think simply because i go early in the morning and i’m not properly awake yet. I do like to do it that way, though. If i left it until later in the day i’d probably be putting it off and feel bad about it. The hardest thing is actually to get the shoes on and get out there. As soon as i’m in to it, i’ve got the music playing, and i just know i’m going to do this for the next half an hour and come home again. It’s easy. I’m start to feel a bit like a robot: i run when i’m told to and i walk when i’m told to. I generally end up doing 2.5 to 3 miles. No big deal, but i love the feeling of getting fit and healthy! :)

Nice weekend

We have our good friend Nat with us for the weekend, and are having a lovely time together.

I got up early yesterday and went for my run. I saw both Venus and Mars, with a nice half-moon between the two, plus a whole lot of stars. It was beautiful. My run was a bit harder yesterday. I don’t know if it’s because it was so early in the morning, or if i was hungry, or maybe because my right leg felt slightly twisted. Two of my 60-second runs were also up steep hills, which made it very hard. I also missed a turning and ended up going a much longer route, so had a long walk home after i had finished the programme. Still, i made it, and i am going to download Week 2 for tomorrow evening.

Nat and i went out into Winchester, went to see the Great Hall, and were pleased to find a nice sculpture exhibition by Bill Woodrow. We spent most of the day wandering round town, doing little bits of shopping. Had a horrible lunch in Subway (note to self: never visit Subway in Winchester again!) and a lovely coffee in Costa. Happily you can ask for fair trade, decaffeinated coffee with soya milk and they make it just the way you want it for no extra cost.

We didn’t get to Library 2.0 (aka the new Discovery Centre) but i am looking forward to visiting that soon.

Last night was great for seeing stars! I saw Orion, and found Mars again quite easily. I saw the Triangulum (M33) Galaxy clear as anything, but i was like, “Hmmm, what is that cluster of stars in a triangle shape?” and i had to go on to find out it was a major galaxy! Just before i went to bed i am sure i saw the Plough. It makes me really happy to find these patterns in the stars that people have been observing for millennia.

Okay, going to get my keyboard out and make music with Nat! :)

Stargazing – i saw Pegasus!

It is a beautiful clear night, perfect for seeing the stars. During my run i went along the road out of town, and i saw LOADS of stars as soon as i got out of the street lights. Unfortunately it was too dark to see the pavement, so i had to turn back. But just inside the street lights you can still see a lot of stars, out of the glare of the city centre.

Anyway, when i got home i had a look from the balcony (which conveniently points due South) and to my gasp of surprise i saw the square of Pegasus! My immediate reaction was “Oh wow, so it’s true then! There really are shapes in the stars!” I ran to get the little pocket guide, and managed to trace the whole of Pegasus, up to Andromeda and, though i couldn’t see it, i knew that just above there must be the Andromeda (M31) Galaxy! Who knew astronomy could be so thrilling!

I came back to Pegasus and looked just below to find the pentagon of stars that make up the head of Pisces but i could not make out the tail. Still, now i know it’s just a short walk away to a place where i will be able to see the stars so much more clearly … and if i just get a pair of binoculars … wow … who knows what i might see! I read that the night sky can become a lifelong friend, and you feel a joy at seeing favourite constellations return year after year. I can truly believe it! :)

So this week i have discovered two new hobbies that i could grow to love: running and astronomy. Thanks to Nye for the former, and to the planet Venus for the latter! :D

Meeting my inner astronomy geek

It is a well known fact that i am all kinds of geeky. I enjoy programming, i have a slightly suspicious interest in busses and trains, and i have recently become very interested in cosmology, quantum physics, parallel universes, string theory and a ten-dimensional universe! Well i think i have just discovered another geeky interest: astronomy!

It all started when i saw that planet on Friday morning, which as it happens was Venus, not Mercury. In actual fact, it probably started before then, when i read “The Whole Shebang” by Timothy Ferris. No, in actual fact i have been interested in the Moon and eclipses my whole life, in the same way as many people have a vague interest.

Anyway, i have a new test team leader now, who has moved to sit next to me, and turns out to be a total stargazer! I mentioned seeing the planet, and was immediately pointed to where you can enter your latitude and longitude, and it tells you exactly what to look for, at what times of the year/month/night – all the stars, planets and satellites you may see!

You can even calculate a map of the stars for any given time, which is how i know that the planet i saw was Venus. Here is the map on Saturday morning at 7am, and there was Venus, in the South-East, exactly where i saw it:

Sky chart for 24th November 2007 at 7am

Of course, there was Mercury, close to the Sun. That’s the position where the Sun rose on Saturday morning! It’s all starting to make sense! Oh, this is all kinds of awesome!!!

Apparently some kids take Astronomy GCSE!! Just like at Hogwarts!! Maybe that’s what i should do – join an evening class and study astronomy. I certainly find it fascinating, especially as you can even look out and see Andromeda, our nearest galaxy, who is like a twin to our Milky Way. But we see it as it was 3000 years ago. It’s exciting to think of intelligent life somewhere in Andromeda, who scan the heavens and look out to our galaxy, seeing the light that left us 3000 years ago! Quite amazing, in fact!

A telescope would be a pretty fantastic Christmas present! Or even a pair of binoculars would do well! :D

Morning star Mercury

If you are in South UK today and if you read this before the Sun rises, look out of your window to the South-East, just above the trees, and you might see Mercury.

I noticed yesterday morning what i thought was a very bright star. It was just before Sunrise, the sky was already quite light, so most of the stars could no longer be seen, except for three. I thought to myself, those must be the three brightest stars in the sky, but that one is the brightest i have ever seen! I let my imagination run away and imagined it was a supernova! I thought i would get to work to read that we were all about to get eaten up by a giant exploding star!

A colleague said it might be Mercury. The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury can only be seen in the morning or evening. I looked last night at dusk but didn’t see anything, but this morning i see it again, clear as anything. It feels a great privilege to see it.

A post of many dimensions

I am currently reading Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, and absolutely loving it! So fascinating, and so well explained. Who would have imagined that the physical laws of the universe become simpler and fit together better in higher dimensions?! Just getting on to superstring theory, and actually understanding it!!

I have just found a wonderful video that enables a way of conceiving ten dimensions … anyone interested in higher dimensions should absolutely definitely watch this video! I have also been watching video trailers of Flatland the movie, and i am looking forward to reading the book.

Oh my gosh, youtube is great for explaining scientific theories! Here is an amazing program by none other than Michio Kaku, explaining superstrings, the nature of the universe, the search for a unified theory of forces. Its a half-hour program in four parts – just search for Michio Kaku on String Theory. WOW.

There was something else i wanted to mention: Buy Nothing Day is coming up on Saturday. I am going to challenge myself not to spend any money at all for the whole day. Not only is it a personal challenge (not too difficult i hope!) but also it is a message to the retail industry that we will not get drawn into this world of consumerism and shopoholicism.

A strange scientific phenomenon

Is there a scientific law which states that clocks are more likely to stop when you’re away on holiday than when you’re at home to notice them stop?

The last two times we have come home from a trip away, one of our clocks has been found to have run out of battery and stopped. They had previously been running for months, maybe years without stopping, so why should they stop during the time that we were away?! Even when we were only away for 5 nights!!

The books i am currently reading cause me to ask questions like this all the time! I am now reading “Chaos” by James Gleik, which is a welcome relief from the last three scientific books i have read, which gave me a very depressive view of entropy – the state of disorder. Entropy can only ever increase, never decrease. Any system, left to its own devices, will become more and more disordered – which is why my desk gets messy and needs tidying. But even then i am expending energy in the form of heat for the work done in order to tidy the desk. Heat is a disordered form of energy so entropy still increases!

However, the book of chaos tells me that there can be order within chaos, and the most beautiful example it gives is the red spot of Jupiter. Whilst chaotic storms are constantly occurring all over Jupiter, the red spot somehow remains constant: a place of order within the chaos. Simulations have been created to model it, and they produce the same phenomenon. This makes me feel a little more positive about entropy.

* * *

Well, we had a very nice break away, and a very good journey home. I think that 5 nights away is probably my personal optimum, although i felt ready to come home yesterday, i was content to stay another day. We had a really lovely time.

In other news i have just been told that Winchester is the least green city in the whole of England. Oh dear.

Talking about books

I thought i would upload holiday photos tonight … but now the time comes i just don’t feel like it. So i’ll save it for another evening, or possibly the weekend. There’s no hurry.

Instead i find myself wanting to record that i am currently reading The Whole Shebang – A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report by Timothy Ferris, and enjoying it very much. I found it in a bookshop in Budapest and managed to bargain it down from 800 to 600 Forints (which is about £1.70). Okay, the book is about 10 years old, but it is very easy to read and understand, with plenty of comparisons to things i can realistically imagine, to help me visualise the concepts that are being explained. I have learnt all about the age and rate of expansion of the universe, red shifts, space-time distortion … i am currently reading about the many fascinating aspects of black holes! :) Best of all, the book is signed by the author on the first page! ;)

I have always been interested in space, and this book works for me where Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time did not. I tried twice to read it and got baffled by the science. Hopefully, having read this book, i will be able to try the Stephen Hawking one again. I’m also looking forward to learning more up-to-date developments once i have a thorough understanding of what was known ten years ago.

Whilst on holiday i also read a Terry Pratchett book – The Light Fantastic. It reminded me just why i cannot stand Terry Pratchett – just ridiculously stupidly far too random for my liking – but my partner the book for me (off read it swap it) so i thought i should give it a try. Despite myself, i did actually find parts of it quite funny, and i especially liked Death as a character, so maybe i will try reading Mort one of these days.

I very much enjoyed Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, although i was disappointed that an absolutely perfect plot line i thought was coming did not. It seemed too delicious an opportunity to miss, but it almost seemed as if Sarah considered it, began writing it, then let it flop and instead devised a highly improbable plot device to replace it. There was also a particularly obvious line of contemplation that i think should have been pursued, but was not even touched upon. I’m trying to be cryptic to avoid spoiling the book for anyone else who wants to read it … but if anyone already has, i’d be keen to discuss these ideas.