A Night of Observing With Friends and Neighbours

In the week I was stopped by my next door neighbour, while on my way in from work, with the starting sentence  “that’s a large telescope you were using last night, is it yours?”

“It is” I replied “It’s actually one of two that I have.”

“Ah I see, my son saw you out there with it the other night, but was too shy to come over and ask for a look”

“That’s no problem at all” I said “He’s welcome to come and have a look at any time. Assuming the skies are clear over the weekend, I”ll get them both out and set up, and we can do a bit of viewing”

So, Sunday evening arrives and the skies are perfectly clear. I have a group of friends with me (who also wanted to see what was going on in the skies). I set up both of my scopes, the 8″ Skywatcher 200 and the 3″ Skywatcher 102. The 102 is computer driven and this would be the first time I had used it in such a configuration since having it.

I started the evening with a small sky orientation, using the same reference points, that I use to align the 102. Vega (located in East), Arcturus (in the South West) and then pointed out Saturn (also in the South West) and Polaris (in the North) These are the main objects that I use, when I am out, as they are most familiar to me in relation to my surroundings (i.e. my garden)

The first object of interest we looked at, was Saturn. Fairly low in the South-West, just peaking above the roof top of the adjoining houses. It was particularly clear and crisp. I had the 8″ on it, with a 25mm eyepiece and 2x Barlow, so the view of the rings was pretty spectacular. The Cassini division was clearly visible, as at the current time, the rings are tilted down towards us. Saturn was the first of the planets that I ever saw through a telescope, and I am pretty sure it is what got me hooked on astronomy. It’s always a good reliable object to view for first timers, as it has that WOW factor. (Plus, at this point the Moon hadn’t risen above the horizon)

Next we moved on to play a game that I call “Red Star, Blue Star” I use this to show that stars have different colours and how this relates to physical parameters of stars. We used Vega and Arcturus for this as the colour difference between the two. I explained that blue stars, are generally large very hot yet short lived (in star terms) and that red stars are cooler, and yet live a lot longer. This then led on to the talk about stellar distances, the light year, and how astronomy is basically time travel.

After all looking at both stars, I then used the 102 to point to a number of different star clusters (M13, M92 and M5) and had a discussion about them and what they are.

The hardest question of the night, was trying to explain what would happen if gravity between binary stars stopped. Tricky because its hard to explain to a 10 year old the answer to this question, and not go into too much detail about general relativity. However I think we managed.

Finally, around 11pm the Moon made a spectacular appearance from below the horizon. Bright vibrant orange. Attention to this then took up the rest of the night. Both the 200 and the 105 were slewed to it. The 102 using a 35mm camera projection wide angle eyepiece, and the 200 the same 25mm with 2x barlow. The craters were lovely in the orange light, and made for great viewing. There were lots of images taken using iPhones by the members of the group.

 

Hopefully the evening of astronomy helped inspire a new generation of amateurs, and as the year goes on, hopefully I can hold another evening, when there are different objects visible.

The Importance of Science Fiction for Science Fact

WARNING: THIS REPORT CONTAINS “SPECULATION” & “UNPROVEN THEORY”

Over the last few years, it has become overwhelmingly obvious to me, that the majority of the Scientific community, has become somewhat “jaded” towards any suggestion that is not 100% scientifically provable TODAY. By no means does this cover all science folk, but It worries me that a number of ‘eminently public’ scientists shun and mock any speculative suggestion made as rubbish.

Now, before we continue, let me just assert. As a budding member of the scientific world, I am fully aware of the need for any scientific theory to have results to back it up. BUT, lets just be a little realistic here. Without “speculation” there would be very few of the scientific discoveries that we have today.

As I stated before, we cannot tar the entire community with the same brush. For instance, the greatly eminent physicists Michio Kaku (one of the great heavy weights in physics today) along with Stephen Hawking (possibly THE heavy weight) are both prolific dreamers. Michio has written a whole library of books, where the “Physics of Tomorrow” are considered. From tri-corders to time travel. Without this sci-fi, head in the clouds approach to physics, the field would be a deadly boring world of mundane calculations and repetitive observation.

Stephen Hawking recorded a whole series based on physics principals that he dreams about, to the extent where he supposedly set up a dinner party for time travellers. Sending out invitations so that they might, in distant time be found by time travellers. Who would appear, at that the set time and date for this temporal gathering with canapés.

One of my most loved topics of thought, dream and conversation is time travel. Something that is greatly studied at this point in time. There are a great number of theories, papers and books all on this fascinating topic. The possibilities are endless. From time dilation at the event horizon of a black hole, to the microscopic wormholes of the quantum foam at Plank scales.1 Conversation of paradox and loopholes (the most famous of the time travel paradox is the grandfather paradox which postulates that, you travel back in time to kill your own grandfather, so that you were never born. However, that very action means that you do not exist too travel back to make the kill…..and therefore time is stuck in what becomes known as a causal loop) I have spent hours of my life, trying to unpick causal loops and paradox to see what effect specific actions would have on the overall temporal outcome. Needless to say, its normally the same outcome.

That was somewhat of a wormhole digression, so back to the original geodesic.

From the very earliest days of the science fiction genre, those of Jules Verne and his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon humanity has dreamt of things that were (at that point) technologically impossible. THIS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THE CASE, as Joules proved (well, you know what I mean). He was a man far before his time. Yet, over a century on, people HAVE walked on the moon, and we are well on the way to walking on Mars. The Star Trek franchise is yet another science fiction series, from which we are now taking inspiration. Walk into the medical bay on the Enterprise and you would be sure to spot a tri-corder. Well, now there is such a device, being trialed in the US. Warp Drive is yet another of the Trek Tech which is taking on a physical presence in today’s physics research. (For more on this see the Wiki for Alcubierre Drive )

Scientists in the public eye, especially, need to actually get the younger generations to dream, to speculate. For only then, will the scientific field progress and grow.

  1. I note here that the use of wormholes doesn’t technically relate to “time travel” in the same sense of the time dilation of black hole theory. However, the use of the highly speculative wormhole would effectively cut journey times from one side of the universe to the other. So it’s more of a time saving, than a time travel.