On Friday one week before the Winter Solstice it was bitterly cold as I set out on my early morning walk. It was just as well I was dressed for it and at least it was dry. Clear skies had been forecast for part of the night and as it happened it was mostly clear while I was out. As I walked along the seafront I saw in my peripheral vision two meteors though not at the same time. At the time I reasoned they were part of the Gemini shower for they appeared to have emanated from that constellation. I discovered later on checking the shower calendar that I had been correct. There was a comet visible with the naked eye in or near to the constellation of Taurus but I hadn’t been aware of that having not been actively doing my star-gazing bit for some time. I have been interested in astronomy from an early age. This comet would be visible for a number of days throughout December. When I returned home I watched some tv and didn’t start work until after eight-thirty. I concentrated on completing the boxing-in I had been engaged with over the last couple of days.
I gave the wood its first coat of paint after lunch. The next job will be to fill in all the gaps now easy to see having painted it. I also painted the ceiling around the new light position so that I could clip the light into place and not have to paint close to it later.
Early one morning (Tuesday to be exact) and before the sun was rising as opposed to the song’s version, just as the sun was rising, actually it was a couple of hours before, I was up and about from my bed. I had difficulty in getting off to sleep at first but it must have been around midnight when I found myself nodding off. I awoke rather abruptly just before five o’clock in order to visit the toilet and whilst there I could hear an owl screeching. On my return to the bedroom I opened the window to gaze into the night sky. The rear of our house is kept in darkness, the only lights being those too far to make much difference. To my right, that is eastward, I could see the brightest object in our skies after the sun and moon, the planet Venus. The thin crescent Moon was too close to the Sun to be seen at that time. Just now Venus is near its maximum brilliance and if it could be seen in complete darkness it would be casting a shadow behind any object it shines upon. There is too much light pollution in towns and cities to be able to see that but out in the countryside away from any artificial lighting Venus, when at its brightest, can cast shadows. To the left of Venus I could see the planet Jupiter which can at times rival the brilliance of Venus though never reaching the same brightness when Venus is at its best. Standing alone Jupiter is a fine object to behold but at the moment it is outshone by Venus. In between the two the planet Mars could be seen too though it was much dimmer than the other two but still very noticeable. Above all three where the stars of the constellation Leo with its brightest starRegulus, far outshone by the nearby Venus. Of course all of the stars if nearer would be so bright as to blot out the planets as they are all ‘suns’ in their own right. There was not a cloud in the sky to spoil the view. About an hour later I was dressed and went out into the garden to look again at the sky before returning indoors for my breakfast. There was a distinct chill in the air, unmistakably Autumnal so I didn’t stay outside too long.
I had three shots at sleep on Sunday night. It was deliberate. I set my alarm for 02.00 and went to sleep around 10.00. I wanted to see the ‘Blood Moon’ eclipse. I duly awoke and went into the empty front bedroom to look out of the window to see a bright normal coloured full Moon that had a very small dark indent at the left hand side at the top. It was beginning to drift into the Earth’s shadow but it would be some time before the eclipse would be total. I reset my alarm to 03.00 and went back to bed. I woke up again and returned to the front room to see an almost completely total red Moon.
It took a further thirty minutes for the remaining sliver of ‘white’ Moon at the bottom of the disk to turn red but in fact it didn’t turn completely red. It was now around 03,35 and I had seen enough so I returned to bed to be awakened at 06.45 in order to go to work. I have had an interest in Astronomy since I was about nine years old and indeed it became my one and only hobby. Being an amateur ‘Astronomer’ in the UK is difficult at the best of times because of the weather we have and often special events get missed as a result. I have never thought that an eclipse of the Moon was anything special, not in the same way that an eclipse of the Sun is but to see a ‘Blood Moon’ is a rare thing given that most eclipses occur over the oceans and never often in the same place over land. I have seen one before but even then I didn’t take much interest. All I can say is that I saw it this time around.
I went to work feeling refreshed despite the erratic sleep I’d had. The job was supposedly a simple one, to remove a faulty ceiling fan/light combination and fit a new model but it wasn’t that simple. When I removed the faulty unit is was very hot to the touch, in fact it was that hot it couldn’t be handled with bare hands. The next thing I found was that the old unit could have fallen from the ceiling at any time as it had been fixed to the old ceiling laths and not the ceiling joists I had to re-position the new unit to the nearest joist but then had to extend the wiring too. The wiring had been installed in steel conduit and it was in such an awkward place as to be almost impossible to reach from inside the loft. With all the problems I had with the fitting it took me three times longer than it would have normally. Before I had finished that job I got a call for another which fortunately was located on my route home. That job was very easy to do and took me a mere ten minutes. I got back home around one o’clock cooked a meal and later went out on the patio to do a little work there before finally taking a break for an hour or so in the warm sunshine. Later both E and I watered the gardens both front and back. I knew I was going to sleep soundly and had to for I was going out to work again early the next day.
So the solar eclipse came and went but here in the UK it was less of a spectacular event than it would have been had it been a total eclipse. As usual for any astronomical event it was cloudy but in fact that cloud was sufficient to allow direct viewing with the naked eye, something not possible in normal sunshine. The safe way to observe of course is to use a special filter or project the image onto a sheet of paper. At its peak at around 0930-0940 depending on your UK location the Sun was anywhere between 87% and 98% obliterated by the Moon. I say in my garden and watched as the Sun became approximately 70% covered, after which the density of the clouds made viewing impossible. At the appointed time everywhere became dark, though it was more like evening at twilight, not really that dark at all. An hour later it all returned to normal. The only eclipses really worth seeing are total eclipses but even they don’t last too long at total. The next one for this country will be in 2090. I somehow don’t think I’ll see it! There are of course other eclipses to be seen but travelling to other countries is necessary. I suppose for the really dedicated observer that isn’t a problem.
This Friday there will be a total eclipse of the Sun. Unfortunately from anywhere in the UK it will only be a partial eclipse though the further north you are more of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. The best place to see a total eclipsed Sun will be in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. The next time to see a total eclipse in the UK will be on September 23 2090 and it will happen in Cornwall. The next after then will be April 11 2442 over North Wales, Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. There are anything up to five total solar eclipses each year and can be almost anywhere in the world. The opportunities to see it in the UK are very rare as you can see. Even if it is cloudy on Friday the effect should be very noticeable.
To see more clearly click on the picture twice. It was taken with my Nexus 10 tablet and isn’t too bad a picture as far as quality goes, nothing like as good as it would be with a dedicated camera of course. As you can see the light level is low as the Sun has just set behind the houses. Pictured are the flag of course, the Moon and Venus. The Moon is showing a crescent phase and Ashen Light to the more discerning and Venus too is showing a crescent phase. Venus is approaching that point in its orbit where it is at its brightest as seen from our position on Earth at this moment. But what is wrong in the picture? I will reveal the answer in tomorrow’s post.
That is true for each of us. We all get older sure enough and some of us get wiser with that too. If we didn’t become wiser as we age we will have spent our entire lives in vain, we will have learned nothing but we do learn, each and every one of us. Wisdom however isn’t about learning it is about application, applying what we have learned in a useful way. What is the point of it all? There is a proposal to send a craft to one of the polar regions of our Moon and land there. In order to finance it there is an invitation to the ordinary ‘man in the street’ to submit personal data in the form of video recordings, photographs and literary information along with a strand of their own hair that will all be placed on the Moon lander, for a fee of course. The organisers maintain that the craft will be there for billions of years. I ask myself why, what is the point of that? Well of course it is a scientific project that will investigate the composition of the material beneath the Moon’s surface by drilling deep into it, something not tried before. What will be done with the information they receive from the experiments will be decided later. Perhaps they will be looking for water or minerals either to be mined and returned to Earth or to be used by any future Moon base that might be constructed. When I was younger my main hobby was Astronomy and the science behind space travel and the colonisation of other planets but as I grew older I began to question the reasons for mankind to want to do such things. What is the real point of it all? What purpose does it serve, what benefits are there to the human race? By nature we are inquisitive beings and that is just as well for if we weren’t we would have made no progress at all. There comes a point though where, in my opinion, it is useless to go any further. At best we may colonise the Moon and Mars and possibly one or two of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn but all of these places are hostile to us, low gravity, no breathable atmosphere, exposure to radiation and extreme temperatures of the lowest kind. If ever we did build colonies in these places they would have to be self-contained, like living in a perpetual bubble. We are simply not designed to live that way. Travel to anywhere outside our solar system is even more pointless, the distances are so great we would have to travel much faster than the speed of light to get anywhere or go through, as yet unproven, wormholes to who knows where? Without a definite destination, if there even is one, is travelling in hope alone. Unless we travel instantaneously to very far off places they are unlikely to be there when we arrive! What we see when looking into the depths of space is history, what the objects we are looking at where like when the light we see left them to travel the vast distances to us. We are talking about thousands and millions of years even billions of years that their light has been travelling toward us. Travelling at the speed of light toward them will take just the same time. Now I am older I think it all futile to think about such things but there will be those who will continue to pursue the idea. Communicating with space travellers is a useless exercise once they have travelled beyond a few light-years for it will take as many years for radio signals to traverse the great distances. Only our descendants will receive the messages. As much as I like the idea and the romance of space travel my feet are firmly set on planet Earth.
Many years ago I became fascinated with astronomy, in fact it was about 58 years ago that my parents bought me an encyclopaedia inside of which was a description of our solar system. I was hooked and from that day onwards I dreamed about space and space travel. The technical difficulties associated with space travel were unknown to me save for a few essential considerations such as the need for space suits and breathing apparatus. As I grew more and more interested I began to realise and learn that other worlds were nothing like our own. some had atmospheres some were too hot or too cold, too wet but not with water, too dry and possibly none had vegetation or life of any kind though that was always speculated. I collected the cards that were sold with packets of chewing gum depicting aliens from other worlds, some from our own solar system and my imagination of encounters with them passed through my mind often. As I grew older and more informed I began to realise that life in our solar system was probably confined to our own planet, well life as we know it. Naturally I took great interest in the ‘space race’ and the Moon landings but always in the back of my mind was the first journey of man to Mars, when it would happen and how. Mars, though not exactly an ideal place on which to settle, is far more inviting than the surface of the Moon. Once man leaves the protection of Earth he is open to dangerous levels of radiation that other planets or moons in the Solar System that can be stood upon cannot protect him from.
Aside from having to take along food, oxygen, water and a host of other things to begin the journey of self-support on another world there is also the problem with regard to gravity or a lack of it in many cases. The gravitational pull on the Moon is less than one sixth of what it is on Earth and the Martian gravity is less than four tenths of what it is on Earth. The human body has to make adjustments in order to cope and those adjustments would become permanent if a return to earth was not on the cards as has been suggested by one group of explorers and scientists currently working towards a thriving Martian colony. See http://www.mars-one.com/mission/roadmap .Perhaps if they are successful in bringing that about sometime in the future it may be possible to have frequent return flights from such a colony but those who have remained for long periods may not be able to make that journey. Personally speaking I no longer think we were designed nor intended to travel in Space but mankind seems determined and driven toward such exploration.
For those who have telescopes or powerful binoculars the comet can be seen at the moment in the morning sky and hour or two before sunrise and last week passed close by the planet Mars, also visible in the morning sky. I have been trying to catch a glimpse of the comet myself but as is usual for this country the weather hasn’t permitted me to do that as it has been cloudy. There is still plenty of time for an opportunity to see it before it sweeps around the back of the sun and emerges in the western sky after sunset when it will then be receding away from the sun and the solar system. I hope there will be an opportunity to see it at some point and if it lives up to the predictions it will indeed be a sight to see with the naked eye.
A couple of days ago I was sitting at home writing one of my posts and mentioning something about the brilliant sunshine we were enjoying in our part of the country. That same day, Monday, I heard what the weather was like in the Channel Islands where they almost never get snow. They were experiencing one of the worst snow blizzards they have ever had the misfortune to get, in fact much of northern France and south-east England were having the same experience yet here along the coast in west Lancashire it was sunny with no snow. Later that day though we began to see fine snow descending as the sky grew darker and darker with approaching clouds from the east. By nightfall we had what you might call a ‘dusting’ of snow but only about a couple of millimetres. However, because it was extremely cold it remained on the ground until morning. Tuesday started again with bright sunshine and clear blue skies and as the temperature rose the snow disappeared except in the very sheltered spots. The weather is getting better each day as Spring approaches. The main problem facing the country as far as the weather is concerned is the wind direction. Whilst it is blowing from the east we will continue with colder days. According to the forecast though the wind is beginning to veer from the north and gradually from the west, where we expect it to be coming from at this time of year. Most of my mornings are spent at home unless I have work to do and once it is afternoon I begin to think about going for bike rides or visiting the pub for a meal or going for a walk somewhere as by that time I don’t expect any calls on my phone requesting work that day. Most folk call me in the evenings unless it is something they think requires urgent attention. By mid afternoon I am not usually prepared to start work and always tend to defer jobs to be scheduled some other day and in the morning. Life is getting better for me as I begin to take things more easy and please myself. Now that the weather is seemingly improving I thought we might have gotten the chance to see something of the comet that paid the inner solar system a visit recently but alas I think we’ve missed it. Those in the southern hemisphere have enjoyed watching its progress as it swept toward the sun and we in the northern hemisphere should have still been able to see it after it had swung round the sun returning from whence it came. If it had been visible, it would have graced the western sky after sunset for a few more days. According to what I’ve read it would have been visible between 12th and 20th of this month. Later in the year however in November, we are informed that a much brighter comet will make an appearance and will be more prominent in the northern hemisphere for a change. We’ll see.