Archive for the The Universe and Stuff Category

Walter’s Leaving Do

Posted in Cardiff, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 18, 2019 by telescoper

As I had little window of opportunity before the start of exam marking season and other goings-on in Maynooth I decided to make a quick trip back to Wales back in Cardiff for the weekend.

I flew back on Thursday evening. It had been a busy day and I’d only had a sandwich for lunch so I went into the bar in Dublin Airport to get a beer and a burger. Who did I bump into there but Professor Walter Gear…

Walter was Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University when I joined it in 2007, so and was he persuaded me to leave Nottingham. He was a very good Head of School and, in particular, he helped a lot when I had mental health problems seven years ago.

Anyway after twenty years in Cardiff during which he built up the School and particularly the world-leading Astronomy Instrumentation Group there, Walter has left for a new position as Dean for Science and Engineering at NUI Galway, in Ireland.

He was in Dublin Airport because he was travelling back to his leaving do in Cardiff, which I turned up for on Friday. There were drinks and speeches and presents and it was nice to see some old friends there and in the Flute and Tankard afterwards. It was a good send-off.

I’m sure that Walter (who was born in Ireland) enjoy his new role in the Emerald Isle very much indeed. Galway is quite a distance from Maynooth (almost 200 km) but I hope we will be in regular contact.

Anyway I should mention that there are advertisements out for a Research Associate in Sub-mm Astronomy and and a Lecturer in Astronomy (with an emphasis on the same) in Galway. I’m sure these will prove very attractive to many applicants!


Unsound History of the Sound of Space

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff on May 16, 2019 by telescoper

Here’s a fascinating blog on the astronomy history which is well worth reading, so I thought I’d reblog to draw it to your attention!


Among others, it features Robert Grosseteste who I wrote about here.

The Renaissance Mathematicus

Those readers, who have been around for a number of years, will know that from time to time the Renaissance Mathematicus has hosted guest posts. One thing that we are very proud of is the very high standard of the authors, who have delivered up, at our invitation, those literary #histSTM highpoints. We only host the best! Todays guest post continues this tradition with a real star of the world of science, science writing and #histSTM, Tom McLeish FRS. Tom was Professor of Physics at Durham University, where he was one of the initiators and chief investigators of the on going Ordered Universe international research project: InterdisciplinaryReadings of Medieval Science: Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253).

800px-Grosseteste_bishop !4th Century portrait of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tom is now Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York (I think he’s doing a slow…

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Eddington at the `Del-Squared V Club’

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 15, 2019 by telescoper

I’m up to my eyeballs in matters Eddingtonian these days preparing for the big centenary, so I thought I’d share this which I was reminded about this morning. The official results of the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions were announced at a joint meeting of the Royal Society and Royal Astronomical Society on November 6 1919. Members of a certain physics graduate student society at Cambridge, however, were treated to a sneak preview in October of that year, to which the minutes of the 83rd Meeting of the `Del-Squared V Club’ attest:

Arthur Stanley Eddington gave a talk at that meeting, a brief note of which appears on the right-hand page of the minute book shown above. You can see the Newtonian value for the expected deflection of 0.87 seconds at the bottom of the page. There’s also a nice reference to `The Weight of Light’. I had no idea Eddington was a lightweight speaker, but there you are.

I don’t think the Del-Squared V Club exists* any more, so I won’t make the joke that if you want to phone them up you have to go through the operator

*I’m reliably informed that it has been defunct since 1970.


(No) Primordial Non-Gaussianity from Planck

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 15, 2019 by telescoper

After yesterday’s decennial celebration of the launch of ESA’s Herschel and Planck missions, I noticed that this morning a new paper from the Planck Consortium has arrived on the arXiv. Coincidence?

The other 2018 `last’ papers from Planck were released last year.

Anyway, this is the long-awaited paper IX about primordial non-Gaussianity and the abstract is:

In a nutshell, there’s no evidence for primordial non-Gaussianity from the Planck observations. The paper is rather long, but well worth reading because it shows how much work has to go in to extract higher-order statistical information from CMB data. It’s far harder than the (second-order) power-spectrum, which is no doubt why this paper to so long to emerge.

The Tenth Anniversary of the Herschel/Planck Launch

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 14, 2019 by telescoper

A little birdie told me (via a tweet) that today is the 10th anniversary of the launch of the ESA Planck and Herschel satellite missions. Can it really be so long ago?

Anyway, both were superbly successful and both involved many friends and former colleagues from Cardiff and elsewhere, so I thought I’d reblog this post which I wrote on the day of the launch (on May 14 2009)….

In the Dark

The Big Day has finally arrived!

I’ve managed to submit my paper to the journal and the ArXiv before the little shindig we’ve been planning for the Planck and Herschel launch gets under way at 1pm. Business as usual so far, though.

Strangely, I haven’t managed to get nervous yet, although I have to say  there are many anxious faces around the department. I just keep telling people how much simpler their life is going to be if it all goes wrong, without all that messy and unnecessarily complicated data to deal with. It bothers me sometimes that I don’t often get nervous expect when watching sport. Mind you, being  a Newcastle United supporter probably makes me more nervous more often than most people.

Anyway, at times like this a  stiff upper lip is obviously called for. Anyone who cracks now is clearly not officer material. There’ll be plenty of…

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Revolution in the Skies: The Experiment that made Einstein Famous

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 14, 2019 by telescoper

At the risk of being a complete bore about the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions, here is a plug for a public talk I am giving in Maynooth on 29 May 2019, the centenary of the event itself.

Here is the blurb:

Albert Einstein is the undisputed genius whose insights have revolutionised the way we think about the Universe. He is also a cultural icon whose fame extends far beyond the realm of theoretical physics.

Einstein’s transition to global stardom can be dated precisely to 29th May 1919, the date of a total solar eclipse at which the first measurements were made of the bending of light by the Sun’s gravity that tested Einstein’s then new general theory of relativity. The announcement of the results created an unprecedented media sensation: news of Einstein and his revolutionary theory made front-page news around the world.

To mark the centenary of this historic event, Peter Coles will describe the historical and scientific background to an experiment that changed the world, and explain why it was such an important event both for Einstein the physicist and Einstein the celebrity.

The event will be on the North Campus of Maynooth University. It is free, but please register at the Eventbrite site here if you want to attend so we can get an idea of numbers. If, for some reason, you can’t get to Maynooth, we are planning to do a live feed of the talk too, so please watch this blog for more details.

The Observer and the Eclipse

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 12, 2019 by telescoper

Not surprisingly, given that the centenary is fast approaching, pieces are appearing in the mainstream media about the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions that first measured the deflection of light by the Sun’s gravitational field. One such article, by Robin McKie, appears in today’s Observer. It’s a nice piece, though it concentrates almost entirely on Eddington’s measurements taken at Principe. In fact it was Crommelin’s measurements from Sobral that proved decisive.

Anyway, the article gives me a (very brief) mention courtesy of the piece I wrote in Nature a few weeks ago:

For many years at Cardiff I ran an undergraduate project in which the students had to reanalyze the measurements from the eclipse expeditions. That is possible because all the necessary star positions are tabulated in the paper by Dyson et al. (1920). It is undoubtedly the case that Eddington had to improvise a bit because of the unexpected problems that arose in the field, but this is actually quite normal. As a famous general put it `No plan of battle survives first contact with the enemy’. I remain convinced that Eddington didn’t do anything dodgy, but you don’t have to take my word for it: if you don’t believe me then go ahead and look at the data yourself! At the very least you will then understand what a difficult experiment this was!