Archive for Autumnal Equinox

The Autumnal Equinox

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 23, 2018 by telescoper

So here we are then. The Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) took place in the early hours of this morning, at 01.54 UT (which is 02.54 Irish Time) on Sunday 23rd September. I was, of course, sound asleep during this momentous event.

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length implying that it’s a day not a specific time? The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now on days in the Northern hemisphere will be shorter than nights and they’ll get shorter until the Winter Solstice.

For many people the autumnal equinox is taken to be the end of summer, though there is a saying around tyhese parts that `Summer is Summer to Michaelmas Day’ (which does not happen until September 29th). It has actually been a nice morning in Maynooth, though the winds are roughly Northerly and it is consequently a tad on the blustery side. Looking back over the posts I’ve written at this time of year since I started blogging in 2008, it’s noticeable how many times we’ve had a window of good weather around the autumnal equinox, although this year there have been storms and heavy rainfall over the last few days. Here’s am excerpt from the post I wrote in 2008 on this:

The weather is unsettling. It’s warm, but somehow the warmth doesn’t quite fill the air; somewhere inside it there’s a chill that reminds you that autumn is not far away.

I find this kind of weather a bit spooky because it always takes me back to the time when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students are about to do this year in their turn.

Indeed tomorrow, Monday 24th September, is the first day of lectures for the new term in Maynooth. The new students have been going through various induction and orientation processes for a week or so already, but their first encounter with actual teaching will be to morrow. I don’t actually take the stage until Tuesday, on which day both my new modules start. The second years will get Vector Calculus and Fourier Series while the fourth years get Astrology and Cosmetics Astrophysics and Cosmology. That is assuming that I take the right notes to the right lectures.

Looking back to the corresponding equinoctial piece I posted last year brought it home to me just what a strange year has passed. On 22nd September 2017 I visited the Office of the Consulate of India in Cardiff to lodge an application for a visa for a trip to attend a conference in Pune, watched a bit of cricket, then some work preparing for the launch event of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Data-Intensive Science that was about to take place. I was only working part-time in Cardiff then.

Although I no longer work at Cardiff University, I still hold it in great affection and wish it all the best. I heard on the grapevine that it has been a good year for undergraduate recruitment in the School of Physics & Astronomy, which is excellent news, and the Data Innovation Research Institute also seems to be thriving. No doubt I’ll bump into various members of staff on occasional visits to Cardiff, at least until such time as I sell my house in Pontcanna.

At the time of last year’s autumnal equinox I hadn’t even been interviewed for the job I now hold in Maynooth, and had no inkling that within a year I would have relocated to Ireland. I actually took an hour out of the CDT event to be interviewed via Skype over a crappy Hotel internet connection. I thought it went terribly badly – I hate Skype! – but I ended up being offered the job. I was able to put in a quick visit to Maynooth to confirm the details before going to India as planned. I’ve been so busy flitting back and forth betweeing Ireland and Wales during the last 12 months that I haven’t really had time to reflect properly on how extraordinary life is that it can change so much as a result of lucky coincidences!

Anyway, I think that’s enough rambling for now. I’ve got a couple of problem sets to put together. Let me end by wishing the new and returning students at Maynooth and at Cardiff all the best for the new academic year. Work hard, and enjoy your studies, but don’t forget to enjoy life on the way!

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End of Summer, Start of Autumn

Posted in Biographical, Cricket with tags , , , on September 22, 2016 by telescoper

It’s a lovely warm sunny day in Cardiff today, but it is nevertheless the end of summer. The autumnal equinox came and went today (22nd September) at 14.21 Universal Time (that’s 15.21 British Summer Time), so from now on it’s all downhill (in that the Subsolar point has just crossed the equator on the southward journey it began at the Summer Solstice).

Many people adopt the autumnal equinox as the official start of autumn, but I go for an alternative criterion: summer is over when the County Championship is over. It turns out that, at least for Glamorgan, that coincided very closely to the equinox. Having bowled out Leicestershire for a paltry 96 at Grace Road in the first innings of their final Division 2 match, they went on to establish a handy first-innings lead of 103. They were then set a modest second-innings target of 181 to win. Unfortunately, their batting frailties were once again cruelly exposed and they collapsed from 144 for 4 to 154 all out and lost by 26 runs. That abject batting display sums up their season really.

Meanwhile, in Division 1 of the Championship, Middlesex are playing Yorkshire at Lord’s, a match whose outcome will determine who wins the Championship. Middlesex only need to draw to be champions, but as I write they’ve just lost an early wicket in their second innings, with Yorkshire having a first-innings lead of 120, so it’s by no means out of the question that Yorkshire might win and be champions again.

Another sign that summer is over is that the new cohort of students has arrived. This being “Freshers’ Week” there have been numerous events arranged to introduce them to various aspects of university life. Lectures proper being in Monday, when the Autumn Semester begins in earnest. I don’t have any teaching until the Spring.

This time of year always reminds me when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students have just done. I went through this rite of passage 34 years ago, getting on a train at Newcastle Central station with my bags of books and clothes. I said goodbye to my parents there. There was never any question of them taking me in the car all the way to Cambridge. It wasn’t practical and I wouldn’t have wanted them to do it anyway. After changing from the Inter City at Peterborough onto a local train, me and my luggage trundled through the flatness of East Anglia until it reached Cambridge.

I don’t remember much about the actual journey, but I must have felt a mixture of fear and excitement. Nobody in my family had ever been to University before, let alone to Cambridge. Come to think of it, nobody from my family has done so since either. I was a bit worried about whether the course I would take in Natural Sciences would turn out to be very difficult, but I think my main concern was how I would fit in generally.

I had been working between leaving school and starting my undergraduate course, so I had some money in the bank and I was also to receive a full grant. I wasn’t really worried about cash. But I hadn’t come from a posh family and didn’t really know the form. I didn’t have much experience of life outside the North East either. I’d been to London only once before going to Cambridge, and had never been abroad.

I didn’t have any posh clothes, a deficiency I thought would mark me as an outsider. I had always been grateful for having to wear a school uniform (which was bought with vouchers from the Council) because it meant that I dressed the same as the other kids at School, most of whom came from much wealthier families. But this turned out not to matter at all. Regardless of their family background, students were generally a mixture of shabby and fashionable, like they are today. Physics students in particular didn’t even bother with the fashionable bit. Although I didn’t have a proper dinner jacket for the Matriculation Dinner, held for all the new undergraduates, nobody said anything about my dark suit which I was told would be acceptable as long as it was a “lounge suit”. Whatever that is.

Taking a taxi from Cambridge station, I finally arrived at Magdalene College. I waited outside, a bundle of nerves, before entering the Porter’s Lodge and starting my life as a student. My name was found and ticked off and a key issued for my room in the Lutyens building. It turned out to be a large room, with a kind of screen that could be pulled across to divide the room into two, although I never actually used this contraption. There was a single bed and a kind of cupboard containing a sink and a mirror in the bit that could be hidden by the screen. The rest of the room contained a sofa, a table, a desk, and various chairs, all of them quite old but solidly made. Outside my  room, on the landing, was the gyp room, a kind of small kitchen, where I was to make countless cups of tea over the following months, although I never actually cooked anything there.

I struggled in with my bags and sat on the bed. It wasn’t at all like I had imagined. I realised that no amount of imagining would ever really have prepared me for what was going to happen at University.

I  stared at my luggage. I suddenly felt like I had landed on a strange island, and couldn’t remember why I had gone there or what I was supposed to be doing.

After 34 years you get used to that feeling…