Archive for Dunsink Observatory

A Memory of Dunsink

Posted in Biographical, History, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on September 2, 2022 by telescoper
Dunsink Observatory

Just time for an early morning post before I get the train in order to attend the second day of this year’s Irish National Astronomy Meeting at Dunsink Observatory (in the above picture, which I took yesterday morning). Incidentally, Dunsink Observatory is Réadlann Dhún Sinche in the Irish language.

Thinking about this meeting ahead of the event reminded me of a loose end, which I managed to tidy up this week.

Once upon a time, before the pandemic, I was involved in various events to celebrate the centenary of the famous eclipse expeditions of May 1919 which had a strong connection with Dunsink Observatory (see e.g. here). Among these things was an invitation to write a paper on the subject, which appeared in Contemporary Physics in June 2019.

Contemporary Physics being a commercial journal the paper was published behind a paywall. The publication rules however allowed the paper to be made freely available after an embargo period of one year.

I had intended to put the paper on arXiv in June 2020 when the embargo period lapsed, but at that point Covid-19 had taken hold, my workload went through the roof and I forgot about it until this week when a combination of my forthcoming trip to Dunsink and the appearance of my student’s first paper on arXiv conspired to remind me. Finally, therefore, the paper has now appeared in a fully open-access form on the arXiv here, just over two years later.

The title is A Revolution in Science: the Eclipse Expeditions of 1919 and the abstract reads:

The first direct experimental test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity involved a pair of expeditions to measure the bending of light at a total solar eclipse that took place one hundred years ago, on 29 May 1919. So famous is this experiment, and so dramatic was the impact on Einstein himself, that history tends not to recognise the controversy that surrounded the results at the time. In this article, I discuss the experiment in its scientific and historical background context and explain why it was, and is, such an important episode in the development of modern physics.

The Week Ahead

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2022 by telescoper

I’m aware that tomorrow (Monday 29th August) is a Bank Holiday across the Irish Sea, but here on the Emerald Isle we had our August Bank Holiday at the start of the month so tomorrow I’ll be working. Among the important events to take place next week is the final Examination Board of 2021/2 on Wednesday morning at which we see all the results of all the students not just those from our Department. After that final check the marks will be released to students on Friday 2nd September and they’ll be able to discuss their situation with staff on Consultation Day which is Tuesday of next week (6th September).

The term of my appointment as Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics ends on Wednesday August 31st. I did try to step down a year ago. Here is what I wrote then:

Over the last few days, in an exhausted and demoralized state, I have been looking back over the best part of two years I have been Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University – most of which has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic. Frankly, I have found the burden of administration on top of the heavy teaching load required of me to be unmanageable. Because we are a very small Department teaching a full degree course, all of us have to teach many more modules than is reasonable for for staff who are expected to do research as well. I had to teach five modules* last academic year; that would have been bad enough even without having to do everything online and without the additional and frequently onerous duties associated with the Head of Department. There is no prospect of that burden decreasing for the foreseeable future.

For reasons which now escape me I agreed to carry on for one more year until the end of the three-year term to which I was appointed. I regret that “the burden”, far from decreasing, has continued to increase, to the extent that last year we had to cope with staff shortages too.

As it happens I will be spending Thursday and Friday at the Irish National Astronomy Meeting which this year is at the historic Dunsink Observatory (just outside Dublin and not far from Maynooth). I was last there on a trip to Dublin many years ago so I am looking forward to seeing it again as well as listening to the talks. The programme seems very broad and varied, so it should be interesting. The last one of these I attended in person was in Armagh in 2019, before Covid intervened and meetings became virtual. I’m not giving a talk this time, so hopefully it will be a fairly relaxed occasion.

Knowing that I was due to step down as HoD on 31st August I booked a week’s annual leave the following week (5th-9th September inclusive). I have had very little opportunity to take holidays over the past three years, so I am looking forward to a little bit of peace and quiet before the academic term starts. Before that, however, I have two research papers which are almost finished and which I’d really like to submit by Wednesday (and another which will have to wait until I return from leave). I’ve had little time to do research over the last three years either.

This year’s Leaving Certificate results are due out on Friday 2nd September and first-round CAO offers go out on Thursday 8th August. There will then be a scramble to allocate places, but I shall be blissfully out of the way for at least part of that. I will of course be back for the start of teaching (for returning students on 19th September and for new students on 26th September). As I have mentioned before that there is a serious student accommodation crisis in Ireland which will probably disrupt the studies of many students. I have yet to hear of any steps that my institution is taking to mitigate the looming disaster. It’s going to be a very challenging Semester, even without being Head of Department.

Oh, and on Monday I will be attending a virtual briefing about the plans from my Union (IFUT) to ballot its members for industrial action, of which more anon….

Changing Time

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2019 by telescoper

Among the many sensible decisions made yesterday by the European Parliament was to approve a directive that will abolish `Daylight Saving Time’. I’ve long felt that the annual ritual of putting the clocks forward in the Spring and back again in the Autumn was a waste of time effort, so I’ll be glad when this silly practice is terminated.
It would be better in my view to stick with a single Mean Time throughout the year. I’m only disappointed that this won’t happen until 2021 as EU countries have to enact the necessary legislation according to their constitutional processes.

The marvellous poster above is from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. I was surprised to learn recently that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards is only about a hundred years old. in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it. Any institution or organisation that really wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory rather than at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control and this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, ie 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.

Britain will probably not scrap British Summer Time immediately as it will be out of the European Union by then. British xenophobia will resist this change on the grounds that anything to do with the EU must be bad. What happens to Northern Ireland when Ireland scraps Daylight Saving Time is yet to be seen.

Moreover the desire expressed by more than one Brexiter to return to the 18th Century may be behind the postponement of the Brexit deadline from 29th March to 12th April may be the result of an attempt to repeal the new-fangled Gregorian calendar (introduced in continental Europe in 1582 but not adopted by Britain until 1750). It’s not quite right though: 29th March in the Gregorian calendar would be 11th April in the Gregorian calendar…

On The Alteration Of Time

Posted in History with tags , , , , on October 28, 2018 by telescoper

So here we are again, having put our clocks back an hour. Summer Time is over, but at least I had extra time to do this morning’s crosswords. Or so it seems. It’s really only the clocks that changed, not the time. But then what is time, other than what clocks measure?

Anyway, before I get too philosophical let me mention that I found the marvellous poster above on Twitter. It’s from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. I was surprised that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards began so recently in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it.

It would be better in my view to stick with Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year. Any institution or organisation that wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory rather than at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control and this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, ie 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.