Archive for Equinox

Yesterday was nearly Easter

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 29, 2021 by telescoper

As as Astronomist I am often asked “How do they calculate the date of Easter?”, to which my answer is usually “Look it up on Wikipedia!“.

The simple answer is that Easter Sunday is on the first Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal equinox. The Vernal Equinox took place this year on March 20th and the more observant among you will have noticed that yesterday was (a) Sunday and (b) a Full Moon. Yesterday was not Easter Sunday because the rule says Easter is on the first Sunday after the first full Moon on or after the Vernal equinox, which does not include a Full Moon on the first Sunday on or after the vernal equinox. Accordingly Easter 2021 is next Sunday 4th April. If the Full Moon had happened on Saturday, yesterday would have been Easter Sunday.

That is just as well really because next weekend is when the holidays and sporting events have been arranged.

I say “simple” answer above because it isn’t quite how the date of Easter is reckoned for purposes of the liturgical calendar.

For a start the ecclesiastical calculation of the date for Easter – the computus – assumes that the Vernal Equinox is always on March 21st, while in reality it can be a day or two either side of that. This year it was on March 20th.

On top of that there’s the issue of what reference time and date to use. The equinox is a precisely timed astronomical event but it occurs at different times and possibly on different days in different time zones. Likewise the full Moon. In the ecclesiastical calculation the “full moon” does not currently correspond directly to any astronomical event, but is instead the 14th day of a lunar month, as determined from tables (see below). It may differ from the date of the actual full moon by up to two days.

There have been years (1974, for example) where the official date of Easter does not coincide with the date determined by the simple rule given above. The actual rule is a complicated business involving Golden Numbers and Metonic cycles and whatnot.

I’m grateful to Graham Pointer on Twitter for sending this excerpt from the Book of Common Prayer that sheweth how to determine the date of Easter for any year up to 2199:

I don’t care what happens after that as I’ll be retired by then. If you apply this method to 2021 you will find it is an 8C. Next year will be a 9B. Further calculations are left as an exercise to the reader.

The Michael Green Experience

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 30, 2009 by telescoper

It’s been a couple of weeks since the University of Cambridge announced that the successor to Stephen Hawking as Lucasian Professor  of Mathematics would be Michael Green, who is best known for his work on string theory. Heartiest congratulations to him for reaching a position of such eminence.

I was trying to think of a suitable way of marking the occasion of his election to this prestigious post when I suddenly remembered that we were actually on a TV programme together years ago. The show in question was called Unravelling the Universe and was first broadcast in December 1991 as part of a science documentary series called Equinox.

I eventually found my ancient VHS copy of the broadcast master tape of this show and persuaded Ed and Stephen, two of the excellent elves that work in the School of Physics & Astronomy here at Cardiff University, to transfer it to a digital format and put a bit on Youtube for all to see. Many thanks to them for their help.

Other people involved in the programme included Rocky Kolb, Chris Isham and Paul Davies but the short (2-and-a-half minute) clip below features just Michael Green (who basically put the show together) and myself (who was just there to make up the numbers), plus wonderful narration by the late great Peter Jones.

Michael Green hasn’t changed a bit in 18 years. In fact, I saw him last year and am sure he was even wearing the same sweater.

I, on the other hand….Oh dear.