MIRA 42 Winter 1997
H a l e - B o p p
By Mark Edwards
All of the Hale-Bopp pictures were taken with a Starlight Express SX CCD camera. This uses a Sony ICX027 chip 6.4mm x 4.3mm containing 256 lines of 500 pixels. The software supplied with the camera has a "track and accumulate" mode which compensates for any drift between exposures, using this I just had the camera mounted on a tripod pointing out of my bed-room window. All pictures are orientated as the comet appears on the sky - zenith up. West to the right.
Hale-Bopp photographic information
Hale-Bopp token on 1997 / 2 / 3 at 5:56 UTC using the SX together with a 50mm focal length f3.5 camera lens - exposure 10x 1 sec. The frame measures 6° 52' wide by 4° 21' high (49.6" pixel). The brightest star in the picture is mag 3.8 - the one behind the comet's tail is mag 7.9. It's difficult to see the extent of the tail, but the bright star above the comet (behind its tail) is about 25' away from the head of the comet
Hale-Bopp taken on 1997 / 2 / 3 at 6:10 UTC using the SX together with a 135mm focal length f2.8 camera lens - exposure 1x 2 sec. The frame measures 2° 45' wide by 1° 44' high (19.8" pixel). There is also the hint of a jet from the coma in the 2 o'clock position.
As above, taken at 6:15 UTC but a longer exposure than 6 to bring out the tail - exposure 15x 1 sec. This frame measures 2° 25' wide by 1° 34' high (19.8" pixel). The brightest star in the picture is mag 7.4. The coma measures about 6' x 5'on this picture, but of course the more you expose the picture the larger it appears to be. [The enlarged section has been enhanced by me to bring out the detail in a photographic process program I have. Ed]
Hale-Bopp token on 1997 / 2 / 14 (11 days later than the other pies) at 6:23 UTC using the SX together with a 135mm focal length f2.8 camera lens - addition of two exposures: 1x 1 sec and 5x 0.5 sec. The frame measures 2° wide by 1° 20' high (19.8" pixel). The bright star at the top of the frame is mag 5.4 and is about 56' away from the head of the comet. The jet visible on B has given the tail a distinctly brighter edge on its right-hand (western edge).
All images are from GIF files of between 50K and 84K.
from Pam Draper
In 1963 astronomers Roger Lynds and Allen Sandage concluded from research that hot violent explosions in the nuclei of certain galaxies were the cause of radio emissions from these galaxies. These explosions were the possible result of the gravitational collapse of at least one hundred million solar masses of gas or stars. Resulting in the spiralling of the electrons close to the speed of light in a strong magnetic field. This is known as Synchrotron Radiation. Particles moving close to the speed of light are called Relativistic Particles.
When mapped at radio wavelengths, narrow beams or jets of matter travelling at close to the speed of light are seen emerging from the galactic nucleus. M87 in Virgo is a good example of a radio galaxy expelling matter along a jet and is believed to be powered by a source of radiation such as a central black hole. Centaurus A is another and is the nearest radio galaxy to Earth. Others are Cygnus A, M84, 3C75, 3C310, 3C449, NGC 1265, NGC 6251, and Herc A.
These jets of emission extend outwards hundreds of thousands, often millions, of light years either side of the galactic nucleus, others are swept backwards as the galaxy moves though the intergalactic medium. They often appear twisted and knotted, some expand out into lobes following magnetic fields within gas clouds surrounding the galaxy. The immense forces at work within these galaxies is phenomenal and much is still not fully understood about them.
Why not try Thinking about Gravity?
I did, Can anyone help?
The curvature of space causes light to bend relative to the viewers
position, this curve is called a Geodesic. Gravity distorts light
around a body or mass stars, galaxies etc. The curvature of
space around that mass has to be thought of as being in many directions.
Gravity seems so compatible with light that it occurred to me, and
this is just an idea, that maybe these gravity waves ride with or on light
(electromagnetic) waves, like a ship at sea, oscillating and undulating
within the cosmic medium. Current research aims to find these gravity
waves produced from cosmic explosions, pulses even from the Big Bang itself!
If light reaches us from long ago, what about the essence of gravity?
Are we seeing its effects from as old as time also? How long
is the life of gravity? If light can travel indefinitely at 186,000
mps, where does that leave gravity?
If gravity effects light and the speed of light effects time
does gravity have any effect on time? I know it does near a
black hole. Ultimately what form does gravity take?
Also I ask myself do I have the faintest idea what I am talking about? Thinking about gravity? I can recommend it to give you indigestion!
Carl Sagan 1935 - 1997
As a teenager in the seventies I watched Carl Sagan's excellent TV series
COSMOS and the Royal Institutions Christmas lectures he delivered and thought
how wonderfull and exciting he found the subjects of space and astronomy.
Carl Sagan was born in New York City and gained a PH.d from the University
of Chicago in 1960. In 1968 he became a professor of Astronomy and Space
Science at Cornell University. An author and educator he wrote several
books and many scientific papers. Carl Sagan writing always reflected his
broad interests amongst them, the nature of the planets and their atmospheres,
the origin and nature of life on earth and the possibility of life on other
planets. In 1978 he won the Pulitzer prize for his Book "The Dragons of
Eden" about the evolution of the human brain.
I feel it particularly sad at his passing before he could know from
the Mars Pathfinder mission results as to wether there was, or is life
on Mars and the definitive possibility of it elsewhere in the universe. In sure this man will be sadly missed by many.
I too, like Pam, was very sorry to hear of the death the other week
of Carl Sagan. I too, can remember his Royal Institution Christmas
lectures and his famous 13 part TV series, COSMOS, which still stands today
as the most watched scientific show ever seen world wide.
Recently I saw him on television in a program about the "life" found
in the Mars rock ALH840001 and I was shocked and saddened at his appearance.
Only his voice gave him away, he had aged many years with the bone disease
and I would not have recognized him without the on-screen caption.
He was one of a select few scientists who could put over ideas to
the general public in a way which ordinary folk could understand.
Carl did not look like the scientist he was, he looked more like a regular
guy next door. He had a gift for writing and I have his books COSMOS
and also COMET which he co-wrote with his wife Ann Druyan. I also
have his best seller fiction book, CONTACT, the story of the first radio
message from ET's and what the message means for mankind.
For many years he played a leading role in the American space program. Being involved in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets for which he received NASA's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement as well as many other awards and prizes for his work.
One of his greatest triumphs was helping to end the Cold War by his discovery of The Nuclear Winter by which a nuclear exchange between the super powers would cause a global freeze by the amount of smoke and dust thrown up. He, along with a colleague, proved that no one could win a nuclear war because of the damage to the eco-system. Most of the planet's life forms would be destroyed along with most of us! In either the fires caused by the heat of the explosions or the years of dark and cold following until the smoke and ash had fallen out of the atmosphere. It has been estimated it took the Earth nearly a million years to fully recover from the asteroid impact 65 million years ago.
Carl Sagan along with a few others make science interesting for everyone. We will miss him.
I Clarke (Ed)
Change? What Change?
by Ivor Clarke
The other day while I was travelling to work in the car, I heard a piece on the Radio 4 program ToDay
which made me forget all about driving. How I finally arrived at work (I was on auto pilot I suppose), I can't remember. The interview was with an archaeologist who was talking about recent finds which have been made in Ethiopia, of a selection of stone tools used by our early ancestors. These tools are 200,000 years older than any previous known similar objects and set the clock back to well over a million years in which these tools where made. . . .
Now let's think about this for a moment, these tools where made without any change or modification in their design for over a million years!
This is what astounded me, people had made the same type of tools; one a type of Stone Age Stanley knife (which can be very sharp for a short while after being made), for cutting skins and meat and the other an axe type of tool to be held in the hand; in exactly the same way for 1,000's of generations. They had used the same type of stone chipped in the same way, so much so, that if samples of the tools were put side by side, from the earliest to the latest periods, they are indistinguishable from each other!
How is this possible?
How is it possible to continue to manufacture the same tools without modification over such long periods of time?
Well, to start with the tools worked well, they were easy to make and could be made new for each job. So considering the laid back type of lifestyle of these people, change was not a pressing requirement. Indeed evidence now suggests that the average amount of time worked for these type of hunter gathering people was about 19 hours a week! The rest of the time was spent having a good time with their friends and family. Life was easy, with plenty of food to pick, if it was not possible to catch and kill any. In general, we work harder than our hunter forebears. Among the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari, once regarded as the classic model for hunting societies, one day of "gathering" provided three days food, leaving plenty of time for visiting, entertaining, and partying. If the hunt failed there was an abundance of mongongo nuts providing each person with the protein equivalent of 1lb of meat a day.
But what's all this got to do with astronomy?
Well, we have made several attempts to try to find other civilizations on other planets around other stars and failed. In some ways it's not surprising if the other lot on a local planet are enjoying themselves sunbathing and swimming so much, then popping down to the local tree and giving it a good shake to get dinner. What incentive have they for making a change, inventing civilisation and technology and radio telescopes? Why change and make life more difficult and complicated?
Also we have no way of knowing where we stand in the cosmos intelligence league, are we as intelligent as other races or have we a long way to go? If we are an advanced species who has high intelligence, what does it tell us about the speed of our progress over the last 200 years or so. The rate of change has been like a vale of fog lifting, the more it clears the more there is to see and understand. Does our speed of progress lately equal other beings? It's hard to believe we could go much faster, but as we have seen, we did progress very slowly once.
So what happened to us? And just because a species is clever, it is not necessary true that a technological society will develop. Dolphins are smart but not too many have yet mastered holding a mobile phone. OK, so this is not fair and rude to dolphins, but you see my point. Dolphins have for millions of years been swimming in our oceans and could never receive or send a message to another planet. How many times will, is, this happening now in our galaxy?
The species must be able to pick up objects and use them, to make TOOLS. The human hand is unique, nothing can match out ability to pick up and manipulate objects. This is, along with speech, the main reason for our dominance over the rest of the species on the Earth. We are tool makers and users. Of cause, not all tools are complicated, some are simple. A few animals and insects make and use tools to help them do certain jobs, like poke things out of holes or break open nuts and such like. But that's all, no progress. This is what we did for a million years. And don't forget these people where just as clever as us with the same size brains.
Can it be possible that intelligent life exists and has never moved on from a primitive existence. If plenty of food is near and the weather fair, what is the motivation for change? If the food is plentiful and the people are not struck down by disaster of one form or another, attack by other tribes, wild animals, disease, earthquakes, fire or flood, life could go on form many millennium with out much change.
It could be that the drastic changes in Earths climate which caused the ice ages was the starting pistol for our rise in technology with the invention of farming and the plough. With fields sown, you can't move about too far or you will loose the crop, so you have to stay near and build a home so as to benefit from the hard work of land preparation. From this one idea of producing your own food by yourself instead of just looking for it has grown our society.
Sometimes it's hard to imagine life without electricity. Only when on a holiday camping or during a power cut do we have to get along without it for a short while, but with out it, no radio. So recent has been this development that we forget what a change it made to peoples lives and now we take it completely for granted, but can we be sure anything else nearby in space has also discovered it and knows how to use it for radio?
From over 60 light years from our sun, we could now detect ourselves with present technology by the slight amount of radio noise giving off by the early broadcasts. It would soon be obvious that the amount of radio use was increasing steadily. Such an observation would instantly confirm the existence of a another race of technology aware beings. Communication with them would be another ball game, but we would know we were not alone.
If it had been us on the receiving end of a radio message 10,000 years ago, we took no notice did we. Suppose someone (something) sent us an urgent message which arrived, say, only 80 years ago. What did we do about it? Nothing. No one was listening. This is a problem, how do we, how can we know if we have been sent messages in the past? All we can hope is that we don't miss the next one.
Would we now be doing all we can to find other ET life if we really thought the film Independence Day
bore the slightest resemblance to the truth. We don't expect any trouble from them out there.
Stars by Daylight
by Mike Frost
As you probably know by now, I'm a great fan of the Guardian newspaper's
idiosyncratic Notes and Queries column, where readers pose questions,
serious and silly, for others to answer. If the format sounds familiar,
it may be because most other papers have copied it over the past few years — but the Guardian started the trend. Actually, Notes and Queries was originally the name of a magazine feature from the middle of the last
century, but the Guardian was first to revive it.
Anyway, I have been firing off occasional answers for years now; my current score is four answers published out of a dozen or so submitted. My best one was a description of an unconventional way of cleaning magnetic computer tapes (in answer to the question "can cassette tapes really be wiped by placing them close to a magnet?" which involved the giant electro-magnet in a steel works — and was published under the heading — Fatal Attraction. But until last year I had never had an astronomical answer published — not even when the Green Flash came up! Then along came this:
Is it true that if you go to the bottom of a very deep well, and look
at the sky, you will see the star directly above, even in broad daylight?
This was my answer, which the Guardian published the following week (they missed out the third paragraph, making me appear a lot less even-handed):
"No. In the daytime, cloudless sky is filled with blue sky light. This is scattered sunlight, that is to say light from the sun which has bounced off molecules in the atmosphere and so reaches the observer from a random direction. Only a fraction of light from the sun is diverted in this manner; however the sun is so much brighter than anything else in the heavens that scattered sunlight drowns out everything else in the sky except for the moon. Only when the disk of the sun is completely covered (principally at night but also during a total solar eclipse) is the sky dark enough to allow stars to be visible through it.
However, ever since the time of Aristotle, there have been persistent stories that from the bottom of deep shafts, such as wells or mines, the sky appears to be darker, and stars in the line of sight can be glimpsed. This has never been scientifically proven - the background skylight will be bright enough to drown out stars whether one looks at the whole sky or just a tiny portion of it. Most likely the apparent darkening of the sky is an optical illusion caused by the removal of sun and the rest of the sky from the field of view. When the amount of light entering the eye is small the pupil can open wider and so colours appear more vivid.
So what of the stories of daytime observations of stars? These would appear to be myths and hearsay. However it would be foolish to miss some new physical phenomenon through dogmatically reasserting the received wisdom - repeatable photographic or eyewitness evidence would be very interesting!
Marcel Minnaert's classic book Light and Color in the Outdoors (Springer-Verlag) discusses the phenomenon, and the related myth that stars can be seen in daytime in the reflection of the sky in mountain lakes.
Well, I thought that this would settle the question — but I was wrong!
The very next week there appeared an answer from one Roz Cullinan of London:
"some 20 years ago a cliff-fall at Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, revealed
a well, dug by the Beaker people to serve as a defensive settlement.
At first the sea eroded just the bottom settlement, so one could look up
the 300ft well. And indeed the sky was dark and stars were visible.
Further cliff falls destroyed the well."
I was intrigued! Was Ms Cullinan mistaken, or was something going
on that astronomers didn't understand? And how frustrating that the
site from which the stars had been seen was now no longer standing.
I spent a little more time researching in Birmingham library, and came
across some research done in the 1950s by J.A. Hynek, who I think must be
the same Hynek who does U.F.O. research. He calculated when Vega
would culminate at the zenith, and attempted to observe the event, both
by eye and photometrically, from the bottom of a large chimney — without
any success. Fairly conclusive evidence, I thought. Nevertheless,
my editor at Astronomy Now, who was busily trimming down my Green Flash
article, suggested I prepared a letter to the editor asking for any observations.
This duly appeared in the February edition, and prompted two replies.
Mike Dworetsky, from the university of London, agreed with me. Additionally, he made the point that, even at night, you probably won't be able to see any stars with the naked eye from the bottom of the average mineshaft, because the aperture is likely to be small, and there really aren't so many stars visible to the naked eye. So, if the chances are against you seeing stars by night, what price stars by daylight? Dworetsky had an appealing alternative explanation — dust or smoke emerging from the top of the shaft, glinting in the sunlight and so appearing to twinkle. Well, it made sense to me!
However, David Fryman, also of London, had other ideas! He drew my attention to ongoing correspondence in the B.A.A. Journal about the visibility of planets by daylight — a rather more practical prospect, certainly for the brighter planets, and especially so for Venus, which spends half it's life in the brightening skies after dawn. Mr Fryman had even managed to observe Mars, shortly after sunup, at magnitude -0.9. The major problem, he reported, was preventing the eye from wandering, and a fixed reference point such as a window frame was useful. The technique sounded rather like those needed to see the 3D stereograms I was so keen on a little while back.
Well, I figured it was about time I put in my two penn-orth (as we Rochdalians say) with the B.A.A. Journal.
Fortunately I had a source no one else had yet quoted — namely the B.A.A. Journal
itself! I located a discussion following presentation of a paper on "stars by Daylight"
by Revd W.F.A.Ellison in 1916. The discussion turned to observing Venus with a sextant, i.e. through a small (3/4 inch) aperture telescope. Mr M.A. Ainslie reported that "he had certainly seen Venus in the field of view of a sextant in the daytime on several occasions, but he had never been very successful in observing the planet under those conditions, nor had he ever met any navigating officer who placed much dependence on such observations."
He was about to! Captain Carpenter said "he had done a great deal of surveying at sea off the coast depending entirely on astronomical observations. The officers of the morning watch were instructed to keep touch with any planet long after daylight appeared so they could get a good daylight horizon. There is no more accurate observation than that of a star or a planet with a daylight horizon."
So daylight observations of Venus (albeit with some magnification) were part of the naval navigational repertoire. Daylight observations of the brighter stars and planets are possible for a while after sunrise, if you know how to keep your eyes fixed. But daylight observations of stars at the zenith are almost certainly not possible, and are probably explained by particles glinting in the daylight.
I summarised all this into one or two pithy paragraphs, sent off an e-mail to the Guardian
, and awaited subsequent editions of Notes and Queries. I'm still waiting! Unfortunately, the gap between the original correspondence and my final summary was nearly a year, and I rather think the good chaps at the Guardian
have lost interest.
Never mind? I had a lot of fun researching my contributions to the debate. I have always found it one of the great pleasures of astronomy that the myths of old can yield nuggets of science, and in this case I came across some completely unexpected gems. And it seems that, in this case at least, there really is nothing new under the Sun.
Last weekend I located a copy of David Hughes 1983 article in the
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (QJRAS 24, 246?257,
1983), "On Seeing Stars (especially up chimneys)". He mentions many instances
of daylight stars in science and literature (Kipling and Dickens, for example),
but my favourite is Sir Robert Stawell Bull, Lowndean Professor of Astronomy
at the University of Cambridge. In his 1908 book Star Land, he wrote "...stars may be seen occasionally through the tall chimney attached to
a manufactory when an opportune disuse of the chimney permits of the observation
being made." The accompanying picture shows a rather stout chap at
the base of such a chimney and apparently the stout chap looks rather
like Professor Sir Robert!
A Companion to the Sun?
In 1994 I took leave of my senses and made an application to the Open
University to do their course on Astronomy and Planetary Science.
One of the assignments, was to write an imaginary article to the local
newspaper about an astronomical event that would interest the readers without
alarming them. This is what I wrote.
A companion star to the Sun, called a Brown Dwarf as been observed in the direction of the constellation ORION. If you go out on a clear night at about 8pm and look due south you will see four bright stars in the shape of a long oblong box which has been pushed out of shape. Across the centre of this box you will see three bright stars in a line, this is the constellation Orion. The top left hand star, which is a ruddy yellow colour and very bright is called Betelgeuse. The Suns companion is a Moon's diameter to the left (east) of Betelgeuse and is just visible to the naked eye.
A Brown Dwarf type star is only a fraction of the mass of the sun, in fact, it can only be up to 80 times the mass of the planet Jupiter. Whereas the Sun is over a thousand times the mass of Jupiter. The light we see from a Brown Dwarf, is by the heat generated by gravitational pressure and gravitational pressure alone. That is why it is only a faint object. In the Sun the gravitational pressure is so great that nuclear fusion takes place and the heat generated is so much hotter that it shines very much brighter.
The orbit of the Brown Dwarf is what is called highly elliptical. This can be likened to sitting down at one end of an oval (elliptical) table, with an egg cup in front of you, this represents the Sun, and the rim of the table the orbit of the Brown Dwarf. You will readily appreciate that when the Brown Dwarf's orbit is at the opposite end of the table, it is very much further away from the Sun and travelling slowly, but when it is on the rim of the table nearest the egg cup it is at its closest point to the Sun and travelling fast.
The time it takes for the Brown Dwarf to complete one orbit is around two million years and the reason we have not seen it before, is because it has been too far away. lt will miss us by several hundred million miles and there is no chance of it causing any disturbance on Earth. As for normal everyday activity it will be just another faint star in a myriad of stars orbiting in the celestial globe.
There is one possible thing it might do and that is right out on boundary of the Solar System.
Way out past the furthest planets, there is a region which is known as the Oort Cloud, and this is where there are tens of thousands of comet like objects. If the gravitational pull of the Brown Dwarf should disturb the orbit of some of these comets, our forebears several generations hence ( 2 million years ) will be entertained to some spectacular cometary sights.
My tutors remarks on the above, "You have given the important scientific detail in an appropriate manner. However your account needs to be a little more dramatic to attract and hold the reader."
What I did not put in the article because it was not supposed to alarm the public was that on working out the orbital period of the Brown Dwarf, it came to two million years, and if you remember, that was the length of time it would take for the disturbed comets in the Oort cloud to reach us. Which means of course, we are now due for a visit of several or several thousand comets. You will have noticed that there are quite a few comets about and several of these are non-periodic.
Is this the beginning of a massive cometary display? If it is, it could also be the beginning of the end of life on earth.
Conclusion, do all the things you have wanted to do because it's later than you think.
Come to think of it, that's not a bad thing to do anyway. Me, well I'm storing the tubers for next years Dahlias; hope springs eternal from the human breast.
By Mike Frost
Regular readers of Mira will know of my attempts to appear in the Guardian newspaper's "Notes and Queries"
column, submitting answers to all sorts of arcane questions. Recently, I tried my luck with another department of the newspaper. Every Saturday, they publish an "urban myth", from the collections made by Healey and Glanville. You know the sort of thing - the poodle put to dry in the microwave oven, human bones in the Chinese takeaway and other unpalatable tales which are supposed to have happened to "friends of friends".
Perhaps not surprisingly, astronomy and science were under-represented, so I fired off a few of my best stories to the compilers. I've kept in a couple of tales which have nothing to do with astronomy. So far the Guardian have printed one story, although they rewrote the details quite substantially. Guess which story!
(1) Most astronomers have heard rumours of a ghastly death in one of the major American observatories. One morning, the day staff came into the observatory to find a terrible sight. One of their fellow astronomers, crushed against a wall, was impaled through the eye socket by the eyepiece of his telescope. When they retraced his observations they found he had discovered a new feature on the planet Jupiter. Sketching away, he had failed to notice that motor drive was remorselessly pushing telescope and observer closer and closer to the edge of their working range. Suddenly, the poor astronomer must have felt pressure on his eyeball, and realised he was close to being trapped by his instrument. But there was just one last detail he had to memorise....
(2) An astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, with a reputation for deep sky photography, once had a phone call from a picture editor of a large international publisher. This publisher was producing an encyclopedia of science, and the picture editor was after a photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy, to illustrate the article on astronomy. The problem, the picture editor explained, was that all the photos he'd seen so far of this galaxy were exactly the same, taken from rather a flat angle. "We'd like to commission some fresh photos taken from a little higher up...."
(3) The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were due to open a new public observatory. Unusually for important occasions in astronomy, the weather was fine and the clouds had stayed away. Half an hour before the dignitaries were due to arrive, the observatory curator located Saturn in the night sky, set the motor drive to follow the planet as it crossed the sky, and then shut up shop in case of a sudden rain shower before the royal party reached the telescope.
The ceremonies went swimmingly. The curator was introduced to the royals by the Lord mayor, and then the curator introduced the observatory staff one-by-one. A tour of the observatory followed, culminating in a return to the telescope to show the Queen what delights were in store for the observing public.
The party entered the telescope dome, and the curator opened up the dome to show the night sky, blazing regally overhead. "And now Your Majesty", he said proudly," perhaps you'd like to take a look at the planet Saturn". The Queen bent down to the eyepiece, squinted, and suddenly exclaimed "Oh, how beautiful! Are those the rings?". It was the proudest moment of the curator's career. Prince Philip followed, but he seemed less impressed. "Hmmph!"
As they left the observatory, the Duke motioned the curator over and whispered to him. "You can't see a bloody thing!"
The curator had forgotten to take the cap off the end of the telescope.
(4) A student sitting first year exams at Cambridge (my old university) arrived bearing a huge copy of the university regulations. Shortly after the examination began he called over the invigilator. "A flagon of ale and a pontefract cake, please". The invigilator looked at him like he was mad, but the student pointed smugly to the university regulations for 1536. "All candidates for ye examination shall be entitled to a flagon of ale and a pontefract cake." The ancient rule had never been revoked, and the poor invigilator had to nip down to the off license to buy the student's ale.
Chuffed by his success, the cocky student tried the same trick in the exam the next day - and was fined twenty guineas for not wearing a sword!
(5) At Sussex University (my other alma mater), one year back in the sixties, the students for the final year philosophy exam were horrified to find that their final paper consisted of one single question, consisting of one single word.
Several students gained good upper seconds for answering "Why not?", and one intrepid soul scored a starred first for a bold "Because!"
(6) I actually heard this one! It was on Radio 4's Today programme - where they really ought to know better. The newsreader had described the successful 18 month observing run of the Magellan probe, which had extensively mapped Venus by radar. Now, however, the announcer said, the propellant was running low, "... and so the spaceship was returning home to Earth".
The thought that NASA would spend huge amounts of fuel to bring a spent spaceship home is quite amusing (it burnt up in the Venusian atmosphere). Perhaps the journalists thought the camera film had to be dropped off at the chemist!
By Mike Frost
Sometimes things happen to me quite by accident! When I went on my (late) summer holidays to Turkey, I had completely forgotten that there was a partial eclipse of the Sun on Saturday October 12th. It wasn't until I caught up reading my Astronomy Now that I realised there was a possibility I might catch the eclipse. But was it visible from Turkey? I read in the English papers that the limits of the eclipse were Cairo and Moscow; so the south coast of Turkey looked at least possible.
But at what time? The eclipse was scheduled for early afternoon in England, and I figured it would therefore be at least two hours later because of the time difference, plus a little more for the eclipse track to cross Europe. The timing of the eclipse was very important to me, as I was scuba diving out of the port of Fethiye on Saturday afternoon. The possibility of making underwater observations of the eclipse was rather appealing, so I packed my binoculars, and before the dive began I started projecting the sun onto the dive boat deck at regular intervals, to try and spot the onset of the eclipse. As we prepared to dive, I even persuaded one of my fellow divers, owner of an underwater camera, to take a look above him and try and photograph the eclipse from a very different viewpoint!
Alas, dive time came, at 3pm, with no sign of the eclipse beginning. As we descended to 20m, I checked the surface, still visible above me. Even if the eclipse was underway, the surface waves split the image of the sun into a thousand glittering fragments, and I doubted that I would have spotted an eclipse in progress. (Now if the eclipse had been total, that would have been different!). So half an hour later I surfaced, dried myself off, and resumed my vigil with the binoculars.
As the dive boat chugged back to port and the Moon stubbornly refused to appear, another exciting possibility began to occur to me. What if the eclipse was so late that it would last until sunset? Now there would be a sight to see.... if only I could get to see it! From Fethiye the Sun set behind mountains. I had to get back to my resort, Olu Deniz, where I knew I could see an unobstructed horizon.
The boat docked at 5pm. I leapt ashore, sprinted across Fethiye, and flung myself aboard a dolmus heading over the mountains to Olu Deniz. The minibus-taxi had tinted windows, and as we headed up the hairpins, averted glances at the solar disk through the windows told me the eclipse was finally under way!
Dolmuses travel at breakneck speed but they are forever stopping to drop off passengers. It was 5.40 pm by the time we screamed down the hill into Olu Deniz. I hurled myself off the bus at my hotel, flung my scuba gear through the door of my room, picked up my camera and a spare film, and set off again like Sebastian Coe, cursing the fact that my hotel was half a mile from the beach; and the wrong end of the beach at that!
Fortunately I'm a runner as well as a diver; so I covered the mile or so at pace - who said beach holidays were relaxing! Earlier in my holiday I had observed several sunsets (in a fruitless attempt to see the green flash again) from the White Dolphin restaurant at the east end of the beach. The restaurant is up a flight of about half a million steps, which I now sprinted up two at a time.
At the top of the steps is a bar. The barman was used to tourists languidly making their way up to watch the sunset - I don't think he had encountered too many people who arrived gasping for breath and then proceeded to try and bum the sun's image into the wall of his bar with a pair of binoculars. To keep the barman happy I ordered a drink; then I noted the progress of the eclipse. Ten to fifteen percent of the disk of the sun was covered, and it was only ten minutes from sunset - so yes, I was going to see a sunset eclipse!
As the sun sank, and more and more sunlight was scattered, it became possible to observe the eclipse safely with the naked eye. In the last few seconds of the sunset binocular observations became possible - and what a view! As the Sun approached the horizon, its reflection in the calm waters of the Mediterranean became clearer and clearer, and I saw a mirror image of the eclipse reflected in the blue sea. Finally, as the Sun began to sink below the horizon, there was a stunning sight. As the Moon touched the horizon, the fiery red of the sun was split into two by the utter blackness of the eclipsing Moon, and for a few seconds I had two separated sunsets - deep red diamonds of light shrinking rapidly into the ocean. Moments later, first one and then the other Sun flickered out, and I was left with a smooth red horizon. What a finish!
The dotted line shows where the sun is eclipsed by the Moon
I have two regrets. First, that there was no green flash - as I was in position to see a unique DOUBLE green flash as each of the two segments set separately. And second my own inability to organise a decent telephoto lens. For what I saw through my binoculars was a sight every bit as awe inspiring as a view of totality - two beautiful lozenges of red slipping into an azure sea. A photograph to die for, and all I had was a 50mm lens...
Never mind - there's always another eclipse!