The top ten ephemeral moments in the sky

As part of the build-up to next week’s Mercury transit, I’ve put together a list for Sky & Telescope on the top ten fleeting phenomena in astronomy…


At Number 10: An Overhead Pass of the International Space Station.
Image: Bob King.


Coming soon: there will be a lovely ‘ephemeral moment’ at the end of this month… Shortly after sunset on 28 and 29 November, a crescent moon will hang above the horizon next to three planets.


Image: Sky & Telescope.


 

Physics at the movies

The November 2019 Physics World is a special issue on “Physics at the movies – the science behind the scenes”.

Among the highlights: Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe talks to friend and physicist Jess Wade about what it’s like as an actor to work with visual effects (VFX), from 3D body mapping to green screens and tennis balls. And Benedict Cumberbatch, who once starred as Stephen Hawking, explains the challenges of portraying scientists in film.

My contribution was an interview with Douglas Trumbull, the legendary VFX pioneer who has worked on classic films including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner:


Fun fact: we are in Blade Runner month… A caption at the beginning of the 1982 film announces the story’s setting — LOS ANGELES / NOVEMBER, 2019.


 

Astronomy for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Japan, along with most of the Asia-Pacific region, will miss out on next week’s transit of Mercury. The country will, however, be hosting an International Astronomical Union (IAU) symposium on “Astronomy for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion — a roadmap to action within the framework of the IAU 100th Anniversary”.

The event will be held over four days at the Mitaka campus of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo. The keynote speakers are:

  • Jarita Holbrook (University of the Western Cape, South Africa) — “Using Cultural Astronomy to Create a More Inclusive Astronomy”
  • Santiago Vargas (National University of Colombia) — “The need for reinforcing the implementation of inclusion and diversity strategies as ordinary actions towards the social and scientific development of our society”
  • Jeff Cooke (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) — “The Deeper, Wider, Faster program: A platform for collaborative science, inclusion advancement, and STEM promotion to the general public”
  • Yuko Motizuki (Saitama University, Japan) — “Women in Astronomy: A view from a gender-imbalanced country”

I’ll be reporting on the conference, including the Inspiring Stars Exhibition on day 2, which will feature works from around the world that address the concept of “inclusion”.

Image: IAU.

How ‘the little stuff’ helps language learners

Later this month the Japanese publisher CosmoPier is bringing out a special magazine on foreign TV dramas that can help people learn English. I was asked to write a piece about the BBC comedy The Office.

How can The Office help learners improve their English skills? I quoted the show’s creators, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

SM: The difference between our show and other sitcoms that are in an office is that they always seem to be too full of incident. There’s people doing one-liners and being zany, which is not what the experience of being in an office is like at all. It is just about monotony, occasionally interspersed with someone making a joke. So we wanted lots of sequences of people just working.

RG: Drama is life with the boring bits taken out. But we left some of them in. Because they can be the funniest bits.

The boring bits can also be the most useful bits for English learners. Many students say that the most challenging part of learning a foreign language is not ‘the big stuff’, like giving a presentation. Instead, it is ‘the little stuff’: things like small talk, chit-chat and banter.

Gracias a San José de Jáchal

Our livestream concluded with an eclipsed sun setting behind the Andes.



Thank you to everyone in San José de Jáchal, Argentina, who helped us deliver a fabulous timeanddate.com livestream of last week’s total solar eclipse. The support we received from the Municipalidad de Jáchal was simply incredible; we’re especially grateful to Domingo Martinez and Matías Torres. Thank you also to Anibal Heredia for the following photos.

The timeanddate.com team in Jáchal: Steffen Thorsen …

… Anne Buckle …

… Adalbert Michelic (centre) and me, alongside the mayor of Jáchal, Miguel Vega (left).

Setting up on the roof of the town hall …

… and talking to local media.

Wish you were here? 7 chances to experience totality in the 2020s

My latest piece for Physics World is a travel guide to the seven total solar eclipses of the 2020s.

Physics World logo


Luxor, on the banks of the River Nile in Egypt, will enjoy 6 minutes 22 seconds of totality on 2 August 2027. (Image: Mahmoud Algazzar)

The return of the Moondance

In the 22 months since the ‘Great American’ total solar eclipse swept across the USA, we’ve had three total lunar eclipses and four partial solar eclipses. Now, the big Moondance is back…


On 2 July a total solar eclipse will take place over the South Pacific Ocean and a narrow strip of Chile and Argentina. I’ll be joining the team from timeanddate.com in San José de Jáchal — in the Argentinian province of San Juan — for a live broadcast of totality.


The path of totality for next week — where the sun is completely covered by the moon — is the (very narrow) dark red strip. The lighter regions indicate areas where a partial solar eclipse is visible.
(Image: timeanddate.com)

An enormous thank you to Luis Domingo Martinez and Matías Torres at the Municipalidad de Jáchal for all their support.

The top five films about science or scientists

To celebrate the Oscars weekend, Physics World asked me to come up with the top 5 films about science or scientists. They span 51 years and include two Stanley Kubricks, one Ridley Scott, one Steven Spielberg, and one film by the not-so-famous Shane Carruth.

My top 5, in order of the year of release, is as follows. My reasons for choosing them are here.


  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
    1964 | Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
    1968 | Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Jurassic Park
    1993 | Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Primer
    2004 | Director: Shane Carruth
  • The Martian
    2015 | Director: Ridley Scott

The Martian is also one of the great disco movies…

Japanese spacecraft set to attempt asteroid sample grab

At around 8am on Friday morning (Japan time), Hayabusa2 will attempt to grab a sample from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. My latest piece for Physics World is an interview with mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa.

Citizen scientists spot meteorite strike during lunar eclipse

This week’s total lunar eclipse featured a dramatic bonus: shortly after the start of totality, a space rock hit the moon and vaporised in a flash of light. My latest piece for Physics World tells the story…

Can you spot the lunar flash…?
Here is a link to the moment of impact on our timeanddate.com broadcast. It’s on the left edge of the moon, just below the 10 o’clock position, at 04:41:43 UTC.