The Discovery of Uranus (1781)

On this day (13 March) in 1781 William Herschel discovered Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun. Initially, he believed it to be a comet, but by 1783 Herschel accepted it as the first planet to be discovered since antiquity. The planet is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark.

He was born in Hanover on 15 November 1738. After a period as a musician in the Hanoverian Military Band, Herschel emigrated to England When he was nineteen. After initially acting as a musician in Sunderland, Newcastle, Leeds and Halifax, he eventually moved to Bath and became organist at the Octagon Chapel. He became increasingly interested in astronomy, constructing his own telescope, with which he discovered Uranus.

Herschel later moved to Slough, where he continued his astronomical work and discoveries, assisted by his sister, Caroline, a considerable astronomer in her own right. He made many other discoveries, including infrared radiation. A crater on the Moon is named after him, as is minor planet 2000 Herschel.

Note: Much of the information in this blog post comes from this book.

Our names are on Mars!

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover recently landed successfully on Mars and immediately started sending photos, videos, and information back to Earth. You can follow the mission here.

Before the mission launched we sent our names to NASA and these are now on Mars, the above photo is Pollyanna’s boarding pass. Who knows if our children will ever make it to Mars, but if they do, their names will already be waiting for them!

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis. Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars. Source

Coronavirus Vaccination

To say I was excited when I received my vaccination appointment would be an understatement.

However, you would be wrong to think I’ve been living in fear since March 2020, although I’ve had a measure of concern because of my age, susceptibility to chest infections, and underlying asthma (although well-controlled). And, even though I’m generally fit and healthy, I’ve been scrupulous in protecting myself and my family from coronavirus.

Our surgery was really well organised, and the longest wait was fifteen minutes afterwards (in a marquee) to make sure I was OK. I received my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and I’ll get my second dose in twelve weeks time.

I do encourage you to have the coronavirus vaccine when your turn comes, please ignore all the rubbish that’s spoken and written about them.

The coronavirus vaccines are based on decades of scientific progress and practice. Yes, the development has been speeded up because we’re in a crisis, but scientific corners haven’t been cut. Remember, the flu vaccine is a new vaccine every year, and is based on the same scientific foundations. Be grateful for the 24/7 commitment to this cause, and please don’t spread misinformation. See here.

As a friend pointed out: The only corners that have been cut are the waiting for funding for each step through the process (it’s been made available immediately instead of waiting until the next financial period or whatever), and the hunt for a suitable selection of people to test the vaccine on (they have been inundated with volunteers). It just shows what can be done when there is the motivation.

Five Covid-19 vaccine false theories – debunked

Mars Perseverance (Album)

To commemorate the new Mars Perseverance Rover landing on February 18, 2021, Aural Films presents a collection of new music inspired by the Mars Mission composed by 37 artists from around the world. Listen to this extended soundtrack of more than 4 hours of new music celebrating the Mars Perseverance Rover landing.

All proceeds from this project will be donated to the Feeding America project who are working to support over 25 million people that do not have food. Please lend a hand by purchasing this album to help others and get over 4 hours of great space music for your support.

Read more (with links) here: Mars Perseverance

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Darwin Day (12 February)

Darwin Day is a worldwide celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. The day highlights Darwin’s contributions to science and is an opportunity to promote science in general. In an age when science and critical thinking is often derided, ignorance nourished, and fake news cultivated, we do well to heed scientists and experts. Darwin Day is an opportunity to engage our brains as we journey through life, rejecting ignorance, bigotry and prejudice.

See also: The Magic of Reality (Dawkins)

Home Schooling (Dolphins)

Home schooling can be quite a challenge sometimes, but it was an absolute delight learning about dolphins with Matilda (4). The task set by her teacher was to watch a video and then answer some questions in an online worksheet.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, because they sleep with only one half of their brain (in four hourly periods). This is so they can keep on breathing and not drown; I needed to explain to Matilda that they’re mammals and not fish. It also ensures they can look out for danger, keeping their muscles working to maintain their body temperature. They also have their own name, watch the video! They can’t smell, but do use echolocation to identify dangers before they can see them.

We also learnt that dolphins eat fish, squid, and octopus, amongst other things, to which Matilda replied, “But octopus don’t like being eaten.”

Note: While learning about sleeping with one eye open, I couldn’t helping thinking about Enter Sandman by Metallica.

Luna 9 (1966)

On this day (3 February) in 1966, the Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 9 spacecraft achieved the first survivable landing on the Moon, and we saw the first pictures from another celestial body.

The lander had a mass of 99 kilograms. It used a landing bag to survive the impact speed of 22 kilometres per hour. It was a hermetically sealed container with radio equipment, a program timing device, heat control systems, scientific apparatus, power sources, and a television system. Wikipedia

Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.