The Antikythera Mechanism (1902)

On this day (17 May) in 1902, a small piece of bronze caught the eye of archaeologist Valerios Stais.. He was examining artefacts from a wrecked Roman cargo ship off the island of Antikythera in Greece.

It looked like a small wheel or cog, in fact he had just discovered what has come to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first analogical computer.

This extraordinary two-thousand-year-old computer system was used by the ancient Greeks as an astronomical calculator, able to chart the planets and make predictions. The extraordinary device is believed to have been made on the island of Rhodes around 150 BC, and classical literature of the time does allude to mechanisms similar to this one, meaning this was unlikely to be the only one of its kind. Well over a hundred years after its discovery, the Antikythera mechanism is still being extensively researched, in an attempt to fully unlock an ancient piece of human ingenuity. Source

The Antikythera Mechanism is also a 2020 album by my friend Jack Hertz.

The day they banned kissing

Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic we’re well aware of restrictions designed to prevent the spread of this deadly virus, and we’ve been fortunate to have modern medicine to help us. But in sixteenth-century Europe a second, deadly round of plague was spreading like wildfire and city officials across Europe desperately sought methods of prevention against the fearsome epidemic.

On this day (9 March) in 1562, the authorities in Naples believed that one way to battle against the spread of the disease was to ban kissing in public. They took the law so seriously that couples caught kissing could be punished by death.

It wasn’t the first time that a city had enforced such a strict law on public displays of affection. In 1439, Henry VI banned kissing in England in another attempt to prevent infection from spreading. People refused to accept the ban and it was subsequently lifted. Bans of this nature were also imposed during more modern times. In 1910, kissing was banned at railway stations in France, in the belief that lovers, family and friends saying their goodbyes caused delays to the train service. In 1982, kissing for ‘pleasure’ was outlawed in Iran, and similarly in 1992 students at Qingdao Binhai University in China were prevented from openly displaying any form of affection, including holding hands or sharing earphones. Most recently in 2003, to the horror of the general public, a law was passed in Moscow enforcing a ban on kissing in public, imposed on all members of society. This was intended to raise levels of public morality. People of Moscow defied the ban by kissing complete strangers and the proposed law was eventually abandoned. Source

Free Floating Planets

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has spotted a number of ‘free floating’ planets in deep space. The telescope discovered four rogue planets with a similar mass to Earth. However, none of them were attached to our solar system.

NASA Exoplanets shared the names of the two planets and wrote that it added to the total of 4,424 found exoplanets. The two planets were named Kepler-129d and GJ849c. (July 2021)

Free-floating planetary mass ‘may represent the end-states of disrupted exoplanetary systems’, according University of Manchester researchers.

Annular Solar Eclipse (2021)

On 10 June 2021 there was an annular solar eclipse, when the Moon is too far from the Earth to completely cover the disc of the Sun. The Moon was only two days past apogee (its farthest distance from the Earth) and so a ‘ring of fire’ appeared around the Moon.

Not many people were around to see it though, as it was only fully visible in very northerly latitudes. The ground track where the full eclipse was visible began in Arctic Canada, then passing across northwestern Greenland, the Arctic Ocean (it crossed the North Pole), finishing off in the far corner of northeastern Siberia.

The width of any solar eclipse path is always narrow (this time 527 km across), but a partial eclipse was visible over a much wider area of the northern hemisphere. I was able to briefly see a ‘bite’ taken out of the Sun from Northern England when it was behind some thick cloud, but it was only a very quick glance.

Important Note: Never look directly at the Sun.

See also: A Very British Eclipse

We are all hypocrites!

When it comes to pollution and climate change, we’re all hypocrites!

But being a hypocrite doesn’t mean that we can’t make our feelings known, and it doesn’t mean that the message of environmental protesters is invalid.

There’s no inconsistency here, because this is so bound up with our whole way of life. Believing that criticism of those protesting will make the problem go away is futile. Radical change is needed.

As individuals we can only do so much, corporations and governments have to make the changes for the wellbeing of the planet.

While we live in a consumer society, one that is generally uncaring for the environment, we’re all hypocrites when demanding change. Yes, we can make small changes on an individual basis, but the main change has to come from governments and corporations – probably with government incentives etc.

Even Greta Thunberg can’t be completely unhypocritical while the system remains unchanged, but genuine virtue signalling combined with small personal initiatives have their place.

Whataboutery gets us nowhere and can easily become an excuse for inaction.

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