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

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.

Particle Physics (Ben Still)

Having abbreviated the title, here it is in all it’s glory: Particle Physics Brick by Brick: Atomic and Subatomic Physics Explained‚Ķ in Lego.

My wife Naomi bought this book for me as a Christmas present in 2019, and it’s the first book I’ve read in 2021. My delay was partly because I knew it would be challenging, and indeed it was! One review on Goodreads puts it very well: Over-complicated, but it’s not the author’s fault, it’s just how our Universe is.

Particle Physics is hard, even with LEGO, but it’s an excellent book that I’ll need to read again sometime. This stuff baffles even the best minds in the world, so don’t expect to understand it by simply reading this book, however good. My favourite quote from the book, We are still very much in the dark about dark energy.

There are related resources on the author’s website here.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2021 books here.

How to Build a Universe


I always like to be reading a popular science book, and I’ve recently finished this excellent book by Professor¬†Brian Cox & Robin Ince. It’s based on the acclaimed¬†BBC Radio and podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s witty and comedic, an irreverent celebration of science and the wonders of the universe; totally silly in places and incredibly thought-provoking and mind-blowing in others.

Having three young children has meant that my reading habits have declined of late, but this was one of the books helping me get back into it; not least because this one is in a magazine format with diagrams, photos and lines drawings enhancing the text and dividing into manageable size chunks.

The title¬†The Infinite Monkey Cage comes from the¬†infinite monkey theorem¬†which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). Wikipedia

Astronomy Picture of the Day


I’ve always had an interest in astronomy; it goes right back to my childhood, and it’s nurtured my love of science as well as my outlook on life. I’ll probably write about it in the future. In the meantime, one of the websites I visit on a daily basis (as well as the BBC and Facebook amongst others) is Astronomy Picture of the Day.¬†Every day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer. I often bookmark some of the best ones, although you need to save the link in the archive rather than the main page (otherwise you get taken back to the main page in future).

Footnote: As I was writing this the death of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon was announced.¬†“We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.” – Cernan’s closing words on leaving the moon at the end of Apollo 17.