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
Have you ever wondered why February is the shortest month? OK, maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway!
The problem (because that’s what it was) originates from the fact that all calendars were once lunar, and the number of lunar months does not equal the solar year. Additionally, the solar year is not exactly 365 days, and this simply compounds the problem. That’s why we add an extra day occasionally to keep the calendar in line with our annual journey around the Sun.
The problem with February goes back to the Romans, and what have they ever done for us? They used a lunar calendar, but thought it would be a good idea if winter didn’t have months. eventually (around 713 BCE) they added two months (January and February) to the end of the year, because they considered the year started with the spring equinox in March.
There was still a problem for many centuries though, because there was all sorts of tinkering for all sorts of reasons. Julius Caesar eventually initiated calendar reform creating the Julian calendar, but even then there were still problems. The months now had either thirty one or thirty days, but the year was slightly too long. They resolved this by removing one day from February and returning it once every four years.
Having more or less solved the problem, they started counting leap years every three years and messed everything up again. Emperor Augustus corrected the issue, and all was well again – until it was decided to name a month after him. Now his month (I’ll leave you to work out which one) had one less day than the one honouring Julius Caesar (you can work it out), and that was out of the question.
So, what did they do? They took another day off poor February and added it to August, obviously! Hence, February has only twenty eight days, except in a leap year. There just remained a little adjustment to the months after August, so as to avoid having three consecutive months with thirty one days.
Note: Many centuries later, most of the world moved to the Gregorian calendar, but that’s another story.
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.
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)
No one wants a slow watch, or do they? In our busy world, maybe we need to think again about the meaning of time and how we can best live in the present. The present is the only time we’re given to live in, the past has gone and the future is not guaranteed.
Last year (as our family is now complete and we’d celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary) I decided to buy Naomi an eternity ring, and because she knew I’d had my eye on a Slow Watch for a while, she bought me the watch in the photograph as an early retirement present (I retire in July this year).
I’ve had an app called TerraTime Pro on my mobile for a while now, and this has the concept of an hour hand that rotates once every twenty-four hours, rather than once every twelve hours. The idea is to reconnect with the rhythms of earth and sun, night and day, moon and stars. This is also the concept behind the one-hand of the Slow Watch.
A Slow Watch allows you to see the entire day in one view and experience time in a natural way. It fundamentally changes the way you look at your watch and gives a much better consciousness about the progression of the day. With only one glance at the watch, I get a good orientation of where I am in the day. Taking a closer look, I get a precise enough indication of the time.
This way of showing the time is inspired by the original clocks that were based on the sun clock. Those early clocks had only one hand and displayed all twenty-four hours, and you can still see them on some old church towers.
In modern life it’s so easy to chase the minutes and get stressed by time, maybe we’d all benefit from turning back time and being slow again.
Mind you, I currently only tend to wear it on my day off or holidays. Perhaps I’ll wear it more when I retire.
As I travelled down to Devon from South Wales (the eclipse was only going to be total in parts of Cornwall and Devon) I really started to capture the excitement when I stopped at a Service Area on the M5, as there was something of a party atmosphere.
I eventually parked on the waterfront at Kingsbridge, near some good public conveniences that were open 24 hours, and attempted to get some sleep in the car. Waking soon after 4.00 am I decided to make my way the coast, heading for Slapton Sands. I arrived at about 5.00 am and was totally unprepared for the level of traffic and activity going on.
There were some quite large car parks, and I managed to get one of the last spaces. It was right next to the beach, people were sleeping in cars and vans, in tents, and in sleeping bags on the beach itself. As it started to get light, there was no way I was going to get any more sleep, so I decided to get the bike out and go for an early morning cycle ride. There was a great buzz in the air; it was one of those occasions when people were drawn together by a shared experience, strangers found it easy to talk to each other. Telescopes, cameras and the like were being set up on the vantage points, and the smell of cooking was hanging in the air. By this time the authorities had closed off the car park entrances, and the refreshment vans were doing brisk business.
By about 8.00 am the traffic had become even busier, but there was nowhere to go, no sooner had people parked half on the road, half on the grass verges, they were moved on. Fields were opened up for the cars, but these eventually filled up, and still the cars were coming, causing chaos in the narrow country lanes.
I managed to see the eclipse at various stages, up to about 70% covered, but then the threatening darker clouds came and obscured the view, but nothing can prepare you for the experience of totality, and it’s impossible to adequately describe in words.
the approach of darkness
the drop in temperature
the quietness that descended on the crowds
the moment of totality
the darkness during the day
the birds flying off
the applause of the crowd
Because of the cloud cover, I saw nothing more of the eclipse as the Moon finished travelling across the Sun, although the Sun did break through later on.
And that’s my experience of the eclipse, something I will never forget. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t actually see the full eclipse, but I experienced something equally unique; it was moody, eerie, and atmospheric, to be under cloudy skies when the shadow of the Moon travelled overhead at nearly 2000 mph, a very British eclipse.
As a boy I was fascinated by the Apollo Moon landings, starting especially with Apollo 8 when men travelled to the moon for the first time (without landing) and culminating in Apollo 11 (the first landing) and subsequent missions – so much so that I kept a scrapbook and folder of memorabilia at the time.
NASA has now uploaded 19,000 hours worth of audio from the historic Apollo 11 mission which saw the first humans walk on the Moon. You can search the archive or click ‘Surprise Me’ on the website: app.exploreapollo.org
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.