Friday, 31 October 2014

JOHN CLARE,  POET  (1793 - 1864)

“Saw three fellows at the end of Royce Wood who I found were laying out the plan for an ‘Iron rail way’ from Manchester to London – it is to cross over Round Oak Spring by Royce Wood Corner for Woodcroft Castle. I little thought that fresh intrusions woud interrupt & spoil my solitudes after the Inclosure they will despoil a boggy place that is famous for Orchises at Royce Wood end.”

The Journal 4 June 1825
From: The Natural History Prose Writings of John Clare. Edited by Margaret Grainger. Clarendon Press. 1983
Comment: John Clare's prose writing is less well known than his poetry. This brief extract retains his original spelling.


Scientist and officials of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) are meeting in Denmark preparing a Synthesis Report for release on Sunday:

The Synthesis Report will form a major document for the Paris Summit on climate change in Paris in 2015, when the UN hopes to deliver a new global treaty on climate change. It brings together three earlier reports by the IPPC on the physical science, the impacts and the potential methods of dealing with climate change.

Early drafts of the Synthesis Report indicate that it underlines again the near certainty of scientists about global warming and man's role in it. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850. According to the draft, the period between 1983 and 2012 was very likely the warmest thirty year period  of the last 800 years.

Comment: The Synthesis Report will need to address the tensions between the developed and developing world on tackling climate change.

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Comet Siding Spring made a close pass by Mars on 19 October:

This was a unique event: the first time a comet from the Oort Cloud has been observed close to a planet. Since there are a number of observation instruments on the Martian surface and in orbit, this was in effect an outpost scientific observatory on Mars able to gather data on the comet's approach. Siding Spring passed 139,500 km from Mars.

The Curiosity and Opportunity surface rovers were trying to photograph the comet, while the Reconnaisance Orbiter and other satellites attempted to resolve the comet's shape, study its gas and dust shroud and the material trailing away, and examine any interactions with the Martian atmosphere.

The comet was first observed in January 2013 at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. It was possibly knocked from the remote Oort Cloud towards the inner solar system by a passing star. It is believed that the comet is very little altered from the time of its formation more than 4.5 billion years go, and may have been travelling since the dawn of man.

Comment: The initial photographs from Mars are historic but unspectacular. Hopefully detailed analysis of all the data obtained from the comet fly-past will reveal valuable scientific insight into this primordial comet. It is truly wonderful that all the instrumentation that has been placed on and around Mars has formed such a useful science laboratory outpost in place to study this unique event.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


A new study reported in Nature magazine identifies a huge rectangular buried feature on the Moon:

The 2,500 km wide structure is believed to be the remains of old rift valleys that late became filled with lava. Centred on the Procellarum region, the feature is revealed in gravity maps  acquired by Nasa's grail mission in 2012. However, it is possible to trace the outline of the rectangular region in ordinary photographs.

Professor Jeffery Andrews-Hanna said 'It's really amazing how big this feature is. It covers about 17% of the surface of the Moon.' He notes that the Procellarum  region contains a lot of naturally occurring radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium and potassium. On the early Moon these would have heated the crust which, when cooled, would have contracted. This shrinking would have ripped the surface, opening deep valleys.

This study is further proof of the value of the Grail mission, led from MIT. The two Grail satellites mapped changes in the pull of the Moon's gravity.

Comment: Recent exploration of the solar system has shifted away from the Moon, to Mars and beyond. It's good news to find scientific discoveries continuing on our closest neighbour in space.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


An esoteric bet between two renowned physicists has taken another twist:

The bet between Professors Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok was about the inflation theory of the early universe and the existence of gravitational waves.

In March this year the US BICEP team said it had found a pattern on the sky left by the rapid expansion of space fractions of a second after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. Professor Hawking said the finding was another confirmation of inflation. He also clamed he'd won a bet with Professor Turk whose Cyclic Universe Theory predicts no gravitational waves from the early universe.

However, new data has found that the group may have underestimated the influence on the data of dust in our own galaxy. Professor Turok said 'The BICEP experiment claimed that 20% of the fluctuations from the Big Bang were due these gravitational waves, the sign of inflation. However, Planck satellite data now confirms that the limit is less than 10%.

On this evidence, Professor Turok has suggested to Professor Hawking that they should refine their bet.

Comment: Theoretical physics is an exciting field of research.