Beautiful Ghosts

24th Dec 2016


Observing planetary nebulae is, in a word, awe-inspiring.

It’s awe-inspiring because one is looking at a star dying in the night sky, its shroud of cast-off gas forming one of the most beautiful objects in the cosmos. With some planetary nebulae, one can see the dying star’s exposed core – an incredibly hot, tiny white dwarf – lying at the centre of the bubble of glowing gas, and illuminating the ghost of its former self in spectacular colours and

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Carl Sagan

20th Dec 2016


Carl Sagan died twenty years ago today at the far-too-young age of 62. Sitting out in the dark with my telescope, looking up at the universe, I could hear his wonderful voice, lingering luxuriantly on his consonants… “There is a wide yawning black infinity. In every direction the extension is endless, the sensation of depth is overwhelming. And the darkness is immortal. Where light exists, it is pure, blazing, fierce; but light exists almost nowhere, and the blackness itself is

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19th Dec 2016

lunar-orbiter-4-imageOn the northwest shore of the Moon’s lovely little Sinus Asperitatis (Bay of Asperity) lies a crater that commemorates Hypatia, one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria, and one of the first women to study and teach mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

Crater Hypatia’s shape and form has been battered beyond recognition by subsequent impacts. Yet I think this beautiful wrecked formation on the face of the Moon is a fitting memorial to Hypatia who, in 415

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Hydrus, Sinuous Snake

hydrus-constellation-map-1Yesterday morning on my early morning Kalahari walk, I met a Cape cobra on the path. It was absolutely terrifying. The Cape cobra is one of the deadliest snakes in Africa; drop for drop its venom is one of the most potently neurotoxic, a particularly unpleasant way to be despatched to the stars.

As anyone living in the bush knows, snakes are never far away in Africa. But you seldom see them. Most, bar the sluggish puff adder, sense your

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Symphonies and Uranus

w-herschel-symphony-no-15-autograph-scoreWho amongst us isn’t dumfounded at the genius and mighty life-work of William Herschel?

Arguably the greatest of all astronomical observers, I was wondering last night what he would have said if, at the height of his music career, it had been suggested to him that the world would forget that he was ever a musician and composer, and would remember him as one of the most brilliant astronomers that the ages have ever known?

He was, in fact, a

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Carina’s Open Clusters

kuruman-river-rocksAs a keen rockhound, I like to forage along the dry riverbed of the Kuruman River with my dog Waldo. Like other Kalahari rivers, the Kuruman River is a vast wide dry shallow riverbed, sandy and heavily grassed over, and it only flows during the occasional flash flood – the last time was in 1974 (and people came from far and wide in the Kalahari to look at a torrential river gushing through the desert).

Here and there 

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