Drinking the Rubicon

July 25, 2007

Caesar crossing the Rubicon (Ridpath)On the way down south recently, my girlfriend handed me a fruit drink called Rubicon. How strange. I felt at the edge of history. I opened the can and held it open before me, pausing. If I drink this now, I thought, there is no going back…

So I did. It was yummy. Will get it again. Rubicon crossed.

Acid flashback

July 22, 2007

The Daily Galaxy has an item about a white dwarf with a crystallised carbon core – the largest known diamond. They called it Lucy, after the Beatle’s song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds . This LSD reminder gave me flashback to my days at QMW in London. Glenn White, who is a molecular cloud freak, got fed up with us extragalactic types getting in the papers all the time just because we had measured the mean density of the cosmos, or found the most luminous object in the universe and so on. So he came back from Hawaii having made even more CO measurements of some cloud or other, and put out a press release announcing that he had found enough carbon to make all the world’s pencils. Err yeah right. Worked though .. Daily Mail lapped it up.

Pluto : the IAU should be very afraid… apparently

July 22, 2007

Just about every day somebody finds my old blog posts on Pluto through a Google search. One describes being at the IAU vote; one was about the bizarre attempts at legislation in New Mexico and California; and another, a link to the beautiful image of solar system bodies made by Alan Taylor. I got into a rather intense debate with Laurel Kornfeld. So I just went to check on how the “Please Save Pluto” petition is going.

The petition entries keep growing but their standard is getting even lower, and indeed are becoming even more unpleasant. Here are a few samples

  • 2056. URL | July 20th, 2007 at 5:50 am

    WE SHALL GIVE IAU A WAR THEY DESERVE ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • 2048. OPAL | July 19th, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I cant believe the IAU would do such a nasty thing ! I will not let this happen , its time to take them down ! down to hell !

  • 2025. JADA | July 18th, 2007 at 4:23 am

    IAU likes to suck dicks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 2007. ULA | July 17th, 2007 at 12:44 am
    I love you pluto. The IAU are just being cock suckers!
  • 2000. XANTHUS | July 17th, 2007 at 12:23 am

    FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO POOR PLUTO ! ! ! ! ! DOWN WITH IAU FOREVER ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • 1999. QUINNA | July 17th, 2007 at 12:19 am

    GIVE US BACK PLUTO YOU SHIT FACES ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • 1976. SONYA | July 16th, 2007 at 11:16 pm
    THE IAU MUST PAY ! ! ! ! !
  • 1957. XENIYA | July 16th, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    THE ASSHOLES WHO WORK AT IAU ETTER GIVE BACK PLUTO OR ELSE ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • 1956. Big Brother | July 16th, 2007 at 10:07 am
    To all of you Pluto Kooks
    WE are watching YOU!
    You have been warned

Well, I’m convinced, aren’t you ?

Haute Couture at MIT

July 17, 2007

I so couldn’t be an astronaut because those big clumsy suits just make you look like an oaf, darling. But now MIT have made space safe for Sloane Rangers, having designed a sleek and sexy spacesuit. Sign me up.

Yes, I know this has been all round the web already, but I just love it. When I was a postdoc at MIT yonks ago it was all nerds, pizza and T-shirts that said “IHTFP”. (Do I have to spell it out ?). You had to walk up to Harvard Square to find anybody with any dress sense. I guess things have changed. The suit looks great and so does Dava. Down boy Down.

Almost meeting famous people

July 16, 2007

Sitting listening to Brian May reheat his thirty year old PhD project at Michael Rowan-Robinson’s birthday conference, it occurred to me that my life has been gently brushed by greatness. You may think I am an ordinary sort of chap, but I will have you know that when a small boy I used to live across the road from Norman Wisdom‘s Aunty. I realise that at this point all the non-UK readers are staring blankly, but my Brit chums are certainly impressed. A few years after this, my best friend had an older brother whose boots were stolen by Donovan on Margate beach. I went to the same school as Ted Heath, but of course he was there some years before me. When I went on my first observing run to CTIO, there was an anti-Pinochet riot in Santiago just before I got there, and another one just after I left, but when I was there it all seemed pretty normal.

And so it goes on through life. Most of the time History is something that is happening on TV, but every so often it gets within a few feet of your nose, just for a while, and when it does you are too polite to point. My son Kit joined a local kids drama group, along with one Jessica Rowling. At the next show, J.K. was there with all the other proud parents of the spotty young luvvies. It was really sad though. There was a kind of bubble of empty seats round her, as nobody wanted to be obvious. Our friend Alethea, one of those pushy confident upper middle class mums, instructed her husband Baljean to go and talk to Jo. I have never seen anyone look so miserable. (Baljean, not Jo). At the next show, she had friends with her, so Baljean was spared. By this time I was of course plotting marriage between Kit and Jessica. Unfortunately Kit decided this drama stuff was bore-ring, and he returned to more normal teenage boy pursuits like playing Grand Theft Auto and having his BB gun confiscated by teachers and so forth. So thats that.

Of course when I was a lad I daydreamed of being Fred Hoyle, as well as Jimi Hendrix. One day somewhere into my second postdoc I realised that there are more rock musicians in the world than astronomers. Hey, this is cool and one dream is enough. So many years later there I am, at a conference specially to celebrate the 65th bithday of my long time collaborator and friend, Michael Rowan-Robinson. Much sentimental talk of the good old IRAS galaxy redshift survey days, and how we discovered the most luminous object in the Universe. I was slated to review the subject of the Unification of Active Galaxies. What a clever chap. My talk is loaded up here. It was I hope a good talk. (Fellow blogger Andrew Jaffe‘s certainly was).

But suddenly up pops fame again. Not only did Brian May give a cogent talk on Zodiacal Dust, he added a movie he made of the dust being made in solar system collisions, complete with grandiose guitar sound track. And two days later Richard Ellis started his talk accompanied by a BBC film crew, Caltech having issued a press release about the six faint smudges that MIGHT be redshift ten galaxies. I got back to my room and thought well I can blog about that. But of course Chris Lintott, who was also there, had already done it.

Oh well.

A Sandwich at the End of the Universe

July 5, 2007

I am in Margate visiting my Mum and Dad. They are in two plastic urns in my sister’s kitchen. My family are fairly knees-up-Mother-Brown if you know what I mean. I am the exotic boffin. One of the first things sister Sue said to me on this visit was “What was that thing I read in the paper about the Universe then ?”. Its hard to answer this question, because I don’t read the Sun or the Daily Mail so I have no idea what she is talking about. She digs it out. “See, it says you decided the Big Bang is all wrong. There’s sumfing else now.”I take a look. The basic line is that there wasn’t a unique Big Bang because the Universe had just bounced out of a Big Crunch. Is this news ? In a kind of self-parody the Oscillating Universe idea has re-emerged about once every two years since the 1960s. Right at the end of the piece there is a hint of what’s triggered the latest re-emergence, as there is a mention of Loop Quantum Gravity. Sounds interesting, but of course the people behind this idea don’t get mentioned and I still don’t know what its really all about. Its just all “scientists claim” and “now they think”. (If I can raise the energy I might dig it out. Must be Neil Turok or something like that ? Didn’t they do this about five years ago ?) Of course really I am just jealous. My ambition has always been to be in the Daily Mirror as “top boffin Andy Lawrence”. I have been in the Mirror a couple of times but it didn’t say “top boffin”. So my career is not complete yet.

So then we all went off to Sandwich. This really is where the sandwich was invented, by the Earl of Sandwich, an obsessed and lazy gambler. Sandwich is full of pubs and smart restaurants, so it was actually quite hard to find a cafe that would just serve you a sandwich, but eventually we did and I had a rather nice tuna baguette with pesto.

We were in Sandwich to see the gardens at a fancy house called “The Salutation“. My nephew Steve Edney is the head gardener there and has had a big hit restoring the gardens designed in 1912 by Jekyll and Lutyens. Suddenly I am no longer the family celebrity. Steve has been in the local paper and on TV and Monty Don gave it a plug. So I will too.