Wild Northern Skies

March 19, 2013

Only connect, as Goethe said. Or was it E.MForster? Or did I already already use that gag in an earlier post? Anyhoo. Two or so weeks ago commenters on my own nuclear blog post made me eat humble pie , liberally sprinkled with Thorium. Last week I was in Thurso, in the far distant north of our fair land. “Thurso” ought to mean  to Thor’s town, but sadly it doesn’t, actually meaning “Bull’s River” or some such. However, it is just down the road from Dounreay, for many years the home of Britain’s development programme in fast breeder reactors. The last Dounreay reactor, the “Prototype Fast Reactor” was shut down in 1994, but the plant still employs large numbers of people, because of the extended decomissioning programme. The aim is to return to a brownfield site by 2036..  Nuclear power ain’t simple. Also, the MoD still run some experiments there. Its all quite nicely explained in this wikipedia page on Dounreay.

Anyway, forMilky Way from Loch More, Caithness2012 Oct 7thGordon Mackie a such a remote area, with a population of a few tens of thousands, Caithness has a substantial sprinkling of high-tech and generally educated folk, who work for Dounreay and related activities, and an active and lively Astronomical Society – the Caithness Astronomy Group. These nice folk invited me up. Being in the distant north, it takes a whole day to get there even from Edinbrr, so I was there for several days, talking to multiple primary schools and doing a public talk as well as the usual astro-soc talk.

Caithness is a great place for amateur astronomy. Its as cloudy as most of Britain, but its DARK. When I asked the primary school kids who had seen a shooting star, 80% of the hands went up. I have never seen that in Edinburgh or London … and a large fraction of the populace have seen the Milky Way. You just walk out and there it is. The CAG chairbeing, Gordon Mackie, sent me the shot you can see to the left, taken at Loch More.

Aurora over Thurso CastleGordon Mackie2011 Aug 6th Caithness is also a great place for seeing the Northern Lights. Frustratingly, there was a massive CME arriving while I was there, but it was raining … Here is another Gordon Mackie shot to make up for it. Another ace astro-photographer is Stewart Watt. You can see his collection at “Under Highland Skies“.

But possibly the most exciting is Maciej Winiarczyk, who specialises in time-lapse astrophotography. He has lots of stuff on both YouTube and Vimeo. Take a look at this. But first pour a glass of Old Pulteney, sit back, and relax.

Oh, and its a nice place for a holiday.

SKA site final decision ! Not.

April 4, 2012

So as promised, the SKA Members met today (in Schiphol airport, lucky them) to review the recommendation made by the evaluation committee. You can read the announcement here. The decision is ….. we are going to think about it some more !!!

Just remember, it will be very groovy when it all happens. Two things that knocked me out at NAM, SKA-wise. First, Michael Kraemer, discussing the power requirement for cooling the SKA megacomputers, said that perhaps it doesn’t need its own nuclear power plant after all. Seeing as both potential sites are sunny deserts, what we need is a vast solar power array… and this exactly what these remote areas need anyway, and they can sell power back. So there ya go. Not only did radio astronomy apparently invent wifi, but they are going to save the world too. Hows that for impact.

Knockout fact number two. I went to the session with results from LOFAR, the SKA pathfinder. As you may know, it can act as a cosmic ray telescope, detecting radio waves from the air shower made by a particle hitting the top of the atmosphere. The shower arrives at an angle, so a kind of front moves across the array. LOFAR has nano-second time resolution and each station is a hundred metres across or something like that; so they watch the front move across the array. Holy shit, they can WATCH LIGHT MOVING.

Sweet and Sour, Nuclear Power

July 10, 2008

Being stuck in the grim Californian sunshine I didn’t make it to the STFC Town meeting on the 8th. So I don’t have insightful analysis for you. Instead this is a kind of dummy post so other people can tell me what happened.

Following up links from Paul Crowther’s site, the press seem to think the entire thing was about Jodrell Bank, so everything is ok now. Oh good. You might expect me to whinge on about AstroGrid now, but I just don’t have the energy. (Its too hot here). Hang on a tick though, the Telegraph seems to have a story about STFC destroying the country’s nuclear power capability !!! Naturally, STFC have put out a statement explaining that they are reponsible for the nation’s power stations.. Fair enough. But perhaps someone has some facts on how much has been cut on the Nuke Physics side ?