Tag Archives: Astronomy

Australia sees its last lunar eclipse until 2018

The full moon above Australia will be “blood red” according to some reports as the moon enters the fringes of our Earth’s shadow called the penumbra tomorrow night.

The Moon’s redness will be a result of the selective scattering of blue light by our atmosphere, which causes only the longest wavelengths (red) light to reach the edges of the Earth’s shadow (called the penumbra). Our huge, red Moon will pass through the penumbra as it orbits the Earth then become momentarily invisible as it traverses the centre of the Earth’s shadow (called the umbra).

SMH lunar eclipse science infographic jameskennedymonash
Image from Sydney Morning Herald

Melbourne is the perfect viewing spot for this spectacular eclipse. The reddened Moon will also appear extremely large (this is an optical illusion that results from the Moon being very low in the sky!).

Date: Wednesday 8th October, 2014
Time: Moonrise is at 7:21pm. Eclipse starts at 7:30pm and finishes at 11:30pm.
Location: low in the eastern (or north-eastern) sky

Penumbral Eclipse begins: 7:17 PM
Partial Eclipse begins: 8:18 PM
Full Eclipse begins: 9:27 PM
Maximum Eclipse: 9:55 PM
Full Eclipse ends: 10:22 PM
Partial Eclipse ends: 11:32 PM
Penumbral Eclipse ends: 12:32 AM

For more information: http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/australia/melbourne

The next time this happens will be in 2018. Make sure you get outside to see this one tomorrow night!

Book: The Book Nobody Read

Star-ratings reflect nothing but the reviewer’s ability to choose suitable books. Sometimes, genuinely good books (like David Copperfield or Liquid Gold) get one- or two-star reviews on this blog simply because I was reading them at the wrong time, in the wrong mood, or lacking the required background knowledge. How else could To Kill A Mockingbird and This is Not My Hat both get a four-star rating? Only in my eyes.

Recently, I’ve been returning from the library with some terrible book selections that I’ve been reluctant to review until now.

So forgive me for being harsh. I’ll keep this quick.

The Book Nobody Read
This is The Book Nobody Read

Ivory tower-dwellers might call this a thriller.
306 pages, ★★

“The Book Nobody Read? That book sounds so bad that I have to read it!”

That was my regrettable train of thought in the library. I have a juvenile tendency to contradict warning signs, not to mention a particular weakness for cacti labelled “do not touch”. This book wasn’t painful, but reading it was a waste of my time. Two stars from me.

The Book Nobody Read starts as a true crime thriller. The Second Edition of De Revolutionibus (that’s another book that nobody read) has been stolen and a judge is trying to determine whether this crime constitutes a misdemeanour or a felony.

The thrill stops there. This book then turns into the chronicles of an academic’s pursuit of Copernicus, of his character (“did he like wine or beer?”) and of his rival theorists (Kepler’s adorable spirograph-style solar system, called a Lenten Pretzel, for example). Aside from the giddying pictures, my interest quickly evaporated.

What did I learn? I learned that Copernicus was involved in the coining of the word ‘butter’. And I learned never to waste my time reading unsuitable books. ★★

Book: Chasing the Sun

Chasing the Sun
Sun imagery is everywhere if you look for it.

Epic cross-section of all of human culture. Fact-dense.
680 pages, ★★★★★

It’s so hot in Australia right now. The sun melted my chocolate yesterday. Today, my trusty iPod displayed the word “Temperature” instead of a map, before promptly shutting itself down in the car.

iphone-warning
It’s 34°C in Australia, and even hotter in the car. I’m Chasing the Sun.

Chasing the Sun was thus a very apt book choice. It dances through science, but weaves in a lot of culture as well. British doors have sunrise-shaped windows. The Statue of Liberty wears a sun-shaped hat. Images as diverse as Jesus, Charlie Chaplin and Chairman Mao have all personified the sun in some way to imply power (be it spiritual, comical or political). Twenty countries currently have suns in their flags, and even the swastika was originally a line-drawn representation of the sun! According to Google Music, 2,500 copyrighted songs have been written about the sun (how many can you think of?), and nearly 500 trademarks feature the sun in their logo. The sun permeates our lives in ways that we are seldom aware.

This book is therefore relevant to everyone.

Like the sun itself, Chasing the Sun is dense. Reading it, I felt like one of the zillions of photons that takes 150,000 years to permeate the sun’s dense core, before finally reaching the surface (i.e. finishing the book) and zooming out at the speed of light. I read my next book very fast.

Author Richard Cohen is loaded with theories, such as Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, Daisy World, the evolution of ancient calendar systems, and natural therapies involving tomatoes (which protect against sunburn but get sunburned easily themselves) and TB (which was alleviated somewhat by sunlight exposure). Best of all, he touches on the theory that solar maxima (peaks in the natural fluctuation of our sun’s intensity) coincide with peaks of ‘hot-headed’ human activity. Certainly, the upheavals of 1905, 1917, 1948 and 1989 coincided with solar maxima. Coincidence, perhaps?

Richard Cohen’s work is in the same category as Bill Bryson, but is much more fact-laden. On one occasion, (on page 528) he even corrects Bill Bryson’s math! He balances science and culture in a way only paralleled by Arnold Taylor’s The Dance of Air & Sea. This book took 8 years to write, involved research trips to 17 countries and includes input from dozens of world-leading academics. Don’t let this much wisdom pass you by. Everyone should read this book. ★★★★★