Here comes the wedge...

First off, an apology. Normally I'd have placed a post such as this in my personal weblog but given the subject in question, and given how we've seen in the US that astronomy can be one of the next targets for this sort of thing, and given that one or two readers of this weblog are involved in science outreach in the UK, I thought it worth a mention — if only so I know that they're aware of this happening.

It would appear that the wedge strategy has finally found a firm foothold here in the UK. Yesterday Tim Haynes was kind enough to alert me to this article:

Creationists and anti-evolutionists in the United Kingdom have established a new website, called ‘Truth in Science’, to try to persuade school parents to lobby for their ideas within the British education system.

The move is the latest attempt by opponents of Darwinian theory to ‘teach the controversy’ by claiming equivalence for non-scientific theories of origins often derived from fundamentalist interpretations of Christian scripture.

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The site in question can be found over here.

I've not had the chance to have a proper read of it yet but the little I've seen so far bothers me and bothers me a lot — one reason being that my son just started school the other week. It's bad enough that he's only been there a couple of weeks and, already, he's been press-ganged into one religious performance. Given the current laws about education in the UK that's almost excusable (in regard to the school), but I fear for his education in general when I see that the "intelligent design" brigade are now pushing hard to have their nonsense presented as an equal scientific theory in UK schools.

All that said, I'm glad that the website exists — this way it should be easier to keep tabs on what they're attempting to do.

Was there ever a better time for Richard Dawkins to launch a foundation and an associated website? Not to mention release a new book.

File Under: Truth in Science, Intelligent Design, Creationism, Education.


Mark Smith on the move

A heads up for anyone who used to read Mark Smith's astronomy weblog:

Due to problems with Blogger (they appear to have totally lost his weblog and have not answered a single query he's sent to them) Mark's had to start again. You can find his new weblog at http://marksmith-1986.blogspot.com/.

His isn't the only astronomy weblog I've noticed go missing recently. Daily Planet seems to have gone AWOL as well.

I'm also finding that Blogger is becoming increasingly flaky (publishing seems to be a hit-and-miss affair) and I've been giving serious thought to hosting my weblogs over on the same server as my main sites. In some ways it would be a shame to have to do this, this blog is linked to from quite a few places and appears to have got a reasonable Google PageRank — I don't relish the idea of having to try and build all of that up again from scratch.

And, of course, there's all the hassle of trying to get the content over...

File Under: Blogger.


Sundogs and Circumzenithal Arc

Late this afternoon I was treated to a rather nice display of a circumzenithal arc and a pair of sundogs. Using a little digital camera I tried to get a few images (the full set of images can be found over here):

File Under: Sundogs, Circumzenithal Arc.


A rare event

Last night was a very rare event: a significant astronomical event, visible from the UK, and I wasn't clouded out.

After a very cloudy afternoon it cleared up really well in the evening so everything was on for a view of the partial lunar eclipse. Given that there was no way I'd be able to see the rising full Moon from my own garden I walked to the east side of the village to get a view out over Billingborough Fen. When I got there I had a perfect view of the eclipse around maximum phase:

I don't really have anything by way of imaging equipment but I did attempt a couple of shots using a little digital camera that I've recently acquired. Unsurprisingly most of the shots didn't come out at all well (hand held, full optical and digital zoom — it was never really going to work was it?) but at least one or two give a hint of what the Moon looked like:

I stayed in my observing location, watching unaided and with a 10x50 binocular while making various notes, right up until I could no longer make out the umbra of the Earth's shadow (around 19:44UT).

Given that I've managed to do hardly any observing this summer (other than solar observing) it was really nice to be out and observing in the dark again.

File Under: Moon, Eclipse, Lunar Eclipse.


Planet Astronomy

On and off, this year, I've been toying with the idea of creating a "Planet" site for astronomy related blogs. As usual with this sort of "neat idea" (you know the sort of thing, you probably have a dozen a day too) I filed it away somewhere in my head, on a "I'll do that one day, no, really, I will" TODO list.

This morning, while checking the weblog stats for www.astronomer.me.uk, I noticed a new referrer in the referrer list: www.planet-astronomy.org. Looks like someone's saved me a job and have been kind enough to include this little blog in the list of feeds!

Whoever you are, if you're reading this, thanks! That's a handy resource!

File Under: Weblogs, Astronomy, Planet, Planet Astronomy.


A holiday with a little bit of astronomy

Last week I was away for a few days holiday, first a few days staying in Whitby and then a couple of nights camping in Teesdale (staying at Highside Farm if anyone is looking for a good campsite in that part of the UK — great location and very friendly and helpful owners).

Before we set off I had a serious think about packing the Antares 905 but, given that the forecast wasn't looking too good and given that I wasn't that happy with the idea of keeping it in a hotel room for 4 nights, I decided against it. Instead I packed a tripod, L-mount and a 10x50 binocular.

The forecast turned out to be about right and during the whole week there wasn't a single reasonable clear night.

I did, however, manage to have some astronomy-related moments.

On the evening of the first full day in Whitby, at the top of the west cliff, I saw a chap putting out some signs for a star party later that evening. The society running it was the Whitby and District Astronomical Society. Even though the weather didn't look at all promising I couldn't ignore the fact that there was an AS event almost on the doorstep of my hotel. Later on in the evening I went along and had a chat with the chap running the event (sadly I forgot to take a note of his name). Normally, if the weather is good, they have a few members and many 'scopes at such an event but that evening they'd decided to keep it small.

Although I didn't get to look through anything (pretty much constant cloud) I did get to have a look at the equipment available and had a good chat about the problems and rewards of running an astronomical society.

The weather was a little better the following night (mostly cloudy with some reasonable gaps) so another small gathering was held and I went down again. This time it was fun to have a chat with some children who had come along with their parents to have a look at (and through) the telescopes — they also all seemed very keen to demonstrate their great understanding of astronomy my telling me that there were only eight planets in the solar system. ;)

The couple of nights spent in Teesdale passed without any clear skies at night (but lots of rain) so I didn't even manage to get the binocular out. That was a bit of a shame really given that the views looked like they might be quite good from Highside Farm.

After Teesdale it was back home and then, last Saturday, off to The National Space Center for a British Astronomical Society out-of-London meeting (dragging Bob D'Mellow along with me — he'd twisted my arm to go camping so it only seemed fair that I try and push him into astronomy a bit more <grin>); the subject for the day was Birth & Death of Stars and the Bits In-between. It was a really enjoyable day with some very enthralling talks. Given that I've recently got into some (simple) solar observing I especially appreciated the talks given by Alice Courvoisier (The Magnetic Sun), James Wild (Aurora Watch & the UK Sub-Auroral Magnetometer Network) and Graham Vernier (BiSON — Birmingham Solar Oscillation Network).

I was also very impressed with the talk given by Dr Darren Baskill (The Evolution of Cataclysmic Binaries). While the talk as a whole was very interesting (and it's rekindled a desire I've had for a while to get into observing variables) the thing that impressed me the most was his open and honest discussion about the fact that he'd done many years research on a theory regarding a particular problem with the periods of cataclysmic binaries and how, recently, all that work has been thrown into doubt. While some people might view this as a failure I (and Bob, who was with me, shared this view) saw this as a great example of science doing what science can do best: being honest about results and documenting intriguing mysteries. Even better was the fact that I got to have a brief chat with him later and he was more than happy to answer (what must have seemed to be) my rather simplistic questions. That sort of patience and desire to help never ceases to impress me.

The only real downer during the whole day (other than the less-than-ideal room with its really uncomfortable seats — give me a proper lecture hall any day) was the fact that we'd all been given free tickets for the Space Center itself but, by the time the day finished, last entry was a couple of hours in the past. Although I've been a couple of times in the last two years a quick whiz round would have been nice.

So, a week without any form of observing at all, but at least I managed to get some astronomy-related activities done.

File Under: Whitby, Teesdale, National Space Center, British Astronomical Association, BiSON.