Out of Space

Big Eye Wide, But Shut

Duncan Steel Nov 23, 2020

A few days ago the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the decommissioning of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This story has been the subject of items in the mass media around the globe, and also in New Zealand. Cables supporting the massive horns and radio receivers above the dish have snapped, the actual dish surface has been … Read More

Water on the Moon?

Duncan Steel Oct 27, 2020

The space news this week is largely focused on an announcement from NASA regarding the discovery of water on the Moon. Not liquid water – the lunar surface is far too cold for that – but apparently ice deposits in the surface layers in near-polar regions, and perhaps deeper below the surface too. Finding water on the Moon in an … Read More

Science at the movies: The new comet impact film

Duncan Steel Oct 22, 2020

Disaster movies forever capture the public attention… but did you ever stop to think that the word disaster actually means bad star? That is, ‘dis’ implies a pejorative (as in disease, or disgust, or disrespect), while ‘aster’ comes from the Latin astrum, similarly the Greek astron. Obviously enough, this derives from old astrological beliefs. In modern science, asteroids are called that … Read More

Possible inter-satellite collision on Friday

Duncan Steel Oct 14, 2020

Two objects in low-Earth orbit may collide with each other on Friday, in a hyper-velocity impact which would lead to millions of fragments being left on-orbit, each potentially-lethal to functioning satellites. Fingers crossed (not that I am superstitious) that it is a miss, rather than a hit. One local media article is available here. Above I wrote ‘objects’ because … Read More

Small asteroid to make near-miss of Earth in NZ skies tonight

Duncan Steel Sep 24, 2020

Sorry for the late notice on this one, but I only just heard myself, in common with most of the human race. A small asteroid, somewhere between the size of a truck and the size of a house in dimensions, will hurtle past the Earth tonight, dipping closer to our planet’s surface than the altitude at which TV transmission and … Read More

The fate of the albatross

Duncan Steel Jun 19, 2020

Yesterday I wrote that I can find some reason to celebrate almost any date, and today (19th June) is no exception: it’s World Albatross Day. Unfortunately the day began with a news story concerning a commercial fishing boat killing four endangered Antipodean albatrosses off NZ’s East Cape. Even more unfortunately, such events are not unusual, with several … Read More

Connecting Wellington and Nelson

Duncan Steel Jun 18, 2020

My blog post here has essentially nothing to do with space and astronomy, my usual subjects, but it concerns a little matter of history I thought I’d like to write about. Once upon a time I wrote a long book about calendars, and as a consequence accumulated knowledge about many of the special dates in the year which could be … Read More

Where is New Zealand’s highest point?

Duncan Steel May 01, 2020

Did you know that the top of Mount Cook is by no means New Zealand’s furthest point from the centre of the Earth? And that Samoa’s tallest mountain is seven kilometres further from our planet’s core than anywhere in NZ? The highest point anywhere, in terms of separation from Earth’s centre? — It’s not Mount Everest.  It’s the sort of … Read More