Out of Space

Murchison and geology

Duncan Steel Jun 19, 2019

There are many places, both in New Zealand and elsewhere around the globe, that are named for the nineteenth-century Scottish geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison. It seems astonishing how many of these are connected in some way with events of geological significance, or are otherwise of scientific importance.  One of my predilections is writing blog posts prompted by the occurrence … Read More

Astronomy on Bloomsday

Duncan Steel Jun 16, 2019

The name of Michael Faraday is well-known in science, for his pioneering work in both chemistry and physics (in particular electricity and magnetism; hence the name of the SI unit of capacitance, the farad). As a postgraduate student at the University of Canterbury I spent many hours working on experimental radio receivers sat inside a large metallic box … Read More

Connecting comets and rubber

Duncan Steel Jun 11, 2019

Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was one of the first such celestial bodies to be visited by a spacecraft, the Giotto probe which was sent on to encounter it in mid-1992 after having first visited the famous Comet Halley in 1986. Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was discovered about a century ago, independently by a New Zealander (John Grigg) and an Australian (Frank Skjellerup). The younger … Read More

The problem of knowing when a lunar year begins and ends

Duncan Steel Jun 05, 2019

The Islamic fast of Ramadan has come to an end, marking the beginning of the tenth month of the religion’s twelve-lunation year and therefore Eid al-Fidr, the ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast’. How the decision is made when each of those months begins and ends depends upon the actual sighting of the crescent new moon in the sky, a highly-complicated … Read More

The 250th anniversary of Cook’s observation of the transit of Venus

Duncan Steel Jun 02, 2019

On June 3rd occurs the 250th anniversary of the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, the observation of which was the prime purpose behind the expedition of HM Bark Endeavour to the South Pacific, under the command of Lieutenant James Cook. Following the measurements of the transit made by Cook and the mission’s scientists in Tahiti, the … Read More

The Great Eclipse of 1919

Duncan Steel May 29, 2019

Measurements of photographs obtained during the total solar eclipse of 29th May 1919 were pivotal in demonstrating the veracity of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, turning him into a household name. The centenary of that event is now upon us, and well worthy of being remembered.  As I sit here typing on my keyboard, my favourite photo showing myself and … Read More

A new crater on the Moon

Duncan Steel May 21, 2019

The scar on the lunar surface produced when the Israeli space probe ‘Beresheet’ slammed into the Moon on April 11 has just been spotted using an orbiting NASA satellite.  Three nations have so far landed spacecraft on the Moon: the USA, the Soviet Union/Russia, and China. A fourth nation, Israel, has attempted to join this club, but its probe (named Beresheet) … Read More

Talking satellites and space in Washington

Duncan Steel May 16, 2019

The annual beanfeast for the US satellite industry — featuring major participation from European nations and companies in particular — is the SATELLITE congress held at the Washington Convention Center, a few blocks from the White House. It was an amazing event to attend, compared to the sort of low-key conferences we have in New Zealand.  Now I’m back in … Read More

Imagine an asteroid impact due in 2027: How would you tackle it?  

Duncan Steel May 09, 2019

It’s now scientifically possible to predict potential asteroid impacts years in advance. But knowing that such a calamitous event is going to occur, due to the clockwork of the heavens, presents its own problems. Can we divert it, and if so, how? Similarly, if the impact is inevitable, can we model what is going to happen far ahead of time, … Read More

Defending the planet from asteroids

Duncan Steel May 02, 2019

Astronauts, astronomers, planetary scientists, space researchers and aerospace engineers are meeting near Washington DC to discuss how we might deal with any asteroid found to be heading for a cataclysmic collision with Earth, perhaps causing a global catastrophe. That is, if it was actually found before it caught us unawares.  As I type this I am sat in a large, … Read More