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It’s 2017, the year the Sun goes out

Happy New Year! We hope you’re still flattened under the burden of gifts and groaning with the tonnage of mince pies you’ve consumed, but let’s get straight to the important stuff: this year, the Sun is going dark. August 21st 2017, mark our words.

Sorry, what’s that? Oh, you’ve heard of total solar eclipses, have you? Drat.

OK, so:

That last point is quite impressive, when you think about it. And it’s the subject of the NASA video posted above, which is even more impressive than you might expect. It doesn’t just show the ground track, it factors in (as the video explains) the effects of the angle of the Sun, the elevation of the observer at each point, and the bumpiness of the moon’s surface. The combined result is that the shadow of the sun isn’t elliptical as you might expect, but more… well, watch the film and see.

The next total solar eclipse visible from the UK mainland won’t be until 23rd September 2090. There’ll be a pretty good partial eclipse in 2026, but having seen both partial and total eclipses I can personally vouch that there’s no comparison to witnessing totality. If you ever have the chance to travel to see one, absolutely take it. It’s a (literally) phenomenal experience. You might remember the partial solar eclipse of 2015, which looked like this:

…but seriously, that was nothing like as impressive as a total eclipse.

Come to think of it, I have a friend in Boise, Idaho…

More information: List of solar eclipses visible from the UK; NASA’s site about the 2017 US eclipse.

 

See you this week? Timandra Harkness on Big Data and SUN at Life

This week we’ve not one but two outstanding opportunities to get your dose of fascinating, curious and very-slightly-sideways science:

  • On Thursday, broadcaster, writer and comedian Timandra Harkness gives the finale of our Physics Matters! series of public lectures, on Big Data. 6:30pm, Ellison Building, Northumbria campus: full details and tickets here. These talks are aimed at sixth-formers, but all are welcome. Free, but please register.
  • On Friday, as part of the Friday Night Life event at the Life Science Centre, poet Katrina Porteous and composer Peter Zinovieff present the premiere of their work ‘SUN’. The Chronicle have a lovely write-up, and full details are on Life’s website, where you can also buy tickets. Over-18s only.

We’re very much looking forward to both events, and we’ll hope to see you at one or both.

Yellow Giant Exhibition

Yellow Giant is an exhibition by Helen Schell.  Inspired by the Sun and Space, Helen uses optical illusions to express phenomena of space.

In creating the artwork for this exhibition, Helen has worked with solar physicists, Dr Gert Botha, Dr Stephane Regnier from Northumbria University, and Dr Helen Mason from Cambridge University.

The exhibition is open from 10 September – 3 October 2015,

Gallery Opening times Wed – Sat,  12-5pm.

The exhibition is being held at Vane Gallery, First Floor Commercial House, 39 Pilgrim St, Newcastle

Events for adults and families.

Saturday 12 September 2-4pm
Beyond Yellow

Presentations and discussions with Dr Gert Botha and Dr Stephane Regnier (Northumbria University Solar Group), Helen Schell, Richard Talbot (Head of Fine Art, Newcastle University), Dr Helen Mason (Sun|trek, Cambridge University) and Dr Carol Davenport (Think Physics, Northumbria University)

Saturday, 3 October 2-4pm
Our Dynamic Sun

Solar physics for families: presentation with Dr Helen Mason and family workshop with Helen Schell

 

These events are free, but please book a place by contacting the gallery at
info@vane.org.uk or telephone 0191 261 8281

 

 

 

The Wonders of the Sun

In May we have two great opportunities to learn more about the Sun, and our human response to it. The first is a public lecture by the Solar Research Group from Northumbria University:

The Wonders of the Sun

Date: Friday 15th May
Time: 18:00 – 19:00
Location: Northumbria University, Business and Law Building, Lecture theatre 002.

The lecture is open to everybody, and would be suitable for A-level students.

We’re also helping organise an exhibition:

8 minutes 20 seconds

It takes light from the Sun 8 minutes 20 seconds to reach the Earth.  Think Physics, in collaboration with The Holy Biscuit, have developed an exhibition which will explore the Sun through artistic and scientific interpretation.

The exhibition is part of The Late Shows and will bring a little sunshine to these fabulous evenings.

Date: 15th & 16th May
Time: 19:00 – 22:00
Location: The Holy Biscuit, 1 Clarence Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne

 Exhibition Flyer and map (PDF, 1.7Mb).

 

Why not make an evening of it on Friday 15th, and come along to both events?  The Holy Biscuit is only a short walk from Northumbria University, and lots of other local Arts venues will be opening their doors to the public that evening.

UV images of the sun

UV images of the sun

Tinkering Thursday: 11th December

In the photograph above, Joe is pointing a telescope at the sun. Two things about this are remarkable:

  1. It’s December, we’re in Newcastle, and we actually saw the sun today.
  2. Joe can still see.

We all know – obviously – that looking at the sun through telescopes, binoculars, even cameras is, in general, a really really bad idea. But let’s be clear, just in case this is news to you:

Looking at the sun through a telescope, pair of binoculars, or indeed any sort of optical instrument is a really, really bad idea. You’re quite likely to blind yourself.

Don’t do it.

…unless you have a solar telescope. Oh heck yes, we have one of those. It has a very, very precise and very, very dark filter, and through it the sun looks like this:

The sun’s disc, with a little cloud, as seen through the solar telescope. December 11th 2014.

The sun’s disc, with a little cloud, as seen through the solar telescope. December 11th 2014.

So that was fun. We’ve some work to do getting the best performance out of the solar telescope, but the good news is that we’ve managed to extract the weird bits of material that were floating around in the eyepiece, so the whole thing doesn’t have to go back to the manufacturers. In California. Phew.

Back in Think Lab, we continued Tinkering Thursday with Joe making rather more smoke than he’d intended. He was attempting to make a lightbulb from scratch, but since we haven’t yet worked out how to isolate the smoke detectors in the Lab, we packed that in sharpish. We’ll come back to it.

Our attention turned, therefore, to the more careful (and less combustible) pursuit that is trigonometry. There is, it turns out, good reason you learn sines, cosines, and (in this case) inverse tangents in school: so you can make adorable little robots draw not-quite-lined-up Christmas trees:

This sort of thing makes us happy. If you look closely you might catch a glimpse of some extremely rough-looking code – the main output of the afternoon was, perhaps, a bug report filed with the lovely Mirobot team. We continue to be big fans of our dinky little robot friend, and as the software settles down it’s proving even more capable than we’d hoped.

More Tinkering next Thursday!

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