Happy New Year seems to be the best way to start the first blog of the year, and already what a start! So much has happened in astronomy and space exploration!

On the 1st of January we finally got to see the high resolution photos of the bizarrely shaped snowman-esque Ultima-Thule asteroid. Then, on the 3rd of January, the chinese lander Chang’e-4 landed on the far side of the moon. There are also really exciting things happening at Virgin Galactic, and it won't be long until space flight is much more accessible to many. I say many and not all...yet! And all of this within the first week of the year! The Chinese lander Chang’e-4 is the one that has excited me the most!

First, a bombshell: the excellent Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon is not actually about the moon, but more about the stresses and lunacy of everyday life. I have been living in blissful ignorance of this! I guess we should also address the title, The Dark Side of the Moon. This implies that one side of the moon is always in shadow and one side in light. This isn’t the case. It refers instead to the fact that only one face of the moon faces Earth.

The planet Thia, colliding with Earth, the debris from this collision is thought of of formed our moon!

The moon was created 4.5 billions years ago, around 20-100 million years after the solar system. The solar system at this point would have been a chaotic, violent pinball machine, where hundreds of planets were playing a massive game of chicken. A planet, Thia, collided with Earth,

its core combining with our own planet to eject a mass of material into orbit.

Over millions of years this material, with a little help from gravity, clumped to form our own little satellite: the moon! The iconic image of the ‘man in the moon’, the massive lava flows which make up the traces on our moon’s face, are a reminder of this turbulent beginning.

Our Satellite, the features that make up the moons 'face' are lava flows, not craters!

The moon and Earth are bound to each other gravitationally, a force resulting in the product of the Earth and Moon’s mass. The same force keeps the system ‘glued’ together. The only reason it is the moon orbiting us rather than the other way around is because we are more massive! We do experience this force on Earth and it’s no more visible than in the effect it has on our massive bodies of water.

The gravitational attraction due to the moon creates our tide. The Moon ‘locks’ the water in place and the Earth effectively rotates underneath. The frictional force between the Earth’s surface and the water is causing the rate of rotation of the Earth to decrease or, more simply put, the water is slowing down the rate at which the earth spins! So yes, our days are getting longer!

However, angular momentum must be conserved! Angular momentum is much like linear momentum, which is a product of the object's mass and velocity. Now, if the Earth’s momentum is decreasing, then something in the system has to increase. This is the moon’s angular momentum. An increase in the Moon’s angular momentum propels it to a higher orbit.

The result of this is that the moon is locked into what’s called a synchronous orbit. The time it takes to spin through its own axis is (roughly) equal to the time it takes to move around the Earth. The result… the near side of the moon is always facing the Earth and the darkside, or more appropriately the far side, of the moon is cast to face outwards, away from Earth.

The images being beamed to Earth from Chang’e-4 is a view of the moon that was not seen until 1959, when Soviet orbiter Luna 3 orbited the moon and is a view that only 27 people have laid eyes upon. That image of the chang’e-4’ lander photographing the roverand its its tracks, leading away from the lander off to explore, is going to be one of those iconic images of Luna exploration. It really was one of those hair tingling moments. Fingers crossed for the rest of 2019.

Get a bit close to our nearest neighbour at one of our events, check out our events page at www.yorkshireastronomy.com or email us at info@yorkshireastronomy.com to arrange a Practical Astronomy Workshop.

Whilst walking the dog at a barmy 05:00 I took the chance to stop and look at the sky. We are so lucky to have such an incredibly clear and relatively unpolluted sky to frame our view. It is so easy to get into astronomy – it’s not some snobby scientific past time that demands a PhD in astrophysics. Yes, to understand all the elements involved and try to explain them is definitely complicated, but to appreciate them is the first step on the road to beginning the journey into physics and astrophysics. It also requires nothing apart from a bit of luck and our eyes!

Winter is the astronomer’s best friend. As soon as the clocks go back, the sky becomes so much more accessible! I like to sit waiting for the dog while it sniffs another bit of the track and make my own constellations out of the groups of the brightest stars, just like someone did thousands of years ago to make the constellations that we now find more familiar in deciphering our fortunes!

There is also the Pleiades, or the seven sisters, an open cluster of stars that looks a bit like a smudge. If you look east at about 20:00 and about a third of the way up from the horizon you’ll find this beaut to a group of stars. The seven brightest stars give the cluster its name, but it’s actually made up of around 3000!!

The Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters, open cluster

A couple of hours after Pleiades has risen the most iconic constellation will appear: the great hunter Orion, with its characteristic belt of three stars, is easy to spot. If you spot him earlier he’ll be having a little lie down!

Mars is nice and easy to find too! East East South you’ll see a nice orangey star, our rusty neighbour. It’s begun to move away from us as our orbits carry us away from each other, so now is a nice time to see it. Unfortunately for our lifetime its only going to be getting smaller and darker, so get out there and see it now!!

The other star that is incredible at the moment is our next neighbour and planetary sister, Venus, better known as the morning star. At about 06:00 in the East it will appear as an incredibly bright star! I find it a bit unnerving sometimes, as its brightness is something not a lot of people expect. But get up early and you can’t miss it. You may also see a fainter orange object just to the right. This will be Saturn, following Venus across the sky.

There’s plenty to see out there, so tonight and tomorrow morning get up and get out!

Updated: Nov 19, 2018


Physics is the only hope for humanity!!!! This is the rhetoric I'm planning on using on funding applications anyway.

I believe physics and astrophysics is such an incredible subject, is there anything that attempts to explain our lives and all the things we see, and astrophysics optimises this. As Children we all looked up at the sky picking out shapes that the stars made attempting to decipher how on Earth Orion looks like a hunter but identifying it from the belt! Even now we look up at the sky and the shapes are still familiar giving us that connection to our past. We only have to look a little deeper and a whole wealth of objects stares back at us, unfortunately this is where things get tricky, unless you have money or are near to an observatory its difficult, but no fear!

This is the purpose of Yorkshire Astronomy, a group that aims to inspire and excite students about physic and particularly astrophysics and astronomy....Yorkshire Astronomy!!

I have taught physics for ten years and been a keen amateur astronomer for even longer and what has staggered me is the amount of students who say they don't want to take physics at A Level and beyond because they haven't enjoyed it or found it boring! This is a travesty, we must do something about this!

There are observatories and they are fantastic places, the astronomers are really helpful and the equipment allows you to see such distant objects that make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, planets, stars, galaxies and nebulae all become visable, but the chance of people experiencing this is small and by the time they come to take their choices at A Level physics and astrophysics doesn't even get a mention! This is where Yorkshire astronomy will come in! We want to take the observatories to the students, visiting schools and communities bringing equipment and inspiration to the with the aim of encouraging the uptake of physics and astrophysics.

So much is my love for the dark part of the day we are hosting events across Yorkshire on Friday and Saturday nights bringing our scopes to locations giving people the opportunity they may never have, to look at the wonders of our universe, a unique sight that unites the entire globe no matter what age, sex or race, to stare at the object that the next astrophysicist will be using to explain the universe and its creation.

The moment I caught the bug was with my first look at the sky, hunting satellites, stars seeming to wonder across the sky then disappear, looking at any star that appeared slightly off white imagining it to be a planet, and those cold winter morning when your greeted by a brilliantly bright Venus low on the horizon. They’re all up there as the inspirational moments but my favourite sight(s) are…

1. the moons of Jupiter, the fact you can see them with binoculars or any size scope and share a view with Galileo is incredible! i remember the first time i saw them, looking at Jupiter through a homemade Newtonian,

I could see Jupiter, make out some banding but also four stars in a perfect line, the epiphany moment, stood the hairs on my neck, actual moons orbiting another planet, lost.for.words.

2. second on the list is the moon, classic if a little cliché, I love the Tycho crater and the definition of the craters on the terminator (where the dark and light meet!) but my favourite moon is during the day, if ever I felt a connection to a film its then, the death star as it hove into view above some plant its about to smoke!

3. number three, the Andromeda Galaxy a member of our local group. i love it as its on a slight angle you get such an amazing view of its structure but i love it more for the fact its [art of our space, I thought the Milky Way was on its own floating through the nothingness of space but we are part of a local group of galaxies including Andromeda, it’s that connection what draws me back to it!

One of our local neighbours

To see these objects is an awe inspiring moment, and its these moments I want to share, but once you see them you want to see more and explain more and, and, and, and, you’re hooked! More of our girls and boys need to study physics it helps us to explain the natural world and universe around us to preserve and appreciate it by not living in ignorance to it. Physics is creativity, it cannot be explained soley by a text book it’s too mesmerising but it first must be experianced.

Follow u on twitter for more updates and pictures on @astroyorkshire

See whats going on near you on the Events tab and enquire about one of our Astroweekends and prepare to be inspired!!