Sunday, 15 February 2009

Valentine's Day on the moon

It seems for every day of writing, I do two days of research. I've done the maths and this means in about six months I'll have enough information to write a chapter of a book; and in three years I might get around to finishing the book (trust me). I jest (I hope). But Saturday did again take me to London for research - this time back on the DLR and accompanied by two of the most foul-mouthed 14 year-old girls I've ever had the misfortune to hear.


As I said in a previous post, Valentine's this year for me meant the Royal Observatory, an astronomer and a romantic hour spent learning more about the history of the moon. Somehow the notoriously unreliable DLR took me to the Cutty Sark train stop in good time to sprint across Greenwich Park and up the hill to the Observatory.

If you haven't been to the assortment of historical goodies at Greenwich - the charred Cutty Sark, the Observatory, the Maritime Museum, Flamsteed House, the Queen's House* - I urge you to visit. If anything it's too fantastic: there's just too much interesting antiquity to take in. I've been twice in two months and both times come away with more questions than I've thought to ask.

And entry to the various areas is free. Free! That's less than a pound.

As I approached the admissions desk, looking lost as always, the middle-aged gent at the desk said, "You must've come for the moon."

"What makes you think that?" I asked.

"You're holding a ticket and looking lost."

I smiled. "I've actually come from the moon. I'm looking for Earth."

To be honest, I thought that would've gone down better. I think my laughter caught on, rather than my friend actually understanding my wise crack.

I followed the spiral staircase moonwards and met Professor Griffiths, a genteel Welshman and fellow moonman. He proceeded to engage the forty or so who attended the taster session for all things moon with detailed slides, tips on photographing the lunar orb and by dropping tidbits of fascinating information that most of the audience was happy to take aurally, while one young blond chap scribbled it all down with an intensity heretofore unseen in a brief introduction to the moon.

"Does anyone know what we call the effect whereby we can still see the outline of the dark part of the moon when only a crescent is lit?"

You know when you've got the answer to something but don't want to look like you're too eager? I raised my hand to chest height - not wanting to be picked, but needing to show enough elevation to display my slight knowledge to those sitting to my sides. The professor told us.

But even I - a man with two months' moon knowledge - learned something about Earthshine from Professor Griffiths...

(If you'd like to read about the "Da Vinci Glow" - and no, that's not another Dan Brown rip-off - please check this blog in the morning...or I guess you could Wikipedia it; but where's the entertainment in that?)

After the show I explained to the professor why I was taking such extensive notes of his presentation. "Sounds like a fascinating theme for a book," he said, taking one of the homemade business cards I'd printed that morning. I'm hoping to speak to Professor Griffiths again soon about a little Welsh connection with the moon I learned from Dr Allan Chapman last weekend. Watch this space/blog...splog...

Watch this splog...

*And you thought the Queen's House was Buckingham Palace

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