Friday, 3 April 2009

Give me my moon!

Tonight I drove to Mill Hill through the evening mist to look at the first-quarter moon through a variety of telescopes at the University College London Observatory, near Mill Hill. I took Mother - dear old Mother. She's always had a bit of a thing for the moon, ever since her parents were spotted up there late one night in the 1930s...The university opened the observatory for a one night only public viewing, as part of the International Year of Astronomy's Spring Moonwatch. Great idea. But there was a little problem. Over nine hundred million miles away there was a monster. Saturn. Which decided to pose inside its ring while the poor old moon, ringless, glistened magnificently above the haze of street lights and car lights, to its side.

Astronomers clearly have a penchant for Saturn, as Spring Moonwatch become April Saturn Stalk. Saying that, we did learn a thing or two about our lunar cousin and Galileo, which I promptly forgot. Lucky for me Mum sat through the lecture with a pen and paper, furiously jotting down all dates, names, discoveries, measurements, distances. Thank goodness for Mother, I thought, as I left the observatory.

"What was the name of the chap giving the talk, ma?" I asked.

"Oh - something foreign. Thor?"

Hmm. "Don't think so. Oh well. Never mind. Shame there wasn't more about the moon."

"Yes," Mum replied; "all about that Pluto and its rings."

All in all, an interesting night. Flanked by the A1, we heard very little inside the last dome. But I did learn from the tiny Spanish girl beside me that it takes Earth 365 days to spin on its axis (that's the sort of spurious claim WikiAnswers sometimes throws out). And little Cherry, the Chinese student, in her little gloves, little coat, with her little smile, sure did look tiny beside that 30-foot telescope she uses for observations.

And apparently I was the only person during the event to hear about it through www.astronomy2009.org. Which must mean www.astronomy2009.org isn't doing a very good job at publicising. Naughty www.astronomy2009.org. I hear the trick is repetition.

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