Sunday, 22 May 2011

Rapturous in Hampstead

I've just looked directly at the sun and I didn't go blind!

No, I'm not having a belated, rapturous moment. I visited the Hampstead Observatory today.

I am ploughing my way through a big editing job at the moment, which is why I've gone rather quiet. My body screamed to be released from the computer for a few hours today and I have just walked from Golders Green to Kings Cross, via Kentish Town.

There were many wondrous sights on the way! Unfortunately, the best one is now closed to the public till September. It's the Hampstead Observatory, which I only vaguely knew about, but was lucky enough to pop into today. This, from their website, is why the Observatory is now closed:
Last chance to see Saturn

The Observatory is about to close for the summer break. Weather permitting, the Observatory will be open on Friday evening, May 20th Saturday evening May 21st and Sunday morning May 22nd. After that date it will be closed until 16th of September.

People often ask why we close during the summer? During the months June, July and August from our latitude it really doesn't get dark. We suffer from 'astronomical twilight' because the Sun is not far below the northern horizon. We also use the summer months to overhaul the telescope and maintain the building and to give our hard working demonstrators and assistants a few weeks rest before we begin again in the autumn.
So there you have it, I would definitely recommend you to make a date for September when it re-opens.

What did I see today? The surface of the Sun, with a filter on to stop it burning my retina to kingdom come. I saw a sun spot, and a solar flare. Absolutely fantastic. I learned, don't laugh at my ignorance, that the Sun rotates on its own axis, around every 28 days.

Now I need to see one of those contraptions that shows the movements of the heavenly bodies, because once the pleasant astronomer on hand began to explain the nature of the Earth's rotation around the Sun, etc, my non-3D imagination went haywire.

I feel really blessed (in a completely secular way).

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