Papal Infallibility

15 years ago, the church apologised for the trial of Galileo. This in itself should have given the hint that Papal infallibility isn't what it was.

The current Pope has just gone back on that, saying the trial was 'reasonable and just'.

It's a Papal showdown!

Both Popes can't be right (you can't apologise if you've done nothing wrong, and you can't have done something wrong if your action was reasonable and just)... yet, both are infallible.

Does not compute.... warning... error.... *BAA-boooom!*

Tonight's Eclipse

Tonight is a total lunar eclipse. These aren't very rare, and there isn't much science to be done, but they can be beautiful, and tonight's is predicted to be a good one. Tonight's eclipse beginsThe Earth's shadow is already visible across the moon, I took the photo shown here at about 2125GMT.

At totality, between 2244 and 2358 GMT, the only light which reaches the moon will be that which has refracted and bent through the Earth's atmosphere. As the Earth's atmosphere scatters the blue end of the visible spectrum (hence blue sky) what's left is the red end. This means that the moon will have a red hue. The exact colour will depend upon all sorts of factors, pollutants and weather for example.

More poetically, when you look at the moon tonight you will be seeing all the sunsets and all the sunrises simultaneously.

UPDATE: This photo was taken at about 2151GMT.

The Eclipse Continues

'Hurricane' on Saturn

My first though was 'cool', my second was science-fictional: 'microscopic black hole'. Sometimes I wonder why my brain works in these ways...

One Nasa scientist, Michael Flasar, told Reuters news agency that the storm looked just like water swirling down a bath plug hole, only on a colossal scale. "We've never seen anything like this before," Mr Flasar said. "It's a spectacular-looking storm."

That's consistent with my 'microscopic black hole' thought!

There's one born every minute....

... and they each get a personalised chart. Following the recent discussions about Pluto's planetary status, I've received a comment claiming that the reason the IAU were 'researching' this (or rather 'searching'[sic]) is because it affects astrology.

I'll bet that's news to the IAU!

Hint for the slow: It was a matter of getting an good definition in place, in science, terms must be defined clearly. Whether the chosen definition is a good one is another matter entirely.


Nasa has announced the name for its new manned exploration vessel, 'Orion'. It will fly no later that 2014, and is scheduled to make a lunar trip no later than 2020 (about time we pushed out into the solar system again).

Battlestar Galactica - The Mini Series [2004]Battlestar Galactica: Season 1Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 [2004]It's a shame about the name choice. After the Apollo vehicle, they could have named the new vehicle 'Starbuck'... but they decided to stick with Greek Mythology rather than the borrowed terminology used in Galactica.

(The new BSG is really excellent TV, worth watching when back on Sky one in a month or so).

25th Anniversary of Columbia

In 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia made it's maiden flight. It was quite incredible (even though I was at a tender young age then). The first mission was not to be until 1983. Columbia was the first Space Shuttle, a revolutionary concept of a reusable space vehicle which could land like a regular aeroplane. As it turned out, the Shuttle costs more to run than 'single shot' vehicles, but the concept is still sound (if not the execution).

Columbia was, of course, the Shuttle which was destroyed a couple of years ago. The Challenger was the first shuttle to be destroyed, in an explosion in 1986 - which I remember seeing on television.

Yuri's Night | World Space Party | April 12

Coincidentally (or not?) It's also 45 years since Yuri Gagarin first orbited the Earth.

As such, tonight is Yuri's night - an annual party to celebrate the birth of manned space exploration.

Stunts and Science

This morning I woke up, as usual, to the Today Programme on the radio. I heard a discussion about the proposal to play golf on a spacewalk (as a stunt for a commercial) whilst at the same time long promised research is being cut:

Interviewee: This just shows that stunts are more important than science.

Cut to Nasa Spokesman: No-one is saying that stunts are more important than science....

"He just did!" I screamed.

It's terrible waking up when you're feeling pedantic.


It is 20 years ago today that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. I well remember this, it was a huge event. I saw it on television, and could not believe it. The explosion, then those two rockets flying off in seperate directions.

Of course, it provoked the expected bad taste playground 'humour', such as 'Q. What colour eyes does an astronaut have? A. Blue... one blew this way...'

The great physicist, Richard Feynman (who should be as well known as Einstein) was on the investigating board of the Challenger disaster - famously (amongst folks who know about this sort of thing) demonstrating before the press how the 'O rings' which sealed the fuel tanks could fail.

It did graphically demonstrate that space flight whilst routine, was not risk free, despite the low risks stated prior to the accident by NASA management (contrary to the estimates of the engineers).

For me, Challenger was one of those defining moments as I grew up (along with Chernobyl in the same year). This was why I watched the landing of Discovery after a troubled flight with baited breath. I literally held my breath as the infra red showed the shuttle circling, and did not realise this for some time... not good!

Meteor near Perth

MeteorOn saturday, a meteor (or probably just a lump of rock instead of a loosely packed 'snowball') entered the Earth's atmosphere above Perth in Australia. Heating, and finally exploding about 100km above the surface. I have seen a report which claim that it was about basketball sized, and another report that says that it was about the size of half a volkswagen (not completely inconsistant for a lump of rock, but one of these does seem a bit off). Apparently the 'meteor' bits landed in the southern ocean.

It made an impressive show.

Larger impacts are rare, but they do happen. A very large impact is thought to have brought about the last mass extinction.