Introducing Comet ISON # Can I call dibs on end-of-the-world disaster-scenario tabloid headlines now?


In early 2013 October it will pass very near Mars and possibly be visible to rovers and orbiting spacecraft. Comet ISON appears on course to achieve sungrazer status as it passes within a solar diameter of Sun’s surface in late 2013 November. Whatever survives will then pass nearest the Earth in late 2013 December.

APOD: 2012 October 1 – Introducing Comet ISON.

Introducing “British Economic Time” aka “Sunrise Time” – the ultimate #astronomy geek timezone /ht @fanf

I’m ranting about this on Facebook so I might as well share the amusement.

Generally twice a year on the Today programme you’ll get a package or programme segment about “the clocks are going forwards/back” and how some organisation, charity, peer or MP is proposing to move to “double daylight savings time”.

“Stay on summer time throughout winter”, they say, “and add another hour next summer”.

“Childrens’ lives” will be saved, they say.

“Save energy”, they say.

They’re lying – or rather they aren’t interested in either of those really.

So this is now/again being discussed in a campaign on Facebook and though I respect the participants opinions I have written this:

Amongst the many reasons not to “StayInSummer” is that it means children in Edinburgh will go to school in the dark as sunrise will be after 9am. It’s a potty attempt to synchronise the UK with a meridian which goes through Frankfurt (let alone Paris) and more pointedly hopes primarily to boost retail revenue by providing more “daylight shopping hours” in actual summer by swapping to CET.

I am an astronomer, I like the idea that the concept of “noon” at least approximates to the sun being at its highest in the sky. a 1-hour BST shift is at least plausible for reasons outlined by Franklin and others.

Shifting the country 15 degrees eastwards in pursuit of profit is deeply unromantic, and to do so by laundering it with apparent social benefits is crass.

ps: the financial dividends are also far from certain; similar were expected from George W Bush’s widening of daylight savings time a few years ago, but corrected net energy consumption has increased, it is assumed because the heavier use of domestic heating at the extreme ends of the DST period.

Which lays out my position; I find it dishonest and risible that the proponents of “Double Daylight Savings” can’t just say “Let’s move the UK onto Central European Time” – but such frankness would kill the proposal outright so they’re probably quite wise not to do so.

Several years ago while thinking of something fun to do about this whole issue, I created the idea of British Economic Time:

The concept of BET is very simple: pick a point somewhere (eg: Greenwich) with a fixed latitude and longitude, then define 8:00am to be sunrise at that location for any given day, and “midnight” / zero-hour to be 8 hours before that.

This means of course that certain days will have more than 24 hours, and others will have less than 24 hours, but we have the Internet now so all that will fall out in the wash.

Also: anyone above the Arctic Circle will have to sort themselves out, but that’s no more presumptuous than saying Scotland can/should have its own timezone.

The benefits are huger than DDST – consistent light levels around 8am, safe children walking to school, and a near-theoretical-limit maximum number of retail hours for buying to take place in the hope that that somehow will stimulate the economy.

We can also implement a standard British National Breakfast and a British National Bedtime – sponsored by Transco – to minimise impact upon the National Grid.

I have been pursuing this idea for several years and have implemented it in Python to prototype, and at some point will make it into an app.

If this sounds flippant then yes, actually, it is; it’s an exercise to demonstrate how arbitrary (and somewhat statist) time-measurement is – although I have really implemented the prototype and will eventually do the app.

It’s not actually all that unprecedented, though; pre-railways several local time systems existed, either based around a local meridian (eg: Bristol for the West Country) or the simpler technique of declaring sunrise to be 6am, sunset to be 6pm, noon/midnight bisecting those, and have 12 “hours” of variable length between sunrise and sunset; hence the importance of church clocks/bells to the communities.

When I rant about this – as I do – the takehome I want people to realise is that time *is* arbitrary – where I grew up there was a different school timetable in winter from summer, to compensate for darkness and for the frequent foot-deep snows causing school closure; we had extra time added to the schoolday in summer to compensate. The school fitted around the clock, not vice-versa.

Messing with the clock is a blunt and in the end fairly pointless hammer; the nails are peoples’ behaviour and the regulations that force THEM to live life to an unyielding clock, not the tyranny of the clock itself.

Back in 2009 I discovered Tony Finch (@fanf) who independently had come up with largely the same idea:

The essence of sunrise time is that we reset our clocks each day (by slightly adjusting their timezone) to a fixed time when the sun rises at a benchmark location. For the UK, the benchmark location would be where the Greenwich meridian crosses the Tropic of Cancer. This simple mechanism makes even more daylight available when people are awake than conventional DST, and eliminates political argument.

If you are setting civil time according to when the sun rises, then it is by definition coupled to the rotation of the Earth, and there can be no accelerating difference between them. This is true even if the underlying time scale does diverge in this way because it uses fixed-length SI seconds. This mechanism even lasts beyond the time when the current leap second rules become unworkable because we need more than 12 each year.

He also floated a solution for the pesky Scandinavians:

I thought it would be most convenient to use sunrise at a standard latitude, so that timezone offsets are reasonably simple. East-west offsets are multiples of an hour. Northern and southern zones have fine grained daily adjustments in counterphase to each other, and tropical zones follow mean solar time. The tropic of cancer seems like a reasonable choice of standard latitude for countries in the northern hemisphere – it results in the offset relative to mean solar time varying up to an hour and a half.

People in polar areas will probably continue to follow the time used in the non-polar time zone that’s most relevant to them, i.e. where their supply ships come from or where the nearest city is. I understand that’s what they do at present.

This was back in January 2009; we haven’t done anything with it since but I am minded to, not least because I’ve always wanted to do a small film on timezone history and including a lot of the content of the book Saving The Daylight which I found to be an epic read… and the climax of the film would be to find some pro-DDST campaigners, drop the concept of BET onto them and see/film what happens.

Maybe I should do a kickstarter?


From Wikipedia, anywhere that’s not grey is on the wrong timezone from a solar perspective:

Note the preponderance of red, ie: countries trying to force folk to get up early.

Mars 360-degree Flash Panorama /ht @webmink

panorama is here – website seems to be annoyingly wedded to Facebook.

Perseid Meteor from Above


View from the ISS at Night on Vimeo # THIS IS A MUST-WATCH, USE HD IF POSS

This is one of those videos where you realise a connection between science and humanity; it’s very simple: there’s a big window on the ISS now – in a whole bunch of ways it doesn’t need to be there, but it is there because we are human and ought to look at ourselves.

Carl would approve.

View from the ISS at Night from Knate Myers on Vimeo.

THIS: Within Two Worlds


I have a bunch of 1983-86 issues of “Astronomy”, “BAA Journal” and similar going to recycle unless…

…anyone wants them?

Telescopes of your childhood, anyone?

80 years from now we can expect Doritos From Space

In 2008, Doritos embarked upon an “out-of-this-world” advertising campaign, literally beaming a 30sec ad for Doritos brand tortilla chips into a solar system 42 light years away. This project is in collaboration with EISCAT Space Centre in Svalbard. The “You Make It, We’ll Play It” contest chose the winning advertisement that was transmitted on June 12, 2008. The ad was beamed towards a distant star, within the Ursa Major constellation, that is orbited by planets which may harbor life.[1]

via EISCAT – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

“He would have to keep 2 to 3 inches away to not get sucked into the funnel” #ouch

There are 4 basic parts in a space toilet, the liquid waste vacuum tube, the vacuum chamber, the waste storage drawers, and the solid waste collection bags. The liquid waste vacuum tube is a 2 to 3-foot (0.91 m) long rubber or plastic hose that is attached to under the vacuum chamber. It is connected to a fan that provides suction. On the end is a detachable urine receptacle. There are 2 different kinds; for male and female astronauts. The male kind is a plastic funnel 2 to 3 inches in width and about 4 inches deep. A male astronaut would urinate directly into the funnel. He would have to keep 2 to 3 inches away to not get sucked into the funnel. The female version is a funnel that is oval in shape and is 2 inches by 4 inches wide at the rim. Near the rim of the funnel are small holes or slits for air to pass through so an astronaut can place the funnel on her body without getting sucked in. The vacuum chamber is a cylinder about 1-foot (0.30 m) deep and 6 inches wide. On the rim of it are clips where you attach waste collection bags. At the back is a fan that provides suction. The waste storage drawers are where they store the waste. Urine is pumped into one of these drawers. They freeze a sample of urine and solid waste and send it to Earth for testing. The solid waste collection bag is a detachable bag that is made of a special fabric that lets gas but not liquid or solid through. This allows the fan at the back of the vacuum chamber to pull the waste into the bag. When the astronaut is done using it, he/she twists their bag and places it in a waste storage drawer.

Space toilet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


NASA DJs spin wicked beats for Voyager 2