Yipee, success, I saw the spacecraft in the sky

At around 10.15pm this evening I saw the SpaceX spacecraft in the sky. It’s passing didn’t take long. Long enough though to be excited in seeing it. I even managed to take a photo – crumby though the photo is, at least I got. In the photo below it’s the lower bright spot in the sky.

All those cosmic wonders, such as the comets, meteor showers, and such, I seem never to see them. Yet, this spacecraft I did see.

Here’s one less thing to worry us in our part of Surrey

I’ve kept away from looking at too much detail about coronavirus on the web, that is until today. I’ll post what I found later.

While, I was looking at the coronavirus stuff on Public Health England’s website, I noticed this announcement, and the map attached to it,

“Our UKradon website has reached 3 million hits! Learn more about radon and check whether your home is in a radon affected area at ukradon.org”

By clicking on the map above you are linked to the introduction to an interactive map. Follow the links, and play around, and you’ll find that our part of Surrey isn’t affected by Radon.

The ukradon.org website has most of what you need to know about the subject. It’s more of a concern for those areas, like Cornwall, with granite geology and its association with mining.

But as I say, it’s one thing less, in Surrey, for us to worry about.

Always good to be reminded of how little I know

I know something about a few things. I know nothing about an absolute mountain of stuff.

Here’s one such item of which I knew nothing till reading about Arthur Eddington, in a BBC online article – The man who made Einstein world-famous.

Here are a couple of sources where you can learn more about Arthur Eddington.


NASA’s compelling video of the rotation of the Moon

Here’s another of my serendipitous finds on the Internet. Go to the NASA site HERE for detailed background on the Lunar reconnaissance Orbiter [LROC].

Surrey University’s successful space clean-up project

The University of Surrey released this news on 15th February 2019.

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite, one of the world’s first attempts to address the build-up of dangerous space debris, has successfully used its on-board harpoon-capture system in orbit.

The Airbus Stevenage designed harpoon featured a 1.5 metre boom deployed from the main RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft with a piece of satellite panel on the end. The harpoon was fired at 20 metres/sec to penetrate the target and demonstrate the ability of a harpoon to capture debris.

This marks the third successful experiment for the RemoveDEBRIS project. It previously used its on-board net to capture a simulated piece of debris, and then trialled its state-of-the-art LiDAR and camera based vision navigation system to identify space junk.

The team is now preparing for the final experiment, which is set to take place in March and will see RemoveDEBRIS inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed.

Continue reading

Scouts and children collect conkers for munitions in WW1

Here’s a fascinating story about conkers. Before I get to them, I need to give you a short preamble.

At an evening lecture this week of the Surrey Industrial History Group, I listened to a talk by Martin Adams, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at the University of Surrey, entitled Conkers, Cordite and the Birth of Modern Biotechnology.

Martin Adams only got round to talking about conkers at the end of his talk. He preceded by describing the discovery, history, and making of acetone.

Acetone is a colourless flammable liquid that was required for the making of Cordite, an explosive  propellant used in military shells and rifle cartridges in World War 1.

Prior to WW1, Britain imported acetone, mostly from America. Wartime made imports difficult, and so Britain needed to manufacture it herself. Secret factories were established to make acetone from a distillation process using maize starch. Should you want to know more about this process, then HERE is a useful, and not too technical, start.

Maize starch, again, much imported from America, was needed both to make acetone and for food production. Therefore, in 1917 other sources of raw material for the acetone distillation process were needed. It was discovered that horse chestnuts – conkers – could be a good source.

In 1917 a circular from the Board of Education was sent to schools to mobilise children to collect conkers and deliver them to railway stations for onward shipment to a secret factory in Kings Lynn. Here’s a photo of the letter, taken from Martin Adams talk. Click on image to expand.

The collection of conkers was hugely successful. The means of transferring them to the secret factory was far less successful, such that much of the collected conkers were left to rot at railway stations through complications with transport arrangements.

It was also discovered shortly after the Kings Lynn factory began distilling the conkers for acetone that it was too troublesome a process and resulted in a lot less acetone that was expected, and also that the quality of the conkers were too variable. The factory ceased using conkers after three months. The need for acetone to make cordite reduced dramatically at the end of WW1, so there the story ends

Here are some sources for this story you might like to read.

Visiting the historic wind tunnels in Farnborough

Some readers may have heard of the wind tunnels in Farnborough. Even fewer will have seen them, as they were in the secret Royal Aircraft Establishment [RAE]. The UK has a proud history in the development of wind tunnels. Recently we visited two of the preserved historic wind tunnels in Farnborough.

A wind tunnel is used to help solve the aerodynamics issues of aircraft and aircraft components. A smooth and stable flow of air is passed over a scale model of an aircraft, or, a whole aircraft where the wind tunnel is large enough. A variety of measurements are then observed and recorded. Aircraft wing design has been and remains one of the important uses of wind tunnels.

Having covered what they are, we can get down to the historic wind tunnels. The RAE, and its predecessors at Farnborough, played a central role in the development of aviation in the UK, and its wind tunnels were a key part of that role. The RAE closed in 1993, with its research work being part privatised. The Farnborough Air Sciences Trust [FAST] was established to save the heritage of the RAE and its wind tunnels.

There are three wind tunnel buildings in Farnborough, known as R52, Q121, and R133. Only the first two can be visited with asbestos in R133 limiting access. The buildings remain as they were when last used over 20 years ago.

The R52 building dates from 1911 and is Grade 1 listed. It originally housed two 7-foot wind tunnels. Both are now gone, though one is now located at the University of Southampton, in their place is a ‘low turbulence’ 4 x 3 foot tunnel built in 1946.

Iconic is a much misused word, though can be applied to the Q121 building, which is recognisable to all who pass by. Again it’s Grade 1 listed. Never have I known what went on inside. Now I know. It houses the 24 foot wind tunnel. Actually, the whole building is the wind tunnel. It was opened in 1935 and remained in use until 1996.

The wind tunnels are not open to the general public. Tours of the wind tunnels are by pre-arrangement, last for around 2.5 hours, and a group of no more than 20.  Wind tunnels remain important for aeronautical research, as the March 2018 article The future role of wind tunnels in test and development in Aerospace Testing International magazine.

Here are a few photos of the buildings, and their wind tunnels.

I love my commenters

I love the comments written on this blog. I learn such a lot from them.

See Will’s comment on the photo of British astronaut Tim Peake. He posted this video of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s talk in Wimbledon last year. I’ve watched it. Truly unforgettable, just as Will says.

A couple of days of photos: No.6 – Astronaut

Continuing with presenting only photos. This photo is of British astronaut Tim Peake seen during his first spacewalk on Jan. 15, 2016, successfully replacing a failed voltage regulator that caused a loss of power to one of the space station’s eight power channels in Nov. 2015.

I remain enthralled by our ability to do this stuff.

Photo of the week No.43: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, 1969

On Monday this week I referenced an article in Atlantic Monthly which asked, ‘What Was the Most Influential Photograph in History?’

I was unimpressed by the choices of the professional photographers in the article. Perhaps I’m overly critical in that their choices could have had some influence, though I don’t know how much. Maybe, it’s the wrong question, for I don’t think a single photo, on its own, can have that much influence.

Anyway, I said I’d make my choice of a supposed influential photo. It’s taken me the rest of the week to think about it, and perhaps I was influenced by one of the photos in the article. I hope I wasn’t.

It’s a photo, taken during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission by mission commander Neil Armstrong of fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon by the lunar lander. There are many such photos of the Apollo 11 mission. This is the one I prefer. It has it all, Astronaut on the moon, astronaut footprints, reflection in the visor, and the leg of the lunar lander.

A truly staggering achievement.