Thursday, 22 September 2016


Happy equinox, everyone! Here are some tomatoes from our balcony garden.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Patterns in Coffee

What do you think this is?

Unless you scrutinised the photo very carefully, you probably answered "Cream". But despite the "Double" in large type and the strawberry graphic, there is tiny type at the bottom which says "alternative to cream". In fact, Elmlea is a "blend of buttermilk and vegetable oils" whose only advantage, as far as I can see, is that it "keeps up to 5 days opened in the fridge, compared to 3 days for double cream."

I've never knowingly bought Elmlea – my dislike for dairy substitutes is well-documented – but this week I thought I'd try it out because the shop didn't have real cream. As an experiment I put some into my morning coffee. The coffee was inedible (I discovered that Elmlea, unlike cream, does not mix with coffee), but at least it made a cool pattern.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

London vs Cambridgeshire

This week the Widescreen Centre, the last surviving telescope shop in Central London, announced that they are relocating to Cambridgeshire. The reasons they cited for the move are "[t]he current economic climate, changing retail patterns, and critically a major rent review due imminently".

I only visited their shop once, to buy a solar filter to observe the transit of Mercury. The Widescreen Centre folk graciously answered some questions I had about telescopes, although I'd made it clear that I wasn't looking to buy one. They are also among the core members of my astronomy club (their announcement says they will continue to come for our monthly meets in London).

Rent is not the only thing that makes Cambridgeshire more conducive to astronomy than London. I took this photo last month when my friend Rohini and I went stargazing in Hampstead Heath in London. If you hover over the image, you can see the names of major constellations as well as two Messier objects: the Pleiades Star Cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Try as we might, we could not see the Andromeda galaxy with the naked eye (the photo above was a 15-second exposure, so the camera captured about twice as many stars as our eyes could see).

For me, the most striking thing about the photo is the light pollution. Long after sunset on a clear night, the light from thousands of buildings and streetlamps gives the London sky an unsightly orange cast. Compare this with a photo I posted earlier this year of the International Space Station over Cambridgeshire (hover to see constellation labels):

Relatedly, the photographer Nicholas Buer has a wonderful video simulation of what London would look like if there were no light pollution.