Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jupiter, Io, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa and Uranus from Santiago de Compostela

This may not look like much, but it took a fair few shots to capture it. Jupiter at the moment is one of the brightest objects in the sky, rising around sunset and shining through the night, it's currently the closest it's been to us for almost 50 years. I've caught Jupiter with the four major moons before, but this shot was a bit special. When I enhanced the image, a bright green spot jumped out. I knew what it was having seen on Stellarium a few days earlier what else was in the sky, but I double checked to make sure that I'd really captured the very faint image of Uranus around 2 billion kilometers away from us, just to the top left of the Jovian system. Here's the result (my photo on the right) as compared with Stellarium (on the left):

Jupiter and its moons with Uranus

Here's another image from the same set of shots, but at a different setting on the camera, such that I could get the moons in better resolution. Here's Callisto, Europa, Io, Jupiter and Ganymede
Jupiter and moons

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sundogs burning over Santiago

Back in Santiago and with an intimidating amount to get done in a week before I hit the road again, but I wanted to post some photos I took yesterday.

I was heading into town to see a friend I haven't seen for a couple of months and on the way I noticed the hint of a sundog as the cirrus cloud tickled the 22 degree peripheries of the suns reaches. We went for a walk in the Alameda park in the centre of the city and by the time we got to the point overlooking the hills in the distance, the lone sundog had turned into two brilliant points of light in the sky, dazzlingly colourful and being bisected by a sun column and the faintest hint of an upper tangent arc. It was the strongest display of a double sundog I've ever seen and so I got my normal volley of shots off before the sun disappeared into the clouds:

fire in the sky
sundogs and upper tangent arc
sundogs over Santiago
Keep an eye out over the next few days. It tends to be as the seasons change that we see more of these glorious scenes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lunar halo over Oxford

I just came back from a long, tiring but very enjoyable day visiting the University of Southampton where I did my PhD. I went down there to give a talk and spent a long time chatting with the students and postdoc, and my former boss about a miscellany of ideas and possible resolutions to current problems. It was a positive visit and people seemed enthused by the talk.

It was also a good chance to catch up with an old friend that I see far too infrequently these days, so we went for a curry and chatted in one of our old haunts, while freshers drank themselves into a stupor around us.

I got back home to Oxford after taking four trains around midnight and saw, as I got into the drive, a halo around the moon. I got the tripod out and went into the back garden and took a few shots. The halo itself was delicate but lovely, made all the better by Jupiter, just to the bottom left of the moon. Uranus, just above Jupiter couldn't be seen with the flare from the moon.

lunar halo with jupiter
While we're on the subject of atmospheric optics and ice halos I'll post up a photo I took from the airport in Vienna on Monday evening as the sun was setting and the plate crystals in the split cirrus clouds reflected and refracted the light toward me:
sundogs over Vienna

Tomorrow I head back to London to check on my visa situation, and then on to the wedding either tomorrow night or Friday early morning. In the mean time there are calculations building up which will be tackled in transit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

fifty bits to make you wonder - by helen sotiriadis

I will update the last couple of days of hectic travels, but first I really wanted to put up an advert for a new book, out today, which any fan of photography should get their hands on. I've advertised the work of Toomanytribbles (aka Helen Sotiriadis) on numerous occasions, not just because she's a friend but because I think that her work is really spectacular. We met in China after she found my blog and quizzed me about life in Beijing and it was a pleasure to see her photography go from good to outstanding in a short space of time, helped on by the inspirational architecture and sights around the city.

She's just created a book of some 50 of her best works which can be previewed here.

anyway, if you want your own copy of this lovely work, go here and order one...or several. Mine is in the post.


So, onto more mundane matters...

I caught up with a couple of hours of sleep today after a tiring night. I flew from Vienna to Gatwick and got into London some time after midnight, making way towards Oxford Street where I'd booked myself into a hostel in order to get up as early as possible to the Chinese visa agency (a great company if you haven't got time to go to the embassy yourself) I've been using for the last few years. Normally I stay with friends in London but the timing just wasn't going to work on this occasion. I realised yesterday that I wasn't going to have time to get the passport to the agency and back before I leave for Spain again and so I had to hand it in in person this morning. The snorer in the room in the hostel however scuppered any chances of a good night's sleep and though I drifted off some time around 5 am, getting up before 7 wasn't easy.

Anyway, though tired, it worked out ok so far. I made it to the  agency, handed everything over, confirmed all forms and photos and made my way back to Oxford where I've spent today drifting between sleep and work.

Tomorrow morning I'm out of the house before 7am on the way down to Southampton where I'll be speaking with the students of my PhD supervisor about my recent work and theirs and meeting up with old friends in the evening, before racing back to Oxford once more late at night. Then Thursday to London to pick up the visa and Friday to the wedding of one of my best friends. In between all this I'm trying to keep the momentum going on a new calculation which we want to add to a new paper, to come out in the not too distant future.

So, in summary, the normal chaos, and in a few days my penultimate stay in Santiago will begin which I'm looking forward to very much.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spain-England-Austria-Slovakia-Hungary and back

It's been almost three weeks since my last post, and the time has been crammed absolutely full since leaving Santiago. The last two weeks have mostly been spent in Vienna which has been both enjoyable and very productive. Two weeks sitting down in the same office has allowed for progress on three projects, though there is still some way to go on all of them, and the rest of the time in the institute has been spent talking with collaborators (and drinking large quantities of coffee). The fact that there are blackboards in the toilets shows just how serious these people are about doing good science!

I took last weekend off to go to Bratislava and Budapest, neither of which I'd been to before and given that Bratislava and Vienna are the two closest capital cities in the world,  I thought it silly not to take the opportunity. I took off on Friday evening on the train and booked into a botel on the Danube itself. Nothing special, but I figured that given that it would be churlish not to spend a night on river. I went out in the evening, had some very good local fish (Slovakian food, from the variety I saw, looked very good indeed) and then walked around the town before chatting with a load of locals and foreigners in a bar in the centre and then moving on to a club as the evening drew into night.

The next day I headed off early on the train to Budapest, two and a half hours away, and checked into a hostel before taking the train up north to the Turkish baths and spending a very enjoyable few hours soaking, swimming and being steamed at a range of temperatures. That night I went out for a fine Hungarian goulash before going bar hopping with some people I'd met in the hostel. It's been nice to go to a fair number of clubs in central Europe and to see that they're full of people who actually enjoy dancing, something that I see less of in Spain (plenty of jumping, not so much dancing!).

The Sunday I did the tourist trail in Budapest, walking up the hill to the castle and going around the park full of the preserved communist monuments, which have been kept as a reminder of the past, something unusual in an ex-communist country, most of which destroyed such structures when communism fell.


Sunday evening I got back on the train and made my way back to Vienna, spending most of the way talking physics to an Indonesian art student and her mother who bombarded me with questions about the nature of the universe.

This week has been another busy one in the office, working on my projects and giving a talk on Wednesday. Thursday morning I took off though as it was my birthday and I fancied heading out to the summer palace in Schonbrunn, where I'd been before, but it's one of the most spectacular palaces in Europe and the tour around the house is pretty well done.
and then the weekend, which was taken up with tourist things in the day, sitting in cafes and getting on with some paper editing, and a little partying at night. I have one more day now in the department and will be heading back to England tomorrow night, where five full days of work, admin nonsense and weddings await me.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On the road again

I've just moved out of my flat in Santiago, a place which has been my home, when not on the road, for the last three years, and has been a truly wonderful place to live, with a kitchen which could accommodate even my most ridiculous dinners, with rooms to house many friends and couchsurfers, with a view of an amazing palette of greens and wide skies, looking out towards the setting sun.

I've had a friend living with me for the last few weeks while she finds a place of her own, but last night I asked to be alone. I arrived in the flat three years ago, alone, without a bed to sleep on, without memories or knowledge of what life had in store for the next era of my life, and I rather wanted my last night to be alone there as well, sitting, thinking about the last thousand days, about the dinners and friends who've come to eat and stay, about the 120 or so couchsurfers from almost 30 countries who have come into my life for just a few days, to share their stories and to hear tales of the universe, of life in China, of crazy meals and lost days, of a life in research, of what we know and what we don't know. The number of art's students who now have a basic knowledge of the holographic principle is non-negligible, thanks largely to these walls in el Calle Romero Donallo. I wanted to think about the work I've done in this flat, of where I've come since leaving China, of the papers I've written and the papers I almost wrote, of the new collaborations, of the arguments, heated and impassioned which I've had, and which have increased my understanding, or decreased my misunderstanding of the field, of the time spent silent and motionless on the sofa, trying to play mathematical tricks to solve a problem,  of the nights where I couldn't sleep, because every time I started drifting off, mathematica code would stream across my visual field and I would jump out of bed, only to realise that my idea was ludicrous, or not. I wanted to remember the kimchi making parties with crowds of Korean friends coming round to get their taste of home, of the dumpling evenings where a bunch of friends would be put to use in a production line around the dining table, filling jaozi after jaozi with scallions and pork, of the sushi, paella and pulpo lunches where we would take advantage of the wealth of seafood off the Galician coast...and so much more.

This isn't my farewell to Santiago, but I will be here for only another two weeks before Christmas and on the road the rest of the time, at conferences and programs, and so it didn't seem worthwhile to keep the flat. My belongings, boxed and labeled, are taking up most of the spare room of a friend's flat, for the time being, until I send them off to Munich some time before December. My life is temporarily reduced to a rucksack of clothes and a bag with my notebook, my laptop and my camera. The rest of my belongings will sit in silence, enshrouded in cardboard and tape for the next few weeks. This minimisation is something I rather like, though I feel there is more I could do without.

For now I'm waiting to take a train, to catch a bus, to take a plane to England where I'm off to a wedding this weekend, before flying straight on to Vienna where I'll spend two weeks at a school on applications of AdS/CFT to the quark gluon plasma, a subject that I haven't worked actively on this year but which I hope to get back into over the coming weeks. There are still some ideas from last Christmas that one of my collaborators has reignited and I hope to give a push to as soon as possible.

So, for now I say goodbye to my home in Romero Donallo, to the library which has been my home from home over the last two weeks where I've been calculating furiously, to the cafe which has been keeping me well caffeinated and whose waiters would greet me with a sly grin every time I popped in for another giant mug of cortado upon cortado, to the swimming pool which has cleansed my mind every few days and has almost certainly saved me from complete melt-down, while working late into the night, and of course to friends, who I'll be seeing again in a few weeks time when back for the penultimate time, just before heading off to China.