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ThinkCon in Cambridge

“I never could get the hang of Thursdays”, is what I tweeted the day before I was travelling to Cambridge. It had been a more-than-usual hectic week. Even the three hour train trip to the ferry almost seemed too short. I realised I like trains so much because they force me to do nothing. I did already arrange for a taxi on the other side (however did we manage again before the interwebs?) Anyway, while doing this nothing thing, I noticed the Moon coming up and I was fully relaxed when I had sushi for dinner on the last train.

While checking in for the boat, I met Julian. A lovely guy with whom I was travel buddies at first sight. I invited him to my lecture and he invited me to his party. My dear friend Rona said she wasn’t surprised: “You’re always picking up strays, aren’t you? I mean, look at us…!” I did manage to gather seven good friends to come to this event (although I wasn’t sure yet if the formerly mentioned friend was going to be supportive or if she’d heckle!) It really was great to have them there and the audience was lovely, Cambridge was beautiful and the day was sunny.

It was nice to finally meet Andy, who had invited me. The atmosphere seemed easy-going as I did go over my slides before I actually went on stage. Andy had showed me to the green room, saying it wasn’t really green (they never are) and I knew I had just missed a great talk when I heard Kat Arney explain types of tumours as “tigers or pussycats”. I think my slot went well too and it was fun. I very much appreciated the guys coming up to me afterwards to say they enjoyed it; that’s a nice thing to do. And I met even more nice people in the Eagle pub next to the venue, where we had lunch.

Next up were Gia Milinovich, Sophie Scott, Alice Roberts and Heather Williams, for a discussion on woman in science. I’m a fan of Alice and I loved how she said she wanted to become a horse when she was a kid; I had a similar ambition. But their main point was how important it is to have female role models in science. After I just received another invitation to speak at an event and the organisers practically begged me since all the other woman had said no, I guess it is important to celebrate these role models. I very much like the ScienceGrrl organisation, which does just that.

Then Matt Parker was on with his stand-up maths and he instantly had a new fan. I was very impressed by how easily he seemed to show the audience not only how things work, but also how fun maths is. I’m slightly proud to say, I managed to do one of his ‘tricks’, with help of his excellent explanation afterwards. Matt, you rock! And there was more planned still. I also learned ThinkCon wasn’t the only event going on this day; it was part of a whole scientific weekend in Cambridge and I gathered from the programme that Robin Ince was in town too! I’m afraid I missed him though.

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I had to enjoy the view with my friends too and while we were sitting on the grass, I learned what baby swans are called (‘cygnets’ – there’s a little fact for you). After that we went on to freshen up and I stayed in a lovely hotel, where I was welcomed with a cookie (?) when I checked in. I managed to not get lost when I found my friends outside the pub again later. Dinner was hilarious, as expected. When the waiter asked if we wanted dessert or coffee, Rona replied she could deal with life and death decisions, but not handle this difficult question.

She also said she’d let me eat soil before letting me put hot milk in my tea. I did it anyway. When we all walked off to our beds, we ended up hugging in the middle of the streets. I’m thankful for having such good friends and luckily I’ll see them again soon. Meanwhile I had another day of travelling ahead, but before I left I had a nice walk. When I came back to the hotel, my previously booked taxi was waiting to take me to the airport. This was so tiny that I started to understand why a couple of friends didn’t even know it existed!

There were only three other people for this flight and the stewardess could just as well have said “lady and gentleman”. The pilot announced we were travelling at a speed of 700km/hour over Ipswich and I took a picture of my cup of water as it reminded me of Jurassic Park. I’m easily amused.

Rona, Nigel, Geoff, Julianne, Richard, Yvonne and Todd: thank you; you made it memorable. Julian, thanks for the laughs on our journey and for almost ruining that happy song for me. And Andy and all the lovely people in Cambridge: thanks for having me over. It was a blast.

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Milky Way Cocktail?

Does a Milky Way Cocktail contain milk? Do you know what Dark Matter tastes like? That’s what the poster below asks. It challenges primary school kids (of all groups and from everywhere!) to come up with a recipe for this astronomical dish and/or drink. It’s a competition and the organisers asked me to take a place in the jury, as a teacher who knows a thing or two about space.

I was asked by Anke den Duyn, who’s writing a book for ASTRON about radio astronomy, aiming at primary school children. The winning recipes will end up in the book and on the menu of the Bos Pub in Lhee! You can send in your ideas until the 5th of May 2014. The winners will be announced on the day the book will be presented, but that date is not yet set in stone.

Good luck!

You can send in your recipes for a Milky Way Cocktail (non-alcoholic) or a Dark Matter Dish to:

Receptenwedstrijd t.n.v. Anke den Duyn
Postbus 2
7990 AA Dwingeloo

If you have any more questions, you can ask Anke at: duijn@astron.nl


Helen Keen’s ‘It Is Rocket Science’ new series

I’m fairly sure that most of you following my blog are interested in (space) science. And I’m guessing that a lot of you are interested in it the way I am; without necessarily being an actual scientist. Have I got a thing to show you! My friend Helen Keen, who had invited me on her West End show last year, has done a new series of her popular comedy about the history and development of human spaceflight: It Is Rocket Science.

I just heard a preview of the first episode of series three, which looks at how people might one day travel to Mars and beyond. Helen discusses the problems of long space voyages, with tips on a rather unsavoury way to stop cosmic rays and what to do if you feel like eating your crewmates. It’s the perfect mix of scientifically accurate facts, presented in a funny and light-hearted way. You might find you learn something new, while you’re being entertained. Helen = cool.

Here’s a little promo; an animated bit from the show. The first episode will air tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 11pm GMT. With Helen Keen, Peter Serafinowicz and Susy Kane. Written by Helen Keen and Miriam Underhill. Presenter: Helen Keen, Producer: Gareth Edwards for the BBC.

The Voorwerp by Takahashi at Halley

Patrick Duis, one of the amateur astronomers from the Dutch Astroforum, took another picture of Hanny’s Voorwerp. Now I know there are others out there who’d like to give it a try too, so if you have: do let me know. Here are the specifics Patrick has e-mailed me, and of course the pretty picture. Thanks!


Telescope: Takahashi Epsilon-300 300mmF3.8 Astrograph on a CP-180 mount
Camera: Artemis 4021 mono at -15 degrees Celsius
Auto guiding: ASH off axis guider
Guide cam: SXV Lodestar
Filters: none
Light: 17x20min auto guided, 21 flats, bad pixel map.
Shot on the night of 27 February and 4 and 6 March 2014
Software: Cartes du Ciel, Nebulosity3 (capturing/pre-processing) and Photoshop (post-processing)
Image Scale: 1.35 arc sec/pixel


ThinkCon (announcement)

When you’re reading this, I will probably be on my way to Cambridge to speak at ThinkCon. I’ve already told a few of my friends about this, and I’ll be meeting some of them there, but if you’d like to know more: have a look at this great line-up! Free tickets can be reserved on their website too.