Wednesday 20 October 2010

Hartley 2, Radio 4

Occasionally on my way home from school, I listen to Material World on Radio 4, just for the pleasure of sharing the enthusiasm of the presenter Quentin Cooper.

quention cooper

Imagine a small excited puppy, who bounces up to you, and drops a wet red rubber ball at your feet. His eyes are bright, he is panting and you know he is trying to say “This game is such fun, throw the ball, please come and play!” so you throw the ball and he fetches it back, and his tail wags. And this goes on and on…his energy is endless, his passion for the game is tireless. You stop – and he is still there, hoping you’ll play some more.

Thus it is with QC “Come on, this science is such fun, do join in, you will love it!” And he can apply this boundless excitement to almost any branch of science you care to mention at 3.30pm most Thursday afternoons! And he keeps bringing back the scientific ball to your feet, again and again, and every week he goes right up till the end of the programme and runs out of time to tell you all the things that excite him!

Last week, he was raving about the fact that the comet Hartley 2 was approaching,and it might be possible to see it with the naked eye over Britain. Trouble was, his guest appeared to be a scientist from the Eeyore School Of Astronomy.

Quentin; So where in the sky should we be looking for the comet?

Eeyore; Well, you won’t see it anywhere there’s any light pollution! You have to be somewhere away from civilisa…

Quentin; [interrupting] Yes but how might our listeners manage to see the comet? Briefly please

Eeyore; Well, you will need a clear night, if there is any cloud of course, you won’t man…

Quentin; [interrupting desperately] Which direction should we be looking? We’re running out of time here – so quickly…

Eeyore; Well,…

Quentin;[resignedly] listeners, you will find all the information you need on the Material world website. Next week, hear how the spending review will affect science. Goodbye!

Liz works as a volunteer at Battersea Dogs home each weekend and I guess her concern for neglected puppies has affected me. Poor QC – so eager to share the fun of comets with us against all odds. I was hooked! I pulled on to the drive and went upstairs, and printed off the star chart and directions! I left the sheets on top of the bag of “Stuff for Cornerstones” – and Bob [my own personal science geek] intelligently left a compass alongside them. He knows I am never sure which way is north!


So last night at around midnight,I got up to go to the loo. Bob stirred. “You awake?” I said [daft woman – of course he was once I had spoken to him!] “I am going to the loo then I am going to look for a comet” Except it was raining and cloudy outside.

Went back to bed!

2.45am Bob got up [silently] and went to the bathroom. He returned and then woke me up and said “The rain has stopped, and it is clear as anything outside” [dear reader –note his sensitivity here – he didn’t wake me till he had checked the atmospheric conditions!]

We went out into the back garden with compass and directions [then went back inside to check the directions properly under the electric light] Back out again and staring up at the western sky…

We found Orion and The Plough and the bright Hunter’s Moon, and Capella all beaming brightly – and there it was [picture from National Geographic]


Wow! maybe when I retire to this wonderful dim little village [next to no light pollution here, and wide Norfolk skies] I shall take up astronomy and stand in the garden on lots of nights, watching the stars!

I returned to the warmth of the duvet [with a mug of drinking chocolate] and tried to remember that wonderful anonymous 17th century poem, one of those used as ‘Poems on The Underground’

I saw a Peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a Cloud with Ivy circled round
I saw a sturdy Oak creep on the ground
I saw a Pismire swallow up a whale
I saw a raging Sea brim full of Ale
I saw a Venice Glass sixteen foot deep
I saw a Well full of men’s tears that weep
I saw their eyes all in a flame of fire
I saw a House as big as the Moon and higher
I saw the sun even in the midst of night
I saw the Man that saw this wonderous sight.

[you need to read this twice – the second time, start “with a fiery tail I saw a blazing comet” and see how the sense changes]

I am so glad I am on holiday this week. It does mean I don’t have to get up before 10am after such nocturnal stargazing!

1 comment:

  1. How marvelous that you saw the comet. Your Bob reminds me of my husband, who also is the only one in this family who can find North and would get up in the middle of the night to watch a comet.



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