Category: People

The end of an era.

In memory of a great woman.

My mother was born on December 10th, 1919

She died a short while ago, at 21:22 GMT/UTC on Monday, November 14th.

That is 9:22 pm British time on the same day as the moon’s closest distance to our Mother Planet since 1948.

Or to find some poetry in the timing of the end of my mother’s life, she died 10 hours to the minute after that closest moment of the moon’s passing, that was at 11:22 British time this morning.

p1160632This photograph of the moon was taken last night from here at home in Oregon at a few minutes after 10pm.

My mother was born Elizabeth Foreman and after the death of our father, Frederick Handover, in 1956, she subsequently married Richard Mills.

My sister, Elizabeth, and I were born in 1944 and 1949 respectively. My mother and Richard were parents to our half-sister Eleanor, who was born in 1959.

Our mother was an incredible woman and her death is truly the end of an era for the family.

For the rest of my years, I will look up at the full moon and remember my mother’s amazing life.

Dan, my Best Man, at the wedding of Jean and me, November 20th 2010
Dan, my Best Man, at the wedding of Jean and me, November 20th 2010. My mother is between Dan and me.

Dear people, you will understand why I will be taking a few days away from blogging.

What a Moon!

This is a night to be outside! (And that includes you, Susan L.)

It has been receiving quite a lot of publicity in recent days. I’m speaking of the “Supermoon”.

Or in the opening words of a recent Smithsonian Magazine article:

The Biggest Supermoon in 68 Years Will Leave You “Moonstruck”

It hasn’t been this close since 1948 and won’t be again for the next 18 years

(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)
(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)

In terms of when this is happening then I will draw on Mother Nature Network:

According to NASA, the full moon that rises on Nov. 13 will be the closest one to Earth since 1948. If viewing conditions are clear, the moon will not only appear 30 percent brighter, but also 14 percent larger. While the nighttime viewing is supposed to be spectacular, the true closest approach of the supermoon will take place on the morning of Nov. 14 at 8:52 a.m. EST.

Just how special is this super supermoon? Humanity won’t get another show like this one until Nov. 25, 2034.

Or as the EarthSky blogsite puts it:

The moon turns precisely full on November 14, 2016 at 1352 UTC. This full moon instant will happen in the morning hours before sunrise November 14 in western North America and on many Pacific islands, east of the International Date Line.

For those of us on Pacific time that equates to 0852 PST.

So the balance of today’s post will comprise the republication, with permission, of a recent essay on The Conversation blogsite.

ooOOoo

Supermoons are big and bright, but not as rare as the hype would suggest.

November 8, 2016

By

Senior Lecturer and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Programs in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University.

As an observational astronomer who teaches students about the behavior of the moon, I’m thankful for anything that inspires people to go out and look at the sky. For me it’s second nature to pay attention to the moon; when my son was born, I would take him out at night to observe with me, and one of his very first words was “moon.”

But I have mixed feelings about what’s being billed as the upcoming “super-supermoon.” Many astronomers do not like using the term because reports overhype the factors that make certain full moons unusual. Most of what you’ve likely read has probably misled you about what you can expect to see on Nov. 14 and just how rare this event is. Beautiful, yes. Worth looking up for, definitely. Once in a lifetime… that’s a bit overblown.

he moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA
The moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA

The moon’s cyclical phases

Just about everyone is familiar with the moon’s changing appearance as it goes through its phases from crescent, to half-illuminated (first quarter), to gibbous, to full, and then back through gibbous, to half-illuminated (third quarter), to crescent, to new.

This pattern occurs because the moon orbits the Earth. When the moon is between the Earth and sun, it’s a new moon, and you don’t see it that day. When the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun we get a full moon as the sun’s light illuminates almost its entire face. The complete sequence of phases takes about the same amount of time as it does for the moon to orbit the Earth once – just about a month.

As the moon makes its monthly trip around our planet, it travels on an elliptical, not circular, path. Every object in the solar system orbits like this, including the Earth around the sun; over the course of the year, the Earth is sometimes closer to the sun and sometimes more distant. Same for the moon – sometimes it’s closer to us and sometimes farther away.

The changes are proportionally not large; at “perigee” (the closest it gets to the Earth) the moon’s approximately 10 percent closer to the Earth than at “apogee” (most distant point on its orbit). Over the year, the moon’s distance from Earth varies from around 222,000 to 253,000 miles.

 The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind
The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind

The time it takes the moon to go from perigee to perigee (about 27.3 days) is shorter than the time it takes to go through a complete set of phases (about 29.5 days). Because these timescales are different, the phase at which perigee occurs varies. Sometimes perigee occurs when the moon is full, but it is just as likely for perigee to occur when the moon is in the first quarter phase, or any other. Whichever phase the moon is in when it’s at perigee will be the one that looks largest to us here on Earth for that month.

wo full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru
Two full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru

At perigee, the moon can appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon. But this is complicated by the fact that our eyes play tricks on us and convince us the moon looks larger when it is near the horizon than when it is higher in the sky. Every full moon will look big and bright whether it happens at perigee or apogee.

So what’s a supermoon?

The first time I heard the phrase “supermoon” was in 2011, and someone had to explain the suddenly in vogue term to me. People were using it to describe the full moon that happened to occur within an hour of perigee in March of that year. The moon’s perigee distance also varies a bit, and March 2011 was the moon’s closest perigee of that year.

 A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND
A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND

This was a somewhat rare event – a full moon occurring not just at perigee, but at the closest perigee of the year. But many people got the impression that this was an exceedingly unusual event, and rushed to see and capture images of this supposedly ultra-rare moon. Depending on how closely you require the full moon to occur to perigee in order to call it a supermoon, though, these events happen at least roughly once a year, and often more frequently.

Which brings us to this month’s much ballyhooed “super-supermoon.” News stories are hyping the upcoming full moon as a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity. It’s true that the Nov. 14 full moon is the closest since 1948, and the next time the full moon will be closer is in 2034.

But this month’s full moon is only 0.02 percent closer – a mere 41 miles! – than the March 2011 supermoon. These tiny distances make no noticeable difference in the moon’s appearance.

 Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Please do go out and observe the November full moon. If you are good with photography, try to document that the moon does appear larger than the other months this year. Just be aware you’ll have other virtually equivalent opportunities to do so pretty much every year for the rest of your life. So don’t worry if you miss it. You can catch the supermoon next time around.

ooOOoo

Fingers crossed our local weather will enable Jean and me to view this moon and I will try and photograph it.

If any readers also get to see this moon do let us know your thoughts and feelings.

I vote for peace!

My contribution to this day.

(I saw this posted over on Val Boyko’s blogsite the other day and thought how apt it was. It is republished with Val’s kind permission.)

ooOOoo

World Peace is Within You

Marbles, by Anne Schroeder

Introducing Anne Schroeder – a local Oregon author.

This week presents a number of interesting challenges.

The first is that while I am getting along reasonably well with the draft of my second book, Four Dogs On My Bed, I am still about 3,000 words (as of yesterday) behind where I wanted to be on November 7th. (There’s NaNoWriMo pressing in against me!)

The second challenge is that tomorrow is a special day. No, I’m not referring to the circus that has come to town, to everybody’s towns, but to my birthday. It is my birthday on the 8th and I’m trying hard to stay away from my computer.

The third and final challenge is that there are too many things going on for the balance of the week, even without me needing to keep my writing nose to the grindstone, for me to properly put together the blog posts otherwise required.

anne-croppedBut then along comes Anne Schroeder. I met Anne when I joined our local authors group, AIM, and, like all the other members of AIM, Anne was supportive and helpful towards me.

A week ago, Anne emailed me a short story that was perfect for all you dear readers.

That story is in three parts and I shall be continuing with Part Two and Part Three on Wednesday and Thursday. (I have something else for the 8th!)

Before the story, here is an introduction to Anne.

mariainesfrontAnne Schroeder writes memoir and historical fiction set in the West. She has won awards for her short stories published in print and on-line markets. She was 2015 President of Women Writing the West and lives with her husband and new Lab puppy in Southern Oregon where they explore old ruins and out-of-the-way places. Her new release, Maria Ines, is a novel about an Indian girl who grows up under Padre Junipero’s cross and endures life under the Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui conquest of California. http://www.anneschroederauthor.com

Here, then, is Part One of Anne’s tale.

ooOOoo

MY SEASON FOR MARBLES

I have a confession: Dogs and I have never gotten along. Well, okay, there was Happy, our black, floppy-eared Cocker Spaniel who died in front of me, under the wheel of my father’s truck when I was seven. After that, it seemed easier not to get attached.

On our sheep farm, dogs ate table scraps and slept under the tank house. We had a pair of Australian Shepherds, trained by Basque herders in their native language that guarded the flock at night against coyotes and neighbors pets. We weren’t allowed to distract the Aussies from their work.

My attitude regarding dogs could be described as cautious regard. I carry memories of being chased onto a John Deere tractor by a snarling stray. I have vivid memories of my uncle’s Doberman sinking its fangs into my calf because I was swinging hands with my cousin, a six-year-old like myself, as we walked up her driveway after school. I can still see that dog, loping toward us in slow-motion, slobber spraying off his jowls, his eyes keenly fixed on the enemy—which was me. All I could do was drop my little cousin’s hand, stand still, and hope that the dog would be merciful. No such luck.

I learned later that he was a watchdog, trained to protect his family. My aunt and uncle worked at a mental hospital and had received death threats from patients who escaped on a fairly regular basis.

Even when it was not my fault, I managed to annoy dogs. When I was seven my grandmother’s hound nipped me in the fleshy part of my palm as I dumped dinner into his bowl. My scream of pain was mostly indignant fury, but the memory scarred my soul. Another time a cousin’s cattle dog crawled out from under the porch where her new litter was sleeping. No bite this time; she just snarled with bared teeth until I hopped back on my bicycle and rode home. It was probably a bluff on her part, but I didn’t wait around to find out.

Eventually, dogs and fear became synonymous.

ooOOoo

Whoa! Where does it go from here? I do hope that you will return on Wednesday to find out! (That’s assuming that we all survive tomorrow’s circus!)

November writing alert!

Normal service may not be possible for the next few weeks!

learningfromdogs_3dbook_500xAs many of you know last December I published my first book Learning from Dogs.

That book had been the result of me getting my head down in the Novembers of 2013 and 2014. Why November? Because that is the month of NaNoWriMo, or to use the long-form: National Novel Writing Month.

Having brought book number one the light of the day, it was only natural that my mind started to turn to a sequel. At first, I thought of another book about dogs; perhaps Learning About Dogs? But for a variety of reasons I just couldn’t get started and it all came to a head last Wednesday during one of our regular group cycle rides. As follows:

Jim Goodbrod, he who wrote the foreword to my first book, asked how book number two was coming along.
“Oh Jim,” I replied, “I have left it far too late to contact the many academics that I have come across, to seek permission to quote their works and to find out if they have more scientific information of potential interest.”
“I have this terrible feeling that I’m setting myself up to fail!”

Jim then opened a wonderful window for me; metaphorically speaking. But before describing what Jim went on to say I should explain to you, dear reader, the connection between Jim and Janet, his wife, and Jean and me. Jim and Janet live about half-a-mile from us in Merlin, Southern Oregon, and right from the moment when we moved into our home back in 2012 they have been very good friends indeed. That friendship built upon Jim and Janet sharing very many similar outlooks on life to Jeannie and me. Plus Jim is a professional veterinarian doctor at a vet’s practice in Grants Pass, our local town some 12 miles from home, but has frequently given us advice ‘out of hours’ when one of our pets at home has gone down with something beyond Jean’s extensive experience.
So the four of us have spent much time together socially and I am embarrassed to admit that quite a few of my stories from past years have been told by me.

Back to that conversation during that bike ride. “Paul, Janet and I were only saying the other day that we would really love to see your next book being something autobiographical. You have had so many interesting experiences in so many parts of the world that we truly believe that they would be of interest to many others.”

It felt slightly uncomfortable to hear that. Uncomfortable in the sense that immediately responding by saying what a good idea that was carried too much egotism, was too self-indulgent. But at the same time I knew that Jim and Janet would offer a genuine recommendation and that it would most certainly get me out of my present difficult situation. I thanked Jim profusely. Jim then went on the describe the style that he and Janet would enjoy: “Janet and I have long loved reading books where each chapter was a self-contained story. In other words, a book that one could pick up and dip into and still feel that it was a good read.”

When I returned home and spoke about this to Jeannie she immediately said that it was something that she had been urging me to consider. An hour later I was speaking on the phone to my sister Eleanor and she, too, encouraged me to go down this route.

So that’s how it has come about that book number two is going to be semi-autobiographical, and it already has a name: Four Dogs On My Bed.

Or as the byline reads: On Life; On Love; and On Dogs.

All of which is a rather wordy way of saying that from now until the end of November my first priority is going to be book writing. How that will impact my attention to this blog and all you wonderful readers is uncertain. But if you see a string of re-posts from earlier times, if I don’t provide the most fulsome introduction to a guest author that they deserve, if my replies to comments are not as quick as I normally try to be, then you will know the reason why.

Thank you!

The power of a good massage.

This was a day when a massage would have been perfect treatment!

On Wednesday afternoon Jean and I hooked a big flatbed trailer, borrowed from a neighbour, to our pickup truck and went into town to collect a new sectional settee that we had recently purchased at a furniture sale.

Yesterday, Michael who comes in to help us on a regular basis turned up at 8:30 and we all set to. First up was to dismantle an old sectional in our den that had seen much better days and then carry that out to the front.

Next we moved a settee from our living-room to the den.

Last up was to unpack all three units that comprised the new sectional. Oh, nearly forgot! Then the old sectional from the den was loaded on to the trailer and taken to the tip!

By the end of the day this Brit, who will be 72 in a couple of weeks time, was feeling the odd aching muscle or two!

All of which is my introduction to this:

ooOOoo

Watching animals get massages is the most relaxing thing ever — for people

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy a soothing rubdown.

Starre Vartan

October 15, 2016
dog-massage-bulldog-jpg-653x0_q80_crop-smart
Most animals can benefit from massage, but whether it’s theraputic or not, they sure enjoy it, just like we do. (Photo: Serjey Saraschenko/Shutterstock)

I get massages whenever I’m able, and it’s my answer to the fun party question: “What would you do with a million dollars?” Well, first I’d pay off my grad school loans, but second on the list would definitely be weekly massage. Every time I get one, I end up walking on air; for me it’s like doing a yoga class without the effort.

But watching massage can be relaxing too — not watching people (that’s icky), but animals. I’m not the only one: My Facebook feed is littered with people posting and reposting cute furry animals both wild and domesticated getting backs kneaded and shoulders rubbed. My favorites are below, so if you need a moment of chill, check out a couple of these and relax.

This corgi’s face massage is a joy to watch, and it’s funny too — check out his reclining position which is more guy-napping-on-a-pool-float than canine.

This sweet gray kitten getting an ever-so-gentle facial massage in the sunshine starts out asleep and seems to get more relaxed as you watch. Is that even possible?

Guinea pigs are known for being snuggly creatures, but also nervous ones. Watching this one slowly relax does the same thing for me.

If you get sucked into this video like I did, you’ll be rewarded with a soft-as-marshmallow white bunny, which follows the gray bunny. Spoiler alert: Both get lots of love.

The relaxation and happiness of this pregnant cow getting a solid rubdown is crystal clear even though the video quality is low.

Aside from dogs, horses are probably the domesticated animal that gets the most serious massage attention, since many of them are performers and athletes, either in the dressage ring or on a racecourse. So there are lots of instructional videos about horse massage, but I think Jess, a trained horse massage therapist, shows it best.

There are a lot of animals that give themselves massages, especially otters. This one is clearly an expert — after a solid minute of scalp massage, she has a nap!

ooOOoo

Well I have to say that receiving a massage directly would have been a tad better than watching these animals get their massages, but it was way, way better than nothing!

English as she is spoken!

Difficult to avoid the irony!

(Of an Englishman helping Americans to ‘Ramp Up Their English’!😉

Good followers of this place will recall that in March I published a ‘thank-you’ piece showing my appreciation for Rogue Valley TV and John Letz.  Here’s how I opened that post:

Huge thank you to Producer John Letz and the whole crew.

A week ago last Saturday Jean and I travelled down to Ashland and to the studios of Rogue Valley Community Television (RVTV). This is how RVTV describe themselves:

Based at the Southern Oregon Digital Media Center, RVTV provides access television and streaming media services for the citizens and local governments of Jackson and Josephine Counties. Please visit rvtv.sou.edu for more information.

John Letz, the Producer for Adventures in Education and Ramping Up your English, had read my book and thought it might make a good programme.

Anyway, leaving the irony to one side, John recently sent me a link to the 30-minute episode that is included below.

To be honest if you are comfortable with your English then I strongly recommend that you skip this video unless you can’t live another minute without peeking into the Handover household and our dogs.

Mind you, even if you want to skip the video I can’t let you get away entirely Scot free. For at the 3:30 minute mark in the video John sets out the definition of pet:

PET: A dependent animal with a close emotional connection to the pet-owner.

I wonder if John had this in mind (photos taken yesterday morning in our bedroom):

p1160542oooo

p1160543oooo

p1160547Please give all your dogs out there a big hug! Now!🙂

As the saying goes:

An apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Picture credit Don Kinzler's blog on Growing Together
Picture credit Don Kinzler’s blog on Growing Together

Read this very interesting item that was published on the Care2 site:

ooOOoo

10 Surprising Ways Apples Are Good for Your Health

A Care2 favorite by Michelle Schoffro Cook

About Michelle Follow Michelle at @mschoffrocook

Martin Luther once said, “even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  New research gives more reasons than ever to plant apple trees and enjoy their delicious and nutritious fruit.  Here are ten surprising reasons to sink your teeth into an apple today:

1. Research found that when healthy adults consumed an apple fifteen minutes before eating a meal, they ate 15 percent less at the meal.  This simple habit can result in weight loss for anyone looking for an easy and healthy way to lose weight.

2. In other studies, apples have been shown to significantly alter the amounts of the bacteria Clostridiales and Bacteroides in the large intestine, conferring gastrointestinal health benefits.

3. Thanks to their phytonutrient content, apples have been show to lower the risk of asthma and lung cancer in numerous studies.

4. In a study funded by the USDA, postmenopausal women who ate dried apples daily experienced a 23 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol (the one known as “bad cholesterol”) and a 4% increase in HDL cholesterol (“the good cholesterol”) within six months.

5. In a British study published in BMJ, researchers found that eating an apple a day was as effective as statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels, without the harmful side-effects.  They also found that if 70% of the British population simply ate an apple on a daily basis, 8500 lives would be spared every year from heart attacks or strokes.

6. Researchers at Tufts University found that catechin polyphenols found in apples speed abdominal fat loss by 77 percent and double weight loss in overweight individuals.  Catechins also improve the body’s ability to use insulin, thereby preventing wild blood sugar fluctuations that effect energy, mood, and cravings.

7. Apples contain flavonoids (including catechin polyphenols and quercetin), which have been shown to interfere with the development of cancer cells and preventing their ability to multiply.

8. Research in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that a diet that’s too low in magnesium increases the risk of cancer.  Apples are a good source of magnesium.

9. According to research in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules scientists found that apple oligosaccharides showed an ability to inhibit human colon cancer cells.  Oligosaccharides are complex carbohydrates.  The apple compound induced a process known as apoptosis, which is the body’s mechanism to kill damaged or cancerous cells. They also found that the apple oligosaccharide stopped the growth of new cancer cells. They concluded: “Apple oligosaccharide is a potential chemoprevention agent or anti-tumor agent and is worthy of further study.”

10. Apples contain a natural compound known as malic acid, which helps improve energy production in the body. It has been found to aid fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

ooOOoo

 Amazing what one reads and learns on ‘the internet’ these days. If it wasn’t such crap weather just now I would go outside and take a photograph of our three delicious apple trees! Trust me, Jean and I and the deer love to eat them!

One is never alone with a dog!

Breaking the spell of loneliness!

Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.

Those words above are attributed to Mother Teresa and I have no reason to doubt that.

george_monbiot_cropped
George Monbiot

I selected them because they seemed to capture the mood that flowed out at me from a recent essay by George Monbiot.

Many will know George for he is a British writer very well-known for his environmental and political activism. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian, and is the author of a number of books.

Way back in the early days of this blog I was moved to republish some of GM’s essays and sought his permission to do just that. He responded promptly giving me blanket permission to republish any of his essays.

Now it’s a long time since I have availed myself of that permission for the simple reason that so very often George writes about matters that are tough to read and I choose not to share with you because there’s no shortage of tough commentaries about today’s world. That’s no criticism, actual or implied, into George Monbiot’s integrity as a reporter and writer.

But his essay that was published on the 4th October is one that does need to be shared with you.

Read it!

ooOOoo

Social Harmony

The utterly incomprehensible

A journey of the mind and the soul.

NB: Regular readers will find that today’s post is rather different to my usual run of things. But I do hope that you end up sharing my feelings of mystery; sharing what seems to me utterly incomprehensible. I am speaking of The Infinite.

Let me start with this quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

The infinite has stimulated and fertilised reason as few other ideas have. But also the infinite, more than another other notion, is in need of clarification.

Let me now take you back many years, back to the Autumn of 1969 when I left Gibraltar bound for The Azores on my yacht Songbird of Kent. I was sailing solo.

My home for five years – Songbird of Kent; a Tradewind 33.

Despite me being very familiar with my boat, and with sailing in general, there was nonetheless a deep sense of trepidation as I headed out into a vast unfamiliar ocean.

On the third or fourth night, I forget which, when some four hundred miles into the Atlantic and therefore far from the light pollution from the land, I came on deck and was emotionally moved in a way that has never ever been surpassed.

For way up in the heavens above me was the Andromeda galaxy, clearly visible with the naked eye.

andromeda-galaxy-josh-blash-7-23-2014-e1473897834535
Josh Blash captured this image of the Andromeda galaxy.

That photograph above and the following are from the EarthSky site.

Although a couple of dozen minor galaxies lie closer to our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy is the closest major galaxy to ours. Excluding the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which can’t be seen from northerly latitudes, the Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is the brightest galaxy in all the heavens. It’s the most distant thing you can see with your unaided eye, at 2.3 million light-years. To the eye, it appears as a smudge of light larger than a full moon.

Not only could I not take my mind off seeing the Andromeda galaxy, I couldn’t easily comprehend seeing the stars come all the way down to the horizon; all 360 degrees about me.  Right down to the edge of my ocean horizon; a swirling blackness out to where it kissed that glorious night sky.

That image of that dome of stars would be forever burnt into my memory. An image that both made no sense, yet made every sense

Fast forward forty-seven years to now!

Recently we have had some beautiful clear nights here in Southern Oregon. Just the other night, before the moon had risen, there up in the night sky just a short distance from the constellation Cassiopeia was Andromeda. Immediately, my memory of that dark night sky out in the Atlantic came rushing back at me

The Andromeda galaxy is 2.3 million light-years away. But how can one possibly comprehend the distance? The fact that light travels at 186,000 miles per second or 671 million miles per hour (the exact value is 299,792,458 metres per second (approximately 3.00×108 m/s) has no meaning whatsoever. Think about it! Light is traveling at the equivalent speed of going around our planet 7.46 times every second!

But if you can’t fathom the distance to the Andromeda galaxy try this!

Back in March, 2016 a new galaxy that has been named GN-z11 was spotted by the Hubble space telescope 13.4 billion light years away. That’s approximately 5,830 times more distant than the Andromeda galaxy!

Now it is starting to become very difficult to comprehend.

Over the last couple of weeks BBC Radio 4 has been airing 10 talks given by Professor Adrian Moore under the heading of A History of the Infinite. They are freely available to be listened to and I so strongly recommend them.

But it was episode eight that made me lose my mind. Just like that night so many years ago on Songbird of Kent.

For that episode was called The Cosmos. You can listen to it here. Please, please do so! This is how that episode is presented:

Does space go on for ever? Are there infinitely many stars? These are some of the questions Adrian Moore explores in the eighth episode in his series about philosophical thought concerning the infinite.

With the help of the theories of the Ancient Greeks through to those of modern cosmologists, Adrian examines the central question of whether our universe is finite or infinite.

For most of us, looking up at the stars gives us a sense of infinity but, as Adrian discovers, there is a strong body of opinion which suggests that space is finite, albeit unbounded. This is a difficult idea to grasp, but by inviting us to think of ourselves as ants, astrophysics professor Jo Dunkley attempts to explain it.

Adrian also tackles the idea of the expanding universe and the logic that leads cosmologists to argue that it all started with a big bang, and may all end with a big crunch.

Finally, we discover from cosmologist John Barrow how the appearance of an infinity in scientists’ calculations sends them straight back to the drawing board. The infinite, which the Ancient Greeks found so troubling, has lost none of its power to disturb.

A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.

If you find that episode compelling beyond belief then all the episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer and may be found here.

I started with a quotation that is the opening of the final episode. It is a quotation from the German mathematician David Hilbert. As Wikipedia explains, in part:

hilbertDavid Hilbert (German: [ˈdaːvɪt ˈhɪlbɐt]; 23 January 1862 – 14 February 1943) was a German mathematician. He is recognized as one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I will return to that first sentence in Hilbert’s quotation:

The infinite has always stirred the emotions of mankind more deeply than any other question.

For me that sight of the Andromeda galaxy and the stars back in 1969 was in every meaning of the word a sight of the infinite and it has forever stirred my emotions very deeply indeed!