End of day four and everyone is starting to flag. Coffee breaks seem to be getting longer and sessions don’t feel so full. I’ve bobbed out a touch early to recuperate ready for the final push tomorrow. I suppose the conference dinner last night didn’t help either…
The boat was exciting (certainly for the first half an hour, beyond which point it made little difference), and the best part was the raising of the Tower Bridge for the passage of our vessel; pictures below as promised!
The dinner itself was nice, though a little eclectic. It turned out to be an every-man-for-himself buffet service with a bizarre mix of foods: a bit of chicken, a slice of (raw – I didn’t touch it in the end) beef, couscous salad, mini quiche and bread. Et voila:
Perhaps four hours aboard was a little long with no means of escape, but actually it was a great format for a conference dinner and it was really enjoyable.
Needless to say, we were all a little tired this morning, but it was still disappointing when the speaker I was most looking forward to seeing in the morning was a no-show. Nevertheless, there was still plenty of interesting work discussed.
One of the highlights was the session on space weather. This kind of weather involves no clouds or rain or wind that you would feel, but storms of charged particles from the sun streaming across space to interact with whatever gets in its way! There are several different types of space weather, these are:
Coronal mass ejections
Solar energetic particles
Magnetic co-rotating interactions
These phenomena cause what we call solar storms when they interact with the magnetic field on a planet. When this happens it produces the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, more commonly known as the Northern and Southern lights. It is only thanks to our magnetic field that these storms don’t do us more damage. Without it, we would be exposed to deadly radiation and our satellites and power plants could all fail. In fact, it is commonly agreed that life could not survive on a planet that did not have a magnetic field. On the other hand, this solar wind presents an interesting opportunity for space travel. It can be harnessed to push huge ‘solar sails’, currently being developed by NASA around the solar system – opening up orbits that have so far been inaccessible to our instruments. Below is an excellent video clip showing some incredible space weather.
If you can’t see the video, click here.
W then had some cool talks about the seasons on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Titan has rain and lakes and rivers at its surface, despite the fact that temperatures are significantly below the freezing point of water. This is because its rivers and lakes and seas are made from liquid methane – the same stuff we use as fuel on Earth! It also has seasons that are caused by the tilt of the axis on which the planet spins. In exactly the same way that the earth is tilted on its axis, so that sometimes the northern hemisphere leans towards the sun (we call that summer) and sometimes it leans away (winter), Titan wobbles around so that it too has a summer and winter season. All sorts of interesting things happen between the seasons on Titan… Somewhat obviously, the temperature is higher in summer and this causes low pressure as air rises and the gaseous methane in the atmosphere condenses to form large clouds over the pole, which then rain. Different gasses also move around in the atmosphere as the direction of rising and sinking air reverses. In summer when the warm air rises, it brings gasses higher into the atmosphere which then undergo photochemical (reactions with sunlight), that they don’t get lower down. Conversely, in winter when the air sinks, the gasses move down in the atmosphere where wind causes turbulent mixing, potentially down to the surface of the moon. If you are interested in reading a bit more, check out this link to NASA’s website.
Later on tonight there is a public engagement event. Why not come and get involved! It is the Space “show-off” cabaret evening, where scientists come to discuss their work, tell crappy stand-up jokes and generally have a good time. It is tonight (Thursday the 12th Sept) at 7:30pm at the Bloomsbury Theatre, UCL, Gordon St, London. Tickets are £10 or £7 concession. Come along!