Physics

Summer, vacations and observatories

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Niklas Henricson
Niklas Henricson

I thought I’d write something regarding my summer activities. Amateur astronomy is very quiet during the summer season due to the light skye for the most part, the quick changing weather circumstances from day to day, but also because for a common Swede the summer season is dedicated for the anual vacations from work and studies. My family and I decided to visit Scotland this year, which was very beautiful. We decided to visit the major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburg, but also the country side of Scotland, such as lakes (Loch Lomond, Loch Drunkie) and parts of the Scotish Highlands. Scotland got rich scientific and engineering history. One interesting story is that of Scotsman James Watt (known from the unit Watt written on every light bulb you buy at stores). Watt was a poor engineer fighting with his economy issues most part of his life. He owned a little store selling his navigational instruments in Glasgow, but barely made any money that suffice for his family living at the time. Years passed and James suceeded getting an employment at the university of Glasgow, enabling him to access the university workshop.

Just as other innovators, James did what most people did not. He had passion in details and improvement. He analyzed the classical steam engine and found some basic flaws and weaknesses in the current system. At the time steam engines were very small and used for the most part in the Scotish country side, helping miners to pump out water from the coil mines.

James found out that Newcomen’s model of steam engine had very low efficiency. After some long nights and big efforts James finally found a way to improve the steam engine and win a high degree of efficiency at low cost. To make a long story short, his solution revolutionized and changed the world. His ingenious methods and solution to the steam engine was a major turning point in history changing the way of living. It is what we call today as the industrial revolution.

His steam engine was used hence in the railways bringing people and wares closer to each other, as well as commersial and the military fleets across the world. Brittain was back then the biggest empire in the world. The sun was always up shinning somewhere in the Brittish empire on the earth.

James Watt statue, Glasgow
James Watt statue, Glasgow

Thanks to James Watt’s efforts, we use today a unit called “Watt” in the S.I. system to honor his name. The unit Watt tells us what amount of efficiency (work) we get during a certain amount of time. Before that, it was common to use horsepowers (hp) but horsepower was a smaller unit in order to express efficiency large machines.

1 W = 0,0013596216 hp or vice versa 1 hp = 735,49875 W. That is why car salemen are using still horsepowers to impress potential buyers, instead of using Watt… People are more impressed when they hear thousents of horsepowers efficiency on the engines, rather then a few tens.

Regardless in daily life we’re using Watt in light bulbs.

Now the question is what does Watt mean for astronomy?

Astronomers are using mostly Watt to express the electromagnetic radiation efficiency on certain amount of area. Watt/square meter (W/m²).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit the Royal Observatory of Edinburg, but I will try and write about the local observatories of Skåne were I live and see if I ever fufill my dream visiting other famous observatories across Europe.

On my next article I will write about the forgotten observatory of Jävan, located in Genarp, not very far away from where I live.

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Square Kilometer Array (SKA)

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Square Kilometer Array

One of the most prestigious projects is about to take place in south Africa called the SKA (Square Kilometer Array). SKA is a group of smaller parabolic antennas which together combined will create a huge telescope array that is 3000 km in diameter and will occupy 12.5 million hectars.

The sensitivity of this array of telescopes will exceed 50-100 the sensitivity of current radio telescopes around the globe. The building project itself it about to cost 1.5 billion euros (1.5 followed by 9 zeros €)!

This is a major breakthrough for astronomy. Astronomers will have now a big advantage in order to uncover the secrets from the big bang aftermath shortly after it took place.

The SKA is about to be operable in year 2025. Let us cross our fingers and wish all involved project members congratulations for this opportunity and good luck during the assembling period.

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