Thursday 24 March 2016

to Pluto, and beyond

Before going to the science fiction Eastercon in Manchester, we are staying with some friends. The weather forecast for Thursday was essentially “heavy rain all day” (both the Met Office web site and BBC weather app were in agreement on this), but as we looked out of the window, we saw no rain.  So if we wanted to go anywhere, we needed something that would allow us to dodge possible showers.  Our friends naturally have local knowledge, so suggested Jodrell Bank: it has a visitor centre (sorry, Discovery Centre), and some nice gardens.  We piled into the car.

When we arrived, it still wasn’t raining, so we walked round the radio telescope itself.

the Lovell Telescope

There were some outdoor exhibits, including a pair of large parabolic dishes a 100 metres or so apart.  Speak into one, and you can be heard at the other, as clearly as if you are standing right beside the person.

Around this point we noticed some small metal discs embedded in the grass with the names of  the inner planets by them: I can now say that I have stood on the moon!  These discs were to scale in size: further off we could see Jupiter and Saturn were not metal discs, but large circular flower beds of daffodils.  The discs were also to (a different, much smaller) scale in distance; we knew we would have to walk far to find Uranus and Neptune.  So we strolled off to find the outer planets in the gardens.

We were in for a pleasant surprise:

Pluto on the planet path trail: yay!
And not just Pluto.  As the map shows, Eris is also included.  However, we declined to travel off-path to this particular Trans-Neptunian Object: it was too muddy.

Neptune, Pluto, and Eris: red dots not to scale on the map!
Although it still wasn’t raining, it was definitely cold, so we went into the visitor centre.

a gorgeous room-size hand-crankable orrery:
Mercury, Venus and Earth are visible; the other planets are at the ends of ever longer rods
Then we had a cup of tea, and went to the gift shop, where we discovered that Pluto wasn’t for sale:

Pluto’s been erased
As it turned out, it never really rained all day: excellent weather forecasting there!

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