Category Archives: Astronomy

George and the Unbreakable Code

This is the fourth instalment of the George children’s book series written by the Hawking father and daughter team. I don’t know about you, but occasionally I find that by the time you make it to book four of a series, the magic has dwindled, the characters have become boring and you can’t wait for someone to get to the point.

That didn’t happen here. In case you’re wondering, I managed to read this in an afternoon. Or rather, had to read it in one afternoon because I had a serious case of can’t-put-it-down.George and the Unbreakable Code - Book Cover

George and Annie are on half term break, and like we can all remember from when we were at school, it could get a bit dull. Until suddenly many things start to happen in quick succession. Money being shot out of cash machines, free airplane flights, no electricity and a whole lot more, all of which seems to be based on a worldwide computer system failure. Whilst Eric has been summoned to Downing Street to help find out what on earth is going, George and Annie must work on Annie’s half term project about the chemistry of life itself, with Cosmic (the super super-computer) to help them. But Cosmic seems to be acting up and causing trouble. Very quickly, they realise that figuring out what’s going on is down to them, and only them.

Just as thrilling a book as all the ones before it, ‘George and the Unbreakable Code’ also delves deeper and covers topics and ideas that the intended readers might not normally think about. Lucy and Stephen Hawking have introduced the idea of learning disabilities, destabilisation of social order and looting. But they also brought up the concepts of strong friendships, self-sustainability and trust. Bringing all of these together has added an extra layer to the book, hopefully passing on some wisdom to the reader without them noticing.

And as with the other books, the entire adventure is inundated with fact pages about everything from Enceladus to Carbon, from wartime computing to Boltzmann Brains (not to be confused with one of the characters, Boltzmann Brian who is absolutely wonderful!). There are also the usual mini-essays written by leading scientists and pages of pictures relevant to the story. There’s even a section on keeping safe on the internet, which is always good to drum home, even when you’re old and (meant to be) wise!

Overall, a brilliant book as always brought from the fabulous Hawking duo. May they keep educating us with these intelligently written characters.

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Iceland 2014 – Continued

Aurora

Northern Lights, near Geysir, Southwest Iceland.

Interview with Dr Chris Lintott

Chris LintottAs part of the University of St Andrews School of Physics & Astronomy’s Colloquia, Dr Chris Lintott was invited to give a lecture on the ‘Zooniverse’, the online database where anyone can take part in active scientific research into practically anything; galaxies, exoplanets, whale communication, cyclone data and tonnes more.

During the actual lecture he focussed more on the Galaxy Zoo – the project on classifying different galaxies – which when it started up caused the Harvard-based server to catch fire simply because it became ‘so darn’ popular!

Here are the highlights of my own chat with Chris, which only happened after the Head of School assisted me in tracking him down… Unfortunately you can’t see quite how tall or hear quite how loud he is in real life, from reading this. Trust me; he is!

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Photo © UK Space Agency

Interview with Lucy Hawking

Lucy Hawking It has taken a while – because there was some exciting book news which needed clearing –  but I have finally published my January interview with Lucy Hawking!! Lucy is the author of the popular children’s book series about George.

So if you want to know all about Lucy not remembering meeting President Obama, why there’s a pig on the first page of book one, or how to convince Stephen Hawking to do something, then roll up, roll up, and read all about it!

Stargazers’ Almanac 2013

Stargazers' Almanac

The Stargazers’ Almanac is the perfect companion for the entire year. In the style of a normal calendar, it shows you what you should be able to see in the Northern Hemisphere each month.

We start of with a couple of handy pages that explain how to use the almanac, how to observe specific celestial treats and various nuggets of information. Also, at the end of the Almanac is a few pages of more background information about calendars, full sky map, the BAA Campaign for Dark Skies.

2013_0118_13281900For each month, you have two views, one facing North and the other facing South. On these it plots the positions of the stars and constellations, and gives you any other exciting finds like planets and meteor shower locations.
Also for each view, it has a small paragraph giving you ideas of what’s good to take a look at for that month and how to find it, dates for the different faces of the Moon and how to find planets. That’s a lot of stuff to fit into a month.

So if you’ve got someone at home who loves looking up at the night sky (or yourself for that matter) then this is the ultimate guide to getting the most out of your stargazing.

Available for purchase from Floris Books for £14.99.

Disclaimer: Review based on Stargazers’ Almanac 2012, specific descriptions may be different for Stargazers’ Almanac 2013.