Sg Siput Waterfall recce

The Waterfalls of Malaysia website has brought me in contact with quite a few people who share the same waterfall addiction..:-). One of them is Ibrahim Ngah Ahmad. He writes a very informative blog: Malaysian Waterfall Travel Log . After exchanging emails, I met him for the first time in person during my recent visit of Taiping. We had an interesting chat, which resulted in a plan to do a waterfall recce together.

Ibrahim suggested a few waterfalls north of Sg Siput, which he had not yet visited himself. As this would be about a 3 hour drive from KL, we decided to make it a 2D1N trip with a stay overnight in Sg Siput town. On the first day we could visit two waterfalls, where he had already been. The second day we would explore new territory, a guide would join us. Here is the poster Ibrahim prepared for our recce:


Top row, from left to right: Sereiyang, Jalong Tinggi and Sg Kuncha. Bottom row, from left to right Sg Buloh and Sg Serai. The links refer to the falls he had visited already

Five waterfalls in two days! Hm, at my age?  I suggested we could skip Sg Kuncha, as it seemed a tough hike.

No problem, Ibrahim said, we could replace it with an easier fall near Kuala Kangsar.

Don’t get the impression from the contact numbers in the poster that we were targeting a big group. On the contrary, we both prefer small groups. Ibrahim would bring a friend, Hafiz, and I would come with Paul, Fahmi and Rani. A group of six, perfect size. Rani picked us up at 7am and after our traditional mamak breakfast we drove to Sg Siput where we met Ibrahim and Hafiz. Six people in Rani’s X-Trail needed some improvisation..:-) Our first destination was the Sg Buloh fall, just outside Sg Siput.

It was an easy walk, but you must know the way, there are many forks and splits. Fortunately earlier visitors had left a paper trail. From where we parked the car it was less than half an hour to the main fall. Not a lot of water this time, but an attractive fall. About 100 meter upstream there is a second fall in a gorge. Nice for swimming, but the view is spoiled a bit by water pipes.

After this waterfall it was time for lunch. Ibrahim suggested a laksa shop, near Kuala Kangsar: Laksa Pokok Limau. I love the Penang Assam Laksa, but have not really experience with the Malay version. It was delicious! An interesting feature was the deep-fried egg/omelet on top of it. Worth to remember.



After lunch we continued to the Sg Dal waterfall. The fall is called by locals Lata Bubu, because it is located on the slopes of the Bubu range. From where we parked the car it was only a short walk to the fall. Not a lot of water, but nice to play around and take pictures. Upstream of the fall there is a slide where the local youth was enjoying itself.

Here is a video of the slide with the kids having fun

We had booked accommodation in the Fila Homestay in Sg Siput. Probably recently renovated, very spic and span..:-)  RM 180 for the three-bedroom apartment, value for money. Only the owner should put air-con’s in each room.

The next morning we drove to Lasah where we met our guides Anazil and Ayhenda. We had breakfast, bought food for our lunch, and drove to Bawong. To reach the Serai falls, first you have to cross a plantation. We had been told that even a Kembara could do it, but the road was worse than expected and Rani did not want to take risks, so halfway we parked the car and walked about 2 km until we reached the jungle.

Where we left the plantation and entered the jungle, we had to pass electric wiring, meant to keep the elephants away. Never before seen this. We did not check if the wires were actually “live” ..:-)


After a hike of about 45 minutes we reached the first fall, Lata Kaku. It had rained the night before, the current was strong and the water a bit murky. To have a good view of the fall, we had to cross the river carefully. Very powerful fall, quite intimidating.

After crossing back we had to river trek to the next waterfall. Actually not too complicated, just be careful with slippery boulders. I don’t know why, but I felt uneasy, stumbling often, maybe the years are counting….  It was not far, about half an hour of river trekking took us to the Lata Curek, with an impressive pool. Time to relax and take pictures. Then the same way back, it was hot and sunny in the plantation, we were very thirsty when we came back to the car.


The Serai river has actaully three waterfalls, we skipped the first one, Lata Bawong, which can be reached easily from Kampung Bawong. The left picture has been taken four years ago, on my way back from Taiping.

At that time I had no idea that there were more waterfalls upstream

We continued our recce to the Sereiyang waterfall. If you know the way, you can almost drive to the base of the waterfall. Also here we did not take risk and parked the car where the road got rough and walked the rest. The waterfall is visible from a distance and very tall. I used  my clinometer and found that it was 40 meter high. No pool. Very impressive.

Here is a video of the Sereiyang fall

We had our (late) lunch here, it was already 3 pm and we still had to go back to KL. So we decided to keep the Jalong Tinggi fall for a next visit.
mapHere is a GE screenshot of our recce. Click to enlarge. The “new” waterfalls we visited are not far from Bawong.

From Bawong 4WD roads lead to remote Pos Piah and Kg Kuala Mu

There must be dozens  if not hundreds of waterfalls along these roads, waiting for intrepid explorers!


It was a rewarding weekend

Trip up North

Last week  we decided to make a trip up North, to celebrate Aric’s birthday. A 4D3N trip, staying overnight in Kuala Sepetang, Gunung Jerai and Georgetown.

Kuala Sepetang, or Port Weld as it was originally called, has recently become a popular tourist destination. We arrived at lunchtime on a Saturday and were amazed by the large number of tourist buses. There are now two “boutique” hotels and we had booked a room in the Happy 8 Retreat , located above a fish processing factory and a seafood restaurant.

Port Weld


The reviews for this hotel are rather mixed, the decoration of the rooms and the use of recycled materials is appreciated, but the walls between the rooms are paper thin and there are some complaints about the service. We were lucky, not many other guests, so we could sleep well. We had a room with a view of the river, you can spend hours there, watching the busy traffic.

Here is a video, taken from our balcony

We were just in time for the famous curry mee of Kuala Sepetang. After our siesta we walked in the village. The new bridge makes the other side easily accessible, fortunately not yet very developed.

For our dinner we went to the Tepi Sungai restaurant, also located above a fish processing factory. We had mantis prawns, lala shells, spikey snails, vegetable and tea for RM 61

The sunset view was priceless and free of charge…:-)

One reason to visit Kuala Sepetang was that I would like to have a look at Kuala Sangga, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Sepetang river. We saw  many tourist boats coming in and out and expected that at least a few of them would go to this village. Mistake. Most tourists come for the fireflies and the eagle feeding, not many are interested in the (tiny) village.

After an interesting “fusion” breakfast we continued our trip to Gunung Jerai. As an alternative for Kuala Sangga, we decided to visit the Hindu temple complex of Bukit Batu Pahat, on the slopes of the mountain. But first of course lunch…:-)



I had read about these temples, but never visited them. The Bujang Valley where these temples are located is considered the richest archaeological area in Malaysia! But many Malaysians have never heard about it. Why? Could they be neglected because this part of Malaysian history predates Islam and the Malacca Sultanate?

Expecting the complex to be a bit rundown, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in mint condition. The museum with information about the excavations and some artefacts is interesting. The Bukit Batu Pahat temple is in situ, the others have been relocated. And there is even a small waterfall, more a cascade.

Only a few visitors, not surprising as the site is badly signposted. Merbok is the nearest larger village. The complex is really worth a visit. And free of charge!

We had booked accommodation in the Regency Jerai Hill Resort, near the top of the mountain. A winding road leads you to the resort at an altitude of almost 1000 m above sea level. From the resort and from our balcony we had a fascinating view of the rice fields and the coastline of Kedah.

Here is a video, taken at the resort. We are just below the clouds

We had booked a puasa promotion, RM 230 for the room including 2x dinner and breakfast. During puasa (Ramadan) Muslims will eat only after sunset, and we thought it would be polite to follow that rule. Muslims will also not eat after sunrise, but for our breakfast we did not follow the rule…:-)  English breakfast!



Also here we had something on our program. There are quite a few waterfalls on the slopes of Gunung Jerai and one of them is located not far below the resort. Just before entering the resort, you will see a path with cemented steps going down. In about half an hour you reach the Alur Naga fall. A vertical fall in a romantic surrounding. On the way back I noticed a swarm of bees/wasps, my enemies. I managed to pass  without disturbing them. There were also leeches, I don’t mind to give them a free lunch..:-)

Here is a video of the fall

Our last destination was Georgetown. My friend Joe Yap had suggested a heritage hotel in Armenian street, Straights Heritage. They have only two “suites” and we had booked the Phoenix suite, on the second floor. It was like a dream, the most beautiful place where I have ever stayed.

It would have been nice to stay in our “mansion” the rest of the day and relax, but we also wanted to taste Penang durians! We met one of Aric’s friends and went to a stall in Bayan Lepas, where we tasted a Red Prawn durian. Yummy. After dinner in the New Lane hawker center, we went back to our suite and enjoyed the luxury.

Our program for the last day consisted of two parts. Joe had told us about a Christian cemetery where one of the graves had a sculpture of a dog, resting on the tombstone.The Western Road Cemetery was easy to find, but it was much bigger than I expected. Fortunately the caretaker could point out the grave to us. Legend has it that the dog visited the grave of is master after the latter had passed on, and continued to stay at the grave.

Nearby the cemetery is one of our favourite Laksa restaurants, the Taman Emas Coffee shop, where we had an early lunch. Last stop was at the Penang War museum, another suggestion of Joe. It is located at Bukit Batu Maung, where in the 1930’s the British built a fortress to protect the island against the Japanese army. It was a huge complex with cannon firing bays, barracks, tunnels etc. Manned by British, Malay and Sikh soldiers, each group in their own barrack, with their own cook etc, of course…:-) The fortress fell because the Japanese attacked from the land side and not from the seaside…. Like not much later Singapore.

After the Japanese had taken over, it became their army base. And after years of neglect it is now a museum. Steep entrance fee, RM 20 for locals, RM 35 for foreigners. Overpriced. You can also play war games (paintball) or follow ghost tours…:-(. Nevertheless still interesting, you can crawl through tunnels, climb escape ladders etc.

Not far from Batu Maung you can enter the second Penang bridge back to the mainland. The bridge is 24 km long with many curves. Interesting

Second bridge

It was a very satisfying trip, full of variety

Close encounter with Pluto

In an earlier post, Close Encounters , I mentioned three memorable astronomical events in 2015. One of them was the flyby by the New Horizons spacecraft of the (dwarf) planet Pluto on 14 July at 11:49:58 UTC  (7:49:58 pm Malaysian time)

One day earlier, when the New Horizons was still a respectable 800.000 km away from Pluto, it took this picture.The heart-shaped region, the smooth surface, caused already much excitement


New Horizons was approaching Pluto at a speed of ~ 50.000 km/h, so the flyby was near. At this high speed the observation window for taking close-up pictures was narrow. It was decided to stop communicating with the spacecraft during the flyby, as the on-board computers would be busy collecting data. There was a lot of tension in the control room during the blackout. Here is the response when the first signal of New Horizons after the flyby is received. Mind you, it takes about 4.5 hours for light and radio signals  to cross over form the spacecraft to Earth, as the distance to Pluto is about 5 billion km at the moment.


This first signal was only a sanity signal that everything was working normally. Transmission of the images is a time-consuming process. It was only the next day that NASA published the first detailed image. nh-pluto-surface-scale

Many surprises. The surface looks very smooth, scientists think it can not be more than a few hundred million year old. Has Pluto still an active interior? And there are mountains, up to 3 km high. They might consist of water ice.

A second picture has been published today, details of Pluto’s (principal) moon, Charon.


More excitement. Impact craters here, but what is this strange feature in the top left corner? More pictures will arrive and hopefully be published in the coming days. But the analysis will take months if not years.

New Horizons has done a marvelous job. It will now pass through the Kuiper Belt and leave our solar system. You can follow the spacecraft on the New Horizons website

What about the two other events?

Dawn has successfully entered orbit around Ceres and is still observing the asteroid. The white dots on its surface have not yet been explained. Here is a collage of images taken by Dawn. The Dawn Blog is still online and active


Finally Rosetta and Philae

Rosetta is still orbiting comet 67P, which is now on its way to perihelion, the closest distance to the Sun. Perihelion will be reached on 13 August. Already the comet is feeling the heat of the Sun and partly evaporating. This picture was taken on 7 July


Mixed news about Philae. There was huge excitement when it came out of hibernation on 13 June and “talked” for a few minutes with Rosetta. But after that, communication has been intermittent, for reasons unknown. However, ten days ago, Philae has contacted Rosetta again and actually transferred data from one of its on-board experiments! The scientists are hopeful that it will get more active the next few weeks. Read more on the Rosetta/Philae blog

I will update this post when more  news/pictures become available

Update 18-7-2015

Yesterday NASA published another picture, a detail of the heart-shaped area , which has been provisionally named Sputnik Plain. Some features have been identified. This icy plain can not be more than 100 million old. More details here


Lawing waterfall

Six years ago, in 2009, I finally discovered the Lawing waterfall in the Ulu Langat region. I knew that there should be a waterfall on the way to Gunung Hitam and I had tried a few times to find it. Here is a Google Earth map with some of those attempts and the final success.



Soon the waterfall was published on my Waterfalls of Malaysia website, Lawing Falls , with the description “Unknown, pristine waterfall in the backyard of KL”


When you visit the webpage, you will notice that there are several comments that the falls could not be found. Was there something wrong with the directions given, for example “turn left at a remote orang asli hut“?

Therefore I decided to revisit the falls with a group of friends. We met for breakfast at Suntex, then drove to Kg Lui, following the directions of the webpage until we reached the end of the road. It was durian season and we had to be careful where to park the car because there were durian trees all over the place. Crossing the bridge we followed a clear trail until we reached the orang asli hut.

A whole family was staying there, very friendly. We asked the old man how to go to the waterfall. Just turn left for the waterfall, he said. And also without him we would have found the (vague) trail. BECAUSE…. the house was in the center of a durian orchard and the undergrowth had been cleared, so people could find the fallen durians easily. That explained a lot. When you come outside the durian season, the hut is empty and the undergrowth has grown back, making the trail almost invisible.

It is only a small part of the trail (until you enter the jungle again), that “disappears” outside the durian season. I will update the description on the website. Once you have entered the jungle, the trail is clear and leads you to the waterfalls.

We had a pleasant time at the falls, enjoying the pristine environment and our lunch. Two of us were interested to find out if there was another fall upstream. They found one, but the access was difficult, huge boulders and slippery rocks.

On our way back to the car, we spotted several durians that had just fallen down. We could not resist the temptation to take a few, opening one on the spot to find out that the taste was delicious! We also passed a tree with a makeshift ladder leading to the top. Could it be to collect honey? Many beautiful beehive gingers (Zingiber spectabile)

We still felt a bit hungry so we went to a Thai seafood restaurant in Hulu Langat. We asked permission to prepare the rest of our durians and have them with our meal. As you can see, Aric loves durians but not with a meal…:-) The others enjoyed durian with rice.

A fun trip with nice company!

Anybody out there?

When you have followed my blog posts, you will know that I am a supporter of the Rare Earth Hypothesis. Mind you, I will be more than happy if  proof of extraterrestrial life is found, but for the time being, I think we may well be alone in the Universe..:-(

Actually, for many years already I am participating in the SETI@home project. SETI stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. The purpose of the project is to analyse radio signals for signs of intelligent life in the universe, and it is doing this by what is called distributed computing. The data to be analysed come from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

More than 120.000 PC’s all over the world take part, my PC is one of them. When my computer is idle, it starts analysing a data packet received from Arecibo. Results of the analysis are sent back to SETI, I receive a new data packet and so on…:-)  Here is the Arecibo telescope (with its mirror diameter of 300 m the largest in the world) and a screenshot of my monitor while it is analysing the data. Visual output is a screen saver, moving around the screen all the time..



The project has started in 1999 but until now no sign of (intelligent) life has been found.

You might describe this activity as LISTENING : is there anybody in the universe trying to communicate with us?

What about SHOUTING : is anybody out there? That is the topic of this post. Making our (human) existence known to the universe.

The first attempt to send out a signal to the universe dates back to 1972. The Pioneer 10 space probe was going to explore Jupiter and would leave the solar system after the end of its mission. Carl Sagan , who had been active already in promoting SETI, suggested  that a “plaque” should be attached to the space probe, with information about our human species. The left image gives an artist impression of the Pioneer 10, now traveling in outer space, far away from Earth. It might come close to Aldebaran, a red giant star, in about 2 million years..:-) The right image shows the Pioneer plaque, designed by Sagan and his wife.



For more info about the meaning of the various elements, click on the link above. Here I only want to mention that there was a discussion about the naked humans. Was that acceptable of “porn”? By the way, the male genitals are shown, but the female vagina is missing, so aliens will still be in doubt how we reproduce. Would they be able to interpret the info correctly? Here is a hilarious interpretation: the Real Pioneer Plaque

Five years later the two Voyager space probes 1 and 2 were launched, again to explore the outer solar system. They have been extremely successful and are still operational, after almost 40 years! The Voyager 1 is now 19.6 billion km away from Earth, you can check the actual distance here . It has on board a phonographic(!) record containing information about Earth and about us. A kind of time capsule! The left image shows an artist impression of the Voyager 1 with the location of the golden record clearly visible. The right image shows the cover of the Voyager Golden Record.



Mind you, in 1977 digital coding was not common, no jpeg or mp3 existed yet, it was all analog!. Here is a fascinating Table of Contents of the Golden Record. Please click on this link and be surprised. A welcome message by Jimmy Carter, at that time US president! Greetings in 55 languages. One of them in Dutch (yes!), another one in Indonesian, four Chinese dialects, but no Malay, nor Tamil..:-(  Music, from classical until modern. But this time no picture of naked humans, thanks to a (still) prudish US..:-).

If ever an alien civilization would pick up this time capsule, would they be able to decipher it? Some sources doubt it,  check this funny Gizmodo report

You might compare these first attempts with throwing a bottle in the ocean. Maybe somebody will ever find it. Can we get more active?

Yes, we can. In 1974 the Arecibo telescope, mentioned above, sent out the Arecibo message to the Universe. A sequence of 1679 zero’s and one’s. Why that number? Because it is a semi-prime, product of two large prime numbers 23 and 73. When you order the message, split in a matrix of 73 x 23, you will get this (in black and white!):


To “explain” this, the white part represents our decimal system, the green one the  nucleotides  in our DNA, the blue one the double helix. The red human has next to it the human size (in binary) and the human population (also in binary), but probably you understood that already, didn’t you…LOL? Yellow represents our solar system, the third planet is shifted to the left with the human standing on it. Easy, right?

But would you be able to reconstruct the content from this binary sequence?



These communication attempts date back quite a long time. Here is a recent one. On 9 October 2008 a high-powered digital radio signal was sent towards the Gliese 581c extrasolar planet: called A message from Earth. Followers of my blog may remember Gliese 581 as the name of a star with more than one habitable planets in orbit. Here is the blog report: New extrasolar planet has been discovered

The distance is about 20 light year, the message will reach the star in early 2029. If “they” reply immediately , we may expect a reply around 2050…:-) Here is the Ukrainian (!) telescope used to send out the message, and a sketch of the Gliese 581 planetary system.



Let me end this post with a question:

Is it wise for us to make our presence known to the Universe?

Stephen Hawking is not so sure about it and he is not the only one. Contact with aliens  could be risky.If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans ,” he said. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

A contact with aliens might be very different from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my favourite science fiction movie, released in 1977.


Journal of my Dutch trip 2015

On 15 April 15 I arrived in the Netherlands for a stay of six weeks. Spring was late this year, I was welcomed by nice weather, flowers everywhere. And I was really craving for traditional Dutch food..:-)

I did not really celebrate my birthday on April 17, because the next day we had a Family Gathering . But I did not feel lonely that day, because I got visitors, my youngest brother Otto and my soulmate Inez. A good opportunity to practice  taking selfies..:-)



As usual it took me a few days to get acclimatised. I visited friends and went to the Vondelpark for a photo shoot, resulting in a blog Homage to the Vondelpark .

One of the big celebrations in the Netherlands is Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), now renamed Koningsdag (King’s Day). Observed for the first time on 31 August 1885, the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina.  When her daughter Juliana became Queen in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday, 30 April. Then, in 1980 Beatrix became Queen. Her birthday is 31 January. Too cold to enjoy the many outdoor activities. Therefore it was decided to keep it on 30 April. Now Willem Alexander is King, born on 27 April, so they changed the date. Personally I think they should have kept it on 30 April. What to do when Princess Amalia (born 7 December) will become Queen…:-)?

I went to town only for a short while. Too many people.

A few days later I went to Utrecht to meet Yolanda, a former student, who has become a good friend. Beautiful weather, we walked in the town before we had dinner.

And of course I had dinner with my other Yolanda, Paul’s sister. It has become a nice tradition that we meet for a “sumptuous” dinner when I am back in Holland. This time we went to restaurant Bonjour. French cuisine, friendly service. And very reasonably priced: 24.50 Euro for a three-course dinner.

With my friend Inez I visited Rotterdam and Dordrecht on a day trip. In Malaysia, thinking about what to do during my stay in Holland, I had optimistically assumed that I had plenty of time for longer trips, but that was a mistake…:-)

On the evening of the 4th of May we have  the Remembrance of the Dead ceremony in my country. Quite impressive, I used to go to the Dam Square for the two minutes of silence. This time I was already on my way, when I noticed that near my condo there was a (smaller) celebration. So I attended that one instead. Impressive. After the ceremony I met (my second…) Yolanda at the Concertgebouw, where we attended a performance of the Anne Frank cantata. I hope the name Anne Frank is familiar  to everybody?  We finished the evening with a beer at the famous Welling cafe! Near to where I have been living most of my life. Nostalgia.

By the way, it was a good decision not to go to the Dam Square. Have a look at the crowd there!


The last two weeks of my stay were a bit too hectic…:-) I felt like the Flying Dutchman, travelling all the time. Of course I was to blame myself…:-) I had to maintain a calendar meticulously…:-)


First I went with Nico, Paul’s brother, to Santenoge in Burgundy, where we stayed five days in his country house, Living Like God in France. After coming back, I visited Ruud and Jur in Groningen. They live in a nice house with a beautiful garden. The next day we made a trip in the countryside and visited the old (14th century!) church of Zeerijp.

My following visit was to the south-west of the Netherlands, the province Zeeland where I visited a friend from my university days, a long time ago. Here is the report: Middelburg.

One day at home and off I went again, to Alkmaar, where Arie and Ineke are living. Another report: Alkmaar. The next day I continued to Valkkoog, where I stayed overnight with Lous and Arend. In the afternoon we visited the sand suppletion project of the Hondsbossche Zeewering (Sea dike). In the left pic below I have indicated the location of the sea dike in red.This dike was a weak spot in the Dutch defense system against the sea. Now new land and dunes have been created. Impressive. The visitor center had an interesting gadget where you could give the impression (with a soap film) that you were standing in the water. Of course we had a nice dinner, my youngest brother was also present.

Before going back to Amsterdam the next morning, I took pictures of the sculptures, ceramics and paintings created by My artistic sister

Finally the next day I traveled to Limburg with Paul for a few days of long distance walking, part of the Pelgrimspad

Then it was time to fly back to Malaysia, where I could recover…:-)

Of course beside all this, I visited and or invited friends. A few pictures

This visit was a bit longer than usual, the reason being that I was considering to come back once a year only, for a longer time. After this visit I think I will keep it as before, coming back twice a year, for about one month.


During my last visit to the Netherlands I have visited quite a few historical cities. Utrecht, Dordrecht, Maastricht, Middelburg and Alkmaar. In 2009 Aric and I  had visited the famous cheese market in Alkmaar, no time to explore the town. Recently my brother Arie has moved to Alkmaar and Ineke and he had invited me to visit them. We had an interesting walk in the historical center of the town. Alkmaar has a rich history. During the Dutch war of independence , the siege of Alkmaar in 1573 was a turning point: “Victory begins at Alkmaar”

The House with the Cannon Ball is one of the few wooden houses in the town. During the Siege the Spanish army fired a cannon ball, which destroyed part of the house. The Fish Market dates back to the 16th century, the present fish tables were built in 1755.

In many historical towns in the Netherlands you can still find so-called Hofjes , courtyards with almshouses. Financed and built by rich merchants for (generally) poor people. With rules and regulations. The Wildemanshofje has 24 houses and is only for ladies (even now) . The Hofje van Splinter (1648) is a hidden gem, with only 8 (now 7) houses. The Hof van Sonoy is bigger and is now a restaurant.

I did not know that Alkmaar has many Jugendstil (Art Deco) houses. Next time I must find more, as it is one my favourite architectural styles.

We continued our walk, admired the spectacular town hall and had a look at a few churches. We walked along the ramparts, where the Windmill of Piet is the only one remaining, in the past there were ten. There is so much to see. But we were thirsty and needed a beer…:-)

Arie and Ineke have a very nice house, on walking distance from the center. We had an enjoyable evening with very nice food.


Middelburg is a town in the south-western part of the Netherlands and capital of the Zeeland province. It takes about 2.5 hour by train from Amsterdam, very remote according to Amsterdam standards…:-). So  I have visited Middelburg (en Zeeland) a few times only. A friend of mine, Henk,  is living in a small village near Middelburg, we know each other from our University days, more than 40 years ago! Since a few years we have a more or less regular contact again,  because we are both interested in astronomy and cosmology.

Finally this year we met for the first time in many decades. I could stay overnight in their “garden house”.   Did I like mussels, Henk’s wife Nel asked me? Sure, I did and Zeeland is famous for its seafood.

Henk met me at the station and had planned a walk in the historical center of Middelburg. Nice weather. MIddelburg has a rich historical past, in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century) it was after Amsterdam the most important trading center. Many lavish 17th and 18th century merchant houses and storehouses (some of them  restored after bombing in WWII) can still be admired. Center of the town is the Abdij (Abbey) with the Lange Jan (Long John) tower, built in the 14th century

We decided to climb the tower, one of the highest monumental towers in the Netherlands (91 meter). Beautiful view of the town , the abbey and the impressive town hall

We continued our walk, admired the Town Hall and had coffee on a terrace at the Market square. I tried the Zeeland specialty, a cinnamon bun called bolus. Bolus means “turd” in English, quite an apt name, I think…:-)  In May 1940 part of the historical center of Middelburg was destroyed by bombing and fire. I include one picture of the St Joris Doelen as it looked like in 1940. What a beautiful restoration. The same holds for the Abdij.

After our lunch we had a look at the beautiful sundial of the Stadsschuur. Not everybody looking at this sundial will understand the meaning of the figure eight “decorations”. They are analemma’s. See the Equation of Time for technical details.

From Middelburg it was only a short drive to Serooskerke where Henk and Nel are living in an attractive bungalow, with a beautiful garden. When they told me I could stay overnight in their “garden house”, I expected simple accommodation, so I was quite surprised that it was actually a full-fledged apartment.

We had a very pleasant evening. Nel apologised that the mussel season was over, instead we had lobster. Yummy!  And a dish with zeekraal (Salicornia, glasswort in English) and baked mussels. And ice cream with strawberries. What a treat.

We had a lot to talk that evening…:-) Memories from our shared past, stories about our respective family backgrounds. We will hopefully meet again next year. In Zeeland or in Kuala Lumpur…:-)

My artistic sister

When you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I have a nice family. See for example my recent report Family Gathering A disorderly bunch, my late parents called us lovingly. Here we are, in chronological order.

Only one sister, Lous, how she must have suffered in the past with five brothers..:-). During her working life she has been a teacher and counselor like me. But with an artistic streak which I completely lack :-(

When I am back in the Netherlands, it has become a nice routine to visit her and her husband Arend in their  bungalow in Valkkoog, north of Alkmaar. During my last visit I took pictures of a number of her creations. Judge for yourself.

As you see, she is using a large number of different techniques. I am proud of her.


About galaxy SDP.81

This astronomy blog needs a fairly long introduction, sorry…:-)

Our Sun is one of the more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Here is the Milky Way, as seen from Earth. Many of you may never have seen this “milky” band, because you need a clear sky without light pollution. Next to it an artist expression of the Milky Way with the location of our Sun indicated by a red arrow.



The Milky Way is one of the about 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe. The Andromeda galaxy (left pic) is a close neighbour at a distance of about 2.5 million light-year.  The picture to the right was taken by the Hubble telescope. This image shows about 10.000 galaxies!



Many of you will have seen (and admired) the images taken by the Hubble telescope. Here is the telescope, it is still orbiting Earth at an altitude of ~ 550 km. Next to it the probably most iconic Hubble image, nicknamed the Pillars of Creation.


pillars of creatrion_cropped

But not many of you will have heard about the Herschel telescope! This space telescope has been operational from 2009 to 2013. Its major objective was to discover how the first galaxies formed and evolved, starting from clouds of gas and dust. These clouds are not yet hot enough to emit visible light, but they still emit (thermal) radiation with wavelengths in the far infrared. It is this far infrared and sub-millimeter radiation that Herschel has recorded. Here is the Herschel telescope and a picture, taken by it. Not as spectacular as the Hubble pictures, right?

image description


Actually, each pinprick in this image is a galaxy! Or better, a galaxy “under construction”, still basically a contracting cloud of gas and dust, Hubble would not be able to see them. Most of these galaxies are billions of light years (ly) away, the radiation we receive now, has been sent out when the universe was young.

We are finally coming closer to SDP.81. It is one of the baby galaxies (ID81 in the image below), discovered by Herschel, at a distance of about 11.7 billion ly .  Why is it (and a few more) so bright ?


Here comes the surprising answer: because its radiation has been magnified by a gravitational lens between this galaxy and earth!

A gravitational lens? Yes, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity predicted that light can be bent by massive objects. Or, formulated more correctly, massive objects will curve the fabric of space-time. His theory was spectacularly confirmed in 1919 during a solar eclipse (and made Einstein instantaneously famous!)  Here is a schematic diagram of this light bending.


In the case of SDP.81 a massive galaxy is located, 3.4 billion ly from Earth, exactly between us and SDP.81. A rare coincidence? Sure, but keep in mind that there are 100 billion galaxies..:-)

A  gravitational lens works differently from a traditional lens where the light bending is strongest at the edge of the lens. Here it is the other way around, bending is stronger near the center. When the alignment is perfect the (magnified) image becomes a ring,  a so-called Einstein Ring. Here are a few examples of Einstein rings, images (in visible light) taken by Hubble. Some are only partial because of misalignment.


Wouldn’t it be great to find out if the image of SPD.81 is also an Einstein ring? Then we need a much higher resolution then the (already large) 3.5 meter mirror of Herschel could give us.

Alma can help us! ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. It is a collection of 66 radio telescopes  (with 12 and 7 meter antennas), located at 5000 meter altitude in Chili. Here is ALMA


Technically it is called an (astronomical) interferometer. To keep it simple: the radio telescopes work together in such a way that they effectively combine to a huge mirror of many hundreds meters or even kilometers diameter. The telescopes can be moved around. The high altitude has been chosen because the climate in the Atacama desert is extremely dry, crucial for observations in the millimeter/submillimeter range. The maximum resolution has been described by the  Alma astronomers as being “about the same as seeing the rim of a basketball hoop atop the Eiffel Tower from the observing deck of the Empire State Building“.

Here is Alma’s result for SDP.81, published a few weeks ago. An almost perfect Einstein ring! Keep in mind that this radiation is invisible, the red color has been added for the dramatic effect. And the visible light of the lensing galaxy is not recorded by ALMA.


And here is a combination of three images. The left image is taken by the Hubble space telescope. The lensing galaxy is visible. The middle picture shows the Alma result, in more subdued colours. And the third picture? Montage of the SDP.81 Einstein Ring and the lensed galaxy

The Einstein ring in the middle picture is a “distorted” image of SDP.81. But, assuming a (simple) model for the gravitational lens in between, you could try to reconstruct the “real” image. And that’s what has been done with the third image as result.

An (approximate) image of the SDP.81 galaxy how it was, almost 12 billion year ago, when the Universe was still young. Some structure is visible, the bright parts are regions of dramatic star formation.