Singapore 2019

On 5 December we took the Aeroline Bus from KL to Singapore. It is a comfortable way of traveling, but it takes time, about 7 hours (with an unexpected 1 hour queue at Singapore immigration)!

From the bus terminal at Harbourfront is was only a few stops by MRT to our hotel Keong Saik in the heart of Chinatown. We had stayed in this hotel before, friendly staff, free coffee in the lobby, breakfast included.

Our program for this trip was mainly social and food, mixed with some culture.

After some rest, we walked around in Chinatown.

The Keong Saik road has been beautifully renovated. Difficult to imagine that in the sixties of the last century this was Singapore’s red-light district!

Later that night, our friend Beng Hooi picked us up from our hotel. He brought us to Toa Payoh Central, where we had Penang food and later Yam Bubble tea with him and a few of Aric’s diving friends.

One reason for our visit, was to meet our friend ST Lee. In July 2018 I had visited him and stayed a few days in his Pearl Bank apartment, click here for a report. He was recovering from flu, but feeling fit enough to have breakfast with us and Benny, another friend, in the Chinatown Complex, near to our hotel.

A few more nice buildings in Chinatown, near our hotel. The Jinrikisha Station was a station for rickshaw carts, carrying one passenger and pulled by one man, popular in those days. Kreta Ayer road , around the corner from our hotel was another street with brothels and prostitutes πŸ˜‰

Beng Hooi knows about Aric’s interest in laksa, he had found some interesting places and took us for lunch to a famous laksa stall, Sungei Road Laksa at Jalan Besar. A long queue, delicious curry laksa, that is eaten with a spoon only, because the laksa has been cut into pieces already !

Before Beng Hooi drove back to work, he took us to the Masjid Sultan, passing on our way two modern architectural buildings on Beach Road, the iconic Concourse and the brand-new City Gate complex.

The Sultan mosque was built in 1932 on the location of an earlier mosque in Kampong Glam, the center of the Malay community in Singapore.

Pity that we could not enter the mosque because it was Friday. Must keep Kampong Glam in mind for a next visit, it is an interesting, bustling neighbourhood, with a rich history.

Beng Hooi dropped us at the Fort Canning park. During my last visit I had spent many hours exploring the hill, this time we only walked around a bit.

Aric was interested to take “artistic” pictures of a pedestrian underpass in Fort Canning, nicknamed the “Tunnel of Love”, but when we arrived, the name became clear, bridal couples were queueing for a photoshoot, so we gave up πŸ™‚

On our way back to our hotel, we passed the impressive Majestic, originally built in 1928 as the Majestic Theatre , a Cantonese Opera house. Almost back, Aric received a message from his Singapore uncle David, that he was having coffee in the Chinatown Complex. Of course we joined him, to make our visit even more social πŸ˜‰

And that was not yet the end of our socialising.. πŸ˜‰ . ST Lee had asked us if we were interested to join him that evening to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake in the Esplanade. We accepted his invitation gratefully and met him that evening in the Singapore Cricket Club for drinks and dinner.

After our dinner we walked from the Club to the Esplanade , enjoying the Singapore skyline and the many open-air activities taking place. Singapore is a vibrant city!

Taking pictures during the performance is not allowed. Here one picture before the start and one taken after the finale.

We enjoyed the ballet very much, actually more than I expected. I am a lover of modern ballet, see for example my blog Le Sacre du Printemps, but had never seen a classical ballet! Here is one of the gems of Swan Lake, by the Royal Ballet. Captivating!

After the show we walked home. The left picture shows the Esplanade Theatre, making clear why it is nicknamed the Durian. The right picture has the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel as background.

The next morning we had first breakfast with Aric’s diving friend Letitia, again in the Chinatown Complex. This time at Jia Ji Mei Shi, famous for its yam cake.

Waking around Chinatown, we had passed already a few times a monumental temple. It is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, we decided to visit it. A new temple, construction started in 2005.

Very impressive, both the outside and inside. It has become a major tourist attraction, we only visited the ground floor.

During our visit, there was praying and chanting going on. Will visit in more detail during my next trip.

After this visit we took the MRT to Woodlands where Beng Hooi was waiting for us. He brought us to a nice restaurant, the Anson Town Bistro, where we had a delicious assam laksa.

We visited the apartment where he is living with his family and walked a bit in the Woodlands Waterfront Park, from where you can see the skyline of Johor Bahru.

In the afternoon we visited ST Lee’s new apartment in The Quayside. Built in 1998, along the Singapore river. Nice location.

Later he drove us to Labrador Park , where we met William and had a refreshing evening walk before having dinner in the Alexandra Village Food Centre.

After our dinner ST dropped us at Orchard Road, where we had a look at the “famous” Christmas decorations. We had been warned already that it was not as spectacular as in the past, and indeed, it was rather disappointing.

The next morning we had breakfast with half-boiled eggs and toast, before taking the MRT to Changi airport.

We wanted to see the Jewel, and we were not the only ones, quite a crowd was admiring the Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

On our way back, we had lunch at Chew Kee Eating House. The original one, we almost went to the “wrong” one, Chew Kee Noodle House, a few doors away. Nice soy sauce chicken noodles. Click here for a comparison of the two eateries πŸ˜‰ .

Dinner that evening in the Chinatown Complex with David and his wife. We had warned him not to order too much, but, as usual, that didn’t really help. Vert nice food, very nice people.

To lose some calories, we decided to visit the Gardens by the Bay and have a look at the Christmas Decorations there. Approaching the Gardens you pass this lake with mysterious floating decorations.

The Gardens are free but for Christmas Wonderland you have to pay an entrance fee of 10 S$, really worth the money.

The Walk of Peace tunnel

Artificial snow πŸ˜‰

Christmas Angels πŸ˜‰

Walking back from the Gardens to the MRT station, we passed Sol Lewitt’s mural painting. I had planned to visit Singapore’s National Gallery again, but we had been too busy with food and social activities. Next time.

The next day we took the bus back. No queueing at the immigration this time, but still it takes about 6 hours.

Night Watch & Starry Night

Hundred years ago, in July 1919, the International Astronomical Union was founded and to celebrate this centenary, an interesting event has been organised, called NameExoWorlds.

A list was prepared of 112 exoplanets and each exoplanet was assigned to an IAU member state. The member states had to organise a public competition to find a suitable name for the exoplanet and its host star. The campaign started in June 2019 and on 17 December the chosen names have been published.

The exoplanet assigned to the Netherlands was HAT-P-6b, orbiting the star Hat-P-6 . Hat-P-6 is a star in the constellation Andromeda, at a distance of 910 lightyear, 30% more massive and also hotter than our Sun. The exoplanet Hat-P-6b has been discovered in 2007 through the transiting method.

It is a gas giant, slightly heavier than Jupiter, orbiting in less than 4 days around its host star. It is an example of what are called Hot Jupiters. Not suitable for life. Here is an image how Hat-P-6b might look like. Much larger because it is hot.

In the Netherlands the public came with more than 6000 suggestions. Most popular were the names Nijntje (for the planet) and Moederpluis (for the star). They are Dutch cartoon characters, famous all over the world. Here is a Japanese version.

A problem was that theses names are copyrighted, so finally number 2 on the shortlist was chosen. Night Watch for the planet and Starry Night for the star.

The Night Watch is a world famous painting by Rembrandt (1642).

And Starry Night is another famous painting, by van Gogh (1889). Now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Are you interested about other exoplanets in the list? Click here and type the country name in the search box.

Or maybe you want to know which names other countries have chosen for their planet and star? Click then here .

As Malaysia is my 2nd home, I will show the results for Malaysia. Here are the exoplanet and the host star

HD 20868 is an orange dwarf star in the constellation Fornax, 156 lightyear away from us and 25 % smaller than the Sun. Its planet HD 20868b is also a gas giant, but orbiting farther away from its star in about 1 year. In the habitable zone, but as it is a gas giant, probably not very suitable for life.

I have no info about the campaign, apparently 1635 proposals have been made. Here is the final choice: the planet and star have been named after the Malay names of gemstones , Baiduri (Opal) for the planet and Intan (Diamond) for the star.

It is quite fun to see what other countries have chosen!

Birch monument, Taiping

Do you know that there is a commemorative stone for Birch, up Maxwell Hill, my friend Wan Amril asked me, when I met him in Taiping, May 2017.

Of course I knew about J.W.W Birch, the first British Resident of Parak, appointed 4 November 1874 after the Pangkor Treaty and assassinated 2 November 1875. I knew that there was a memorial clocktower for him in Ipoh, but I had never heard about a monument in Taiping.

Wan Amril, who is very knowledgeable about Taiping and its history, had seen a photo of the monument in 2009 and had visited it in December of the same year. Here is the very readable report written by him about what he called a mini-expedition: The Forgotten Memorials .

He was willing to bring me to the monument and of course I accepted his invitation. Aric and I were staying in the Nest, enjoying the hospitality of Suet Fun and Peter, together with another friend, Law Siak Hong, president of the Perak Heritage Society.

From the Nest bungalow it is less than 1.5 km along the tar road to where the trail starts. The tar road ends at the Cottage, the first bungalow of Maxwell Hill, built in 1884.

It is easy to miss the trail. And you must be prepared for leeches.

After about 200 meter you reach the monument.

This is the text on the monument: THE FIRST ENGLISHMAN TO CLIMB THIS HILL WAS MR T.W.W. BIRCH. FIRST BRITISH RESIDENT OF PERAK IN 1875 . In 2009 Wan Amril had already noticed the mistake, the T should have been a J.

Next to the commemorative stone, there is a metal plaque, not easy to decipher, Wan Amril gives: LAWATAN PERTAMA KALI D.Y.T.M. RAJA MUDA PERAK KA BUKIT INI PADA 23.7.73 JAM 8.02 PAGI. Translated: Inaugural visit by His Highness the Raja Muda of Perak to this hill on 23-7-73 at 8:02am

An interesting monument, leading to several questions. When was it placed here and by whom? Who was responsible for the spelling mistake and why was it never corrected? And of course the most important question, did J.W.W Birch indeed climb Bukit Larut during the short period (less than one year!) that he was the Perak Resident? If he did, for what purpose? Adventure? Looking for a possible hill resort πŸ™‚ ?

Back home in Petaling Jaya, I searched Google for more info and discovered that Birch had kept a journal during the period that he was Resident of Perak! In 1976 an annotated edition of these Journals has been published, out of stock, but the National Library of Malaysia has copies!

I visited the Library in December 2018 and found the book with the help of friendly library staff.

I coud not borrow it, so I sat down and soon found the passage in which Birch describes his visit to Taiping. I made photocopies, here they are. Interesting reading, this is Birch’s private diary and he doesn’t always mince his words :-). Click to enlarge.

Here is a summary with some comments from me

Birch arrived in Taiping from the Dindings on Wednesday 30 June 1875. He met Captain Speedy, had discussions with Campbell about surveying matters and inspected the construction work on the road from Sempang to Qualla Kangsa. Spelling in those days was often different from the present one.

He also meets the Mantri, Ngah Ibrahim, at Bukit Gantang and has to settle Chinese disputes. About Sunday 4 July he writes: A large party of Europeans have come over to see Capt. Speedy and the place is quite lively with upwards of 30 elephants also collected. Do I detect some disapproval here πŸ™‚ ? Not surprisingly he is rather critical about the flamboyant Speedy.

On Tuesday 6 July, he starts the expedition to Gunung Hijau. Not looking for adventure or a potential hill resort, surveying is the target. Campbell and Speedy accompany him and three more Englishmen. Plus of course porters, the plan is to stay overnight at the top of Gunong Huji (Gunung Hijau), so besides surveying equipment also material for a temporary shed has to be transported up the mountain.

After “a very steep and troublesome climb” they reach the house of a “Chinaman” at about 1700 feet, where they stay overnight. The mines are very good there with lots of water around, Birch writes.

The next day they must have started early, because at 9am they reached already some Malay houses/huts, at an altitude of 2500 feet. Also here the (tin) ore was very rich and “… an enterprising man may make a fortune here in a very short time …

The Chinese house, the Malay huts, at least the lower ranges of Bukit Larut were inhabited, so there must have been reasonably clear trails. For the upper part, I think the (orang asli?) guides who undoubtedly brought Birch and his team to the top, chose basically the route which now leads to the Hill Station (at 6th mile) and continues to the Cottage on top of Caulfield Hill. Here is a topo map of the upper part of Bukit Larut. Left the Hill Station at an altitude of 3400 feet. Gunung Hijau is at 4750 feet.

Caulfield Hill is what mountain hikers call a “false peak” at 4500 feet. You think that you have reached the top, but you have to go down first and then climb up again to the real peak. Frustrating, I speak from experience πŸ™‚ In this case the saddle between Caulfield Hill and Gunung Hijau is at an altitude of 4300 feet.

After breakfast, they continue, and Birch writes: “after getting considerably higher, we had to go down a dip of about 500 feet, and then ascend again, but at last reached the top” If I am right about the route they followed, he is more or less correct, they had to go down about 200 feet and climb up again 450 feet.

At the top it is cold, there is mist and a strong wind, but there are also splendid glimpses of the land below and the sea. A shed is built, there is intermittent rain and at night it is very cold.

The next day Birch and Campbell wake up early to do their surveying work. They used instruments similar to these two, left an aneroid barometer and right a theodolite.

First they determine the height of Gunung Hijau. Probably everybody will be familiar with a barometer as an instrument to give information about the weather. Notice that the inner scale gives the air pressure (in inches Hg) and also weather descriptions, From Stormy (28 inch) until Very Dry (31 inch).

But a barometer can also be used to determine height, using the fact that the air pressure will decrease when you get higher in the atmosphere.

Birch had measured 29.42 inch for the air pressure at Mrs Marple’s house (where he was staying in Taiping) , and now he found 25.15 inch. He had also measured the temperature at both locations.

With these values he was able to calculate the difference in altitude between the two locations and found 4425 feet. Estimating the altitude of Mrs Marple’s house at 60 feet, this would give 4485 feet for the height of Gunung Hijau. And that value is not correct, more than 250 feet short, the actual height of Gunung Hijau is 4750 feet ! In an Appendix I will give more details about his calculation and about a possible explanation of the discrepancy..

The next step was to determine the actual location of Gunung Hijau. They used the Admiralty Chart number 1353, where the location of the mountain was given and also the location of several island in the Straits, Pulo Jarra, Pulo Rima, Pulo Kandy and Pulo Tellong. Is the location of Gunung Hijau on the map correct? Now the theodolite is needed. With this precision instrument you can measure angles, both in a vertical and a horizontal plane. The procedure is as follows. The theodolite is pointed to an island, and the angle is measured. Using this angle you can draw a line on the map. Repeat this for the other islands. Where the four lines intersect, is your location. In principle two lines are enough, but more will be better. Result of these measurements : “ … we found that Gunung Hiju was in correct position exactly

The view is magnificent, from the Dindings in the South to Quedah Peak (Gunung Jerai) in the North. Penang is clearly visible. Apparently they can also see Taiping, deep down, the prison, roads etc. About the view Birch writes “It is one of the prettiest bird’s-eye views I ever saw, and beats the view from Penang Hill all to nothing“.

All this during the morning hours, because at 12pm, they pack their instruments and start the descent, another 3000 feet down, to the house of the Chinese at 1750 feet, where they stay overnight again.

The next day, “with a good deal of pain in our muscles ” they descend the last part where elephants(!) are waiting, who bring Birch back to his lodgings at Mrs Marple. That night he has a fever, but the following morning he feels well and fresh again and starts works with Campbell to plot the results of the expedition .

It is his last day in Taiping, in the afternoon he goes to Bukit Gantang, on elephant, where he meets Ngah Ibrahim and has a discussion with him about debt slavery and other matters. He stays overnight in Bukit Gantang and continues the next day to Kuala Kangsar.

It is 11 July. Ten days later, on 21 July, in a meeting of Sultan Abdullah with the Malay chiefs, it is decided that Birch will be killed, not poisoned but stabbed to death. Because he has no respect for Malay culture and tradition, some say. Because he wanted to abolish “debt slavery.” other historians say.

One question about the monument has been answered. Yes, Birch climbed Gunung Hijau in 1875, together with four other Englishmen. When and by whom the commemorative stone was placed at what now is called Birch Hill, will probably remain unknown forever.

I am thinking about climbing Gunung Hijau myself during one of my following visits to Taiping. Of course not starting from the foothills πŸ™‚ There is a trail starting near Caulfield Hill and from there it should take about one hour. Probably there is no view anymore, but I want to check out myself. Anyone likes to join πŸ™‚ ?


Atmospheric pressure depends on altitude, as you get higher it will decrease. In my university it was a standard experiment for physics freshmen to determine the height of the laboratory building, using a barometer.

So I was interested how Birch determined the height of Gunung Hijau. Here is the passage in his Journal again, where he does the calculations

The formula he uses is H = 60.000 (log R – log r) K , where R and r are the barometer readings in Taiping and on the top of the mountain, and K is a correction factor depending on the temperatures, measured at the two locations.

Where did Birch find this formula? He mentions Ranbines and Molesworth. Googling for Ranbines gave no results, but Molesworth did. A lot of hits, it must have been a popular handbook for engineers in the 19th century. First edition in 1863, here is a photo of the 19th edition, published in 1879.

The pocket book has 788 (!) pages and can be found online here. I was lucky, I only had to scroll to page 12 to find what I was looking for πŸ™‚

We have to take the logarithm of the two pressure values. Nowadays we use a pocket calculator, but in those days you had to use logarithm tables, which are included in Molesworth’s Pocket Book. By the way, during my own high school days, I still was using a logarithm table! Here are the logarithm pages in Molesworth.

Mainly for nostalgic reasons, but you may try to reproduce the values given by Birch πŸ™‚ Actually I did. Taking the logarithms of the pressure values, I noticed that he gives them in 7 decimals. The tables have 5 decimals, interpolation gives the 6th, but not a 7th. My guess is that the tables in Rambines have 6 decimals, so interpolation gives the 7th. Not that it makes much of a difference. Subtracting the two logarithms, Birch finds a value of 0.0681047, while I find 0.068109, one decimal less, using the Molesworth tables.

The final part of Birch’s calculation is a bit surprising. Birch takes logarithms again ! But there is no need for that, just fill the values in the equation for H, given above

H = 60000 x 0.0681047 x 1.083 = 4425.4 feet (with my value, I find 4425.7 feet).

Of course it is true that using logarithms you replace multiplication by addition, but at the cost of using tables, and the two (long) multiplications are basically primary school stuff.

About the difference between the 4425 + 60 feet found by Birch and the actual value of 4750 feet, the most probable explanation is a change in atmospheric pressure (weather conditions) during Birch’s trip. At least two days between the measurements at Mrs Marple’s house and the top of Gunung Hijau! Look again at the dial of the barometer. “Very Dry” and “Stormy” have a pressure difference of 3 inches!

To see the effect of a small variation in r, I redid the calculation for r= 24.95 inch and found H =4651 feet.

This is a well known disadvantage of the barometric method to determine altitude. Both measurements should be done at the same time!

Nobel Prize Physics 2019

The Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded this year to Jim Peebles for ” theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for “the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star”.

It happens regularly that the Nobel Prize is split, but in this case there is hardly a connection between the two topics, and the Nobel committee must have realised that,  by adding that the prize this year was won for “contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos”

In this post I will concentrate on Jim Peebles, maybe in a later post I will write more about the discovery of the other two physicists.

The scientific career of Peebles is closely associated with the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, so I will first explain what it is and how it was discovered.

According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe came into being 13.8 billion year ago. Incredibly tiny, hot and dense, it started to expand, while cooling. In the beginning it was a soup of gluons and quarks, but after a few minutes (!) the temperature had dropped so much that “normal” matter, like protons, neutrons and electrons became stable and even some light elements like deuterons and alpha particles could be formed. But it was still a plasma for many thousand years, until after around 380.000 years the universe had cooled so much that electrons and nucleons could form neutral atoms, like helium and hydrogen. From that time onwards until present photons could travel freely, the Universe had become transparent.

In the 1960’s Dicke and Peebles at Princeton studied this Big Bang theory, which was still not universally accepted at that time. If the Universe started with a “primordial fireball” , remaining radiation of this fireball should still be present. But the Universe has expanded about 1000 times since it became transparent, so the wavelength of that radiation has also increased 1000 times! No longer visible (reddish) light, but microwaves with a wavelength in the order of cm/mm’s, corresponding to a temperature of only a few Kelvin.

To detect this kind of radiation you need a microwave radiometer , and two colleagues of Dicke and Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson, also at Princeton, were building one. Then they learnt that two scientists at Bell Laboratories, Penzias and Wilson, only 60 km away from Princeton, were actually working wich such a radiometer and had found results they could not explain. Here is a photo of the Holmdel Horn Antenna, used by Penzias and Wilson.

What was it they could not explain? Well, measuring microwave radiation is not easy, because there is much “noise” from many sources, which you have to eliminate or take into account. What they found was that there always remained a background corresponding to a absolute temperature of 3.5 Kelvin. It did not matter which part of the sky they pointed the horn to, and whether it was day or night, there was always this background. They even cleaned the inside of the horn, removing pigeon droppings!

When the two teams came together, the solution was immediately clear. Penzias and Wilson had inadvertently discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, predicted by Dicke and his team. “Well, boys, we’ve been scooped “, Dicke supposedly said.

The two groups decided to write separate articles for the Astrophysical Journal of 1965, referring to each other. Cosmic Black-Body Radiation by Dicke, Peebles et al. and , very modestly titled, A Measurement of Excess Antenna Temperature at 4080 Mc/s by Penzias and Wilson.

In 1978 Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize for Physics “for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation” Of course many in the scientific community found that the Nobel Prize should have been awarded to both teams. But (old fashioned) Nobel Prize rules made that impossible, teams can not get the Nobel Prize, only individuals (maximum three).

Roll and Wilkinson continued with their experiment and published the results the next year in the Physical Review Letters: ” Cosmic Background Radiation at 3.2 cm-Support for Cosmic Black-Body Radiation. Searching information for this post, I found a fascinating article, written a few weeks ago by Peter Roll, now retired of course, about his perspective on the 1965 discovery of the CMB. VERY readable, also for non-physicists.

I have written in some detail about the discovery of the CMB radiation because the importance of this discovery can hardly be overestimated. It changed the Big Bang theory from a controversial hypothesis into the standard model for the evolution of the universe. Here is another very readable article in Physics Today, one year after the discovery: A Bang, not a Whimper?

Of course there were still many questions. If the radiation was really thermal, it should have a well-defined spectrum. And it was of course very convincing that the radiation was the same at each point of the sky, but actually there should be minuscule differences, how else could stars and galaxies have formed, if the early universe was completely homogeneous?

The best way to investigate these questions, was to launch a spacecraft and observe the radiation outside Earth’s atmosphere. And that’s what happened. In 1974 NASA asked for scientific proposals and in 1989 the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was launched. Two main experiments, FIRAS by John Mather, to determine the spectrum of the CMB radiation and DMR by George Smoot to measure the miniscule differences (the “anisotropy”) of the CMB.

Here is the spacecraft. Dimensions (without solar panels) ~ 4,5 x 2,5 m. The experiments are indicated, the Dewar contained liquid helium to cool especially FIRAS to near absolute zero temperature.

Here are the results. The CMB spectrum fits so perfectly the shape of a thermal source (“blackbody”) that it received a standing ovation when it was presented to the American Astronomical Society in January 1990.

The temperature of the CMB is 2.728 K, but Smoot found indeed tiny differences, depending on the location in the sky. Here is a map of the sky, with the temperature differences indicated in red (slightly warmer) and blue (slightly colder). When these results were published in 1992, they were frontpage news in the New York Times and Stephen Hawking in an interview called it “the greatest discovery of the century, if not of all times”.

In 2006 Mather and Smoot received the Nobel Prize for Physics “for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation”

Through the CMB we are looking back to the very young universe, 380.000 year old, before stars and galaxies were formed. Exploring these temperature differences, may help us to understand the evolution of the universe. But then a more detailed map of this anisotropy is needed!

In 2001 the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was launched. Until 2009 data have been collected, resulting in maps like this one, much more detailed.

And in 2009 the Planck observatory was launched. The instruments on board were cooled until 0.1 Kelvin, making it the coldest object in the universe..:-) Here is the Planck map, even more detailed.

You may wonder about the shape of these maps. It is called the Mollweide projection and it minimises the distortion you always get when you project a sphere on a plane. For comparison, here is the Mollweide projection of Earth.

There are two other discoveries in cosmology during the past 50 years that I have to mention, before I can finally come back to Jim Peebles and his Nobel Prize πŸ™‚

The first one was the discovery of Dark Matter. In the 70s the American astronomer Vera Rubin studied the rotation of galaxies like the Andromeda galaxy and found that the outer regions of the galaxies were rotating much faster than expected, based on the visible matter of the galaxy and Kepler’s laws. An explanation could be that galaxies are surrounded by a halo of invisible (“dark”) matter. The existence of this Dark Matter has been widely accepted by the scientific community, but we still do not know yet what it is. According to many physicists, she deserved a Nobel Prize for her research, but she never got it. Because she was a woman? She passed away in 2016, Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously. Here is a necrology: Vera Rubin, invisible to the Nobel Committee.

The second discovery was made in the 90s by two teams of astronomers who were studying the expansion of the universe. The Big Bang theory predicted that the expansion would slow down, because of the force of gravity. The crucial question was: will this force be big enough to stop the expansion, followed by a contraction, ending in a Big Crunch, or will the expansion go on forever. The result of their research was shocking: the expansion is not slowing down, but accelerating! There must be a repulsive force, which was called Dark Energy. Also here we do not know what it is. In 2011 the leaders of the two teams were awarded the Physics Nobel Prize “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”. I wrote a blog about it: Physics Nobel Prize (2011).

So, what did Jim Peebles discover? Nothing actually, and that may have been a reason that he received the Nobel Prize so late in life (he is now 84 year old) as the Nobel Committee has a preference for (experimental) discoveries.

But Jim Peebles rightly deserves the Nobel Prize because he has been instrumental in developing the theoretical cosmological framework for what is called physical cosmology. In 1982 he published a groundbreaking article about a cosmological model with dark matter in it and in 1984 an article in which he added the cosmological constant Ξ› (now called dark energy) to his model. This model , the Ξ› CDM  model, is at present the standard model of cosmology. For this work Peebles could (should) have been awarded the Nobel Prize many decades ago! Well, better late than never πŸ™‚

With this Ξ› CDM model, using the properties of the CMB radiation and other experimental results, it is possible to determine how much normal matter, dark matter and dark energy there is in the Universe. The best fit to the (Planck) CMB data is obtained with the following values:

  • Atomic matter 4.9 %
  • Dark Matter 26.8 %
  • Dark Energy 68.3 %

Probably most of you will have seen this result. Everything we observe around us, our earth, the sun, the planets, the galaxies, it is only ~ 5% of our universe. About the other 95% we know basically nothing. Astonishing and mind-boggling.

Let me finish this post with two images. Below is an overview of the Big Bang expansion. The CMB is seen to the left, called the Afterglow Light Pattern. To the left you see “Inflation” and “Quantum Fluctuations”. The present theory is that in the first ~ 10βˆ’32 (!) second, the universe expanded exponentially. I don’t feel qualified to write a post about it, see the Inflation article in Wikipedia.

When the universe became transparent after 380.000 year, there were no stars and galaxies yet, the universe was dark, except for the afterglow! It took hundred millions of years, before the first stars were formed. More info in Wikipedia’s Chronology of the universe.

In 1980 Peebles published a book Large-Scale Structure of the Universe and that has always been his primary interest. There are about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, are they just randomly distributed? The answer is no, they are part of what nowadays is called the Cosmic Web. They are concentrated along filaments, with huge voids in between. In this artist impression, each light dot is a galaxy. Another mind-boggling image. πŸ™‚ .

In 2013 I have written a post : Largest Structure in the Universe discovered, very readable if I may say so πŸ™‚


How is it possible to extract the values for dark matter, dark energy etc from a map of the sky with minuscule temperature differences?

The first step is to “translate” the temperature differences into what is called a power spectrum. The CMB map has cold and warm patches in various sizes. A power spectrum gives the intensity of these patches as function from their (angular) size.

Here is the power spectrum of the PLanck CMB map. The largest temperature fluctuations are found in patches of around 1 degree. Notice that the angular scale runs from left (large patches) to right (small patches). The red dots come from the CMB map. The green line is the best fit from the Ξ› CDM model, using the parameters given above.

Here is an instructive video, how the different parts of the power spectrum correspond from left to right to increasingly detailed structures.

The calculations are complex and need powerful computers.

In this simulation: Build a Universe you can play around with the various parameters. To run it on your computer, you need to have Flash installed. Not everybody will have Flash, so I have taken two screenshots. The first one, shows the “fit” for a universe with only normal matter. The second one uses parameters like given above.

Taiping, October 2019

This time I visited Taiping to see the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. About the procession and the fire walking I have written a separate post, Nine Emperor Gods Festival . But during my 4D3N visit there was enough time left to walk around Taiping, visit friends and enjoy the food. Here is a report.

After the procession and lunch on Saturday 5 October , I decided to walk to the Amelia Earhart mural at the junction of Jalan Abdul Jalil and Jalan Taming Sari. On my way I passed the Central market and had a look inside. In the morning bustling with activity, but now quiet. Good news: plans for renovation of this iconic building have been accepted and a dilapidation survey has started. The “modern” clocktower in front of the market is quite interesting.

Here is the Amelia Earhart mural. A large mural to commemorate that she landed at Taiping airport on 20 June 1937. The problem is, she never did, as I have explained in two blog posts, Amelia Earhart and Taiping and Amelia Earhart and Taiping (part 2)

The mural is well done and her plane accurately depicted, but the text captions are wrong. She did not land at the Taiping aerodrome, but flew directly from Bangkok to Singapore on 20 June 1937. And the Taiping aerodrome may have been the first one in the Federated Malay States, but definitely not in South East Asia. Read my posts for more background information.

Walking back to my hotel, I passed two buildings that epitomise Taiping for me and actually are a reason that I love the town so much πŸ˜‰ . The contrast between attractive old buildings and ruined structures appeals to me.

The building of the Ceylon Association is another example of successful restoration. And continuing my walk, I could not resist the temptation of a cendol at Ansari πŸ™‚

Last month I have published a post Taiping Bandar Warisan about two ruined buildings along Station Road, the Rest House and the Perak Railway Buildings. I ended this report with:

Finally the Perak Railway Building and the Rest House have been fenced off. Let’s hope that this is the start of a positive development!

I am afraid that I was too optimistic. The Rest House looks fenced off quite well.

But you can still enter easily, as one of the entrance gates is unlocked

I was rather shocked when I saw the fencing of the Railway buildings. Only the front facade is fenced off, the side facade is just open as usual! My friend Yeap gave the explanation. Merdeka Day, 31 August, was celebrated this year in Taiping and the parade was passing the buildings along Station Road. The partial fencing was to cover the eyesore from view! Shame on MPT if that is true.

The main entrance (left photo) is “locked” in a very provisional way. Notice how the fence ends.

But from the other side you can. The fence is a solid construction, but completely useless this way. I entered from the side facade and took several pictures. I took care not to wake up the squatter who was living there and sleeping πŸ™‚ !

I have sent my report about these two buildings to the Taiping Municipal Council and to the Perak Exco for tourism, arts and culture. No reply (yet).

Next two large scale murals. one related to the Central Market, the other one to the Port Weld railway. Well done by the same artist, apparently sponsored by Koridor Utara and MPT. You can find murals nowadays all over Malaysia, good that Taiping seems to “specialise” in large ones.

Almost back in my hotel, I crossed one of my favourite food courts, opposite the Taiping Mall, where I had enjoyed my Chee Cheong Fun breakfast earlier that morning. It seems that in the past, this was the place where they held circus shows. No idea who came with the idea to “add value” to this relaxed place by erecting a useless I LOVE TAIPING .

After a rest in my hotel, it was time for my usual walk in the Lake Gardens . I had taken my umbrella, because the sky was threatening. But with the sun still present, the result is enchanting.

It was a Saturday afternoon, people were enjoying their boat rides, as I was enjoying my walk.

Just a few more photos of plants, flowers, fruits and fresh leaves. Life is good in Taiping.

I have walked numerous times in the Lake Gardens, and never noticed that there is actually a dinosaur near the lake side! After part of the Circular Road became the pedestrian Raintree Walk, people can use it for their exercises.

In the evening I went out for dinner. First I walked to the Casual Market, forgetting that they are not open in the evening. Walking back, passing the nicely illuminated clock tower, I went to another favorite food court of mine, Prima, where I had my Char Kuey Teow.

I was not the only customer πŸ™‚

The next morning I had breakfast with my friend Yeap in Lian Thong, eggs on toast and coffee. Another nicely restored building.

I had rented a bicycle from Furama hotel, because I was planning to visit the Taiping Aerodrome. But first I visited Mrs Long, the sister of my Singapore friend ST Lee. She is the wife of the late Mr Long, headmaster of King Edwards VIII and it has become a tradition to have a chat with her in her beautiful house at Barrack Road. She is a very good story teller.

When I was doing my research about Amelia Earhart and her supposed landing at the Taiping Aerodrome, I became interested in what was left of the aerodrome. I found a so-called aviation map of British Malaya (1935), with a detailed map of the Taiping Aerodrome. Compare it with the Google Earth screenshot. The left corner of the airfield has been developed already and there is concern that the rest of the airfield may follow. Protests have been hold, until now successfully.

Here is a view of the airfield. It would be great if a destination could be found in line with the original function of the field. For example an airfield for glider planes, or a skydiving school. Bus as you can see on the GE map, the field is now surrounded by residential development, so there might be safety issues.

Not much is left from the original buildings. This might have been the control tower.

A few more pictures. Could the building in the bottom pictures have been a hangar? First I thought that the concrete track in the top right picture could have been a runway, but on the GE screenshot you can see that the runway ran diagonally across the airfield (and has been been extended later, after the 1935 map was made).

On my way back to town, I stopped for a while at another mega-mural, near Antong’s coffee mill. Well done, but not a very good location, not many visitors will come and see it.

Back in town, I visited the Taiping city gallery, where I met Puan Jamilah, who still recognised me from an earlier visit. The planning is that this nice building should become a tourist information center for Taiping, but there is a lack of funding. Pity.

I met Yeap again for lunch, now in the company of Halim. After our lunch we visited the antique shop of Kapitan Tan, where Halim of course had to try the old Vespa πŸ™‚

In the afternoon I took a rest in my hotel . Later Yeap picked me up and together we went to the Tupai temple for the fire walking. Here is the link again: Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

The next morning I had breakfast with Keseven, a Taiping Heritage Society (THS) member who like me is very interested in the Taiping Aerodrome and rather upset about the Amelia Earhart mural. Taiping is a small town, so it was no surprise that we met there Neal, another THS member. Of course we talked/gossiped about Taiping and THS πŸ™‚

Halim was free that morning and willing to drive me around Taiping. So I walked back to my hotel, passed the dobi lines, always a colorful spectacle, packed my stuff and checked out.

Halim has been very active in tourism, so we made another stop at the Taiping city gallery and talked a bit more with Puan Jamilah.

Our next stop was at the pillars of the former Residency with the ruins of the ruined Casuarina hotel . Six years ago I have published a report, Shame on Taiping! , about this location. Nt much change, but of course more decay.

A few pictures. Halim told me that he and his wife had managed the restaurant of the hotel when it was still operating, about 12 years ago, so this visit was a kind of nostalgic experience for him.

Halim is quite adventurous and wanted to explore the first floor of the hotel, now resembling a jungle.

He was even more adventurous when we visited the New Club swimming pool, our last destination.

Before dropping me at the station, we had lunch in the Old Railway Station with Mee Rojak and Cendol.

Then it was time to take the ETS train back to Kuala Lumpur. A very convenient way of traveling!

It was a very rewarding trip. Thanks to all my Taiping friends. Looking forward to come again.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival

Last month one of our friends told us that he would have vegetarian food during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. This Taoist festival is yearly held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. The largest celebration takes place in Ampang, but there is also one in Taiping, which I had always wanted to see, but never had πŸ˜‰ .

I asked my Taiping friends about details, and they told me that the main procession would be held on Sunday 6 October, and the fire walking on the last evening, Monday 7 October. So I booked my usual hotel Furama and arrived by train Saturday 5 October afternoon.

Taiping has become a warm nest for me, friends were already waiting at the station, and before sending me to my hotel, we had lunch in restaurant YES.

After a short rest in my hotel, and in spite of the drizzle, I decided to have a look at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple. There are three Kew Ong Yah (Nine Emperor) temples in Taiping, the original one is in Tupai, on walking distance from my hotel.

A lot of activity was going on. Devotees were praying in the temple and having (free) vegetarian food. Many of them were wearing traditional white clothes.

In the temple compound I saw already the floats and chariots that were going to be used during the procession.

That evening I had dinner again with my friends, this time in restaurant 8383 in Pokok Assam. As I said, Taiping is a warm nest for me. The food was delicious and really value for money.

The next morning was the procession. The husband of my friend Bok Kin is a descendant of Ng Boo Bee, the famous tycoon. In April they had taken me to Ng Boo Bee’s tomb, click here for the report. Ng Boo Bee’s town house is in Kota Road., the procession is always passing by there and it is a tradition that the family prepares an offering table in front of the house. Bok Kin invited me to watch the parade from there and of course I accepted her invitation.

Before the procession started, I joined the family in burning joss sticks, not surprisingly nine sticks this time πŸ™‚

Many people were waiting for the arrival of the parade. The cream-colored building is Ng Boo Bee’s townhouse

Start of the procession. In the background the iconic Taiping clock tower.

When the chariots were close to the house and the offering table, they made a left turn and almost ran to the table, stopping just in time.

Many participants were carrying whips, using them to make a cracking sound. There were also quite a few devotees, dressed in tattered monk robes, a fan in one hand and often a bottle of beer in the other. They personify Ji Gong. Fascinating to watch.

Rocking the chariot is a common practice. I had seen it before at the Chengay festival in Johor Baru.

I kept taking pictures πŸ™‚ .

Most of the chariots were carried by men. This one was an exception.

This Ji Gong entered the house to pay his respect to the house altar and wrote something on a piece of paper before he continued.

Another Ji Gong. His robe is tattered. His cap is covering his eyes. Holding a bottle of beer in one hand and a fan in the other. The original Ji Gong (1130-1209) ate meat, drank alcohol and did not care about his clothing… πŸ™‚

The most fascinating part of the procession are the many men, often still teenagers, who have been piercing their cheeks, walk with hooks in their backs etc. They are called masong. Most piercing is done with long, thin, metal poles, but there were a few devotees who had used heavier stuff, like this guy who was using two swords, and the guy to the right, using a gun. Can not imagine how that can heal easily.

Here are more pictures. One guy using an umbrella, another one a tyre pump, even one carrying a ladder! Notice how all of them have one or two helpers, carrying a stool. Understandably, sometimes they have to sit down for a while πŸ™‚

An Indian drum band added to the festive atmosphere. My friends said that this year the procession was longer than before. Several temple are contributing, and also Indians take part in the parade.

Here is another way of self-mortification , similar to what I have seen at Thaipusam, where devotees pull a chariot with ropes attached by hooks to their back. No chariot here, but other boys, pulling back, while the masong are more or less hanging forward.

More piercing of cheeks.

The last part of the procession. Devotees are carrying kavadis. Both the kavadis and the piercing have their origin in the Hindu Thaipusam tradition. Actually, there is a Hindu festival, Navaratri, during the same nine days of the ninth lunar month, but not related.

Heavy stuff, no wonder they sometimes have to sit down for some rest.

One of the last floats. Sprinkling (holy?) water on the crowd.

The whole parade took around 1.5 hour. After cleaning the offering table, the family invited me for lunch. Vegetarian of course πŸ™‚

The fire walking took place on the evening of the next day, so I had plenty of time to walk around in Taiping, meet other friends, enjoy (non-vegetarian) food, etc. I have written a separate post about it, Taiping, October 2019, and will continue here with the fire walking.

The next day around 7pm, my friend Yeap picked me up from my hotel and we found a parking place not too far from the Tupai temple, where the fire walking was going to take place. We were early, a big space had been cordoned off, and people were preparing the bed of ashes. It was shorter than I had seen in Sri Lanka, many years ago.

We had a look inside the temple, where Yeap introduced me to Ong Hean Hai, the caretaker. He is standing second from right, with his children . Later he invited us to his office, where he gave an explanation about the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

There were many food stalls in and around the temple compound. In one of them they were making Yeow Char Kwai, a favorite of mine, specially when freshly fried. The name translates as Oil Fried Devils and here is the explanation for that strange name πŸ™‚

As we were early, we had dinner there. Vegetarian curry mee, very nice. And black coffee with Yeow Char Kwai, delicious when you soak them in the coffee. In the meantime Bok Kin and Teng Hin had also joined.

Preparing for the fire walking, the devotees, dressed in white, perform several rituals. They enter the inner temple, where other people are not allowed. They walk back and forth several times to the fire walking compound, chanting.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is associated with rain, and this time was no exception. When the fire walking was beginning around 9pm, it had also started to rain. Maybe easier for the devotees to walk on the ashes? For us onlookers, we needed an umbrella.

The lighting was not very bright, so it was difficult to take good pictures. Here are two videos I took. The devotees are circling a few times around the ashes, before they walk.

It is interesting to watch the fire walkers. Some of them walk slowly, others almost run. Some carry a child or a bundle of clothes. Because of the rain, you could not see any glowing ashes, but it still must have been burning hot. After the first group of devotees, also others try. It is said that you can only do it if you have been vegetarian during the nine days of the festival , but I doubt if that is true

AFter the fire walking was finished, we went back to the restaurant, where also many of the fire walkers were enjoying a drink, food and company.

The festival was a memorable experience for me. I took many videos dring the procession and the fire walking. Here is a collage.

Will an asteroid hit Earth?

Roughly 66 million years ago the Chicxulub asteroid with an estimated diameter of 10 km struck Earth at the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It caused an extinction of 75% of all plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

In 1908 the Tunguska meteorite exploded above a remote region in Russia, flattening about 2000 kmΒ² of forest. Ongoing discussion if it was a comet or an asteroid. Estimated size 30-80 m.

On 15 February 2013 an asteroid, size approximately 20 m, exploded at an altitude of ~ 30 km above the Chelyabinsk district in Russia. The shockwave caused substantial damage, many people were injured by broken glass.

And last few weeks there has been “alarming” news in the media about several “space rocks” threatening to collide with Earth and cause havoc. Foremost in this was the British tabloid Daily Express. Here are a few of its headlines (click on the image to see the corresponding article)

7 September:

Asteroid shock: NASA warns of β€˜100 percent’ chance of asteroid impact

27 September:

Asteroid alert: NASA tracks three space rocks heading past Earth at once – Will they hit?

2 October:

Asteroid warning: NASA panic as four killer space rocks avoid horror impact with Earth

NASA panics, warning of a β€˜100 percent’ chance of asteroid impact? Hm, time for a post about asteroids and their danger for Earth πŸ˜‰

Asteroids are “small” rocky objects, billions of them, orbiting the Sun, most of them in the (main) Asteroid Belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Small is relative, more than 150 million are larger than 100 meter and the largest asteroid, Ceres, has a diameter of 945 km! Notice the units, used in the picture below. One AU (Astronomical Unit) equals 150 million km, the average distance between Earth and Sun. This unit is often used for distances in the Solar System. For example, Mars orbits at a distance of ~ 1.5 AU around the Sun and the main Asteroid Belt is located between around 2.2 and 3.2 AU.

There are also asteroids outside the main asteroid belt, orbiting closer to the Sun. When their closest distance to the Sun (perihelion) is less than 1.3 AU , they are labelled Near Earth Asteroids (NEA’s). They are interesting for several reasons. One of them is the possibility of mining them in the future. Another is the possibility that a NEA could come so close to Earth that it might collide!

Starting in the 1990’s numerous surveys have been set up to discover and monitor NEA’s. During the last decade the Catalina Sky Survey and the Pan-STARRS surveys have discovered more than thousand NEA’s yearly and every day new ones are discovered. The basic technique is to compare pictures of the sky, taken on different dates and looking for “light points” that have moved, using automated software.

In the figure below the cumulative total is shown (October 2019), split according to the estimated size of the asteroid. Total: 21059 , Larger than 140 m: 8817, Larger than 1 km: 900 (10 October 2019).

Fortunately most of these NEA’s will never come so close to Earth that there is a risk of collision. A subcategory has been defined of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), asteroids that come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU and are larger than 140 m. At the moment the number of PHA’s is about 2000. They are of course monitored more closely.

In the left graph the total number of PHA’s is given (from 1999 until September 2019. Each year ~ 100 new PHA”s are discovered. The right graph shows the number of PHA’s larger than 1 km. The last decade only a few more have been found.

Here is a graph showing the orbits of the ~ 1400 PHA’s known in 2013.

After this explanation about NEA’s and PHA’s, you might be a bit scared that the UK tabloids were right in their warnings about imminent asteroid collisions resulting in disasters.

Let’s have a look at Sentry, operated by CNEOS, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (objects because both asteroids and comets are studied). It is a highly automated impact prediction system, that continually monitors the most current asteroid catalog for possibilities of future impact with Earth over the next 100+ years. At the moment of writing this post, it monitors 945 objects. The probability of impact and the impact energy result in a number on the Torino Scale, comparable with the Richter index for earthquakes.

Here is the reassuring result of Sentry: All the 945 objects have a Torino index 0 ! They form no risk for Earth in the next century.

A few comments

  1. Keep in mind that the Torino Scale is defined only for the next 100 years. There exists another scale, the Palermo scale, that is more sophisticated, with both negative and positive values. The result is the same: none of the objects have positive values.
  2. When a new NEA has been discovered, its orbit is not yet well defined. It happens quite regularly that temporarily such an object has a positive Torino/Palermo index. Subsequent observations reduce the index .
  3. Sentry monitors also NEA’s that are smaller than 140 m and therefore officially no PHA’s.
  4. Asteroids, smaller than ~ 20 meter, will disintegrate in the atmosphere, leaving a streak of light, a fireball.

Earth is continuously bombarded from outer space by rocky objects. Every year about 40.000 tonnes. Occasionally a small asteroid, more often remnants of a comet or an asteroid. They are called meteorites and will “burn” in the atmosphere. Here is a map of these fireballs, recorded between 1988 and present. Size and color of the circles indicate the energy of the impact. The large orange circle is the Chelyabinsk asteroid, mentioned in the introduction of this post.

So, what about the scaremongering articles in the media? Here are again the last two captions. In total seven space rocks, horror impacts, NASA panic.

NASA tracks three space rocks heading past Earth at once – Will they hit?
NASA panic as four killer space rocks avoid horror impact with Earth

Here are the 7 scoundrels: 2019 SH3, 2019 SN3, 2019 SP. 2019 SE8,
2019 SM8 , 2018 FK5 and 2019 SD8.

The last column gives the closest distance, expressed in the Lunar Distance (
384402 km) . The size is approximate (see appendix).

NameSizeClose approachDistancein LD
2019 SH3 ~ 27m 2019-Sep-30 01:371202.000 km3.1
2019 SN3 ~ 16m 2019-Sep-30 11:45845.000 km 2.2
2019 SP ~ 44m 2019-Sep-30 17:41 2540.000 km6.6
2019 SE8 ~ 5m 2019-Oct-01 13:56159.000 km 0.41
2019 SM8 ~ 15m 2019-Oct-01 15:12 1085.000 km2.8
2019 FK5 ~ 6m 2019-Oct-01 22:565094.000 km 13.3
2019 SD8 ~ 12m 2019-Oct-02 02:29 532.000 km 1.4

In an appendix of this post I will explain how you can extract these data from the invaluable CNEOS website. In case another alarmist article will published, you can check yourself if you have to get worried πŸ™‚

All seven asteroids are NEA’s, but none of them are Potentially Hazardous Asteroids and NASA will not have panicked at all. Actually these events are common, the past year around 2400 NEA’s have passed Earth, 73 of them even closer than the Moon (like 2019 SE8 in the table above). About 370 of them were PHA’s, but none of them came closer than 7.4 LD’s

Let’s have a look now at the first article

Asteroid shock: NASA warns of β€˜100 percent’ chance of asteroid impact

A ridiculous title but the content is much better. Although there are no PHA’s that will hit Earth in the next 100+ years, on a larger time scale it may happen, so humanity should be prepared for such a situation.

Here is a informative infographic created by ESA, the European equivalent of NASA. Notice in the bottom row, how many asteroids in the medium range (100-300 m) still have to be discovered: more than 80 %!

When a big PHA asteroid is discovered on collision course with Earth, there is basically only one realistic option to avoid a disaster: to deflect it. When you are able to do that (many) decades before its impact, a relatively small change in its course might be sufficient. Many ways to deflect an asteroid are described in this Wikipedia article: Asteroid impact avoidance . And bi-annually a Planetary Defence Conference is organized, the last one was held in May 2019, here is the report .

One section of this conference was dedicated to asteroid Apophis, of special interest to me, because I have published three blog posts about it in 2010-2012 πŸ˜‰ . For a while after its discovery in 2004, there was concern that this 370 m big rock might hit Earth in 2036, after a close encounter in 2029.
I wrote Will the Earth be hit by Apophis in 2036? followed by a (technical) post Again Apophis . In 2012 the winner of the yearly competition for students and young professionals Move an Asteroid had a winner who proposed to deflect Apophis by paintballing πŸ™‚ My report Paintballing Apophis! explains how he wanted to do it.

Apophis is not a PHA anymore, but will still pass Earth on 13 April 2029 at the VERY short distance of 31.000 km (less than 0.1 Lunar Distance!), so at the conference there were numerous suggestions how to make use of this opportunity.

Here is a fascinating animation of Apophis, passing Earth on 13-4-2029 (click on the image). All the blue dots are man-made objects, orbiting Earth! The red dot orbiting Earth is the International Space Station.

As in earlier conferences, part of the program is a tabletop exercise about a hypothetical asteroid threat. The participants have to discuss how to respond, which action to take, etc. Very realistic, it reads like a thriller. Scroll down to page 31 of the (pdf) report. Here are the “press releases” given daily to the participants.

In the exercise, the participants decided to deflect the asteroid by using Kinetic Impactors, heavy spacecraft that crashes with high speed into the asteroid. It is the most common way to deflect an asteroid.

THEORETICALLY! Because this technique has not yet been tested in a real situation. Quite amazing, and a source of concern for many scientists.

Finally there is now one space mission in progress to test this kinetic impactor technique and I will end this blog with a description of the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

The mission is a cooperation between NASA and ESA and the original plan consisted of two spacecraft, a large NASA impactor called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and an ESA spacecraft , the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), that would watch DART crashing into the asteroid and observe the immediate effects of the impact.

Target of the mission is the asteroid Didymos, a PHA with a diameter of ~ 800 m, discovered in 1996 as 1996 GT . Don’t be surprised, but it has actually a “moon”, nicknamed Didymoon, diameter ~ 170 m, orbiting Didymos in about 12 hours.

This was the original plan: December 2020 AIM was to be launched, to arrive at Didymos in May 2022. It would go in orbit around the asteroid and study Didymos and Didymoon.

Dart would be launched in July 2021, arrive at Didymos October 2022 and crash into Didymoon, while AIM was watching! After the crash AIM would measure the change in Didymoon’s orbit, to see if this Kinetic Impactor technique is an effective way to deflect dangerous asteroids in the future.

Here is an artist impression of the mission.

And here is a very informative video, prepared by ESA in 2016 about AIM

But in December 2016, AIM was cancelled by ESA, after Germany withdrew the 60 million Euro funding for the project, to use the money instead for the ExoMars project. The Washington Post commented : Europe will send a rover to Mars but won’t protect Earth from an asteroid and a planetary scientist said “A cool project has been killed because of a lack of vision – even short term – and courage, and this is really sad

NASA decided to continue with the DART mission and measure the effects of the impact on Didymoon using earth-based telescopes instead. And ESA is planning to launch a much simpler spacecraft, named HERA, in 2023, after the crash of DART! After arrival at Didymos it would study the effects on Didymoon. But the decision to actually fly the mission still has to be taken, in November this year.

As an European I feel rather ashamed that Europe has acted this way.

x x x x x x x x x x x


In this appendix I will explain how you can find reliable information about any asteroid, when you know its name.

First the naming convention for “minor planets” . The year of discovery is followed by two letters and (sometimes) a number. The first letter gives the half-month in which the object was first observed. The second letter stands for a number 1 until 25. (the I is left out to avoid confusion with the J) and counts the objects, discovered in that half-month. When the system was introduced, probably it was thought that there would not be more than 25 objects discovered in a half-month. But nowadays hundreds of objects are discovered every month! The number tells how many times you have to repeat the alphabet! Here is the coding table.

An example. Recently a NEO has been discovered: 2019 SP3. In the table we see that the S stands for 16-30 September and the P for 15. So this asteroid is the 3 x 25 + 15 = 90th object, discovered in the second half of September 2019.

To find the properties of this asteroid we go to the JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Enter the name 2019 SP3 (case sensitive) in the Search box.

Lots of information, mostly about the orbit (left table) and the discovery history (upper right table). Important for us are two numbers in the other tables, the MOID = 0.00252421 AU and the absolute magnitude H =26.98.

The minimal orbit intersection distance (MOID) tells us how close the orbits of 2019 SP3 and Earth can get. 0.00252421 AU = 378000 km. Less than the distance between Earth and Moon!

The absolute magnitude H indicates how bright the asteroid is. It gives us an indication about the size of the asteroid. A large asteroid will reflect more sunlight and therefore appear brighter. But this reflection also depends on the structure of the asteroid, is it coal black or more shining. This reflection property is given by the albedo , which can have a value between 0 (no reflected light) and 1 (perfect reflection).

The problem is that we have to guess what the albedo of our asteroid is. In general they are quite dark, with albedo between 0.3 and 0.05. Often a value of 0.15 is used.

Here is part of the conversion table :

Using the value of H =26.298, we find that the size of 2019 SP3 lies between 14 and 34 meter, with a probable value of 19 m.

Conclusion: with an estimated size of 19 m and a minimal distance to Earth of 378000 km, 2019 SP3 is NOT a PHA.

This is what the Daily Express reported:

Potentially hazardous’ space rock to fly closer to Earth than Moon

Taiping Bandar Warisan

In 2013 I wrote a blog Shame on Taiping! about a few of Taiping’s heritage sites which were in a bad condition. Especially the former Perak Railway buildings and the Rest House, both along Station Road, opposite the King Edwards VII school

Since that time I have been visiting these buildings regularly when I visited Taiping, taking many pictures, both inside and outside. Here is a (large) collection. I have indicated the year that they were taken. Click on a picture to enlarge.

First the Perak Railway Buildings. Here is a scan from Anuar Isa’s report Taiping’s Many Firsts, published by the Taiping Municipal Council (MPT) in 2013.

In 2016 I took this picture of the whole complex, the old timber structure (1885) in the foreground and the (newer) brick building to the left.

Front and side facade of the old timber structure (PWD 269)

Same for the two-storey brick building (PWD 267)

More pictures of the decaying front facade of PWD 269. Without comment, only the year I took the picture.

Between the two buildings there is a nice gate. Notice that sometimes there was an attempt to block the entrance, so that squatters etc could not enter.

This counter must be familiar to Taipingites πŸ™‚ Nowadays it is often occupied and the squatter living there does not always welcome your visit.

A few photos of the interior of PWD 267. Abandoned but still in reasonable condition. I could even venture to the first floor. Notice the nice iron columns.

The courtyards of the two buildings were taken over by jungle.

In 2017 there was some activity. My Taiping friends told me that one of the entrances had been widened, so a bulldozer could enter the courtyards. When I visited the building, I noticed of course that Donald Duck had disappeared ;-). The entrance had been professionally repaired. A good sign?

The courtyards had been thoroughly cleaned, shrubs and trees had been removed. Of course the ruined state of the buildings became more visible now.

Only later that year I had time to visit the interior of the buildings and I was shocked. The interior had been vandalised, the wooden floorboards had been removed! Was that the real reason for the earlier activity?

It was still possible to climb up (carefully!) to the first floor. The damage is even more clearly visible. Later I asked around, but I was not able to find out who was responsible for this destruction.

In July 2018 I only had a look at the courtyard, there was an unfriendly squatter, I didn’t want to get into an argument with him.

Not surprisingly the jungle is fighting back already.

In December I came again, this time I had no problem entering. Not much change. I am not an expert, but I think these two buildings are beyond repair.

Next to the Perak Railway Building is the Rest House, the Rumah Rehat. Here is what Anuar Isa’s report says about it.

I have been staying in the Rest House, many years ago. At that time it was called Lagenda Hotel. A budget hotel, but quite acceptable, nice colonial atmosphere.

Around 11 years ago the hotel was closed. In the beginning hardly any fencing, you could just walk in, and of course squatters did. Later there came haphazard fencing like in this picture. Still very easy to trespass.

Here two pictures of the iconic main facade, in 2009 and in 2018. Not too much deterioration. But that is only appearance.

In 2012 there was a fence, but very easy to enter. Some decay, mainly in the ceilings.

One year later, still a fence with gaps, main entrance still looks ok.

Inside the building there are signs that people are living here.

People were complaining about the lack of proper fencing and in 2015 a prominent fence was erected, promoting Taiping as heritage town !

A bit ironical in my opinion. Look at the right picture, with the Rumah Rehat as it was and as it is now.

Even with this new fencing it was still possible to sneak in. The entrance still looks quite good and the stairs to the first floor are solid. But walking around there are clear signs that people are living here, even making a fire!

A short visit in 2017. Some signs of decay.

In 2018 I visited Taiping several times. Not much was left of the “heritage” fence.

But a signboard still tells about the Rumah Rehat, one of the many Firsts of Taiping. And a heritage plaque has been attached to the facade.

There are more signs of decay, although it looks that some repair work has been done. These picture have been taken December 2018, less than one year ago.

As a laymen I think the Rest House can still be saved, but fast action is needed.

Here is a drone video of the two buildings, taken last year.

For a long time already I have been planning to write a blog post with a selection of the pictures I have collected during the past 7-8 years, but it didn’t materialise yet. Until today when my heritage friends pointed me to this article in the Harian Metro: Ikonik usang jejaskan imej Taiping . With these two pictures:

Finally the Perak Railway Building and the Rest House have been fenced off. Let’s hope that this is the start of a positive development!

Amelia and Taiping (Part Two)

The conclusion in my blog post Amelia Earhart and Taiping was that she had never landed at Tekah airport. I am a contributor to Wikipedia and, after a discussion with (THS) friends, I decided to edit the history section of the Wikipedia entry for Taiping Airport, removing ” and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refuelling

I left the part “Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya. “, although I was wondering if this statement was correct, because I could not find any other independent reference on the Internet.

I was also intrigued that she mentioned a few times Alor Star in her notes, but never Taiping.

In this post I will try to answer/solve both issues.

After publishing my post, I searched the Internet again and I was lucky, I found another reference in the Wikipedia entry Federated Malay States Here it is:

Notable event
The Federated Malay States were within the flight path of American aviator Amelia Earhart on the Thailand–Singapore leg of her final and fatal attempt to cross the globe in 1937. She was given permission to enter FMS airspace with provision to land at Taiping Airport on 7 June 1937.

Contributor Bukhrin added this passage about Amelia Earhart on 14 January 2007. Notice the differences. Main point is that she got permission to enter FMS airspace.

That night, before I fell asleep (!), I remembered that Purdue University has an Amelia Earhart Archive ! The next morning I searched the Archive and, lo and behold, this is what I found:

Authorisation to fly through the FMS airspace, and permission for the aircraft to land at the Taiping Aerodrome. Signed 7 June 1937!

So, after all, Taiping IS special? Not really.

In those days before the war, British Malaya comprised three entities, the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Melaka, Penang and the Dindings), the Federated Malay States (Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang) and the Unfederated Malay States (Kedah, Johore, Perlis, Terengganu and Kelantan).

During her flight, Amelia Earhart passed all three , so she needed authorisations for each of them. They were handled by the American Consulate in Singapore. Here are the letters of the Consul to Amelia with the permits attached.

And here are the permits, one for the Straits Settlement, and separate ones for Johore and Kedah. Click to enlarge. For the FMS permit, see above.

All give permission to enter the airspace and a provision to land at the respective aerodrome(s). For the Straits Settlements in Penang and Singapore, for Kedah in Alor Star , for Johore in Batu Pahat and for the FMS in Taiping.

Five airports. Could it be that she had in her mind to land at Taiping airport. And why did she mention Alor Star in her notes?

Today I found the missing puzzle piece in the Purdue archive!

It is the flight plan for her first (failed) attempt in March 1937, where she was planning to circumnavigate the globe in the opposite direction. She will have used the same flight plan in June. Starting on 20 June in Rangoon, two options are shown, a) From Rangoon to Alor Star and then to Singapore or b) From Rangoon to Bangkok, then to Alor Star and finally to Singapore.

She chose option b), landed in Bangkok for refueling, and then decided to skip Alor Star and fly directly to Singapore.

In that case the remark in her notes: We checked over Alor Star airport but did not stop, and headed for Singapore, makes complete sense.

Case closed for me.

I think Taiping Heritage Society should completely rewrite the History section of the Taiping Airport entry. Because the source of the confusion is located there. The info in the FMS entry is correct, although you may argue that it is not really that notable πŸ™‚

Of course a more general problem is, how reliable is Wikipedia? It is a collective effort with more than 100.000 active contributors. Read more here about Wikipedians . There are checks and balances against vandalism, wrong info etc. But especially with “minor” entries, like Taiping Airport, errors can go unnoticed for a long time.

Precession of the Equinox

Don’t be put off by the title of this blog, I’ll try to keep it simple πŸ™‚

In Greek/Roman times it was thought that Earth was the center of the Universe. The Sun , the planets, the stars were all rotating around Earth.

Now we know that Earth itself is rotating, in 24 hours (although we keep saying that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West).

We also know that Earth is orbiting around the Sun in 365 days. As seen from Earth, the Sun seems to be moving across the sky. This apparent path of the Sun throughout the year is called the ecliptic.

If Earth would be rotating like in the picture below, then during the whole year, the Sun would be above the Equator and there would be no seasons. . Day and night would be both 12 hour, everywhere on Earth, throughout the year.

But everybody knows that this is not the case. In the Northern hemisphere. daylight will be longer than night in summer and shorter in winter, whereas in the Southern hemisphere it is just the other way around. The reason is that the axis of rotation of the Earth is slightly tilted, about 23.5Β° .

Notice that during Earth’s orbit, the direction of the rotation axis remains the same (pointing to the North Star).

In the picture below we can see what happens in a bit more detail. Let’s start with the 1st Day of Spring (20/21 March), when the tilt is not directed towards the Sun and the Sun is directly over the equator. Day and night are equally long all over Earth, it is called the March Equinox. The same happens on the 1st Day of Autumn (22/23 September), the September Equinox.

From March until June, the Sun moves North, days become longer and nights shorter until the 1st Day of Summer, 21/22 June, the Summer Solstice, after which the Sun moves back to the Equator. From September to December, the Sun moves South, days become shorter and nights longer, until the 1st Day of Winter, 21/22 December, the Winter Solstice, after which the Sun moves back again to the Equator. All this has been described from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere everything is opposite.

So the axial tilt of Earth is responsible for the seasons and there are scientists who believe that this tilt has been critical for life: Axis Tilt is Critical for Life , but this is quite controversial.

Until now I have been rather vague about the apparent position of the Sun. “Above the Equator”, “moving North”, “moving South”. Actually, we can be much more precise nowadays, using a coordinate system similar to what we use on Earth, with latitude and longitude. But how did the Greek and Romans do that?

To describe the location of the Sun against the backdrop of stars, the Greeks used the concept of constellations, patterns of stars that were given a name, often based on their myths and religion. A constellation most of you will know is Orion, the mythological Greek hunter. The left photo was taken by the Hubble telescope and shows the characteristic shape of Orion. Right an antique star chart, published in 1824. To guide the eye, I have connected the main stars with blue lines

During a year, the Sun crosses twelve of these constellations , as indicated in the image below. These twelve constellations are called the Zodiac. The names of the constellations may be familiar to you, if you know your (Western) horoscope πŸ˜‰ .

At the moment that this post has been published , the Sun has left the Leo constellation and entered Virgo.

Nowadays many more constellations have been defined (88!), covering the whole sky. Below you see a map of the celestial globe. The Celestial globe is similar to the Earth globe, but everything is projected to the “sky”.

Notice that the horizontal scale (Right Ascension) is not in degrees, like longitude on the Earth globe, but in hours and going from right to left. Same as on the Earth globe the choice of the origin (zero) is arbitrary. On the Earth globe it is the Greenwich meridian, on the Celestial Globe it is the March Equinox. The traditional name for this origin is the First Point of Aries.

The name was coined by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived from c 190 BC until c 120 BC. At that time the Sun had just entered the Aries constellation during the Spring Equinox. The March Equinox is indicated by the Aries symbol ♈︎ .

The ecliptic is shown, with the constellations (in white) which the Sun is passing throughout a year. Following the ecliptic from right to left, you will notice that it starts at 0h in Pisces, the Sun moves North until 6h (Gemini) then back to the equator at 12h (Virgo), going down South until 18h (Sagittarius) and back to Pisces for the next cycle.

Do you notice the contradiction? The First Point of Aries is now located in Pisces! How can that be? Time to talk about the Precession of Earth!

Above I wrote that the rotation axis of Earth, during its orbit around the Sun, is always pointing in the same direction (to the North Star). That is correct at the moment, but not forever, because there is a third movement of Earth.

Probably many of you have been playing with spinning tops. When a top (or a gyroscope) is spinning, it will often “wobble” under the influence of the force of gravity. The same happens with the Earth under the influence of the gravitational force of Sun and Moon. This wobble is called Precession.

Here is a short video about the precession of a gyroscope

The Precession of Earth is a very slow process. One round takes about 25800 year. Here is an animation of the process.

The red line connects the two equinoxes, the March Equinox is marked with the Aries symbol. Notice how the March Equinox passes all signs of the zodiac during one precession. 360Β° in ~ 25800 year, means a shift of 1Β° every 72 year. Since Hipparchus’ time, the First Point of Aries has shifted ~30Β° , it is no longer in Aries, but in Pisces and will cross over to Aquarius
around 2600 AD.

The second part of the video shows how the North pole points to different stars during a precession. In the picture you see that “today” it is pointing at Polaris (the North Star) , but in 3000 BC it pointed at the star Thuban, and in 14000 AD it will point close to the bright star Vega.

To summarise, here is a picture, with the three movements of Earth, the daily rotation (24 hours), the yearly orbit around the Sun (~365 days) and the precession of the rotation axis (~25800 years).

Notice that the rotation of Earth and its orbit around the Sun are counterclockwise , while the precession is clockwise! So the yearly motion of the Sun through the Zodiac goes from Pisces to Aries to Taurus etc. But the Spring Equinox has, since Hipparchus , shifted back from Aries to Pisces and will shift to Aquarius around 2600 AD.

Let me end this post with some explanation about why I decided to write it.

Everything written above belongs to the realm of astronomy. Unfortunately there exists also astrology, a pseudoscience. Basically astrology states that the position of the heavenly bodies affects our lives. For example, an important factor is the location of the Sun on the day that you were born. That becomes the sign of your horoscope. Here is an example:

I was born on 17 April, therefore I am a Ram. But that is nonsense, maybe true in Hipparcos’ time. Because of the precession I was actually born when the Sun was in Pisces (12 March – 19 April)

Of course astrologers are aware of the precession, see for example
Sidereal and Tropical Astrology. for various “solutions”.

Directly related to precession is the concept of Astrological Ages. As explained above, during one precession of 25800 year, the March Equinox traverses all 12 signs of the Zodiac, staying in one sign on average 2150 year. Such a period is called an Astrological age. At the moment we live in the Age of Pisces.

Astrologers claim that each age is characterised by certain properties. For example the Age of Pisces is the age of religion, the Age of Aries was the age of war and the coming Age of Aquarius will be the age of freedom.

You will not be surprised that in my opinion these Astrological Ages are even more nonsense than horoscopes.

A few months ago a friend told me about Matias de Stefano, who calls himself an Indigo Child and has memories from an earlier life in Atlantis. He is 29 year old and has many followers. I listened to his video lecture Total Recall. Here is a transcription. One quote to give you an impression of the lecture:

We are Beings (indigo/crystal) that come from the 6th to 13th dimension, to try to promote the 4th and 5th dimension inside the 3rd.

But the following statement is so ridiculous that I decided to write this post.

Earth spins around the sun in a process which lasts about 365 days, but at the same time, our Sun spins around another sun which is a lot bigger, called Syria, about every 26,000 years. As a year on Earth, the Sun’s year has its seasons, equinoxes, solstices and ages, too.

Apparently he has not the faintest idea what the Precession of the Equinox means.

I will end this post with a famous song from the 1967 musical Hair. ” This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius “