Our Solar system, an update

My last blog about the Rosetta, Dawn and New Horizon missions was posted in July last year. Before I give an update, let’s first have a look at our Sun. Here is a recent graph of the number of sunspots. Cycle 24 has reached a maximum in April 2014 and is coming to an end.


As you will notice, cycle 24 has a double peak, in itself not unusual, but this time the second peak is higher than the first one. The maximum of cycle 24 is much smaller than that of cycle 23, and the prediction for cycle 25 is that it will be similar to cycle 24 or even smaller.

Here is a graph of the sunspot cycles, recorded until now. It looks like we have passed the Modern Maximum and are going to a minimum. Are we heading to a new “Little Ice Age“?  As I wrote in an earlier post, this is a sensitive issue, and I will not comment on it..:-). Be very wary when you search the Internet for info  about a relation between solar activity and global warming. Always check the credentials of the report. You might try this site: Skeptical Science


Here is a dramatic image of our Sun, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Magnetic field lines are superimposed.



Rosetta is still orbiting comet 67P, which has passed its perihelion and is now on its way out into deep space. Here is the position of Rosetta and the comet, end of last year, the comet has passed already the orbit of Mars. No signals of the comet lander Philae have been received anymore, but Rosetta itself is still active.


Here is a recent image of 67P, taken on 27 March, when Rosetta was 329 km away from the comet nucleus. The Sun is behind the comet, with a spectacular result.


The scientists are planning to let Rosetta make a controlled landing on 67P in September 2016, which will be the end of the mission. You can find the latest news on Rosetta’s blog


Dawn is still in orbit around dwarf planet Ceres. Slowly getting closer, resulting in more detailed pictures. You may remember the excitement about the bright white spots. Now we know that they are located in the center of a crater, which has been given a name: Occator. More (smaller) white spots have been found


Here is the most recent picture (in false color), taken 30-3-2016 from an altitude of 385 km. . Spectacular. Scientists now think that the white spots are formed by highly reflective material, possibly ice or salt.


Actually Dawn is taking pictures of the whole surface of Ceres. Scientists have been busy giving names to the various features..:-)

Ceres mapping

For more information about Dawn, read this detailed blog So.Much.Ceres, published a few weeks ago

New Horizons

On 14 July 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft passed Pluto at an altitude of 12.500 km above its surface. It took as many pictures during the fly-by (of only a few minutes!) as possible and it still has not finished transmitting all the data to Earth!

Here is one of the images, released a few days ago. It shows numerous “haloed” craters. The false-color image gives the composition: purple is methane ice, blue is water ice. Why the crater rims and walls consist of methane ice has not yet been explained.

Craters on PLuto

New Horizons is now on its way to the Kuiper Belt, where it is supposed to flyby one of the Kuiper Belt objects, 2014 MU69 , on 1-1-2019.  Here are the present locations of the New Horizons spacecraft and 2014 MU69


Planet 9

We have reached the outskirts of our Solar System. Pluto, once the 9th planet, has been demoted and is now considered a dwarf planet belonging to the Kuiper belt. Recently more dwarf planets have been discovered in the region beyond Neptune,  Eris ( in 2005) , Haumea (in 2004) and Makemake (in 2005)  Like Pluto they have quite elliptical  orbits and periods in the range of a few hundred years. Pluto for example has a period of  248 year and its distance to the Sun varies between 30 and 49 AU, where 1 AU (the average distance between Earth and Sun) = 150 million km. The orbits of these dwarf planets have been strongly influenced by big neighbour Neptune.

In 2003 dwarf planet Sedna was discovered with an estimated period of 11.400 year and a distance to the sun varying between 76 and 936 (!) AU. Here is the orbit of Sedna. Pluto’s orbit is purple.


What could have caused such an extremely elliptical orbit? It can not have been gravitational disturbance by Neptune, because it never comes close to Neptune (distance of Neptune to the Sun is 30 AU).

In the last decade more of these “strange” objects have been discovered. For example in 2012  2012 VP113, estimated period 4200 year, distance to the Sun between 80 and 438 AU, also very elliptical.  Here the orbits of six of them are given.


Could these orbits be gravitationally disturbed by an UNKNOWN planet in the outer reaches of the Solar system?

On 20 January 2016 astronomers Brown and Batygin published an article in the Astronomical Journal: Evidence for a distant giant planet in the Solar System (abstract). Using computer models, they find that a planet with a mass about 10 times the mass of Earth, a period of 10.000-20.000 year, and a distance to the Sun varying between 200 and 1200 AU, could explain the orbits. Tentatively this planet is named Planet Nine .

Here is a sketch with the position of this Planet Nine.


Of course this is a hypothesis until now. Other explanations are possible. Next step is to try and find Planet Nine. That will not be easy, even for the most powerful telescopes. And where to look for it?

Here is a picture of the two authors, both astronomers from Caltech. By the way, Brown (left) is  the guy who discovered Eris, which started the demotion process for Pluto!

Brown & Batygin

They have started a website The Search for Planet Nine and just submitted a (highly technical) paper in which they discuss where to search for this planet.

If Planet Nine is ever found, I will not be surprised if they get a Nobel Prize for their research.

Museums, museums, museums

During my recent stay in the Netherlands I have visited an unusually large number of museums…:-). I have reported already about the two patrician canal mansions and the Royal Palace. Here are four more, in chronological order.

During the usual visit to my sister, she suggested that we could visit the Kranenburgh Museum in Bergen. Bergen is a village in the province of North-Holland, in the first part of the 20th century it was an “artist colony”.The expressionist Bergen School of painting had its origin here and the museum contains many works of art from that period.

But that’s not why we went there. In December 2015 a special exhibition was opened, prepared by guest curator Joost Zwagerman, and titled “Silence out loud”  Various aspects of silence in art. I found the exhibition very impressive, really evoking silence. 

Joost Zwagerman, a Dutch writer and columnist has been working two years on this project. And he has not seen the final result, because he took his own life, a few months before the opening of the exhibition. Sad.

A few days later I visited an exhibition about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in the Singer museum in Laren. Laren is another Dutch art colony and the Singer museum has many works of art from the “Haagse School“.

Kirchner was a German expressionist painter and one of the founders of the artist group Die Brücke. I like his work, it is always a pleasure to come across his paintings in a museum and in this exhibition they had collected many of his works of art.

Born in 1880, he volunteered for military service in 1914, but was discharged soon after a mental breakdown. Having health problems, he moved to Davos in Switzerland and stayed there the rest of his life. One of his friends there was the Dutch painter Jan Wiegers, one of the founders of the artist collective De Ploeg. See below…:-). With the rise of Nazism his art was considered “entartet” (degenerate) and many of his paintings were destroyed. Worried that Hitler might invade Switzerland, he killed himself in 1938.

My next museum visit was to the Groninger museum. Here in December 2015 an exhibition opened about David Bowie. I am a fan of this fascinating artist. When his album Ziggie Stardust was published in 1972, I was beginning to discover the “alternative” pop music. I would have liked to see this exhibition, but it was planned to close early March, before I came back to the Netherlands.

Then, on 10 January 2016, he died, just after publishing the album Blackstar, with the macabre song Lazarus . The number of visitors surged and the museum decided to prolong the exhibition until the beginning of April, extending the opening times. You had to book a time slot!  I visited the exhibition on 31 March, and it was an impressive multimedia experience. Photography and sound recording not allowed, understandable. Secretly I took one picture, just for the record…:-)

My time slot started at 4pm, I arrived early, so I decided in the meantime to have a look at the permanent collection of…. De Ploeg, mentioned above…;-)! That was a good idea. Interesting to compare the two expressionist schools, their differences and similarities. In Laren one painting by Jan Wiegers, here two paintings by Kirchner.

The last museum visit was actually rather accidental…:-). I was going to meet after many years a former colleague from my school, and she suggested that we could have coffee in the museum cafe of the Allard Pierson museum in the center of Amsterdam. This is the archaeological museum of the University of Amsterdam. But when we were there, we noticed that there was a temporary exhibition, called the DWDD Pop-Up Museum 2DWDD is a popular Dutch television talkshow, which I avoid to watch because I am allergic to the ADHD host…:-).

He has quite a few regular guests in his show and the Pop-Up Museum is a project where these guests are asked to select a museum of their choice, visit the depot (where usually most of a museum collection is kept) , choose some works of art and create a room for the exhibition. Actually an interesting idea. The first edition of this project was a success, this is the second one, open until 22 May 2016.There are nine rooms, here a selection. In the captions you see the name of the guest and the museum they have selected.

Altogether seven museums in one month. Not bad..:-)

Royal Palace, Amsterdam

The Dam Square in Amsterdam can be considered the center of the town. It is dominated by the Royal Palace. Here is a Google Earth image.

Dam Square

This monumental building has not always been a palace. It was built in the seventeenth century as the Town Hall of Amsterdam and functioned as such for 150 years. For a long time it was the largest administrative building in Europe and considered by many the Eight Wonder of the World.

In 1808 Louis Napoleon, brother of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, became King of Holland and converted the Town Hall into a Palace. Not for long, in 1813, after the fall of Napoleon, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established and the former town hall became a Palace of the Royal House of Orange. Nowadays it is a ceremonial palace, still in use for the inauguration of a new monarch and other official functions.

Left a painting of the Town Hall as it was in 1673, right the present situation.

Berckheyde_-_Het_stadhuis_op_de_Dam_te_Amsterdam_(1673)2016-04-13 16.56.50-1

When not in use, part of the palace is open to the public. Here is a map of the main floor.


The impressive Burgerzaal (Citizens Hall) was the center of the Town Hall, freely accessible for the citizens of Amsterdam. Galleries lead to the various administrative offices

2016-04-13 15.49.01






Ceilings and upper parts of the walls are decorated by paintings of famous Dutch Golden Age artists

It is not easy to see details of the paintings, because they are very high up the walls. Many of them show historical scenes, related to the fight for independence of the Dutch Republic. Here are two images, taken from the Internet. Left The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (1559-1562) by Govert Flinck and right Brinio Raised on a Shield (1661) by Jan Lievens. Click on the link and then on “details” for more information about these paintings.

Claudius CivilisBrinio

It is interesting to note that Rembrandt, the most famous painter of his time, is not represented! Actually he created a painting about the same topic of Claudius Civilis as Govert Flinck and for a few months it was exhibited in the town hall. Then, for reasons unclear, it was returned to Rembrandt, who cut down the huge canvas (5×5 meter) to more manageable proportions . It is now in the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm and considered one of his masterpieces…:-)

Here are two more paintings. Amsterdam,  the leading city of the Dutch Republic, saw itself as the successor to the Roman Republic.  Its “burgomasters” (mayors) liked to identify themselves with the Roman consuls. Left, Fabritius and Pyrrhus (1656) by Ferdinand Bol, shows the consul Fabritius resisting the bribery attempts of  King Pyrrhus. Right, in The incorruptible Consul Marcus Curius Dentatus (1656) by Govert Flinck, the consul holds up a turnip, waving away the gold and other gifts, offered to bribe him.  Again: click on the links and then on “details” for more info.

On the map above, the original function of the various rooms is indicated. When the town hall was transformed into a palace, these rooms became bedrooms, dining rooms, ballrooms etc. They were furnished in Empire style. Even now some of the rooms are used as guestrooms for heads of state and other VVIP persons during official functions.

The admission price for the Palace includes a headset. Explanations are given by a former mayor of Amsterdam. Very informative!

Two contrasting pictures to end this blog. In the left picture you can see the Dam Square and the balcony, from which traditionally the new monarch is presented to the people. This balcony is not original, it has been added in 1808 by Louis Napoleon. The picture to the right is the only part of the ground floor that you can visit. It is the Tribunal, just below the room with the balcony, where death sentences were pronounced. After the verdict the criminal was taken up to the first floor, where a temporary scaffolding was constructed and the execution (by hanging) took place. The executions were public, visible to the people on the Dam square.



When you visit Amsterdam, you should spend a few hours in this monumental building! And when you can not visit Amsterdam in the real, you can make a virtual tour, using the Google Cultural Institute !  Just amazing, what would we be without Google…:-)


Food, food, food

As readers of this blog will have noticed, I am a foodie and Malaysia is a paradise for foodies. But when I am back in my native country, I also enjoy the food there. In this blog you will find no nature, no culture, just food and more food.. 🙂 And me, of course I had my food often in company with family or friends, but in this blog you will only see food and me!

Here are a few pictures of my own home-cooking, when I did not have to entertain friends. Dutch food is basically potatoes with vegetables and meat, but I also like to cook Italian food. Of course no meal is complete without a glass of wine..:-)

A few times I also have invited friends for dinner at my apartment.

But mostly I either go out with friends/family or have food at their place.

One outside dinner deserves special mention. It has become a tradition that during my stay in Holland,  I have a more or less “special” dinner with my lady friend Yolanda. She knows about the fashionable restaurants..:-) This time we had dinner in restaurant Dwars. They specialize in serving beer(!) instead of wine with the various courses. It was a good choice, the food was delicious, the service very friendly, and it was value for money.

This is really a restaurant you should try, when in Amsterdam. Even when you think,  like me, that wine suits a dinner better… 🙂

Here is a selection  of food pictures with family and/or /friends.

Did I gain weight? Yes, but surprisingly little  😉