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England And Ireland


By John Dobson
Published 2004-10-22 13:23:58
From 2002


Late in August, 2002, Donna Smith and I went to Russia, Siberia and the Ukraine. I loved it and I'd love to go again.


Then she went back to California and I went on to England and Ireland, and I loved that too. But, with my old ears, I had some trouble understanding their words, especially in England. Sometimes they leave off the beginnings or ends of the words. And sometimes they have accents which they pick up from other parts of the country. So I had some trouble. No one had trouble understanding me, however, even the people, whom I couldn't understand at all. Apparently we talk "proper" English over here, and their ears, of course, are younger than mine. Anyhow, my guess is that the language has changed less over here than over there. But I loved all those people even though my old ears had trouble with their language. And anyhow I'm half English and half Irish myself. Dobson is English for Son of Robert, and Lowry, my mother's name, is Irish.


At first, I was treated a bit like a foreigner, but I said, "We were English people who told Parliament where to go. We were you guys; we weren't someone else. We were Englishmen who told Parliament where to go. Parliament thought we were too far away to have a voice in the government, but not too far away to be taxed. We said no! But we didn't need to fight over it."


My first stop in England was for a whole weekend of meetings at Horncastle University. There were some very interesting talks there. And they put me up at the University, which was very convenient because we all got to eat together and talk. I gave two talks there, one on cosmology and one on the Sidewalk Astronomers, and the lady at the desk very kindly copied some fliers for me which I threw all over the audience amidst a great deal of laughter. My thanks go to the lady behind the desk.


One of the troubles with going abroad is that they take such good care of you that it brings you to tears. And it's not restricted to going abroad. It's the same here in the States. But, Donna and I had a little trouble in Russia and Siberia, finding some of the things that I'm accustomed to eat. However, my second stop, in England, was at what we would call a Bed and Breakfast, and Christine bought me a whole box of bran which I didn't finish till I got back to California. Thank you! We toured a lot of England from there and visited Newton's mother's farm. We arrived when the farm was closed, but while we were wondering what to do a neighbor drove up, opened the gate, and let us tour the place. Thank you! The tree under which Newton sat is gone, but its descendents are there.


I visited several observatories in England, including Cambridge and the Isle of Wight, and I saw the big radio telescope at Jodrell Bank. I got to walk on a Roman road, saw some Roman walls, walked through the slate quarry in Wales and, before I left England, I met Patrick Moore. I got involved in one of his television programs called The Sky at Night. We had some talk, he gave me a copy of his book on Venus and I got to ask him my question about Mare Imbrium on the Moon. Filming for the television program took a good part of the afternoon but I met some interesting people. Richard Fleet and his wife were there with their twenty inch "Dobsonian" telescope which was one of the ornaments in the program. It's set up with struts but he can set it up and take it down very quickly, and he had it at one of my talks in England, and he took it to the Whirlpool Star Party in Ireland.

The Whirlpool Star Party is in Birr, Ireland, the home of Lord Ross' old seventy two inch telescope. The telescope is huge and hangs between two castle walls which support it. (You could go down the tube on a skate board.) For many years it was the biggest telescope in the world, and it has now been rebuilt with a new mirror. On the night that we were there the telescope was not moveable, so the viewers got to see only what accidentally drifted through the eyepiece field. Since I didn't want to crowd that line, I spent the evening looking through Richard's twenty incher and an eight incher near by.


The talks at the Star Party were most interesting and went on for a couple of days, and several of the people whom I had met in England were there. It's called the Whirlpool Star Party because Lord Ross, through that old telescope, was the first person on Earth to see spiral structure in a galaxy. We still have his old pictures. And we walked to the castle where the telescope lives from the hotel where the talks were held.

I was very pleasantly shocked by Johnjoe McFadden's talk when he suggested that some mutations might result from the tunneling of protons through the DNA. I had never before run into that suggestion, which he seemed to attribute primarily to Schroedinger. Anyhow, I thought that tunneling might be the last piece of the puzzle, and I thanked him for making life possible at last.


I didn't feel that Donna and I were able to do much for the people in Russia and Siberia, partly because of the language barrier and partly because we were not equipped with telescopes so that we could entertain the people with views of Venus and the Moon. But they went out of their way to do everything for us. They toured us through their observatories and universities, through their towns and through Red Square. And all I learned to say in Russian was thank you and juice. I couldn't quite manage what I was supposed to say when someone thanked me.


But I feel that we may have made a contribution through the young people of the Palace of the Pioneers. These appear to be science clubs for young people. They were started under the Soviets and are still running strong. And some of the older people who went through the Palace of the Pioneers still stay in contact. They're a lively bunch, and some of them know some English, which made it a lot easier for us.


If I last long enough to return, I'd like to do the whole tour over again, now that I understand things better. This was my first trip to Europe, and I was a little overwhelmed.