Sunday, 8 November 2009

Signals from Outer Space...


I bet no-one who visits this blog ever goes right down to the bottom of the right hand margin - and I don't blame them. Few people reading through their favourite blogs have time to linger that long on any one. There's a whole list of links down there.  I suppose they're there for my own benefit as much as anybody else's - it's a convenient place to put them. They're easier to access than bookmarks, and because they're listed, I'm reminded that they're there.

I've just added one. An astronomical poem on Poet-in-Residence's blog reminded me of a page I created a long, long time ago (you can date it by the corny design): How to Receive Radio-Signals from Outer Space - with a Wok! We'd been on a visit to the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre. It's a great place to go. Standing at the foot of the huge Lovell telescope and looking up is a breathtaking experience. I can't think of any more impressive recent man-made structure in Britain. When we got back I wondered how crude and simple a radio telescope could actually be made to work. I had a go making one out of a wok. Once I'd cobbled it together, I optimistically stalked round the garden at night in my headphones, waving the wok, but received nothing. All I proved was that someone can, for the most rational of reasons, be involved in an activity which appears, to the outsider, to be totally senseless. Next morning, as I was telling Karen what a dead loss it was, I waved it in front of the window to demonstrate - and it worked! Well, sort of. It wasn't sensitive enough to pick up the distant hiss of the Milky Way, but it could receive radio waves from the sun. At least it worked better than the TV camera I made, when I was six, out of a cardboard box and a toilet roll. We'd been on a visit to a TV studio: some people never grow up.

11 comments:

Poet in Residence said...

Hello Dominic. Thanks for the plug. Have you read my post Chinese Junk on Bard on the Run? Your wok-radio-telescope is real Hong Kong Biennale material. You and your experiments remind me of Benjamin Franklin with his kite. It's people like you who make the big discoveries. Maybe there's a black hole to be found in Yorkshire?

Rachel Fox said...

Lovely picture of you painted in that post. Bet you keep your kids amused (in a good way I'm sure).

Also I've been reading an interesting (but creepy) book this week called 'the Dumb House' by John Burnside. It's full of lines like "the scientist is the one for whom everything is a hypothesis, the one who is wholly dedicated to the experiment."


x

the watercats said...

When I was old enough to know better, I once tried to chase a rainbow. I had this idea that I could stand in the colours... I was old enough to know that there wouldn't be any gold, that would just be stupid!...
I was about eighteen'ish... I think I had a catastrophic failure of scientific knowledge, lol!
I was still childish enough to be dissapointed when I couldn't catch it.... !?

I think you have to do these things sometimes. What is life without dreams and futile fancies?

John Hayes said...

I love the idea of picking up radio signals with a wok. I'll have to take a stroll thru those links!

Frances said...

I think wok-waving should become the new trend.

The Weaver of Grass said...

A message from your Mother - well said Dominic. I pray that you will never totally grow up - I much prefer you the way you are - there is never a dull moment!

Dominic Rivron said...

PiR: A black hole in Yorkshire? You're feeding me a good line there, but after recently finding myself in hot water over the delights (or otherwise) of various parts of the UK on this blog, I'll resist the temptation! :)

RF: I'd like to think so. Not come across John Burnside - sounds interesting.

Watercats: No gold? There are a lot of rainbows round here, in the Dales, and they represent a major source of income.

What is life, etc.? What indeed. I suppose this "project" grew out of my interest in amateur radio. There is a lot of interest in amateur circles in seeing just how much you can achieve with a minimum of power and (probably home-made) equipment. This is usually one amateur contacting another - so why not one listening to space?

JH: Look out for -actually, you probably already know- the Utah Phillips link!

Frances: Yes. Should participants wear a hard hat?

NB Not all woks work! If they're too flat bottomed, they don't focus the waves well enough.

WG: Thank you.

Rachel Fox said...

He teaches on the creative writing course up at St Andrews and has written heaps of books but this is the first thing of his I've read too. I bought it at a sale in the town library...always a good way to try someone out on the cheap.
x

Totalfeckineejit said...

Heath Robinson lives on!

swiss said...

that sounds pretty cool. i've got a new telescope coming this week - lunar fever ahoy!

Poetikat said...

You do strike me as the sort of person I would wish to spend time with—interesting, quirky, funny and well-versed. Your family is fortunate to have you.