As per usual, time has flown by so quickly I haven’t even had the chance to blink. I’ve managed to keep up with Swing dancing, and after two weeks I decided that I would attend the Intermediate classes. Subsequently, I have progressed pretty rapidly, going from being completely unable to sense what the lead wanted me to do, to being told that I can’t possibly have only started this semester, because my connection is that good. It has been a wonderful learning experience, despite the great challenge of managing to completely stop ones mind from anticipating what the lead will do next. I was elated when it finally ‘clicked’. There is still of course, much to learn; it is still very difficult to tell when the lead is changing from 6 to 8 count and vice versa. Moreover, every time I dance with a new person, it’s like learning to dance all over again, as you have to get in tune to their style which is harder than it looks.
I have been keeping up with Singing, soon I will be performing Handel’s Messiah with the largest chorus in Scotland. I cannot wait to be accompanied with the orchestra, singing my heart out. Despite the irresistible urge to abandon the performance altogether to see Doctor Who in the cinema (incredibly gutted)! Private lessons are also going well, I have been singing Amarilli Mia Bella.
Since I still have so much free time left during the week *cough* I decided to take up Hungarian. The pronunciations are seriously difficult, way harder than Hebrew or Russian or any other language I have dipped my toes into. But I refuse to give up.
Recently was the famous (or more likely infamous) weekend known as Raisin. I hooked up with my wives (4 in total) and we put on an escapade for our children who had to complete a variety of tasks in order to rescue us from our kidnappers and our impending doom. These tasks included reenacting Titanic on the end of the pier, hugging random strangers, humping trees etc. The hunt culminated in finding us suffering intolerably as we enjoyed the comfort of a bonfire with flasks of hot chocolate and junk food from ALDI. A trail of sweets (no longer visible due to an ridiculously early sunset) led them to the abandoned mansion (under threat of being turned into a – you guessed it – golf course). This is the coolest place ever, it’s huge, and boarded up, shattered glass strewn everywhere. A creepy nursery with faded memories lies upstairs, the walls tainted with graffiti. An aga and a decrepit bathtub also remains, amongst other assortments of derelict items.
The climax of the evening presented itself as two policemen arrived, amidst the trees and the smoke. They checked our bags for alcohol, upon finding nothing, they took down our names and told us to scram. We left unscathed and exhilarated! As we left a fire engine showed up; our worries of putting out the fire were vanquished.
Meanwhile, I have been thoroughly enjoying all of my courses, a dramatic change from last year. So much so that I think I actually want to do a Masters. Shocking, considering that only a few months ago I was adamant that I would never do a Masters because I hate Physics and I don’t have a clue about what any of it even means… My dream would be to get into the AstroMundas programme, whereby I get to study in up to four different countries in Europe (out of Austria, Germany, Italy, and Serbia) over the course of two years.
Today I taught my first ever class. It’s an all-boy class, of 17 pupils, ages 14-15. I was pleasantly surprised that my fears did not come true; they were very enthusiastic (so much so that they were desperately answering questions all at once and I had to keep telling them to slow down and put their hands up), they knew more than I expected (I feared that they would have no idea what I was talking about, but they seemed to follow me very well), and I did not run out of time either! I even think that they will do the homework I set them. This involves them measuring the altitude of the North Star, Polaris, using a teleangulometro (what I made at Astronomy Camp this summer) that we built in the class. I also taught them about gnomons, solstices, equinoxes, latitude and a couple of constellations too. Next week we will make sundials (and talk about the fun that is uncertainties)!
Extragalactic Astronomy is the best course, ever. It is taught by two amazing females who both happen to be ginger, and we also have lots of guest lecturers, who all happen to also be female. It is rather strange for there not to be a single male in sight! We have been learning about Galaxy Morphology, Evolution, Super Massive Black Holes, Observational Cosmology…
I’m also studying the Physics of Atoms, which is lots to do with spectral lines and how different conditions result in different patterns and why. My year abroad has really put me in good stead for this year, and a lot of what I was doing last year now makes sense…
Another reason why I think St Andrews is the best University in the world for studying Astrophysics (no, I’m not biased) is that we have amazing labs. In groups, we built a radio telescope from scratch which involved soldering lots of components onto a chip board which made up our receiver. We then needed an antenna which involved putting up large poles that formed dipoles, in the middle of the sports field in the rain. Because we’re detecting radio waves, we don’t need clear skies to observe. We stayed up all night trying to listen to storms on Jupiter (which we may or may not have achieved), and we had to escape in the morning when a tractor showed up to mow the field and try to destroy our setup, entirely confused as to what the hell we were doing there. This cut our observations short, so that we only detected the increased density of the ionosphere which causes lots of signals to be reflected back to earth as they can no longer escape the atmosphere. We don’t think we detected any solar flares during daylight, however, we potentially think that some of the disturbances that we hoped would be Jupiter, might actually have been solar flares.
Next, we used the James Gregory Telescope (JGT: best optical telescope in the UK!) to take pictures of galaxies and do cool photometry stuff with them (like showing luminosity as a function of radius) to determine the colour and history of said galaxy. I was looking at M81 (an irregular galaxy which didn’t work) and M82 (a spiral galaxy which was too big for the telescope; I unfortunately only realised this a few hours before the deadline, which explains why my results were all wrong…).
We’ve just started our third and final project, involving interpreting exoplanet data also taken with the JGT. There is the potential for us to find our very own exoplanet; I have both my fingers and toes crossed! I already have a nice looking dip. Exoplanets are found by observing the amount of light coming from a star, and as a planet travels across the star, the light decreases slightly, making this dip. From this dip you can calculate super cool things, like the size of the planet and the star’s mass and density.
Finally, I have recently started working on my Final Year Project which I am terribly excited about. I happen to have the most awesome supervisor, who explains everything really well and prints out endless papers for me to read, even going so far as telling me which sections to focus on and which to avoid. I am studying low mass pre-main-sequence stars with circumstellar discs (otherwise known as classical T Tauri stars). This means that they are young stars of low mass, with discs of dust and gas surrounding them that will eventually form into planets as our own Solar System has done. It looks into the relationship between the magnetic fields of these stars and the discs, whereby material gets accreted onto the star. This has many effects upon the star, such as it’s rotation rate. There are a lot of unknowns within this field of Astrophysics; there are the theoretical people who make speculations and then those who observe. Inevitably, these two conclusions often do not match up. Imaginably, it is exceedingly difficult to actually measure the magnetic fields of these stars; they are so far away! You need super duper amazing telescopes to be able to resolve the stars and their surrounding discs. This works seems to be in rather high demand, thus my results might even end up being published!
I feel that my writing style has changed. I’ve been writing too many reports.