Thursday, 10 June 2021

Partial Solar Eclipse in 2021

Obviously by totality I mean "maximum eclipse of about 23% from Leicester", but I was quite excited to capture this image, in any case!

And here are some helpful tools for eclipse safety, and identifying the time and date of the next one:


Monday, 10 May 2021

Primary School Resources for Space

I've been asked a few times about space resources available online for primary education, so I'm going to try to collate a list here - this is non-exhaustive, so please feel free to offer suggestions!

The European Space Agency have a range of activities for different key stages:

Some of my colleagues also helped to provide videos for the STEMLearning Youtube channel, in case that provides ideas:

There’s a competition on right now to design artwork for the side of the rocket launching JUICE, a Jupiter mission I’ve been working on for the past decade:!_art_competition

Some ideas for Space Resources for KS2:

Destination Space, funded by UKSA:

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Lockdown on the Bryson Line

Week 1 of 2021 - Introduction

Locked down again and going mad.  I'm not particularly good at sticking to an exercise routine - seem to get bored too easily with running (after a couch-to-5km) and cycling (which I tend to do with the kids).  But I do enjoy walking, whatever the weather, headphones in and listening to an audiobook or podcast.  Anyone that lives near me will probably spot me doing laps of the village every few days - we have an old railway line near our home that's a good straight line for several kilometres, some good cross-field footpaths with views towards Leicester city centre, and a nearby hill looking down into a quarry. But with the lockdowns and homeworking of 2020, I've done these loops around the villages many times.... so I wondered about a change and a new challenge.  Not that there's anything I can do right now, in the middle of #Lockdown3.

One of the amazing audiobooks I listened to in 2020 was Bill Bryson's Road to Little Dribbling, which saw him taking the route from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, a straight-line route that spans England and Scotland (the longest straight line one can travel in the UK without crossing any part of the sea, which he calls the Bryson Line).  If you draw a straight line between the two (916 km), it passes within 2.8 km of the very centre of England.  

That's right here in Leicestershire, at Lindley Hall Farm, 1.5 km east of Fenny Drayton and 5 km north of Nuneaton.   The farm is part of the former RAF Lindley (1943-46) airfield, named after the farm which itself was named after the former Lindley Hall.  According to Wikipedia, a plaque denoting this point, and disputing England's "traditional" centre as being Meriden in the West Midlands, was erected by Ordnance Survey on 14 June 2013.  This also right next to MIRA, the Motor Industry Research Association, an automotive engineering and development consultancy company that uses the old airfield.

It's also only 7.3 km from where I grew up, in Hinckley in Leicestershire.  

So that feels like a meaningful-enough starting point for this fairly pointless blog post.  Armed with Strava recording my movements, Google Maps as a guide to the Bryson Line from Lindley Hall Farm, and Wikipedia for place names, I wondered how far I would get without actually leaving Leicestershire.

Week 2 12.69 km (12.69 km so far)

Embarking on the Bryson Line from the dead centre of England.  Past Sibson, ending up in a field between Sheepy Magna and Wellsborough at 52.62015, -1.49456.  I'm in the civil parish of Sheepy, created in 1935 from the merger of the four civil parishes of Sheepy Magna, Sheepy Parva, Sibson and Upton.  Right through the centre of Twycross, home to the incredible Zoo that I've visited many times with my family, and which has the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the Western World.  Still in Leicestershire for now.  I end up outside a place called the Upper Rectory Farm Cottages in Appleby Magna, which (according to Wikipedia) lies on the edge of the ancient boundary between the kingdom of Mercia and the Danelaw.

Week 3 18.9 km         (31.59 km so far)

Appleby Magna to Shortheath, near to the Forestry Commission's Hicks Lodge (good for cycling) and Conkers, in the middle of the National Forest (200 square miles of north Leicestershire, south Derbyshire and southeast Staffordshire planted in an attempt to blend ancient woodlands together into a new forest).  Also passed close to Moira Furnace, a nineteenth-century iron-making blast furnace.  The Leicestershire county line follows the Hooborough Brook here, so I guess I've officially left Leicestershire and arrived in Derbyshire.  Properly passing into Derbyshire now, and heading for the centre of Swadlingcote, still within the National Forest.  According to Wikipedia, shallow valleys and ridges, shaped particularly by the mining activity which once dominated the area as the Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield, seams from the Upper Carboniferous age.

Week 4 28.47 km (60.06 km so far)

Northwest from Swadlingcote towards Burton-on-Trent, crossing the River Trent and the River Dove near to where the two rivers meet, during a 7.6 km walk in the morning. Finished just past a railway line, then a 7.3-km cycle onwards across Derby Airfield, to the east side of Hilton, through the Hilton Gravel Pits Nature Reserve, to finish in fields near Sutton on the Hill.  Over the fields from Sutton on the Hill towards Hollington, now getting to the north of Derby. 

Continuing through Derbyshire, from Hollington, past Shirley, and on to stop just east of Osmaston.  Crossed over a deer park at the east end of Osmaston park (looks like a wedding venue), just before crossing the A52 to Derby.  From Osmaston through fields to the east of Ashbourne, ending near Offcote Grange holiday cottages.  Ashbourne is at the southern end of the Peak District, and sometimes referred to as the gateway to the national park, being close to Dovedale.From Ashbourne to the village of Parwich, now properly into the Peak District National Park, Britain's first national park in 1951.  

The Peak District it is usually split into the Dark Peak, where most moorland is found and the geology is gritstone, and the White Peak, a limestone area, known for valleys and gorges that cut through the limestone plateau.  I'm in the White Peak area, passed about 4km east of the famous Dovedale limestone valley and the stepping stones across the River Dove, easily reached from the National Trust Ilam estate (we've walked there a few times in the past).  I have about 65 km to do through the Peak District.

Week 5 23.56 km (83.62 km so far)

Following the A515 through the southern Peak District, from Parwich to Monyash, about 7km west of Bakewell, home of the famous tarts and on the River Wye.  On over the A6, past Taddington in the Peak District, finishing right next to the Taddington Brewery (home of Moravka Lager, a Czech pilsner). On past Millers Dale, a beauty spot and valley over the River Wye, with more stepping stones across.  I'm about 6km east of Buxton, right in the heart of the Peak District.  Over the Monsal Trail and it's viaducts.  The trail is constructed from a section of the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway.

Week 6 30.66 km (114.28 km so far)

Passed about 3 km west of Mam Tor, and ended near a place called Brown Knoll (about 540m up) on the way to Kinder Scout.  Mam Tor is a 517 m hill near Castleton, on the southern edge of the Dark Peak (sandstones) and overlooks the White Peak (limestones).  Brown Knoll is one of the highest hills in the Peak District at 569 m, above the head of the Edale valley.  It's now the end of January, and I've made it 92.6 km in total, and I'm about 25 km west of Sheffield.  From Brown Knoll, just south of Kinder Scout near Edale, north over Torside Reservoir, Yeoman Hay Reservoir, and finishing on the Holmfirth Road, at the very northern edge of the Peak District, the region known as the Dark Peak.

Week 7 31.36 km (145.64 km so far)

Leaving the Peak District, crossing the M62 between Huddersfield and Rochdale, passing 4 km west of Hebden Bridge and Hardcastle Crags (Pennine valley in West Yorkshire), and finishing on Boulsworth Hill, a large expanse of moorland, the highest point of the South Pennines of south-eastern Lancashire.

Week 8 26.55 km (172.19 km so far)

From Boulsworth Hill, continuing to the west of Skipton, and entering the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Finished near Malham Cove, a curved limestone formation in North Yorkshire.

Week 9 50.71 km (222.9 km so far)

Continuing over the Yorkshire Dales from Malham Moor, through North Yorkshire, past the Ribblehead Viaduct, and finishing near the Great Asby Scar Nature Reserve, a limestone pavement in Cumbria.  After Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, Cumbria will be the last English county on this trip.

Week 10 23.52 km (246.42 km so far)

From Asby we leave the Yorkshire Dales behind, skirting up the western edge of the North Pennines AONB (second largest of the 49 AONBs in the UK), crossing the River Eden and finishing near the village of Blencarn, a Cumbria village about 6 km west of Cross Fell (highest mountain in the Pennines, 893 m).  Now a few km east of Penrith on the eastern edge of the Lake District, but this route never quite takes me into the Lakes.  

Week 11 27.27 km     (273.69 km so far)

Skirting the western edge of the North Pennines AONB, just leaving the area to finish near Talkin Tarn, about 14 km east of Carlisle.  Talkin Tarn is a glacial lake and country park near Brampton, Cumbria.  Passed through Geltsdale, and its RSPB reserve.

Week 12 28.5 km     (302.19 km so far)

After 300 km, I'm finally passing over the England-Scotland border near Kershopefoot, a small hamlet in Cumbria at the western edge of Kielder Forest Park, the largest human-made woodland in England.  Here the border follows the loops of Liddel Water.  Liddel Water's source is beneath Peel Fell in Roxburghshire, in the Scottish Borders, and flows into the River Esk at Willow Pool.  Finished near the village of Ettleton.  Ettleton is a village in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland, in the former Roxburghshire.  Here at the border, I'm about 30 km east of the Solway Coast AONB, but 87 km west of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Route from the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.

Week 13 32.90 km        (335.09 km so far)

First week properly in Scotland, walking from Ettleton, via Teviothead on the A7 (Carlisle to Edinburgh), skirting the eastern edge of Craik Forest (a forest near Hawick in the Scottish Borders area), and finishing a kilometre west of Hellmoor Loch.  This is the Scottish Uplands, southernmost and least populous of mainland Scotland's three major geographic areas (the others being the Central Lowlands and the Highlands).

Week 14 22.53 km (357.62 km so far)

Continuing through the Scottish Uplands, across Ettrick Water, Yarrow Water, and finishing very close to the River Tweed in the Cardrona Forest on the A72.  The Tweed flows 97 miles through the Scottish Border regions into the North Sea at Berwick.

Week 15 27.73 km (385.35 km so far)

Onwards through the Tweed Valley Forest Park, past Portmore Reservoir near Westloch.  Leaving the Southern Uplands to enter the Central Lowlands. Through Penicuik (a town in Midlothian on the west bank of the River North Esk) and into the Pentland Hills Regional Park, to finish near Capelaw Hill.  The Pentland Hills run southwest from Edinburgh, so I'm on the outskirts of the Scottish capital now, and apparently there are great views of the city from this hill.

Week 16 26.12 km (411.47 km so far)

Departing the Pentland Hills, and descending through the suburbs of Edinburgh, here I hit a problem.  The only bit of this route crossing water, hitting the Firth of Forth just west of the Cramond Causeway, and east of the Forth Bridge, the 130-year old symbol of Scotland.  After a swim, back on land near Dalgety Bay.  Now in Fife, and continuing east of Dumfermline, before finishing on a hill just west of the Hill of Beath.

Week 17 31.3 km         (442.77 km so far)

Travelling northwards through a country of locks, passing just west of Loch Leven (the largest lowland loch in Scotland) near Kinross.  Just over the River Earn, finishing just southwest of Perth on the River Tay, the historic county town of Perthshire.  I'll be in the County of Perth for quite some time

Week 18 27.17 km (469.94 km so far)

From near to Perth, heading towards the centre of the County of Perth, loosely following the path of the River Tay, and into the Tay Forest Park, just to the west of the Hermitage, Dunkeld, a National Trust of Scotland site.  Now properly into the Highlands.

Week 19 24.77 km (494.71 km so far)

Continuing through the Highlands and Tay Forest Park, over the Rivers Tay and Tummel (east of Loch Tummel), through Killiecrankie, ending on a hill east of Croftmore.  This is just inside of the Cairngorms National Park, which was already the largest national park in the UK, when in 2010 it was expanded into Perth and Kinross.

Week 20 24.48 km (519.19 km so far)

Looks like a challenging hike through the Cairngorms National Park, finishing about 20km west of Ben Macdui (1309 m), the second highest mountain in Scotland (and all of the British Isles) after Ben Nevis, and the highest in the Cairngorms.  The mountains are in the eastern Highlands, a high plateaux at about 1000–1200 m above sea level, above which domed summits rise to around 1300 m.

Week 21 43.84 km        (563.03 km so far)

From the Cairngorms National Park, finishing in Inverarnie, about 9 km east of Loch Ness.  The Loch is approximately 37 km southwest of Inverness, and is the second largest loch in Scotland by area (after Loch Lomond).  I'm now basically crossing a a geological fault known as the Great Glen Fault, which bisects the Scottish Highlands into the Grampian Mountains to the southeast and the Northwest Highlands to the northwest.

Week 22 30.12 km        (593.15 km so far)

Ten kilometres right into the heart of Inverness, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. It's the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.  Then getting my feet wet as I cross Beauly Firth just west of Kessock Bridge, and finally Cromarty Firth just to the east of Cromarty Bridge, making landfall at Drummond.  I'm now on the final 115 km of my journey through the Highlands to Cape Wrath.

Friday, 29 January 2021

Job Opportunity: Research Associate in Planetary Atmospheric Science

School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester

Full Details:   

Salary Grade 7 £34,804 to £40,322 per annum

Funding is available until 31 March 2022 with a possibility of extension

Closing date:  28 February 2021


The School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester invites applications for one or more Research Associates in Planetary Atmospheric Science. 

The Research Associates will join the atmospheres team led by Dr. Leigh Fletcher, tasked with addressing the scientific aims of a European Research Council (ERC) grant to explore time-variable processes shaping the atmospheres of the giant planets.  Successful candidates would have existing skills in planetary spectral data analysis and/or numerical modelling expertise of relevance to giant planet atmospheres.  Research Associate positions will initially be for a period of 12 months, with funding available until the end of March 2022 with a potential for this to be extended.

The “GIANTCLIMES” programme seeks investigates natural cycles of meteorology, circulation, and chemical processes shaping the environments of the four giant planets over long spans of time.  Inversions of planetary spectra, from ground- and space-based facilities, will be used to reconstruct these atmospheres in three dimensions to explore their temporal variability and the processes coupling different atmospheric regimes.  The successful applicant will be expected to develop and expand on our pipeline for interpreting “Guaranteed-Time” and “Early-Release” giant planet observations from the James Webb Space Telescope.  In addition, the applicant will conduct joint analyses of thermal-infrared, near-infrared, and microwave observations of giant planet tropospheres.    We are therefore particularly interested in candidates with existing expertise in planetary data analysis, planetary atmospheres, and spectroscopic modelling techniques, but all applicants with a strong background in planetary science are encouraged to apply. 

Applications much be made via the link above.  Informal queries are welcome and can be made to Dr Leigh Fletcher on 

Friday, 18 December 2020

Saying Goodbye to the Royal Society

Last day of "School", and a bittersweet ending for me - after 8 years, my @royalsociety research fellowship is coming to an end.  The URF picked me up at a desperate point in 2012 (I was a new Dad, with no job beyond the end of that year), and I can't overstate my gratitude.  

Some highlights of working with @royalsociety during this time: funding two superb PhD students (@RohiniGiles and @ortk95), summer students, and giving me the flexibility to manage an ERC-funded planetary atmospheres research team at Leicester. 

Running the @IcyGiants discussion meeting in 2020, along with a photo I'll treasure from the Marble Hall.  Participating in the #SummerScience exhibition in 2018.  'Meet the press' events at Carlton House.  Just sitting in the fellows room with a coffee.

Judging the 2018 Investment Science Book prize, working with an amazing panel, being invited to the Hay festival, then meeting all the authors on the shortlist.  A trip to St. James' Palace with the other URFs and DHFs. 

And being allowed to view the planetary and astronomy treasures (Newton's death mask, books by Galileo, Cassini, Herschel, Huygens...) in their archives, showcasing them to amateur Jupiter observers after a Juno meeting in 2018. 

But of course the biggest thing to be grateful for - giving me the opportunity to move from Oxford to Leicester five years ago.  Felt like an enormous decision at the time, but no regrets. So, raising a mulled wine to @royalsociety today, and let's see what 2021 brings.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

On ESO and TIMMI for Jupiter

H/T to Ulli Kaufl for showing this quote from Low&Rieke (1974) on early thermal-IR @ESO_IR2020: "Observing at 10 µm has been likened to observing visually through a telescope lined with luminescent panels and surrounded by flickering light as though the telescope were on fire..." 

I also never knew that the TIMMI instrument on @ESO's 3.6-m telescope observed the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet collision with Jupiter at 10 µm back in 1994, sensing ammonia gas and debris lofted into the stratosphere (Credit:ESO)

...and I didn't know that the successor TIMMI2 was also observing Jupiter in 2000 (left, showing thermal waves later seen by Cassini) and 2004 (right). Seems we have more archival Jupiter thermal-IR data than I realised... (Credit:ESO)…ImageImage

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

#PlanetBites: On Ice Giants as Laboratories for Convection

This blog post is based on a White Paper and #EPSC2020 presentation by Tristan Guillot, available on Vimeo.  Uranus and Neptune are key to the understanding of planets with hydrogen atmospheres. These are the last worlds never to have been visited by an orbiter, and are probably the building blocks for formation of giant planets.  Their interiors and evolution, and hence their composition, are poorly constrained.  They are unique laboratories for understanding heat transfer, compositional variations and temporal variations.  These planets are active, with methane clouds, seasonal variations, and activity most probably linked to convective phenomena.  

What have we learned from the other giants, like Juno at Jupiter?  Equilibrium cloud structures have methane clouds near the top of the observable atmosphere, where the optical depth is relatively low.  This is opposite for the water clouds in Jupiter and Saturn.  Juno has shown that the atmosphere is not as simple as we expected.  Ammonia is varying in altitude and latitude down to great depths, tens of bars or more.  The presence of water storms lofting ice crystals, that dissolve ammonia, and then bring down ammonia and water gas down to great depth.  This precipitation forms intense cold downdrafts that can penetrate deep.  How deep to they fall with no surface?  Hydrogen atmospheres always have heavy condensates, contrary to the earth case.  Downdrafts in the Sun are important for the solar convective zone.

Moist convection can be inhibited by composition.  The molecular weight effect inhibits convection locally, and this occurs when water is more abundant than 10x solar, and methane more abundant than 40x solar, so should occur on Saturn and the Ice Giants.  Furthermore, we don't know what the temperature profiles look like below the 1-bar level - what sort of adiabats should they follow, and what are the implications for interior modelling?

We need to evolve from a standard picture of uniform clouds based on equilibrium, to something that is more variable with strong updrafts, precipitation, and downdrafts.  We know that clouds are extremely important for understanding hot and warm Jupiters and their compositions, and also important for brown dwarfs.  A mission is sorely needed, with an orbiter and a probe.