To study and encourage popular interest in all branches of Science.

Newsletter December 2016

N.B. The first lecture of the New Year on January 19th 2017 has had to be cancelled due to the lecturer being overseas on a research project. The replacement talk will be “WHY PLANET EARTH IS HABITABLE” and will be given by Philip Pogge von Strandmann (UCL & Birkbeck College). The original lecture will be given to the Society next year.



Peter R Wallis

Referring back to my article in the April 2016 newsletter, I remain interested in the hypothesis that there is as much antimatter as matter in the universe. This is far from being the conventional view. Let me look first at the conventional view of what happened in the very early days after the “Big Bang”. This is summarised in a book “A Down-to-Earth Guide to the Cosmos” by Mark Thompson [1]. The initial universe was an extremely hot plasma; gravity was the first force to form, ahead of electromagnetism, the strong and then the weak nuclear forces. There is supposed to be an inflationary period, in which the size of the universe increases enormously, then quarks and electrons form and also antiparticles; he claims that the quarks and antiquarks would eliminate each other, leaving only the matter form. He does not explain why, but I assume it is to ensure that the universe finishes up to be matter only. At a thousandth of a second the strong force would form protons and neutrons, still at a temperature of a million million degrees. At 3 minutes the protons and neutrons would be able to form the nuclei of hydrogen and helium. Then at about 380,000 years the electrons would be able to attach to the nuclei and form atoms of hydrogen and helium. At this time, therefore, the universe would become transparent to light.

It is clear that this picture is essentially a postulation rather than a measurement. In fact the only measureable quantity available is the light from the 380,000 moment. And due to the 14 billion years of expansion, we have only recently recognised it as the microwave background. I suggest that the picture is not an accurate postulation and fails to appreciate that gravity could have led to the separation of quarks and antiquarks instead of the elimination of the latter. So where can we look at today’s universe to settle the question? Firstly, we need to study the microwave background more closely; perhaps we can find some indication there.

My next suggestion is to measure the expansion of the universe more exactly. If there is a preponderance of matter, then the attraction of matter to matter would cause the expansion to slow down. Astrophysicists have invented “dark energy” to explain why it hasn’t, as Dr Phillips said. Indeed, some have suggested that the expansion is increasing. If antimatter and matter are present in equal amounts, the opposing effects could be expected to cancel and leave the expansion to “coast”.

I have recently been reading a book “Gravity’s Engines – the other side of black holes” by Caleb Scharf [2]. His book is about black holes but has interesting descriptions of the large-scale structure of the universe. I quote: “In some places there are thousands of galaxies clustered together within a few tens of millions of light-years: great cathedrals of light, --- leading into these glowing monuments are what appear to be strands and sheets. Then there are huge zones of emptiness, voids like great open soap bubbles which can extend over 100 million light-years with barely a galaxy within.” Is it not possible that this dichotomy of density could have been a consequence of the attraction and repulsion of matter and antimatter? (I shouldn’t talk of gravity’s forces, of course, as it is rather the different effect of matter and antimatter on space-time.) Maybe the structure of the universe will provide us with an answer.

1: Corgi books 2013 , pages 282 to 289. [back]

2: Penguin books 2012, pages 54 and 55. [back]


News from the Observatory.

Some members may not be aware of what is happening at the observatory site, so the following is a short report. Towards the end of the last observing session, during last summer, Thames Water informed us that they were about to carry out extensive works on the reservoir on which the Observatory is situated.

Their intention was to totally remove the covering of grass and turf, cover the whole site with a waterproof membrane, then to replace the turf. It was estimated that the whole job should be completed by January 2017. We were required to remove the met. instruments and disconnect the power cable as the concrete pathway was to be temporarily removed. We breathed a sigh of relief when told that we did not have to remove the observatory this time, something we had to do back in the 1960’s. We were informed that once work was underway we would not be able to access the building until completion.

We had our last meeting at the summer picnic on July 17th when Doug & Terry Pearce removed the 6-inch Cooke OG for safekeeping. Terry will look after it until it is time to reinstate it, after a good clean. On the following day Simon, and representatives from the Met. Office and the Environment Agency, removed the met. instruments and stored them in the observatory building.

The latest information is that the work will take longer than estimated to complete (predictable), and that we are now looking at a completion date towards the end of March 2017. We will then have to reinstate the power supply and re-fit the met.instruments. At present it looks as though there will be no public open nights during the current session and they will probably not resume until September 2017.

Sad Footnote

During all this upheaval we had tried in vain to contact the Hon. Meteorology Secretary Philip Eden, only to discover that he was in a nursing home suffering with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Simon and Julie Atkinson visited Philip’s brothers and conveyed to them our sadness to learn such unwelcome news and to retrieve some Society reports etc.

Philip served as Meteorology Secretary for 33 years, taking over after the death of Robert Tyssen-Gee in 1983. When he began, readings were taken manually twice daily, but we converted to a fully automated system in 2000. Philip oversaw this transition and obtained grants to offset the expense of the computer controlled equipment. The fully automated system was made operational at a celebration on September 10th 2000. At our centenary celebrations on April 25th 2010, Philip received an award from the Met. Office for the Society’s record of 100 years continuous meteorological readings from the same site. Philip also acted as editor of the Society History.

It is indeed very sad to learn of Philip’s current condition and to be totally powerless to do anything about it.


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Last updated   09-Jan-2016