Wednesday 28 January 2015

Roman Ruins

This is the last week of my Future Learn astronomy course "Exploring the Night Sky" and I had to whiz ahead to get it all finished because it was the first week of another Future Learn course "Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome". This will be my fourth FL course, and I have signed up to another three! Perhaps I am crazy, but they are so interesting, and you can participate as little or as much as you want, learning at your own pace. The course is online, and accessible 24/7 with material still available indefinitely after the course is over. The Portus course continues my interest in Ancient Rome which was well whetted by the Hadrian's Wall course last autumn. In advance of getting stuck into Portus I was looking at some previous, relatively recent, Roman ruin site visits I have made. In 2013 while vacationing in Antibes, I made a side trip to Nice to see some Roman ruins. Unfortunately the ruins were only accessible to visitors by viewing from the park outside the archaeological museum, near the Matisse museum. Although I would have loved to actually walk among the runs, they were impressive nonetheless!

In the spring of 2012 I was in Barcelona. Prior to the trip I discovered that in ancient times Barcino was part of the Roman Empire (this is probably common knowledge, but it was news to me at the time!) and I made it my business to see what remains I could. I started my first day by taking a taxi from my hotel to the necropolis. There was a bit of confusion when the driver suggested I wanted to go to the museum and I insisted I didn't. It turned out that part of the necropolis is in the museum and can be viewed from outside and above...

The old city of Barcino is obvious: as well as the bronze letters spelling out its heart, the ancient walls which outlined the old city are evident.

Even where new buildings pop up, as with the inside of this civic office, the Roman heritage is preserved. These columns date from the 1st c AD.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Ancient Interests

By my request, Santa brought me the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) the 1000  year old Iranian national epic by poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi. I have the Penguin deluxe edition of the book with deckled pages and it is a very readable translation. So far it is reminding me of The Mahabharata (the ancient Indian epic which I only saw in Peter Brook's serial televised form), in that it is very bizarre group of stories. I am struck by the use of the word farr to describe a radiance emanating from a true king's face to illustrate that he has a divine rule. The book to me represents a literary parallel to various pieces of ancient art and architecture which I have always associated with Ancient Persia (that is, the Achaemenid Empire, c. 550-330 BCE). Please forgive me if I am incorrect in my association, I don't mean to step on any toes with my ignorance!

Three days was a short time to spend on Museum Island in Berlin in 1992, but I made the most of it. The Pergamon & Bode Museum was amazing and it was there I beheld the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. The gate hails from 6th century BCE Babylon, shortly before the Persians invaded that part of the world. The wall sculpture below, also at the Pergamon, identified as being from the Persian palace at Susa and being a depiction of a "Spear-bearer of the bodyguard of Darius I (521-486 BC)" shows how stylistically similar Persian work was to other art in the area.

Other work which I have confused in the past for Ancient Persian, are wall reliefs and sculpture from the earlier empire of Assyria (c. 7th century BCE). The British Museum has a beautiful collection of  artifacts from Assyria, including a dedicated long room full of wall carvings.

Whenever I visit the British Museum (every couple of years), I must stand in fascination in this room. The carvings are stunning.

These photos are from a visit in February 2011. Unfortunately, my young daughter felt uncomfortable with the animals being speared and shot with arrows (depictions of a lion hunt), so we did not spend as long in the room as I would have liked!

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Star Gazing

 Last night was a cold, mostly clear night. Perfect for winter star gazing. This is the view from our backyard looking south east around 830 pm GMT.

Yes that is some snow on the storage box! My daughter and I are well wrapped up, trying to see if we can pick out the comet. There are lots of stars visible, but I am trying to locate the dim comet with the binoculars before pulling out the telescope.

We were unable to focus on what we think is the comet -- it just seemed too dim. We looked at The Pleiades through the telescope -- my daughter was amazed as the blur in the sky became at least 20 sharp points of light in the eyepiece. My husband took some photos and we think we identified Comet Lovejoy from other photos and articles online.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

The Night Skies

This week I started another Future Learn course - "In the Night Sky: Orion" (the following 2 pix are from the course material). Future Learn offers free online non-credited interest courses hosted by various universities. I have already taken three courses and highly recommend them for fun, interest and educational value! This astronomy course is hosted by the Open University and runs for 4 weeks. I have always enjoyed stargazing but there is an extra dimension added through learning something!

Seeing a picture of the sky so full of stars, reminds me of the amazng night sky that is visible in rural areas that are free from light pollution. I lived rurally in South West Kerry for 3 years in the 1990s and remember well the amazing skies on cold clear nights in winter. In the first house we lived at we would take a star map and a red cellophane covered flashlight out to the humpback bridge beside our house and stare in awe: there were way more stars than the star map showed. One of my brothers visited once and we were looking at the rings of Saturn through my telescope until he pointed out that we could see the shape with the naked eye just as easily. 

Living in urban areas most of my life, this is closer to how I view the night sky. I can still pick out constellations easily enough and can boast that I have seen 4 of Jupiter's moons with the planet from the roof of a Dublin apartment!

An email from my Orion course alerted me to the fact that Comet Lovejoy is visible in the skies near Orion through January, weather permitting. I went out last night to have a look and though I spotted part of Orion, clouds quickly came in from two directions and put the kibosh on any sightings. It is raining today and the sky looks relentlessly covered, but I have hopes as I have a few weeks left to view. When I was looking up information on the comet I came across Terry Lovejoy's computer drawing of Comet Hyakutake; it reminded me that I was incorrect in an earlier posting (from 2013) when I named the comet from my painting "Knockeen Comet" as Hale-Bopp. Although I saw comet Hale-Bopp, it was not until December 1997, by which time I had already moved back to urban Bray. This painting is based on my sighting of Comet Hyakutake in the spring of 1996 when I still lived in South West Kerry, outside Portmagee. I remember that night my husband and I dragged the couch into the field outside the house and, along with a blanket to keep warm, we sat for ages staring at the wonders of the universe -- including the comet hanging in the sky, a brilliant beacon among the jewels of stars.