P&J Column 17.11.16


It’s not ‘Super’, it’s just slightly less far away.

Prof Hector Schlenk, Senior Researcher at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, people are always asking me questions. Questions like “What exactly does a catalytic converter do?” “Have CFCs caused irreparable damage to our atmosphere?” and “Did you spill my pint?” But lately, people have been asking me about the moon. “Well”, I respond, “The Waterboys saw the whole of it!” and then we laugh, once I’ve found the song on my iPod and played it to them.

They are asking, of course, because of the “Super Moon” which graced the night sky earlier this week. The moon was set to appear larger and brighter than it has since 1948, and Monday night brought an unprecedented amount of amateur lunar photography, mainly from people whose usual camera use is to take a succession of narcissistic duck-faced selfies, or to keep a visual record of their dinner. Sadly, images obtained with such rudimentary equipment have led many potential astronomers to conclude that this “Super Moon” looked pretty much identical to the regular moon, as if Superman’s Kryptonian heritage had bestowed upon him the singular ability to seem half an inch taller.

Of course, ‘Super Moon’, is an astrological, rather than astronomical term. The correct name for the phenomenon is  ‘Perigee-syzygy’. Correct, but a good bit less catchy.  It occurs when a full moon coincides with an eccentricity in the moon’s orbit. That’s not the kind of eccentricity displayed by people like me, who wear leather elbow patches and, when the mood takes us, a monocle; rather it’s a “squashing” of the circular path that the moon takes around the Earth. It may aid your comprehension to perform a simple experiment at home. First, place a pumpkin in the middle of the floor, then take a child’s hula-hoop, attach a tomato to it (I find electrical tape works best) and then sit on it until it’s bent out of shape to the extent that the child begins to cry ‘It’s ruined…RUINED!”. Next, spin the hoop around the pumpkin and voila! A scale model of the lunar cycle. Note: use of a power drill to increase the speed of the tomato-moon’s pumpkin-orbit to a scientifically accurate 1.022km per second may result in mess, injury, and, regrettably, divorce proceedings.

J Fergus Lamont – Arts critic and author of ‘Not with a bang but with a whimper’ – A History of Cancelled Fireworks Displays

This week I took part, quite unexpectedly, in an improvised piece of performance art. I had been ‘walking the mat’ on Union Street when I popped into a marvelous gallery-cum-emporium I have discovered. You wont have heard of it, it has a very modest frontage and almost seeks to put visitors off with the unappealing name ‘Poundland’. Whilst marveling at the starkly utilitarian objects d’arte on display, I came over quite peckish and sought to interact with the exhibition of heavily salted potato based snacks in delightfully obtuse Slavic packaging. The gallery owner squinted suspiciously at my proffered £50 note and I then found myself swept up in a vivid role-playing scenario, with some very game performers in police uniforms inviting me for an improv session in the back of their “van”. Therein, in a powerful commentary on the speciousness of life in this ‘post-truth’ era they insisted I was the source of counterfeit notes that have recently been spotted in the city. I congratulated the performers on convincingly managing the scenario, by joining in their narrative, insisting I was the ‘Mister Big’ behind the whole scam, getting in a couple of playful punches to the “officers” for good measure.  Thereafter I found myself transported to a very realistic looking “police cell”, where I enjoyed 12 hours of cathartic sensory deprivation before being ‘released’ at the end of the play. I wept.

Ron Cluny, Official Council Spokesman

Theresa May has faced heavy this criticism this week following the news that the Government has no strategic vision on how to achieve Brexit.  Personally, I can’t really see what all the fuss is about.  As disclosures go, that one was about as surprising as “the butler did it” or “Ed Balls stays in to dance another week”.  What the critics fail to realise is that there is nothing new here.  Strategic vision is simply not the British way.  We press on, make a hash of it, sack someone, and then have a nice cup of tea and a fly piece while moaning at the weather.  This is certainly the way we’ve been running Aberdeen for the last couple of decades and you only have to look at our revitalised city center, integrated traffic system, and highly ever expanding and diversified, ready for the post-oil world economy base how well things have worked out here.