Exploring stars with their own planetary systems, from your back garden or bedroom window.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

In 1995, using observations from an observatory in Haute-Provence, two astronomers spotted the tell-tale signs of a planet orbiting an ordinary star other than the Sun (Three years prior, detection of a planetary companion to a star had been made but in the extreme environment of a pulsar, which would be hostile to any opportunity for life and may well have formed as a secondary result of the merger of two white dwarf stars and hence be very different to our Solar System!).

The star, 51…

Melbourne city centre from St. Kilda pier.

A short trip to Melbourne provokes some reflection

I recently meandered south of the equator, something I only manage to do every 10 or 20 years, and took the opportunity to have a peek at the new Learning & Teaching Building at Monash University in Melbourne, which had recently just opened. It’s on their main Clayton Campus, a place that has seen many new developments since the early days of the intimidatingly grey concrete of the Robert Menzies building. Now it’s abuzz with eateries, coffee-docks (the stuff’s practically on-tap in Melbourne), the chatter of students and the screech of cockatoos…

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

The Galway Symposium on Higher Education, held on June 23rd 2017

Dreich, is the only word to describe the weather on the day, sadly, but it did mean that around 150 people were content to spend the day indoors, participating, debating, and sharing ideas at a conference that tried to open up the question as to what is a ‘scholarly community’. We heard from students, lecturers, researchers, managers — with contributors from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, and Australia.

A brief review of Adam Kahane’s new book

Intrigued by the title, and fascinated by Adam’s range of experience, I had to read this new publication. Besides, he’s a fellow physics graduate ;-)

I’ll admit from the outset that I haven’t engaged in international peace negotiations, attempted to tackle the consequences of the ‘war on drugs’, or casually chatted with Nelson Mandela (although I did see him in the flesh once!), or opened up about my inner demons with philosophers and generals.

I am, though, a multi-faceted and hence, flawed, human individual trying to engage with other multi-faceted individuals, all of whom are striving for their own particular version of community; each of us often wishing the others would ‘just get it’.

I work, too, in an organisation and a system that is…

VC of Oxford advocates fees and loans, again. This time for Irish higher education.

It’s a twisted logic that argues that the best means of tackling inequality in education is, rather than free provision for all, a system of fees and indebtedness. Inequality begins much earlier than age 18 and introducing a fees plus loans system will only make matters worse. …

Dreamcatcher, Dyaa Eldin, unsplash.com CC0

Ten years is a long time. It’s the term of office of a University President here in Ireland and hence such an appointment can profoundly shape institutional culture, whether through direct change or shaping the underlying ethos.

The institution in which I currently work is now inviting applications for its next President and the process is rattling ahead at breakneck speed. The ‘mutterings on the ground’ hint at this ‘ethos’ thing, and it is clear that whoever takes on the role has a number of key challenges to address. It’s not an easy time to take ascend to such office…

Sharing. Photo by Chris Lawton, CC0, unsplash.com

Universities, so the story goes, are scholarly communities, where students and academics engage in enquiry, discussion, and debate; an intellectual apprenticeship in a rarified atmosphere of timeless tradition, and a hierarchy based on merit and respect.

Meanwhile (back on Earth!), the contemporary higher education system presents challenges for most of those who work or study within it, whether those be coping with fees and the costs of living, reduced resources, increasing class sizes, lack of learning support, temporary contracts, or unsustainable demands on research output and grants won.

Yet the idea of community holds so much purchase in our mutual…


A cold wind signalled winter’s imminent threat as I stepped out of Philadelphia airport under a laden grey sky. Distant, idle, smoke-stacks, rusted rails and the shells of former warehouses and factories punctuated the two-stop rail journey to University City, on this, my first visit in several years to the Ivy League. As I trundled my luggage (silencers for suitcases, anyone? Dragons’ Den?) through UPenn’s campus, quiff-headed, blazered ‘chaps’ strode confidently by, en route to some function of the rowing team or Alpha Delta Sigma. …

View from the Cassini probe which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and continues to send back beautiful images and data.

The clock jumped back an hour this weekend and dusk has begun creeping ever closer to the afternoon. The end of our European Summer Time, but the beginning, again, of long nights spent gazing skywards. No better time, then to relaunch ‘Right Ascension’ — a temporary blog I ran during the International Year of Astronomy (2009) and which some kind friends claimed to have missed ever since.

I’ll be posting here on Medium.com as the platform of choice, and sprinkling news of interesting things to observe over more extended articles on key topics in astronomy and astrophysics.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with your first observing goal. Nov 2nd, just after sunset look to the south-west and you should be able to see Venus, Saturn and a crescent Moon. Go on, see if you can spot them.

The main venue for the plenary sessions, giant screens, animations and ‘hypno-trance’ style music.

OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy & Launch of the Cancún Declaration

Early in the morning, risen not just by the sun, but also the singing of the great-tailed grackles that flit from balcony to tree-top across the hotel complex, I looked out on the Caribbean and made my preparations for a day of presentations, debates and networking.

Iain MacLaren

Scot in Ireland/astrophysicist/educator/bluffer

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