Nick Howes 15 Q&A

If you could go back in time and meet any scientific figure, what period would that be and who would you like to meet most?

NH - “Richard Feynman, he’s been a hero of mine since childhood for his amazing insights, outreach, and sheer brilliance. So basically around the late 1930s or 1940s when he was at his best”

WASNET – I agree Richard Feynman (1918 to 1988) was one of the outstanding physicists of the last century.  Feynman

He worked on Manhattan project during World War II. In the 1980s he was a member of the Rogers Commission, who investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing, introducing the concept of nanotechnology.

He developed a new tool which helped visualise the interactions in quantum mechanics.

Feynman Dia

In this Feynman diagram, an electron and a positron annihilate, producing a photon (represented by the blue sine wave) that becomes a quark–antiquark pair, after which the antiquark radiates a gluon (represented by the green helix).

He produced a series of lectures on physics which you can access here;

Do you have a favourite constellation?

NH – “I guess Orion for the sheer beauty of what it contains.”

WASNET – Orion is the most easily recognisable of the constellations in the winter sky, it has the Orion nebula M42, De Mairan’s  M43 and the nebula M78 along with Betelgeuse a red giant and Rigel a blue super giant.

What do you regularly observe?

NH – “Comets, almost every day.”

What do you specialise in?

NH – “Comets, dust production rates, and morphology.”

Who influenced you most to take up astronomy?

NH – “My gran, and watching Voyager and Viking…plus Star Wars as a child.”

WASNET – Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral using a Titan-Centaur rocket in Sept 1977.It is now the furthest manmade object from Earth, it is still sending back data and recently reached the interstellar barrier. Viking 1 and 2 were launched in 1975 and sent to Mars.

Voyager took a remarkable photograph when it was asked to turn around and take the pale blue dot…..

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us…” Carl Sagan


More information here:

What advice would you give to a beginner just starting out?

NH – “Don’t be put off by the fact that 90% of astro societies are full of old men.”

The Drake equation,N = R * fp * ne * fl * fi * fc * L ,  attempts to estimate the number of possible civilizations in our universe, Is there life out there….?

NH – “Yes, probably sub surface on Mars, maybe on Europa and maybe on Enceladus.. farther afield the universe is teeming with it.”

What is the best part of being an astronomer and the worst?

NH – “Sharing and outreach is the best, the nasty backstabbing ego maniacs is the worst.”

If you could visit anywhere in the universe where would that be and why?

NH – “Mars, to prove that there is life.”

What gadget do you find indispensable as an astronomer?

NH – “EQMOD on the EQ6, pointing accuracy on a par with anything, and superbly written. That and PHD Guide software, again, superbly written.”

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries our understanding of the universe has taken huge leaps forward.  Which discovery do you think had the greatest impact?

NH – “Hubble and the expansion of the Universe, closely followed by the Apollo program and the work done on the Moon.”

We still only know what 5% of the universe is composed of normal matter, What about the other 95%?

NH – “Non baryonic particles perhaps or maybe just our lack of understanding at this stage.”

What future discovery are you looking most forward to?

NH – “Life on other worlds , and the SKA Telescope.”

What book would you recommend for our WAS members to read on cloudy nights?

NH– “Last Man on the Moon – Gene Cernan…”

WASNET – Gene Cernan was in the third group of pilots to be taken into NASA and worked on the Gemini and Apollo projects. His missions were Gemini 9A, Apollo 10 mission to orbit the moon a precursor to the landing mission. On Apollo 17 the final mission of the project he landed on the moon and drove the lunar rover.

As a stranded desert island astronomer you are allowed to take three things with you,  what would they be?

NH – “My meteorites, a microscope and my laptop if it’s a cloudy island like Hawaii.. an EQ6 a refractor and a radio if it’s clear.”