Bronte Group Portrait

NPG 1725; The BrontÎ Sisters (Anne BrontÎ; Emily BrontÎ; Charlotte BrontÎ) by Patrick Branwell BrontÎ

Why there was a person in the middle who is now missing

The Brontë Sisters is a group portrait painting by Patrick Branwell Bronte, and has been with the National Portrait Gallery for a hundred years; Anne, Emily and Charlotte were three sisters of a large family and this damaged, oil on canvas painting, is the only one in existence.

Painted around 1834, this group portrait is portrait of the day, every couple of months in the NPG. Thus, brother Patrick was in there and he painted himself out but you can just about make him out. He is also in the portrait of Emily next to this one, though he was painted out of that too, hence only Emily is left because others were cut out with scissors as well – it is a very good likeness to Emily though, apparently!

It was the girls’ father who changed the name from ‘Brunty’ to Bronte in order to give them more style and enigma, thus this wasn’t unusual in Gothic literature back then.

The family was big, though sadly, two sisters died very young leaving just three and none were to live to old age anyway, thus the conditions in and around Howarth were pretty bad and life expectancy was low. Charlotte lived the longest at 41 and the three sisters had intended to teach French after visiting Brussels together on a study trip.

Charlotte married Mr Nichols but died during pregnancy, thus all three conveyed strong female characters in the work about their struggles in life.

“Wuthering Heights” was not acclaimed during Emily’s lifetime, though all three of them wrote powerful, imaginative and passionate work which was unusual for the time by women and this has lasted the test of time.

Patrick was very clever wanted to be a professional portrait painter as he never settled in work but drank himself to death at a young age.

The girls used pseudonyms to get published and Jane Eyre was the biggest success by Charlotte who finally made 500 pounds on it during her lifetime, and one of her poems sold for 92,000 pounds last year which is around 1000 pounds per word.

Nicholas Nickleby Charles Dickens Smike Dotheboys Portsmouth Roald Dahl Bfg Matilda


The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is the third novel by Charles Dickens. Nicholas must support his mother and sister in this romantic comedy, after their father dies.

The story depicts a school, run by wicked Wackford Squeers, as if it were the workhouse in Oliver Twist.  Charles Dickens secretly visited boarding schools in Yorkshire to research the ill-treatment of children and blends the seriousness of it with some of his best comic writing.

When Nickleby senior dies having lost all his money the family go to London for support from Uncle Ralph. Ralph hates Nicholas and won’t help the family, sending him instead off to Dotheboy’s Hall – a boarding school in Yorkshire.

Squeers mistreats the kids at Dotheboy’s and takes all of their parents’ money in school fees for himself, though he does get a hiding from Nicholas Nickleby before the boys escape.

Charles Dickens loved ghost stories and was one of the early members of the ghost club. A Christmas Carol is his most famous ghost story – perhaps the most famous ghost story of all time – and in Nicholas Nickleby passengers in a crashed train carriage are told a ghost story, Baron Koeldwethout’s Apparition which uses a truly Dickensian ghost.

The Baron of Grogzwig gets married and hates being domesticated. He is about to take his own life when a ghost visits him called the Genius of Despair and Suicide.

This ghost is not a dead person coming back to life, but a predecessor to Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, decked out in strange symbolic attire and offering good advice a bit like a guardian angel, to the Baron.

Five Sisters of York, also told in the carriage was inspired by the Five Sisters Window in York Minster, where Charles Dickens often visited.

Nicholas liberates his mate Smike from Dotheboys after years of mistreatment and they take off to London together for a better life.  Only finding a French-teaching role with neighbours, Nicholas and Smike then head to Portsmouth to become sailors, but end up joining an acting company, appearing in Romeo and Juliet.

When Ralph finds out that the unwell Smike was his son and died hating his father, Ralph Nickleby sadly commits suicide.

Wackford Squeers is arrested for trying to hide the will of Madeline, Nickleby’s girlfriend and he is transported to Australia while Nicholas Nickleby becomes successful and marries Madeline Bray, living happily ever after.

Roald Dahl refers to this Charles Dickens story in both the BFG and Matilda. The Big Friendly Giant learns to write by reading it hundreds of times and Mrs Trunchbull admires Wackford Squeers method of teaching.

Einsteins’s Cosmological Constant


Where it is that an ancient Greek symbol gets used in cosmology 

The symbol above from ancient Greek is used for the Einstein’s cosmological constant and called lambda.

Lambda has a negative pressure with an energy density more than all the matter in the Universe put together, however there is disagreement about the numerical value of lambda.

Some believe a different approach may be needed, though many consider using a generalisation of Einstein’s cosmological constant.

It has a constant value that is the same everywhere and at every time in the Universe. It is a substance that fills all of space and time. However, it can vary in strength from time to time and from place to place.

Dark energy is often seen as the same as Einstein’s cosmological constant.

Many experiments are under-way to see if different light might give different values for the acceleration of the Universe expanding, or whether the changes in the acceleration exactly match the predictions from Einstein’s theory; this is what it was designed for.

If experiments can separate Dark Energy from the cosmological constant, then it may help us understand more about how space and time are built.

NASA made measuring the effects of Dark Energy a top priority in 2010, thus it shouldn’t be confused with Dark Matter.

Dark Matter collects in clumps known as haloes, thus the visible effect of how galaxies rotate, and how they move relative to each other, especially the galaxy clusters, can be seen with the most powerful telescopes. If you added more Dark Matter into the Universe, the additional gravitational attraction, would slow down the expansion of it.

Dark Energy does not clump as far as we have been able to tell, and its principal effect is to speed up the expansion of the Universe.

However, Dark Matter and Dark Energy do have something in common: astronomers don’t know much about either of them!

Scientists have no definite idea of what the fundamental  particle of Dark Matter is yet, and no idea why the Universe should have Dark Energy in it either, or whether it is just the cosmological constant that Einstein originally envisaged. The value of lambda is impossible to predict, that they do know.

It is complicated up there, and there are various contributions to the energy density of the Universe, all of which combined, almost certainly relate to the large scale curvature of the Universe.

Most of the energy in the Universe is Dark Energy (cosmological constant) with the next large contributor being Dark Matter both of which are relatively poorly understood.

There are different relative contributions to the energy density of the universe. Most of the energy is in the form of Dark Energy. The next largest component is Dark Matter, thus collisionless Dark Matter particles pass through each other and have no turbulence or air resistance.

There is also a contribution of non-luminous matter that is made of the same particles as everyday objects and this is known as baryonic dark matter. Finally, there is luminous matter.

As the Universe expands the matter becomes more and more sparsely distributed. Dark Energy / cosmological constant is driving the expansion – we think – but how far ahead can we look?

According to Einstein the Universe would eventually settle down, this matter would eventually become too sparse for star formation to happen, and the Universe would eventually become dark once again.

One could look further ahead to the decay of particles under laboratory conditions, but the difficulty is that astronomers don’t have good observational constraints on Dark Energy and Dark Matter, so it is hard to foresee.

This is the difficulty with long range forecasting in that you reach a point that you are constrained by what you can do in the lab and our knowledge of the physical Universe is limited.

An understanding of the first 15 minutes of the Universe, after the Big Bang, is likely to help in our forecasting methods.

There is even atomic matter that is not obviously visible, but most Dark Matter is not atomic.

The same understanding of nuclear physics can be applied to the early universe. Thus, after 100 seconds of the Universe, after the Big Bang, the Universe was much hotter and denser than it is now, and the content of the Universe was largely Dark Matter particles, plus protons, neutrons, electrons, photons, and other particles known as neutrinos.

As the Universe expanded, the temperature decreased, and the protons and neutrons were able to combine, forming light nuclei. This was the beginning of the primordial nucleosynthesis period, which means making nuclei.

After 1000 seconds of the Universe, the temperature had cooled to a point that particles had insufficient energy to undergo any more reactions. Thus, the primordial nucleosynthesis was at an end, and the proportion of various light elements was fixed.

It was now that helium was formed along with hydrogen and this early story of the Universe is regarded as just as accurate as the theories about the Big Bang, the expansion of the Universe and the cosmic microwave background; it is hugely important to research.

The abundance of matter after 1000 seconds into the Universe is essentially as that abundance is today, with regard to the lighter elements, but the heavy elements are difficult to compare to the primordial prediction, because of the energy production that happens in stars, thus many nuclear reactions have since happened after the first 1000 seconds was up.

Heavy element production in stars is responsible for everything we see around us right now, like all living things, which have initially been generated by nuclear reactions in stars.

Nuclear reactions in stars have been so crucial to the formation of heavier elements in the Universe, without which there could have been no planets and no life.

Queen of England Victoria and Prince Albert Empire Bigger than the Romans


Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and the British Empire was within sight of its brief domination of the world.

The Duchess of Kent was expected to return to Germany taking the Duke with her. However, he wanted to stay for his daughter’s destiny and Victoria was to be brought up as an English child, in England.

The aim of the ‘Kensington System’ was to bring up the little princess to be utterly dependent on her mother largely because her father died when she was eight months old. She didn’t learn to speak English until she was 3 years old because German was her first language.

The marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (her German cousin) took place on the 10th February 1840 in St James’s Palace though she outlived him by 40 years wearing mainly black for the rest of her life to mourn his early death.

Queen Vic was the first monarch to actually live in Buckingham Palace, her official residence and is now buried in Windsor.

At just 18 when she came to the throne, her reign spanned sixty-four years; she had 9 children and 40 grandchildren and died in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight when she was 81.

Whilst Victoria was Queen there was a tremendous change in the lives of British people: Britain became the most powerful country in the world, with the largest empire that had ever existed, ruling a quarter of the world’s population.

Napolean’s defeat at Waterloo meant Britain was the leading country in Europe. France was exhausted, Germany and Austria were quarrelling with each other, Spain was barely a third-rate power and mighty Russia was still too far away. Britain was the mistress of the seas – uninvaded and undefeated; she was rapidly acquiring territory and riches unsurpassed by even the Roman Empire and it was this Queens reign particularly which was responsible for one of the great periods of world exploration and exploitation.

Explorers and the Royal Navy with traders that followed in search of profits were mainly British. Asia, Africa, America and Australia – all four corners of the globe were turning British crimson red.

The number of people living in Britain more than doubled, causing a huge demand for food, clothes and housing. Factories and machines were built to meet this demand and new towns grew up, changing the landscape and the ways people lived and worked.

Railways, originally built to transport goods, meant people could travel easily around the country for the first time while British factories imported materials and exported goods with its own ships, generating huge profits for Queen Victoria and her yacht Britannia truly did rule the waves.

Carrying to the world her goods; Victoria enjoyed this revenue with all her palaces kept in security and peace, just making it to see in the twentieth-century and sadly passing away in 1901 as the longest reigning Queen of England.

Before Inflation



When you go back even further in time

We can actually go back further than inflation, when the Universe was smaller and hotter.

Before the Big Bang the time scale was in Plancks named after Max Planck. Strange because the concept we call time, only really began with the Big Bang, but it is a way of describing what happened before the Universe was flung apart, and necessary to know, in our understanding of the build up to the beginning of time!

Scientists are still yet to understand the very earliest moments of the Universe properly, because the Theory of General Relativity contradicts the Theory of Quantum Mechanics.

It is possible that the theory of inflation (highly respected as it is) is wrong, and the true answers to the Horizon Problem and the Flatness Problem may lie at the limit of the Planck scales.

So what is the Universe expanding into ?

A flat space that is expanding can be regarded as a curvature of spacetime. It can be measured and that is the expansion of spacetime curvature.

It may not be expanding into anything though.

Why it should be flat out in space is another awkward question? If it is flat or curved, there must be a reason, but then if there is nothing there, how can this nothingness be curved?

All of a sudden the concepts relating to everyday analogies get a little blurred, though with the logical reasoning the scientists use, it is thought that somewhere along the line there is some sense in it, even if it may never be proved.

The fate of the Universe may be determined by the content.

Using the concept of escape velocity like when a tennis ball reaches a limit when thrown up and returns; the expansion of the Universe is similar if gravity exists out there in space, it could stop the expansion (like the tennis ball reaches its limit) and get sent back, like the tennis ball the expanding Universe may return with a big crunch!

Einstein inserted a cosmological constant into his equations which gave space a built in tendency to expand, and he thought the Universe was held in balance, between a tendency to contract from gravity, and expand by flinging itself apart. 

Edwin Hubble ran with this, and decided it was one or the other, concluding that it was expansion rather than contraction, in what is now seen as a ground-breaking decision within science.

With that wonderful space-telescope named after him – The Hubble – which is orbiting the Earth as we speak, we can see distant supernova explosions, some of which have characteristic luminosities and are called Standard Candles; we can detect how much light they radiate, how bright they are, and how far away they are – approximately. By comparing these calculations to the redshift, expansion of the Universe can be calculated approximately.

Remember, it is the expansion that generated the redshift, and the calculations now suggest the expansion of the Universe is slowing down!

Using this information we should be able to figure out the fate of the Universe by distinguishing the below escape velocity from the beyond escape velocity.

From distant supernovae we have now learnt that the expansion of the Universe may not be slowing down at all, but speeding up. If this is correct, the fate of the Universe is to expand faster and faster with the matter becoming more and more sparsely distributed in space.

There is an alternative way of looking at the cosmological constant. Einstein said matter and energy in space causes curvature of space which is like space-time. There appears to be a causal link between curvature causing mass and energy in space. It is illuminated by the Large Hadron Collider.

Food is Important to History and Bread is the most Fundamental of all Food


Bread is our most IMPORTANT food with the nutritional value in wheat and flour; though the sale of white bread used to be banned. It is significant to our HISTORY because it transcends the boundaries of economics, religion and geography.

Bread wheat originated in Persia and spread to Europe, China and India. The earliest milling devices date back some 75,000 years and the pestle and mortar followed later.

Fermentation is attributed to the Egyptians, their method was similar to those followed today and bread plays a notable part in every country’s economy, since it was often used in payment of wages.

The Romans used two circular stones to grind with and Vitruvius invented an early water-mill with a vertical wheel, shortly followed by a horizontal wheel version laid directly in the stream.

Beginning as a domestic operation, watermills of the Vitruvian pattern did not reach Britain until after the Romans and in the twelfth century the windmill appeared, partnering rather than rivalling the water mill.

In the towns and cities the bakers baked the flour ground by the millers in the country and rye was the predominant crop of medieval England.

In 1834, a Swiss miller invented the rollers driven by steam power. The bread made from the rollers was superior and hard wheat could more easily be milled, thus, in the 1880’s the water mills and windmills were either pulled down or converted.

Bakers and millers were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution. Wheat is the most important of the worlds cereals when judged by the quantity grown and is cultivated from the equator to the artic circle and from high altitudes to sea level; it is the most adaptable of all grains.

Firstly, when milling the wheat must be sifted. Magnets would extract iron and steel fragments, then the bran must be separated from the endosperm and the milling begins when the wheat has been cleaned and conditioned.

It is then ground and the baker is chiefly concerned with two qualities in the flour that he receives from the miller; its strength and its colour. Strength is elasticity and stability of the dough which can be done by blending weak flour with strong ones. The colour is important because most of the customers would prefer a loaf whose crumb is white.

The three other essential ingredients are water, yeast, and salt to form dough. The proportion of water added is a little more than half the weight of the flour on average and strong flours have a higher capacity for absorbing water than weak flours, thus giving a greater yield of bread.

Yeast is added to make it ferment with the production of carbon dioxide which gives the bread its light porous structure and then salt is added for flavour.

It is these bread making techniques developed through history that are important to a country and its identity. For example, flat-breads in Lebanon, pitta-breads in Greece, sliced bread in the west and tortillas in Mexico are but a few things which are culturally relative and an important part of the culinary history of those countries.

What shape is our Universe?


How much we really owe to Einstein

Einstein was saying in his “Theory of Gravity, General Relativity” that space can be curved, and he included the concept of ‘space-time’ which although is difficult to imagine, is highly plausible!

In two dimensions a flat, spherical or hyperbolic space, are the three basic shapes. Close up, they will look like flat surfaces, but very different from a distance.

Think about tiling a flat space with identical squares like on a chessboard for instance, and something similar with a three dimensional space using identical cubes – this is simple – however, if space is like a huge dodecahedron and hyperbolic with curvatures, it is very different to the chessboard analogy. Tiling such a thing isn’t such an easy task but offers a good analogy if space is really like this, though we are unlikely to ever be sure one way or the other.

Another curious property of curved space is the behaviour of parallel straight lines. In a flat space, straight lines that are parallel always stay parallel. However, in curved space these lines become great circles just like the Equator. Lines of longitude, latitude and the world famous Meridian at Greenwich, are slow straight lines that are really curved!

Straight lines on a sphere can start off parallel, but they eventually meet; nearby lines of constant longitude at the equator are parallel but they meet at the North and South Poles – a great many you can see at the top of any globe.

In hyperbolic space, parallel lines have the opposite behaviour: they diverge. This divergence (or convergence on a sphere) tells us, how curved the space is, and whether it is hyperbolic or spherical.

There are other curiosities too: for example, the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees in flat space, but add to less than 180 degrees in a hyperbolic space, and to more than 180 degrees in spherical space. This gives us an idea of what we are talking about when Einstein suggested that space was / is curved, because the measurements are important and we can estimate these measurements reasonably accurately using his equations.

The circumferences of circles are strange to: for a fixed radius the circumference is bigger in hyperbolic space and smaller in spherical space, and again this is relevant for calculation purposes.

The balloon analogy of the expanding Universe assumes that the Universe, has spherical, spatial, curvature; but this is not necessarily the case: if the universe is flat or hyperbolic then the expanding balloon is wrong.

It has to have some shape, and one alternative to this is the Expanding Saddle which suggests that space is infinite in size because it can’t have edges.

There is a way for a flat or hyperbolic space to not be infinite in size. When thinking of a video game where you disappear off the right hand side of the screen and reappear on the left; this is a good example, thus if the Universe is like that, there may be a problem if it is expanding too quickly.

Spatial curvature of the Universe is very interesting. We could be in a spherical Universe like a balloon being inflated, a wrap around saddle shape, or something else; thus, we can measure the contents of the Universe approximately, and with Einstein’s theory, we can calculate the the geometry of the Universe approximately as well.

It turns out that the Universe comes out as very flat to us because it is so large. If there’s any curvature, whether saddle shaped, or sphere shaped, it’s only apparent at sizes that are much bigger, and that cannot be measured in our observable Universe.

Space could be curved and of any size, so why does our observable Universe turn out to be almost perfectly flat?

This is known as the Flatness Problem.

If space is curved, why does it appear flat?

Inflation is probably the best solution that astronomers and cosmologist have to the Horizon Problem and the Flatness Problem.

It is puzzling because different parts of the CMB end up almost exactly identical. The inflation approach supposes that something unidentified from the history of the Universe, triggered a much faster phase of expansion known as inflation.

The effect of this faster expansion, is one explanation for why space looks flat. But what triggered the expanding universe to speed up this expansion all of a sudden and lead to Inflation?

Inflation is the exponential expansion of space in the first few seconds of the Universe, shortly after the Big Bang. Following the inflationary period, the universe continues to expand, but at a less accelerated rate.

Scientists may have got the real size of the observable Universe wrong, but how could it be much bigger?

This may explain why the CMB seems uniform, mostly. There is a patch of sky that seems to have been out of contact, but was much closer together, before inflation flung it apart.

Astronomers still use the term observable Universe, to mean predicted size without inflation, even though there is a fairly wide support for Inflation Theory.

This is to do with the extreme redshift of any pre-inflation signal being undetectable by any known technology, and it is not known how long the phase of inflation lasted for, and that means it is not a good way to calculate the size of the observable Universe, by taking full account of Inflation Theory!

What triggered this violent phase of expansion is still uncertain and the idea behind inflation is that the energy is locked up in space, but this is not fully understood, at least not yet!

The Universe is thought to have gone through a transition where this energy was released, like the melting of ice which releases energy in the phase transition from solid to liquid, and this drove the violent expansion of inflation.

The rapid expansion cooled down the other contents of the Universe (compressing gases heats them up) and then at the end of the inflation period, the energy released from inflation, stopped driving the expansion, and instead went into heating the rest of the contents of the Universe back up again.

This phase at the end of inflation is known as reheating, and the exact timing of how long inflation lasted from, and what brought it to an end, depends on the details of the phase transition.

Inflation hasn’t been proved yet, but it hasn’t been disproved yet either, which is a good sign, thus NASA do use it to make specific predictions about fluctuations, and the next big test is a particular type of light called polarized light from the CMB.

Regardless of how the phase transition worked, there are relationships predicted by inflation, between structures in polarized and unpolarized light.

The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 Attracted 6 Million Visitors


Queen Victoria was responsible for many countries attached to the British Empire and in 1851 the Great Exhibition organised by her husband displayed artefacts, inventions and machines from all of these places across the world.

Prince Albert, who was born in Germany, took a special interest in helping people learn. He was responsible for the Great Exhibition Committee, thus he made the decision that Hyde Park (belonging to the Queen) was to host the greatest show on Earth.

Designed by Joseph Paxton, the building for this wonderful celebration was to be only temporary and nicknamed the Crystal Palace because of the amount of glass used. Paxton was the royal architect partly responsible for the gardens, buildings and greenhouses belonging to the Duke of Devonshire; this gave him the experience and ideas required for these wonderful shards of glass.

100,000 exhibits from 50 countries arrived in London: steam powered machines, tiny glass buttons and a vase made from lard were but a few. Queen Victoria herself officially opened the extravaganza, where reusable tickets cost £3 each or as little as one shilling for the day.

After 6 months, this amazing palace made of glass was moved to Sydenham where it sadly burned to the ground in 1936. However, the huge financial success of the wonderful Great Exhibition paid towards other museums in London and children continue to learn – even today – about Victorian England’s most symbolic display.

Queen Victoria described her husband’s festival of artefacts as “beautiful and fairy like” in her diary. It took 2000 people over a year to build the magnificent palace which eventually had 6 million visitors and it was Thomas Cook who organised trips from all over England to the Great Exhibition making his company very successful.

When the Crystal Palace fell into disrepair it was converted to HMS Victory and used for naval training in the First World War before becoming the very first Imperial War Museum.

Crystal Palace has its own railway station and has become successful once again having brought many visitors back for all types of entertainment: concerts, firework displays, fairground attractions, fishing, the museum and many children’s facilities are available.

Having a football club, athletics stadium and sports complex named after it, Crystal Palace attracts people from all over the world who still travel to this geographical high point in London that is identifiable by the tower used to transmit television signals and to direct aircraft from the top of Sydenham Hill.

Crystal Palace will truly remain one of London’s great open spaces because it also has very diverse horticulture and ornithology stretching right across the park.

The Edge of the Universe


Origins of the Universe 

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is about the most distant thing that can be seen with any telescope!

The dim light from when the Universe was so small, dense and opaque, at the edge of our Universe, has been referred to as the CMB. Thus, information about the origin of our Universe can hopefully be revealed by studying this very distant light!

The dark ages of the Universe can be understood better, perhaps, if you imagine a rewind of history. On the assumption that Einstein and Hubble were correct about the Universe expanding, in reverse it would clearly become smaller and denser; that means there would have probably been a point before there were any stars, galaxies or black holes. 

It was open space (like the area behind the CMB is now) and simply dark, hence the term being used is the Dark Ages of the Universe!

Smaller and denser, this rewinding of the Universe means there was actually a point in time when it was opaque, rather than this wonderful light show or fireworks display that it sometimes is today.

This shrinking idea, which is highly plausible, means that the gases would be hotter with the rewind, because gas generally heats up when it compresses, and cools when it expands. The Universe is said to be expanding – the gases must therefore be cooler today, than in the dark ages, if we use this theory and it does make sense to.

Blue light is scattered most easily – that is part of the reason why the sky is blue – but if we wind the history of the Universe forward, it expands and becomes more transparent from being opaque in the dark ages; this fog would clear around you and light from the more distant parts of the Universe, would slowly be allowed to reach us, just like the night sky becoming less, rather than more overcast, to the point you can see all the stars.

The CMB is at the back of the Universe and it is partly called the microwave background because of the enormous glowing temperature at the last moment of the Universe being opaque.

As time went on, the Universe expanded, and the light from the receding bank of fog would begin to stretch. Stretched light means longer wavelength, thus redshifted is the process as it is now known.

Wavelengths of light, longer than a millimetre are known as microwaves; stretched light from the receding bank of fog is called the cosmic MICROWAVE background for this very reason.

This is still part of the observable Universe but part of the so called Horizon Problem, i.e. this apparent receding bank of fog surrounding us, and giving off light, that has been redshifted into microwaves, or microwave wavelengths to be precise. It is a problem because different parts of the Universe are so far from each other but still share the same properties, even though the light from one (travelling at the speed of light) couldn’t have reached it yet. E.g. a galaxy ten billion light years to the east and one the same to the west sharing properties with a 20 billion light year gap between them. Remember the Universe is only 14 billion years old so this 6 billion light year short fall is part of the Horizon Problem!

Special telescopes that are sensitive to microwave wavelengths, may observe this redshift bank of fog, and it is very uniform with deviations from perfect smoothness and subtle irregularities only just.

The small irregularities show up as temperature fluctuations or ripples on the CMB, which is otherwise just one big block of colour.

After the Big Bang, the maximum distance a particle can travel has been given the name ‘particle horizon’ and it is 48 billion light years; the Universe has been expanding ever since the Big Bang, which of course was approximately 14 billion years ago. That time, plus expansion time, is how we measure the size of the Universe in its entirety, and this equates to the Horizon Problem.

This maximum distance is often referred to as the size of the observable Universe. The entire Universe is of course bigger than the observable Universe because there are still parts we can’t see.

The CMB is therefore just a guide, and there are signals that could penetrate this mysterious fog, such as using ripples in space and time, thus these are called gravitational waves involving subatomic particles known as neutrinos.

If the CMB is 48 billion light years from one side to the other, yet the Universe is 14 billion years old, that must mean the background is moving faster than the speed of light and something beyond all normal astronomical calculations based on the laws of physics. This is plausible but because the spatial area is stretching (which is different from an unexpanding space moving away at speed) it is difficult to calculate properly.

Scientists are using verifiable theories with all of this, which is great for science fiction writers to play around with!

Using our current knowledge of the contents of the Universe, alongside what Einstein said regarding his Theory of Gravity General Relativity, we can calculate approximately how fast the Universe is expanding, and how the expansion rate is changing.

The CMB looks so extremely uniform when it really shouldn’t and this is also part of the Horizon Problem, thus this deep space question is referring to the earliest moments of the Universe, hence, it ties in with the ‘curvature of space issue’ and the ‘flatness problem’ both of which are pertinent to astronomy today.

British Literature


The Chimes: a goblin story of some bells that rang the old year out and the new year in. This Christmas story came after A Christmas Carol and before Cricket on the Hearth and is Charles Dickens second full Christmas book of five.

Written in Italy when the Genoese Bells were audible from his villa, Charles Dickens divided this short novel into four parts relating to the chimes of a clock every quarter of an hour, the same way A Christmas Carol had five staves (parts) and Cricket on the Hearth had “chirps” as chapters.

When reading music those five lines where the notes sit are called staves, reflecting the song – Christmas Carol – element and of course a tiny cricket, chirps all day long.

Similar to A Christmas Carol, which happens on Christmas Eve, this story is set on New Years Eve, in a world ridden with crime. It features a ticket porter named Trotty, who thinks working class people are wicked.

Trotty Veck’s daughter marries Richard though Trotty is none too pleased about this, trying to prevent the marriage. Trotty owes a few shillings and doom and gloom follows with alcoholism, prostitution, prison, murder and suicide.

The Chimes intention is to teach Trotty that far from being naturally wicked, mankind has been formed to strive for nobler things. Trotty begs the chimes to save pregnant Meg from jumping into the river, murdering her baby at the same time.

The bells of the church seem to call Trotty, so he climbs into the bell chamber where the spirits of the bells stay with their goblin attendants. They reprimand Trotty for losing faith in mans destiny to improve and progress. In the bell chamber the goblins provide a vision of all the horrible things that can happen.

There are three wrongs of Trotty; harking back to a golden age that never was instead of striving to improve conditions here and now, believing that individual human joys and sorrows do not matter to a higher power and condemning unfortunate people offering them no help.

It is all too much for Trotty who breaks down when he sees Meg nearly jump into the river while pregnant and begs forgiveness for his outlook on human nature. Touching her he wakes up from this dream or NIGHTMARE on new years day with the bells ringing in the new year. A changed man he gives his blessing to Meg and Richard who are now a married couple in another Charles Dickens happy ending.

There is a moral message here like in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day a reformed character. The Chimes here represent time and given time, Trotty comes round!

The Battle of Life: A Love Story, is the fourth Christmas book of five by Charles Dickens and unlike the others, has no supernatural elements. It is resolved with a romantic twist and happy ending.

Raphael Cartoons


Why it was that Queen Victoria loved these cartoons

There are seven large tapestries on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1865 which are part of the Royal Collection.

The Italian word for a large piece of paper for sketching is ‘cartone’ hence, these are large pieces of work in a special gallery designed to house them.

Raphael painted scenes from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles that were commissioned by the Pope for the Sistine Chapel and they rival the ceiling as the most famous work from the Renaissance.

Michelangelo and Raphael never got along and both knew these so called cartoons would be seen in the Vatican as well, so Raphael perfected his designs which  are his largest and most complicated.

Tapestries did manage to retain their Gothic prestige during the Renaissance, thus Nicolas Poussin was to borrow and exaggerate the style of Raphael’s cartoons quite heavily, however the Pre-Raphaelites wanted to reject the influence of Raphael and in particular his cartoons!

King Charles I paid £300 for the cartoons and they were subsequently withheld from sale by Oliver Cromwell after Charles’ execution; there are three others in the set the fate of which is unknown.

In 1763 they were moved from Hampton Court (where the public could visit and see them) to Buckingham Palace where they couldn’t.

They went back to Hampton Court until Queen Victoria inherited them and loaned them to the V & A where they still can be seen today in all their glory, though one is in the Royal Academy.

Micawber Uriah Heep David Copperfield Charles Dickens Yarmouth Salem House


David Copperfield. The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (which he never meant to publish on any account).
This story is a journey through life of a boy growing up the hard way who was born at Blunderstone Rookery.
David’s father dies before he is born and his mother marries Mr Murdstone when David is in Yarmouth. When receiving a beating from Murdstone David Copperfield bites him and is sent away to boarding school as punishment.
Salem House is a horrible place like Dotheboys’ in Nicholas Nickleby.
Edward Murdstone is David Copperfield’s cruel stepfather who beats him for falling behind in his studies. It is thought he kills Clara and her baby, hence the name ‘Murd’ and he is a cold person reflected in the ‘stone’ part of his memorable name, so typical of Charles Dickens. He was only interested in the inheritance and marries for this reason alone.
Clara Copperfield, David’s mother, and her new born baby, both die so David returns home from boarding school immediately. Murdstone sends him to work in the factory and Micawber, the factory owner goes bankrupt, then to debtors prison, reflecting events from Charles Dickens own childhood.
David runs away so to speak and walks all the way to Dover from London, where his aunty lives – Miss Betsey – who renames him Trotwood Copperfield.
Little Emily Gummidge and the Micawbers go to Australia. They are very happy where Micawber becomes a successful sheep farmer and then a magistrate.
Miss Betsey sends David to school in Canterbury where he meets Uriah Heep. Uriah is “umble” ugly, repulsive and like many of Dickens villains, motivated by greed. He goes to jail for stealing money from the business and is sent to a penal colony it is implied, probably transported to Australia for life.
David goes to work for the Doctors Commons which is where lawyers practice civil law, though he cannot afford to continue in law and learns shorthand instead. He becomes a parliamentary reporter and writes articles as a journalist getting his stories published locally.
David marries Spenlow who miscarries then dies. Then he marries Agnes and has many children. David is optimistic and diligent in spite of all his tragedy.
David Copperfield is written in the first person, which means it tells the story from this boy’s point of view. He narrates the novel, basically instead of saying “you did this” or “you did that”, or “he did this” and “they did that”, Charles Dickens uses, “I did this” or “we did that”.
This is the most autobiographical of all his novels and the story of Charles Dicken’s favourite child. Dickens had ten children with wife Catherine Thompson Hogarth and David Copperfield was his favourite piece of work.

Samson Slaying Two Philistines


 Foggini, Vincenzo (1749). Carved marble. Victorian & Albert

What it is about marble sculpture in museums 

From the Old Testament here is Samson slaying two Philistines and it was bought from the artist by Lord Malton in 1749 for Wentworth House in Yorkshire, where it remained until 1985. The huge block of marble was probably intended for Giambologna whose version of Samson had left the country.

Paul Dombey Charles Dickens Edith Granger Florence Walter Barbado


Dealings with the firm Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation, is the full title of this novel, written in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1848.

Paul Dombey owns a shipping company and dreams of having a son to continue the family business. His wife dies during childbirth and his son and namesake Paul then dies young at the age of 6. Both events devastate poor Mr Dombey and this is reflected in his unpleasant references to train journeys.

Having all kinds of family problems and then a failing business Dombey employs a wet nurse called Mrs Richards who has children of her own. The nurse is hired to care for Paul Dombey’s daughter Florence and son Paul because he has lost his wife.

Mrs Richards loses Florence when caring for her and she gets kidnapped by Good Mrs Brown who eventually returns her.

Walter, who works for Dombey’s shipping company is sent out to Barbados on business, though the boat is lost and he is presumed drowned. However Walter was saved by a passing ship when floating on some wreckage with two other sailors

After a visit to Leamington Spa, Dombey returns to London and marries a second time. He ties the knot with Edith Granger, though this is short lived as his wife leaves him for Mr Carker and they run away to Dijon in France together. For this Dombey blames his daughter, even though Edith stayed far longer with Dombey because of Florence. He hits Florence and she runs away to the Midshipman.

Having survived and back safely, Walter marries Florence when he returns home from the high seas. She was all alone having been rejected by her father for not being a boy and siding with her new step mother.

Walter and Florence sail to China on Walters new ship while Dombey and Son goes bankrupt. Paul loses everything and sits around depressed, now with regret, worrying about where his daughter is. Then all of a sudden Florence returns with her own son called Paul and the family is lovingly reunited.

Charles Dickens gained world wide recognition after this novel was published, massively out selling his great rival, William Makepeace Thackeray with the serialisation.

Destruction is reflected with railways as Charles Dickens was in a train crash himself and always has a morbid view of trains. For example, industrialisation destroying parts of London and degrading people with slave labour is reflected in Dombey and Son by the new railway built through lovely Camden Town. It is thought to represent the London and Birmingham Railway built in the years leading up to the novel.