Goodbye, Daylight Savings! Hello, daylight, my old friend!

It is so much lighter in the mornings. And, so much darker at night!

At last, Australia has followed the world in changing its clocks.  The USA sprung forward with panache on the second Sunday of March.  Europe followed sedately as befits the old continent on the last Sunday of March.  Australia clutched the last vestiges of summertime until last Sunday, the first in April.  It’s harder when you are falling back into Autumn.

Well, I say Australia but, in fact, not all of Australia moves to daylight-savings or summer time.  Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland keep their clocks where they are.  The result of that is that in the summer there are 5 time zones across the continent.

  • NSW, Tasmania and Victoria – 11 hours ahead of GMT
  • South Australia – 10½ hours ahead of GMT
  • Queensland – 10 hours ahead of GMT
  • Northern Territory  – 9½ hours ahead of GMT
  • Western Australia – 8 hours ahead of GMT

Whereas now there are only three:

  • NSW, Queensland Tasmania and Victoria – 10 hours ahead of GMT
  • Northern Territory and South Australia – 9½ hours ahead of GMT
  • Western Australia – 8 hours ahead of GMT

To return to my original point, it is lighter in the morning again.  It was getting light here in Sydney about 7.15 and now, as you’d expect, we’ve got another hour’s daylight.  I love that.  Yes, I know the darkness will creep up on us again as the days pass but for now I relish the light and the early dawn.

Hello, daylight, my old friend!

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel and “The Sounds of Silence” – “Hello, darkness, my old friend.”  See them sing it in New York in 2009, courtesy of YouTube.


Equinox – again!

I am recognising the equinox again today.  It falls at 5.15 am Universal Time.  Since summer time hasn’t started yet in the UK, that is 5.15 am in the UK, 6.15 am in Spain and 4.15 pm here in Sydney.

Back in September 2012, as the Southern Hemisphere enjoyed its vernal equinox, I blogged about the equinox event and the difference between it and when we experience 12 hours of daylight.  You can read about that here, if you wish.

Today, I note that London has already passed the moment when the daylight is only 12 hours.  On 17 March, the sun rose at 6.10 am and set at 6.09 pm, just under twelve hours.  On 18 March, the sun was with you for 12 hours 2 minutes and 45 seconds, from 6.08 am to 6.10 pm.  With the recent weather, that might not have been very obvious!  But, don’t fret, summer and the long days of light are coming back.

In Sydney, 24 March, next Sunday, is equal day and night.  The sun will rise at 7.01 am and set at 7.01 pm.  Winter is on its way.

Hello, Autumn!

Yes, today is the first day of Autumn – and it looks like Autumn in London.  North Sydney is fading into the mist.  It’s rainy and windy.

It’s funny how entrenched are the ideas with which you grow up.  It’s the first day of March – St David’s Day – a day for daffodils and crocuses and the whiff of Spring in the air.  Even though this is my second Autumn here in Australia, I still find my instincts expect the days to be getting lighter, not darker; and I’m looking forward to Summer.

Anyway, that is my problem. Maybe I should quote Keats:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

I always did enjoy that poem.

Find the rest here.

Happy Autumn, everyone!

Fire! Fire!

Extreme heat has brought fire danger – and fire reality – to Australia.  It is a fact of life for Australians.  It is a source of unease for me.

This blog is an attempt to capture my personal reaction to bush fires.  Let me admit from the start that this is not a daily danger for me personally.  I live by the waters of Sydney Harbour, away from any bush land or reserve, in the centre of the built-up area.

We arrived in Sydney on the first day of Autumn 2012.  From the moment we moved into our current apartment, fire was a presence on my consciousness.  This is because the authorities undertake controlled burns during winter to help reduce the fuel that a natural fire might find in forested areas when the summer heat returns. The smoke from those fires was visible from the apartment.  I also saw it from various planes as I flew between Sydney and other cities for work.

If there should be natural fires around the fringes of Sydney, I would be able to see them from the city centre too.  In 2001/2, fires started around Sydney on Christmas Day 2001 and burned for three weeks before rain helped to dampen them down.  That sent palls of smoke over the city, creating a public health emergency.  However, that was widely reported – and designated “black Christmas” because the severity was so great.  It doesn’t happen every year.

I had vaguely thought the threat might not be that high this year.  This is because of several things.  Firstly, since we arrived we have been told constantly and by everyone how bad the weather was last summer and how much rain Sydneysiders put up with.  Secondly, there were documentaries about the greening of the Outback, in particular, how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, in South Australia, had filled with water, enjoying its periodic “big wet”.  Thirdly, there were travel stories in the papers about visiting Western New South Wales to see the outback blossoming in the unaccustomed wet.  Fourthly, it has been quite wet while we’ve been here.

However, I was wrong. One explanation is that this is a big country and some of the outbreaks of fire have been in different places.  Another is that Australia has been in a drought status for ten years.  Therefore, it will take more than a few months of slightly higher than average rainfall to reverse that.  There has been rain but it is surface wet, good enough for agriculture, as long as the rain keeps coming, but not enough to saturate the land.

And, then, there is the heat!  I’ve written elsewhere about the heat.  Experiencing it for one day helped me understand how fire can break out and spread so rapidly.  When the temperature is in the upper thirties centigrade and the humidity is twenty percent or less, the air sucks the moisture out of you.  When it is accompanied by a stiff breeze or stronger, it just breathes fire as it goes.

What I find amazing is how people live with the constant companion of fire.  How do you plan a life, buy and enhance property, establish businesses and livelihoods?  How do you live with the anxiety of it all being taken away?

Australians I’ve mentioned this to really do just seem to accept it as part of life.  But I’m not there yet.  I keep thinking about the properties we saw recently – around Orange or the homes in the Royal and Heathcote National Parks south of Sydney.

As is often the case, it all comes closer to home when you have a personal connection, however tenuous.  Having visited The Dome at Parkes recently, I was researching other places to go with an astronomy connection.  One was the Siding Spring Observatory, operated by the Australian National University, housing several telescopes, including UK telescopes.  That has been badly damaged by one of this recent spate of fires.  They are slowly building up a view of the damage to the facilities, and more importantly, the equipment.  But it means that this destination I was looking at may not exist for practical purposes over the next year or so.

Information and news about the fire and its damage is available here from the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the government-funded organisation that operates the telescopes, and from ANU itself here.  These two links were active on 17 January 2013 but may change as the immediate emergency passes.

So, fire.  It is a fact of Australian life.  I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet.  Probably a good reason for me to choose to live in the centre of the city!

In the meantime, one of the cold calls that seem to plague us on our home phone here, was from the NSW Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA).  They are organising a raffle to raise funds for the equipment that the fire service needs.  Find out more here.

Repeat after me: 2013, it’s 2013, it’s 2013 …

It struck me as funny that I found it so hard to write 2013 at the end of the date.  Why is that? I don’t normally have a problem with the date, with the season, with my location. But, when the year changes, it catches me out for weeks.

All the self-help gurus and self development books talk about forming new habits.  They give different estimates as to how long this takes: 66 days, 21 days – yes, they are quite precise for estimates.

So, it seems to me that writing the date correctly is just a habit.  I don’t have a real sense of being or existing in 2013 as opposed to 2012. You wouldn’t write “London” when in Sydney, would you?  Well, you might if you were on a whistle-stop tour and all hotel rooms looked the same.

I suppose that just reinforces the idea that 2013 looks the same as 2012 when you are living it.  It is an artificial difference, not a real one.

Not that this prevents us from spending money and time celebrating the change from one to the other!  And, no harm there.  The fireworks were fun.  🙂

Meanwhile, I like the suggestion for a resolution for 2013.


(I can’t help hearing the title of the UK arts programme in my head when I see that word. It’s a great percussive word.) But I’m really here to talk about the solar event, not the TV programme. The September “Equinox” occurs today but it isn’t equal day and night! Bang goes another of my certainties!

On 22 September at 14:49 UTC, the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from north to south. This is the definition of the Equinox, not – as its Latin name implies – that we have equal night.

The sun does this North-South crossing on 22, 23 or 24 September every year. On any other day of the year, the Earth’s axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the two equinoxes, the Earth’s axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun, but is perpendicular.

So everywhere around the world, the equinox happens at one moment: 14:49 UTC. (UTC or Coordinated Universal Time is the basis for civil time in many places worldwide. Also known as Zulu Time, it is much the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) although it is more precise.)

That is going to be nearly ten to one in the morning of 23 September in Sydney; 15:49 in London and 16:49 in Malaga.

Yet again I am confronted by the fact that something I thought was so obvious – that the Equinox was all about the same period of day and of night – is actually NOT TRUE. There’s probably a broader message there – about it’s always worth questioning and searching for answers.

In answer to the other question: the equal day-and-night days are different depending where you are. I was in Perth, Western Australia, on Wednesday 19 September and that was the closest to the 12 hours between sunrise at 6:10 and sunset at 18:11 (05:49 to 17:49 in Sydney).

In Europe you have 3 more days to wait. Your equal day-and-night day is Tuesday 25 September. In London sunrise is at 06:52 and sunset at 18:51; in Malaga it’s from 08:09 to 20:08

courtesy of

Another thing that surprises me is that the times can be so different I guess, if you take them at non-daylight-saving-adjusted they are closer – London would be 05:52 to 17:51. I hadn’t really thought about Malaga being so late-shifted. I thought time differences took care of that but I guess Malaga is strictly speaking in a different timezone or something – national boundaries trumping natural ones.

So that is my astronomical learning from this Equinox. And I’m looking forward to the Southern hemisphere summer.

First days of Spring…and I’m not there

This is not the way I imagined it – Spring is springing in Australia and I’m in the Northern hemisphere…

I arrived in Australia on 28 February. Almost immediately it was Autumn and the long fall into Winter had begun. Of course, the Winter in Sydney is not quite the Winter in London. No long dark nights. No snow. No insidious damp cold edging into my bones. And, the Summer we missed in London wasn’t one to write home about – and yet I did miss it. I missed the long, light nights and the pure delight of those occasional glorious days.

Now the Summer is fading even in Southern Spain. I’m sure thoughts in London are turning to the hope of an Indian Summer but meanwhile it is all back-to-school and cabinet reshuffles and new drama seasons, as the rhythm of life picks up again.

It may be because I’m in Europe, albeit on holiday with my mother, but I can feel that same rhythm strongly. I wonder how long that takes to fade, or to be replaced by the rhythms of the Southern seasons of work?

It won’t be long before I’m attempting to pick up their trace through the fog of jet lag – due back in Sydney on Sunday morning – so we’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, happy new season, world!