e-Matters July 20th 2020

Amongst our membership lies great experience, wisdom, and insight, so rather than stay silent (not a modus to which the Development & Alumni Relations Office subscribes!) we thought we should bring you some thoughts and reflections from our own broad community. These pieces are also featured in our regular e-Matters newsletter. If you would like to sign up to receive e-Matters please contact development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk


Dear Members and Friends,
We know that alumni have concerns about the continuing dispute at Christ Church. With the support of the Charity Commission, we are currently engaging in mediation, and we ask for your patience while this process is underway. The Charity Commission has asked that no further public statements be made, beyond the initial announcement on the Christ Church website welcoming the intervention. 
As you may recall from e-Matters last month, we have engaged Challenge Consultancy to facilitate a Christ Church-wide listening exercise on questions related to race and equality. The sessions will begin soon and will continue throughout the Summer so that all students and staff (academic and non-academic) can be involved. They are designed to help us reflect on how we talk about race and to consider the positive steps that we can take to address racial equality, inclusion, and diversity at the House. We will report back to alumni about the outcome of this initiative, which will include a review of our training provision and the development of a long-term action plan.

Archive News from the House: 20th July 2020

Financial Update from the Treasurer

James Lawrie, Treasurer of Christ Church, describes some of the House's responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and explains the financial challenges which the pandemic poses for the House and its corresponding mitigating measures:

"As you will be aware from Christ Church e-Matters and our other communications, the House responded with alacrity to the pandemic. Students were advised to go home by the end of 9th Week in Hilary Term and staff began to work from home on 23 March. Christ Church has been eerily quiet during lockdown with about 30 students living in the curtilage, mainly graduates and students unable to go home for a variety of reasons, as well as other residents in canonries and so on. The Welfare Team has been actively supporting students on site and at a distance. The Cathedral closed on 17 March, but a limited number of services have now resumed on strict social distancing principles. A number of services have also taken place on Microsoft Teams with significant virtual congregations. Both the Cathedral Choir and the all-girl Frideswide’s Voices have been rehearsing virtually, whilst the Cathedral School taught Trinity Term online with all classes live.

Our primary focus has been on our students, pupils and staff. Trinity Term saw all teaching, lectures, seminars or tutorials and vital revision classes conducted virtually. Whilst there have been the inevitable teething problems, tutors and students alike report that they have been successful and effective. Junior members have been hugely appreciative of the efforts made across both college and University, and senior members are thankful for the robust technology that today allows them to sustain contact in the pandemic in a way that would not have been possible even a decade ago. Sadly the Commem Ball has had to be postponed by a year, but we fervently hope that there can be a celebration at the House for this year’s leavers once lockdown is lifted sufficiently. We are acutely aware that for most undergraduates their university career culminates, both intellectually and socially, in the last few months of their final year. We are deeply sorry for our 2020 graduates that this has all had to take place at a distance."

To read the full Financial Update, please download the file at the top of this page.


Dr Cristina Neagu: Another Lydgate Manuscript Digitised at Christ Church Library
Detail of a manuscript by John Lydgate

After making available John Lydgate's Poems (MS 152), the imaging team at Christ Church has brought to light another manuscript by the same author. Lydgate's Troy Book (MS 153) is one of the many attempts in medieval vernacular poetry to recount the story of the Trojan war. The poem is a verse narrative minutely faithful to its source, Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae, a late thirteenth-century Latin prose work.
Manuscript 153  has now been fully digitised. To see it, please go to Christ Church Digital Library-Western Manuscripts.
For more details on the topic, please click here. 
Dr Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections


Dr. Carissa Véliz (2014): ‘Privacy is Power’

Dr Carissa VélizAs surveillance creeps into every corner of our lives, Carissa Véliz exposes how our personal data is giving too much power to big tech and governments, why that matters, and what we can do about it.

Have you ever been denied insurance, a loan, or a job? Have you had your credit card number stolen? Do you have to wait too long when you call customer service? Have you paid more for a product than one of your friends? Have you been harassed online? Have you noticed politics becoming more divisive in your country? You might have the data economy to thank for all that and more.

The moment you check your phone in the morning you are giving away your data. Before you’ve even switched off your alarm, a whole host of organisations have been alerted to when you woke up, where you slept, and with whom. Our phones, our TVs, even our washing machines are spies in our own homes.

Cover of Privacy is Power by Dr Carissa VélizWithout your permission, or even your awareness, tech companies are harvesting your location, your likes, your habits, your relationships, your fears, your medical issues, and sharing it amongst themselves, as well as with governments and a multitude of data vultures. They're not just selling your data. They’re selling the power to influence you and decide for you. Even when you’ve explicitly asked them not to. And it's not just you. It's all your contacts too, all your fellow citizens. Privacy is as collective as it is personal.

Digital technology is stealing our personal data and with it our power to make free choices. To reclaim that power, and our democracy, we must take back control of our personal data. Surveillance is undermining equality. We are being treated differently on the basis of our data.

What can we do? The stakes are high. We need to understand the power of data better. We need to start protecting our privacy. And we need regulation. We need to pressure our representatives. It is time to pull the plug on the surveillance economy.

Insightful, terrifying, practical: Privacy is Power highlights the implications of our laid-back attitude to data and sets out how we can take back control.

‘Privacy is Power’ can be pre-ordered here. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Carissa Véliz’s research, please visit her personal site.


Oxford’s Patron Saint Wins International Publishing Award

Illumination Awards Gold MedalWe are pleased to announce that ‘The Princess who Hid in a Tree’ has won the Gold medal for the Children’s Picture Book category in the 2020 Illumination Awards which aim to shine ‘a light on exemplary Christian publishing’.

Written by our Cathedral Education Officer, Jackie Holderness, with watercolour illustrations by the artist Alan Marks, the book is aimed at 5-10 year olds.

Published by the Bodleian Library, the book tells the story of St Frideswide. ISBN: 9781851245185

If you would like to purchase this book, please click here.




Dr Robin Thompson: COVID-19 Research

Portrait of Dr Robin ThompsonDr Robin Thompson has been continuing his research on mathematical modelling of COVID-19.

He will be giving a university public talk about infectious disease outbreak modelling, and how modelling can be useful at different stages of an outbreak, at 1.15pm on Wednesday 29th July.

This talk will be followed by a Q&A.







Emily's Wine Blog

Buttery and Wine Cellar Manager, Emily Robotham, shares with us some tips about buying wine in restaurants as they open up after lockdown:
Restaurant Wine Lists

Buttery Manager Emily RobothamPubs and restaurants are back open up and down the country, but a lot of us are still reluctant to go out and enjoying dining experiences in the way we used to. The Chancellor’s VAT cuts and ‘Eat out to help out’ schemes deliberately exclude wines, beers and spirits: alcohol will be as expensive as ever. So what’s a wine lover to do? I had a few thoughts:

  1. Hack the wine menu: get the most unpronounceable item on the menu. Restaurants know people buy what they’re most comfortable with. If they’re passionate to put e.g. a Borgeuil or a dry Hárslevelű on the list, it’s a wine the sommelier likes enough to take a risk on, probably has a relatively lower margin and you’re in for a treat.
  2. Alternatively, just buy the cheapest thing on the list. In 2016 this was the advice of Jay Rayner, The Observer’s restaurant critic, as a protest against high restaurant mark-ups on wine. As the rest of the menu gets a lot cheaper, the price of wine is going to feel like it stands out. Price does not directly correlate with quality of wine; however, be aware that cheaper doesn't always mean better value for money.
  3. Try something new instead: for instance, craft cider has been gaining momentum and a lot of restaurants feature something local. Like wine, a good cider pairing will balance acidity and tannins against the composition of the food.
  4. Go maverick. The VAT cut does cover non-alcoholic drinks, and there is now a huge range of alcohol-free beers, spirits and shrubs (like a liqueur without the liquor). For a full review of what’s out there, check out the Club Soda Guide https://www.clubsodaguide.com/.


News from Alumni

Howard GoodallHoward Goodall (1976): Never to Forget

I have asked myself many times during the pandemic and its associated lockdown what it is we composers offer the communities we serve that can be useful at a time of social trauma and distress. I even wrote an article about it (https://bylinetimes.com/2020/04/15/hymns-to-the-silence-music-and-solace-in-a-time-of-crisis/).

Musicians as a whole have been extraordinarily proactive in responding to people’s isolation (and boredom?) with virtual choirs, bands, tutorial resources, free performances, intimate streamed sessions from home, and much else besides, on the internet. Singers and players have been not twiddling their thumbs in the most imaginative and resourceful ways. For a composer the task is a more reflective, internal one. What can we do that adds to the huge sum of music already out there?

One answer to this is music’s relationship with memory. Hearing, unexpectedly, a song from one’s youth randomly playing on a nearby radio can instantly, magically return one to a place, a moment, a feeling, a person, an atmosphere, as if the distance between now and then simply falls away. Even things we thought we had forgotten miraculously reappear, clear as day, as a fragment of familiar, distant melody punctures our current hurly-burly. There’s a neurological reason for this, since the bit of our brain that handles memory and the bit that decodes music are nestled alongside each other.

The way music transports us backwards in time is different from, say, painting or photography. When we see a faded photograph of ourselves on a beach, aged 7, of course it summons the moment: but the photo is always that day - captured, frozen, locked down forever, back then. When we hear a song that was what we danced to, aged 13, when we had our first kiss, the song is replayed, now, in real time, all over again. Yes, it’s a recording, suspended in vinyl, or laser imprint, but the song is performed again, as if live, in forward motion. What’s more, if the music is played by a living musician to us, in the room, it is reborn again from scratch, as new. It doesn’t matter if the music was first written in 1710, 1810, 1910 or 2010. It is happening in our real-time present, vividly alive, and we are experiencing those feelings - and newer ones, overlaid - all at once. Music can evoke and preserve remembrance like no other form. Dido’s lament, from Henry Purcell’s 1688 opera Dido and Aeneas, soars to its tragic climax with the words, ‘Remember me, remember me, but ah, forget my fate..’ and because it is set to music of heart-breaking beauty, she is indeed remembered, as requested, 332 years later, and counting.

So when Simon Halsey, conductor of the London Symphony Chorus, wrote to me asking if there was something I could write for his exceptional choir that might provide them with a vocal response to the crisis, I asked if the LSC would consider a piece the aim of which would be to memorialise the health workers who had lost their lives whilst saving those of others, during the pandemic. We would create an online, virtual version, for now, and then the work would expand to include, by this time next year, for instance, the names of all the health & care workers who had died in the Covid-19 pandemic. I described it to Simon and the chorus’ council as an organic, living memorial version of the Menin Gate or the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme, where the names of thousands of fallen soldiers of the 1914-18 war are etched into their stone walls. Yet unlike a stone memorial, whose striking solemnity is unchanging, the choral work I have composed, Never to Forget, is designed to live on in performance after performance, an act of remembrance that looks backwards with respect, love and gratitude but that flows onwards, always evolving, in real time, in the present tense, indefinitely.

The names of those that have died are sung one after another, separately. The rhythmic shape of the melody line is entirely dictated by those names. No other text is added or super-imposed upon the list. We researched as conscientiously as we could correct pronunciations, without disturbing the families concerned at a time of deep private grief. We, as makers of music, offer to the friends, colleagues and families of the deceased something, we hope, from our hearts to theirs, and next year, in a concert hall, to all those mourning health workers who have died since April. I can think of no commission I have undertaken that had a more poignant, worthwhile reason to exist, to be added to the great sum of music already written, than Never to Forget, which will forever belong to the people whose sacrifice it honours.

To listen to Never to Forget, please click here.


Dr. Eugene Birman (2012): Composing 'Russia: Today' during COVID-19

Dr Eugene BirmanIt’s almost inconceivable that just earlier this year, on the last week of January, at the tail end of Chinese New Year, I was a few days away from a brief hiking trip to mainland China’s Hunan province. I had just started writing the first movement of Russia: Today, a large-scale work exploring propaganda from and about Russia and I was going to bring some music paper with me to stay on (a very improbable) schedule of finishing everything by end of March. It was one of three big projects to complete this year, almost three hours of music, and I thought I’d never manage; I just had to, though. Just a week before my flight, news of yet another strange disease started filtering into Hong Kong press, and a few days later, China advised against all leisure travel into the country. I remember calling the airline to ask whether I could change everything to a month later when surely things would be normal again (I desperately needed the distraction from the writing process) and as the telephone agent spoke about as much English as I speak Chinese, I just cancelled the trip.
Two weeks later, I was on my way to Stuttgart for a new project with the Staatsoper; fear had gripped Hong Kong and it was an indescribable relief to see someone on the airport train coughing and not covering her mouth, as if the world was still normal. The show went on, it was one of my most rewarding artistic experiences, and I returned to Hong Kong as if nothing was really going on; just the flights, there and back, were totally empty.
I keep saying “normal” because normalcy is all we know in the arts world - the reliable foundation on which all groundbreaking, extreme work is possible. Ultimately, we will all see it again, it just won’t be necessarily in our control. I managed to write my three hours of music all by mid-June, a product of a calendar that suddenly (and in hindsight, mercifully) became empty. I’m soon heading back to Europe to develop the Stuttgart project, this time in Ghent, Belgium, and September 30th should hopefully see the premiere of a large-scale work on the environment and air quality in Hong Kong. As artists, we can wait for things to become familiar, normal again, or we can insist they do. We must insist!


Parallel Histories: An Educational Charity Advocating a New Way of Studying the History of Conflict

Two Christ Church historians, Michael Davies (1977) and Joshua Hillis (2015), have come together to change the way history is taught schools, although from very different generations.

Joshua Hills (top) and Michael Davies (bottom)I matriculated in 1977 and Joshua Hillis, our deputy editor in 2015. What Joshua and I share is a sense that the study of history is not only a worthwhile pursuit in its own right, but also, it can play a significant role in equipping our young people to become fully functioning citizens in a healthy pluralistic democracy. We like to think that this is something we learned from our tutors at the House, although in my case memories of those distant tutorials are rather hazy.

We are working to change the way that the history of conflict is studied in schools, and we are responding to the problem that controversial topics like the history of Israel and Palestine have almost disappeared from the classroom. To us that’s both a problem – the controversy will continue to rage online unmediated by a teacher, and an opportunity – students love history which is edgy and difficult.

Teachers naturally shy away from controversy – no one wants to lay themselves open to accusations of bias, so we have developed a new teaching approach, new materials and lesson plans that give teachers the support they need to bring controversial topics back into the history classroom which is where they belong.

What’s different about the Parallel Histories approach is that we tell both narratives of a contested history, set them out side by side, and then challenge the students to make up their own minds through the critical evaluation of evidence. It makes the process of learning more like being a real historian - recreating the freshness and excitement of discovering things for yourself and developing your own ideas. Each week there’s a debate in which every student has to take part, not just the confident ones, and this part of the methodology has had a big impact in some of the more deprived schools in which we work, where English may be a second language, or where there may be no tradition of discussion in the family.

I feel a bit uncomfortable about saying this, but Covid has been helpful – all our materials are designed to use online - the interactive videos are mobile friendly, and as a result lots of new schools have now adopted our programme.  We’ve also been running online history debates involving as many as seven schools at a time, and not just from the UK but also Ireland, France and Turkey so at times it’s been hard to keep up. If there are any House members out there who’d like to get involved please give us a shout at michael@parallelhistories.org.uk  or joshua@parallelhistories.org.uk

To find out more, please visit https://www.parallelhistories.org.uk/.


Other News

800th Anniversary of Thomas Becket celebrated in Oxford Church

Fr Christopher Woods, Vicar of St Barnabas Jericho and St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, writes about the recent celebrations at St Thomas the Martyr, marking the 800th Anniversary of the translation of Thomas Becket.

Detail of a stained glass window depicting the murder of Thomas BecketOn 7 July 1220, the monks of Canterbury Cathedral opened the tomb of Thomas Becket and moved or ‘translated’ his relics into a grander shrine. Becket had been canonized in 1173, less than three years after his murder in the cathedral on 29 December 1170, after a popular belief in the healing power of his blood had increased. And so the cult of St Thomas of Canterbury spread throughout the country and several places of Christian prayer became focuses of veneration to his sanctity.

Oxford religion was itself soon keen to adopt the cult of Thomas Becket. The whirl of excitement from political shock and the power of pilgrimage influenced the creation of St Thomas the Martyr parish in around 1190: the church initially serving as a chapel for parishioners of the Castle Quarter under the authority of Osney Abbey. In the fraught and intense trade of relics in the middle ages, it goes without saying that there would have been a holy relic of Becket in Oxford as St Thomas’s Church was consecrated, but the Reformation will likely have destroyed or damaged any trace of it.

Fast forward 850 years since Becket’s death, and 800 years since the translation of his relics and what was due to be a significant national celebration of the anniversaries has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Canterbury Cathedral, ‘Becket 2020’ was to include the public display of a prized relic normally kept in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome: Becket’s tunicle, which it is believed he was wearing when murdered.  In St Thomas the Martyr Church in Oxford, we had been planning an anniversary Mass over the weekend nearest to 7 July, as a way of reflecting on the important legacy of Thomas Becket for contemporary faith in this significant City of learning and religion. We assumed that we too would have to cancel this.

However, just as churches began to reopen in July 2020, we realized that we could, in fact, continue with an anniversary Mass, albeit much more low-key than planned, and with minimal congregation due to physical distancing. And so, on 7 July 2020, we celebrated the 800th anniversary Mass at lunchtime as the first public service in the Church to be celebrated since the lockdown began in March. The Bishop of Ebbsfleet preached “virtually” and the Mass was broadcast online. And in a gesture of honour to the former Archbishop of Canterbury, we received and venerated a relic of Becket himself, generously bequeathed to the parish from a recently departed Anglican priest, who had acquired it some years ago. Rather like the faithful and bemused pilgrims of the twelfth century, the pilgrims of contemporary Oxford glimpsed the healing power of God as public worship once again resumed and a small remnant of Becket himself was placed in the original sanctuary of the Church of St Thomas the Martyr. Whilst understated, quiet and far from public glare, the anniversary Mass felt like a homecoming.

St Thomas the Martyr, OxfordVisit the Church webpage to see a recording of the 800th Anniversary Mass as well as the recording of an evening seminar entitled ‘Thomas Becket in Oxford’, given by the R W Hunt Curator of Mediaeval Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries, Andrew Dunning.

1St Thomas the Martyr Church, founded in c1190 is a living of Christ Church and is now Chapel-of-ease of the recently created benefice (2015) of St Barnabas and St Paul with St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford.

2Ironically, Churches were closed for public worship across England in the early 1200s. But despite the Middle Ages being a time of epidemic, it wasn’t disease that prevented the cessation of the celebration of Mass or the burial of the dead, it was politics! A dispute between the Pope and King John over the appointment of Becket’s successor, Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury resulted in secret veneration of relics by people sneaking in through side and back doors of the nation’s local cultic shrines.



Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Great Historian

Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003) was Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford for over twenty years and one of the most gifted historians of the 20th century. Recently published, the new paperback edition of the books featured below celebrate the life and work of Trevor-Roper.

Cover, The Secret World by Hugh Trevor-RoperThe Secret World: Behind the Curtain of British Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War is Hugh Trevor-Roper's collected writings on the subject of intelligence - including the full text of The Philby Affair and some of his personal letters to leading figures (edited by E. D. Harrison). Including some previously unpublished material, this book is a sharp, revealing and personal first-hand account of the intelligence world in World War II and the Cold War.





Cover, The China Journals by Hugh Trevor-RoperThe China Journals: Ideology and Intrigue in the 1960s is a collection of private journals recording Hugh Trevor-Roper's visit to the People's Republic of China in the autumn of 1965, shortly before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. Made available here for the first time, these journals describe the controversial aftermath of his journey on his return to England. Through the book, which closes with an account of his visit to Taiwan and South-East Asia in 1967, there run the wisdom of historical perspective that he brought to contemporary events and his lifelong commitment to the defence of liberal values and practices against their ideological adversaries.




Cover, Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Historian by Blair WordenHugh Trevor-Roper: The Historian on the other hand is a collection of essays from a selection of world-renowned historians and writers, such as John Elliott, Richard Overy and John Banville, examining and analysing Trevor-Roper’s finest achievements as an historian. Covering the full range of Trevor-Roper's interests, this book will interest anyone who wishes better to understand this great academic and his work.






Tim Cawkwell: 'Cricket on the Edge'

Cover of Cricket on the Edge by Tim Cawkwell (left), and photograph of the author, (right)Tim Cawkwell (1966) has written a new book: With England winning the Cricket World Cup in 2019, Tim’s book 'Cricket on the Edge', shows how England cricket teams draw on county performances in all formats, red ball and white ball. It also contains a fascinating account of the World Cup's twists and turns involving all 10 finalists, and sheds light on cricket's global ambition. If you would like to purchase this book, please click here.





Forty Years of Women logoWomen's 40th Online Celebration

A reminder of our online initiatives to celebrate 40 years of women at the House:


An Alumnae Book Club: 
Mrs Dalloway Book ClubThe Book Club is easy to join. The next Book Club will take place on Wednesday 12th August at 7:30pm, where we will discuss Zadie Smith's On Beauty

  • Please email your intention to read the book by the 7th August  to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk and  we will send you a Zoom link to join in the discussion.
  • Aileen Thomson will lead on Zadie Smith's On Beauty on Wednesday 12th August at 7.30pm for the Zoom chat.
  • You will need to have Zoom version 5 on your computer or phone.

If you would like to suggest a book and lead that discussion, please also email the office.





Alumnae Poetry Competition: 
We are currently running an Alumnae Poetry Competition. To enter please send your poems to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk 

Lodge Manager Mandy Roche modelling a 40th anniversary silk scarfGuidelines: 

  • The competition is open to all members of the House who identify as women. 
  • Entries must not be longer than 2 x sides of A4.
  • Entries must be received by the development and alumni office by 12 noon on the 24th July; marking 495 years since Cardinal Wolsey began building on the site of St Frideswide’s.
  • The judges’ decisions will be made public at the September event, and a pamphlet of the best poems will be produced for the event.
  • There will be a first prize of a two night stay for two in the best guest room in Christ Church, including full board and lodging.

40th Anniversary Silk Scarves
A reminder that our limited-edition 40th Anniversary silk scarf can be ordered through the new online shop. To visit the shop please click here. 



Poem for the Fortnight


By Annoushka Clear (2016)

Later I
Half-waking fingers
Reaching between
And I find
Nothing, nothing that
Half-waking, I knew
Was true
And I felt that gulf in the taxi
Bending and
Snaking my
Knowledge into
It hums, shivers atoms,
Towards parting
You gave me your hand,
Silent splay-fingered:
There were your knuckles
And splitting flat yellow
Under your window without a sill
Our inescapable outlines
Now strike me in relief.


A selection of alumni poetry is available on our website.

All members of the House are welcome to submit poetry. If you would like your poetry considered for feedback from the judges of our poetry competition, then please send your poems to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk A poem will be selected every fortnight from St Frideswide's Well and the poet will receive feedback via email. Poems will also be featured on our website.


Poetry Prompt

Poetry promptThe judges of our poetry competition are providing fortnightly poetry prompts to pique your thoughts. 
The House is eager to see the results. Please send poems for possible inclusion in e-Matters to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk.

This week's prompt:


Alumni Photography

We encourage all alumni and friends to submit photographs to us inspired by the poems featured on our Alumni Poetry Page. Poems and photographs will be collected together in the coming months and will eventually form an online exhibition celebrating alumni creative work. 

To submit your photograph please: 


Stargazing with Professor Roger Davies

Comet Neowise captured from Hengistbury Head. Picture by Jim Maclannan.Comet Neowise is now a beautiful sight just above the north-western horizon and is expected to be visible throughout July and perhaps into August. It is possibly the most dramatic comet since Hale-Bopp in 1997. The comet was discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey (thus the name) in March. It will come closest to the Earth on July 23 when it will be 64 million miles away.

This comet has come in from the outer reaches of the Solar System. Its nucleus, which is about 5km across, is made from dark organic materials that astronomers call `dust’ held together by frozen water and carbon dioxide with perhaps some ammonia, carbon monoxide and methane. It may have a small rocky core. As the comet approaches the Sun it heats up and the ices melt releasing the material that forms the tail which reflects the Sun’s light. Comet tails always point away from the Sun.

To see comet Neowise you need a clear view of the north-western horizon. It is visible with the naked eye, and with binoculars it’s quite spectacular.

Through July the comet will move west in the sky reaching Ursa Major by the end of the month. This diagram is from the Royal Astronomical SocietyThe diagram shows how NEOWISE moves through across the sky in July. As the month proceeds the Sun sets earlier, the sky gets dark earlier, and it will be possible to see Neowise earlier in the evening. It is easiest to see when there is no Moon. New Moon is July 20th and 19th August so the few days around then are likely to give the best view. Let me know if you see it!

The summer months bring into view one of the great signposts of the sky: the summer triangle. Three bright stars: Vega in the small constellation of Lyra (the Lyre), Altair in Aquila, the Eagle, and Deneb in Cygnus, the Swan, form a grand triangle more-or-less overhead at 01.00 in mid-July and 23.00 in mid-August. See the interactive star chart: https://in-the-sky.org/skymap2.php to find them.

the summer triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair are high in the sky in July and August. [Note this image come from https://www.adirondackskycenter.org/news-blogs/Astro-Quiz-40-Summer-TriangleVega is the brightest of the three stars (it is the fifth brightest star in the heavens) and just 25 light years from the Sun. It is the standard on which measurements of the brightness of stars are based, and as such it has been studied in great detail. In the 1980s data from the IRAS satellite showed that Vega emitted more light in the infrared part of the spectrum than was expected from an ordinary blue star. This intriguing discovery is attributed to a disk of asteroid-like debris orbiting around Vega, similar to the Kuiper belt, which is beyond Neptune, in our own Solar System. In the following decades many examples of debris disks surrounding stars have been discovered.

Altair is the next brightest star, about half as bright as Vega, and even closer, 17 light years away. Deneb appears half as bright again but it is much more distant - over 3500 light years away.  Although it appears to be faintest of the three stars it is intrinsically by far the most luminous radiating perhaps as much as 200,000 times as much light as the Sun. All three stars have a bluish hue and span the sky overhead spectacularly in the summer months.  

The Milky Way passes through the constellation of Cygnus. Now you’ve found Cygnus, on a dark night, and after a few minutes allowing your eyes to accommodate to the darkness, you will see the Milky Way crossing the sky through this constellation. Kepler, the NASA mission launched in 2009, stared in the direction of Cygnus for several years (see figure) monitoring the brightness of over 150,000 stars. It was looking for the characteristic dip in brightness caused when a planet passes directly across the line-of-sight between the telescope and a star, a so-called transit. This method of discovering planets proved to be extraordinarily successful, Kepler discovered over 2,500 and showed that `exo-planets’, are very common, in fact the norm for stars of all types. The study of exo-planets has opened up the prospect of analysing the composition of their atmospheres and in a few cases water has been discovered. The ultimate goal is to look for biomarkers in the atmospheres of other planets as indicators of biological activity. This is an enormous interdisciplinary effort involving biochemists, atmospheric scientists and biologists as well as astronomers. It will probably require new space missions and terrestrial telescopes to detect even the first hints of biological activity. Surely one of the central questions of twenty-first century science must be: is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

Two of the gas giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, move into `opposition’ this month on July 14th & 20th respectively – that means they are opposite the Sun in the sky, which is the best time to see them. They are both bright and close together in the constellation of Sagittarius, but are not very high in the sky. They rise in the south-east around 10pm but are best seen between mid-night and 1.00am when they will be due south. Even then they reach an elevation of only 17° so you’ll need a good southern horizon to see them.

New Moon is 20th July and 19th August so the few days around these dates are the best times to see the Milky Way but Jupiter and Saturn can be seen on any clear night in July and August.

August brings the Perseid Meteor shower peaking on 11th and 12th when perhaps we’ll be treated to one meteor per minute.  The meteors arise as the earth passes through debris left behind in the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862. The meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky. For the best view find a dark location and wait until after midnight – but the Perseids are sufficiently numerous and bright you can see them all night.  

Happy stargazing!


Next Varsity Match Day

The Varsity Match logoThe next Varsity Match day, one of the world’s longest running rugby fixtures, will now take place in March 2021.

It represents a pinnacle of amateur and student rugby where Cambridge & Oxford & Universities, represented by their Men's and Women's teams, compete for the title of Varsity holders at Twickenham Stadium.

The Varsity Match Organizers would like to know more about your perception of the Varsity Match day, whether you are a “first-timer” or a past attendee. This will help us to ensure that the day continues to be the leading amateur rugby event.

Click here to take the survey. At the end of this survey, you have the opportunity to enter a prize draw to win Amazon vouchers worth £50!

Please note that no data will be shared with third parties and the survey should take no longer than 5 minutes to complete.