Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Tomorrow (Friday 25 November) I am boarding a plane which will eventually get me to Brisbane (Australia), via Seoul. Yes, I’m aware that Brisbane is not New Zealand, but in Brisbane I am joining a cruise which is going around New Zealand. The cruise will last for 14 nights, and I will give about 6 talks during the two weeks.


The Princess Cruise leaves Brisbane on 27 November and returns on 11 December. I will be giving astronomy talks on the 14-night cruise.

This will be the 5th cruise which I’ve done with Princess, and the 6th in total. The last time I did a cruise in the southern hemisphere was in February, when I cruised from Buenos Aires to Santiago around Cape Horn. Unfortunately, during that 14-night cruise, we had only one clear night! I am hoping for better weather this time, as in addition to my talks I run star parties to show the guests what is visible in the night-time sky. 

Many of the guests will probably be from Europe or the United States, and so will be very keen to see the Southern Cross. I will also show them the Magellanic Clouds if weather permits. The New Moon is on the 29 November, so the first week of the cruise will be ideal to see the Magellanic Clouds if the skies are clear. After that, the brightening moon will render them all by invisible. So, fingers crossed we get some clear skies during the first week!

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On Saturday (11 June), Wales played New Zealand in the first test of their 3-test tour. Later the same morning, England played Australia in the first test of of their 3-test tour. Wales lost, England won. And therein lies the different trajectories the two teams seem to be on this last 6 months.

Wales were 18-15 up at half time, and even 21-18 ahead with 15 minutes to go. But, New Zealand overpowered Wales in the last 15 minutes, racking up 21 unanswered points in the last quarter of an hour. Wales were left thinking what could have been.


Wales were 21-18 up with 15 minutes to go, but were then overpowered by New Zealand, who won 39-21.

Later the same morning, England took on Australia in the first test of their 3-test tour. The match was in Brisbane, a place where England have never beaten Australia. Australia got off to the better start, quickly scoring two tries, but England stayed calm and won a pulsating match 39-28. It sets them up to be on course for their first ever series win in Australia, something their Australian coach Eddie Jones would relish.


England beat Australia to not only win the first test of their 3-test series, but it was also their first win ever in Brisbane.

The second tests are next Saturday (18 June). England could clinch the series, and Wales will try to narrow the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. But, to me, Saturday’s results just illustrate the different paths Wales and England have been on since that memorable game in the World Cup in October. Wales narrowly beat England in that match; partly by being fitter, partly by maybe wanting it more, and partly because of poor decision making by England in the last 15 minutes.

Since then, England have been transformed. Eddie Jones has been brought in as head coach, and they are now playing a style of rugby which is difficult to beat. They have won 7 from 7 under Jones, whereas Wales have gone backwards since their win over England in the World Cup. It was good to see Wales try to play some expansive rugby on Saturday, and maybe playing such rugby against almost anyone but New Zealand would have led to a victory. Two more tests, which i expect us to lose, at least gives the Welsh team and management a chance to play agains the best and to work on improving their game so that we can have a successful 6 Nations in 2017, and a successful Autumn test series in November.

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In the early hours of tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, I will be talking on BBC Radio 5 about the total solar eclipse which is happening in Asia. I am scheduled to be live on the radio at 01h35 GMT/UT; I will provide an update to this blog later on Wednesday with a link to the programme on iPlayer if you miss hearing it when broadcast.

This total solar eclipse is visible in Indonesia in its totality; and in large parts of China, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, North and South Korea, the Philippines and Australia as a partial eclipse. The figure below shows the path of totality, percentages of partiality and it also includes the times (in UT – universal time) of when the eclipse will happen in these different places.



The path of the March 9 2016 total solar eclipse (shown in blue). The green lines show the time (in UT – universal time) that the Moon’s shadow will pass different parts along the path of totality. The eclipse begins just west of Sumatra with totality starting at just after 00h16 (UT), and ends at just after 03h30 (UT) in the eastern part of the Pacific ocean, to the north of the Hawaiian islands.

There is also a wonderful interactive map which you can find by following this link. This allows you to click anywhere on the map to see what fraction the eclipse will be from your particular location in Asia/Australia or the Pacific, as well as the timings of the beginnings and ends of the partial (and total if you are lucky) eclipse. Below is a screen capture from that page. For the particular location I chose, it shows the start time (in UT) of the start of the partial eclipse, the start of the total eclipse, the time of the maximum eclipse, the end of the total eclipse and the end of the partial eclipse (even if you are in the path of totality there is a long period before and after the few minutes of totality where you will see a partial eclipse).


A screen capture from the NASA interactive eclipse page, which you can get to by following this link. I have brought up the information for somewhere in Sumatra, showing the information provided when you click on a particular location.


How common are solar eclipses?

A question I often get asked is “how common are solar eclipses”? There are typically two solar eclipses a year, but these are usually only partial. Total solar eclipses (or annular, where the Moon is too far away to block out the Sun entirely even though it moves across near the centre line of the Sun) are rarer, occurring about once every 18 months. But, the time between a total solar eclipse occurring in the same place on Earth is a lot longer, about 350 to 410 years apart. So, having a total solar eclipse happen near where you live is a very rare event indeed.

The map below shows all of the total and annular solar eclipses in the period 2001-2020. Total eclipses are shown in blue, annular eclipses in red, and hybrid eclipses (where it changes between total and annular) in dark pink. On each eclipse curve the mid-point, where the eclipse is at its longest, is also shown. You can easily see from this map that annular eclipses are about as common as total eclipses. The width of each curves changes as the distance between the Earth and the Moon and the Earth and the Sun changes, so some eclipses have a wider part of totality than others, and some also sweep along shorter paths than others.


A map showing the paths of total and annular eclipses between 2001 and 2020

As you can also see from this map, the big one coming up in the near future is the total eclipse which sweeps across the continental USA on August 21 next year (2017). This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for hundreds of millions of people to see a total solar eclipse for themselves. I will blog about the details of that eclipse nearer the time.

But for now, if you happen to live in south-east Asia, Australia or the Pacific, keep an eye out for this total eclipse happening tomorrow (Wednesday March 9 2016). And, if  you live anywhere else, you can watch it live on the internet.

Eclipses this decade (2011-2020)

Many of you may remember that Europe had an eclipse just last year (2015), on March 20th. It was partial for most of Europe, only visible as a total eclipse way up north in places like the Faroe islands. I blogged about that eclipse here, and in this blogpost I showed some of the photographs I had taken in Cardiff, where it reached 87% at maximum. The last total eclipse to sweep across the European continent was in August 1999, and this is the only total eclipse which I have seen so far.

I thought I would briefly summarise the eclipses which have happened or are happening this decade (2011-2020). I also show whether they are total, annular, hybrid or partial. If you want to find out the details of any of them (or any other eclipse in the past few thousands years or in the next few thousands years), then go to Fred Espenak’s webpage here (Fred works at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and maintains this amazing resource.)

Table of eclipses from 2011 to 2020
Year Date
2011 January 4 – partial June 1 – partial July 1 – partial November 25 – partial
2012 May 20 – annular November 13 – total
2013 May 10 – annular November 3 – hybrid (annular and total)
2014 April 29 – annular October 23 – partial
2015 March 20 – total September 13 – partial
2016 March 9 – total September 1 – annular
2017 February 26 – annular August 21 – total
2018 February 15 – partial July 13 – partial August 11 – partial
2019 January 6 – partial July 2 – total December 26 – annular
2020 June 21 – annular December 14 – total

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The waiting is nearly over. At 5pm today, Wales will take on Australia in the long anticipated showdown between the two countries. As the table below shows, including the match at the World Cup in October 2011, Wales have played Australia a total of 6 times in the last two years, and have lost on each occasion, usually narrowly. Of the three Southern Hemisphere “superpowers”, Australia are the country Wales have beaten the most, and the country Wales have beaten the most in the professional era.


Having won the 6 Nations in March by annihilating England 30-3 in the final match, and a successful Lions’ tour where Wales contributed 10 of the starting lineup in the 3rd and decisive Test, beating Australia today could cap a very successful 2013 for the Welsh team and for Warren Gatland and his coaching team. I also believe that, if we win, it will really boost our confidence ahead of what I expect to be a very competitive 2014 6 Nations. Thankfully we will have Alex Cuthbert back in the team, and despite our injury problems in the centre I believe Wales are fielding a very strong team.


I saw yesterday morning that the Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has ratcheted things up nicely by saying that Wales are “worried” about falling to their ninth straight loss to Australia. Certainly it’s not a good record.

Wales have a woeful record against the three Southern Hemisphere "giants".

Wales have a woeful record against the three Southern Hemisphere “giants”.

England look resurgent, and France and Ireland also look vastly improved from earlier this year. The 2014 6 Nations sees Wales play England in Twickenham, which is a place we have only won 3 times in the last 25-odd years. Beating Australia today will boost Wales’ players’ confidence hugely, and Wales are very much a team whose style of play works so much better when they are playing with self belief. So DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU, let’s beat Australia today and get that particular monkey off our back!

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It was an agonising way to lose a match. With 80 minutes up on the clock, Ireland were 22-17 ahead and looking at their first victory over current World Champions New Zealand in 109 years of matches between them. Ireland had the ball, and were picking and driving to run down the clock, just as they should. Then, for some bizarre reason, one of the Ireland players (I think it was the scrum half) kicked possession away, and the nightmare scenario unfolded. New Zealand scored a try in the 82nd minute, to level the scores at 22-22. Then, stupidly, the Irish players charged the conversion before the kicker had started his run up, so having missed the kick the kicker got a second chance and slotted it through the uprights, to win the game 24-22. Agony for Ireland, and as a fellow Celt I felt their pain.

Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock

Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock

This really is a game that Ireland could have won. Not only could have, they should have. They were 19-0 up in the first half, with three tries to their credit with less than 20 minutes played. Even in the second half, when New Zealand started dominating, Ireland’s defence held firm. Ireland missed a very kickable penalty in the last 10 minutes which would have taken them into a 25-17 lead. But to be ahead with the 80 minutes up, to be in possession and to still lose the game is almost unforgivable. And, what I don’t understand is that the team who are most adept at running down the clock is the Irish region Munster. What on earth possessed Ireland to kick possession away when all they had to do was keep picking and driving and the game would have been theirs?

They say that teams learn more from defeat than from victory, but this will be a very very harsh lesson for Ireland. Not only could they have recorded their first ever victory over New Zealand, but they could have also denied New Zealand becoming the first country in the professional era to go a whole calendar year winning every game (14 of them).

Meanwhile, in Cardiff on Friday evening Wales put in a very mediocre display in beating Tonga 17-7. There were no scores in the second half, and I nearly fell asleep through boredom. Even the match commentators Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies (both Welsh), referred to it as “dire”. Of course Wales’ big game is next Saturday against Australia, which I have said before could determine not only how Wales reflect on 2013 but also could determine how well we perform in the 2014 6 Nations. So I understand why Warren Gatland didn’t put out a full-strength team, he wanted to rest some players and also to give some players their first international experience.

But, even a half-strength Welsh team should play better than that. We should be putting 30-40 points on teams like Tonga if we have pretensions to challenge for the World Cup in 1015. And, a convincing victory by that kind of margin would have done so much to boost our confidence ahead of next Saturday’s game against Australia. Instead, after a clinical and dominant display against Argentina last week, we were dragged down to the level of a mediocre team and failed to excel. I just hope we can come out next Saturday and end a so-far very good season by finally claiming a long-overdue victory over Australia!

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It was Wales’ first Autumn test victory since 2009, a convincing 40-6 demolition of Argentina. It was even sweeter after the battering we suffered last Saturday from South Africa in losing 24-15.


The Wales coaching team will be delighted with this performance. We dominated in all aspects of play. Most pleasing to me was (a) keeping Argentina from scoring a try and (b) the good support running whenever a Welsh player made a break. This was something that was lacking against South Africa last weekend. It was a marked improvement by the Wales team, we even scored a try from a rolling maul which is no mean feat against Argentina. How do Wales gauge beating Argentina by this convincing score? The last time Argentina won an international was against Wales in Cardiff last Autumn, when they beat us 26-12. Here are Argentina’s results since that game of last year.

Argentina’s results since beating Wales last November
Month Teams Score
November 2012 Wales v Argentina 12-26
France v Argentina 39-22
Ireland v Argentina 48-24
June 2013 Argentina v England 3-32
Argentina v England 26-51
August 2013 South Africa v Argentina 73-13
Argentina v South Africa 17-22
September 2013 New Zealand v Argentina 26-13
Australia v Argentina 14-13
Argentina v New Zealand 15-33
October 2013 Argentina v Australia 17-54
November 2013 England v Argentina 31-12
Wales v Argentina 40-6

What can we take from this? Well, Wales’ victory is as heavy a defeat as pretty much any side has inflicted upon Argentina in this last year. In addition, Argentina nearly beat Australia in September away from home, only going down 14-13, and gave South Africa a good run for their money in August at home, only losing 17-22. So, I think Wales should take great pride from beating a team who are clearly no pushover, and to beat them in such convincing fashion is even better.

It is sobering to think that this was Wales’ first victory in an Autumn international since we beat Argentina in 2009. In 2010 we managed a draw against Fiji and losses to New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. In 2011 we only played one “Autumn” test as it was the Rugby World Cup, we played Australia in December and lost. And, of course last year we lost all four Autumn internationals in a rather dismal fashion.

Wales have a game against Tonga on Friday, before the big game against Australia on Saturday the 30th. That is the big game for Wales this Autumn series. Realistically, we were not expecting to beat South Africa, but if we don’t manage to beat Australia then I think the Welsh players, coaching team and supporters will consider the 2013 Autumn series to have been a failure. Beat Australia, and we will go into the 2014 Six Nations with confidence that we can retain the title for an unprecedented third year in a row!

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This coming Saturday (1st of June) the British and Irish Lions will play a warm-up match against the invitational Barbarians team in Hong Kong, before they head to Australia for their 2013 tour. The Lions, who tour every 4 years, have not won a tour since their tour of South Africa in 1997, which they won 2-1. Their 2001 tour of Australia resulted in a 2-1 loss, with the final test deciding the series. In 2005 the Lions suffered a “black wash” in New Zealand, losing the series 3-0. And, most recently, in 2009 they lost their tour in South Africa 2-1, only winning the final game of an already lost series.

Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

Warren Gatland has chosen Sam Warburton of Wales to captain the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

A brief history of the British and Irish Lions

The first rugby tour of the Southern Hemisphere by a team from Great Britain was in 1888. A 21-man squad from England, Scotland and Wales went on a 35-match (yes, thirty five!) tour of Australia and New Zealand. No matches were played against any “national” sides, but the tour established the idea of a touring party going to play against Southern Hemisphere opposition.

A complete list of all Lions’ tours can be found here. As you can see from this table, the current format of a tour every 4 years, alternating between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia did not begin until 1993. Prior to that the tours tended to be every 3 years, and because of the sporting boycott against the apartheid South Africa, no Lions tours of South Africa took place between the tour of 1980 and the one of 1997.

In total, the Lions have toured South Africa 13 times, winning 4 series, losing 8 and drawing 1. They have toured Australia 8 times, winning 6 series and losing 2. Finally, they have toured New Zealand 11 times, winning only 1 series (in 1971), and losing the other 10.

The 2013 tour of Australia

Since the advent of the professional era in 1995, Lions tours have become shorter. Also, the number of test matches was cut from 4 to 3 on each tour back in 1980. This obviously reduces the likely hood of a drawn series, as a drawn match in rugby is much less likely than in e.g. football.

The 2013 tour is longer than some recent ones, with several games against “provincial” and Super-15 sides. The full list of matches, including this Saturday’s warm-up match against the Barbarians, is shown below.

The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

The schedule of matches for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

As I mentioned above, the last time the Lions toured Australia was 12 years ago, in 2001. On that occasion, the Lions easily won the opening test in Brisbane, 29-13. However, they lost the second test in Melbourne by 35-14. The outcome of the series came down to the third and final test. With minutes to go and the score at 29-23 to Australia, the Lions had a line-out near the Australian line, providing a superb scoring opportunity to win the Test and the series. But, the ball was famously won by the Australian second-row Justin Harrison, denying the Lions the victory.

The 37-man squad for the 2013 tour is dominated by players from Wales. The coach is Warren Gatland, who is on sabbatical from his position as Wales’ coach. This, combined with Wales having won the 6 Nations for the last two seasons, means the Welsh contingent was always likely to be the largest. There are 15 players from Wales, 10 from England, 9 from Ireland and 3 from Scotland. The squad captain is also Welsh, Sam Warburton, who becomes the first Welsh captain of the Lions since the 1977 tour of New Zealand when Phil Bennet was captain.

The only member of the Wales starting line-up in the 30-3 annihilation of England back in March who has been left out of the Lions squad is the outside half Dan Biggar. Speculation is rife as to how many of the players picked to play the Barbarians in Saturday’s warm up match will be Welsh. We will find out soon enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is as many as 12 or 13! This is partly because many of the English and Irish players have been involved in club-level matches right up to this last weekend (hardly any of the Welsh and Scottish players have been); but also because Warren Gatland has shown before that he likes to initially select from an already established group of players. In his first match as Wales coach (the opening match of the 2008 6 Nations), fully 13 (thirteen) of the starting line up were from the same club side, the Ospreys!

The biggest challenge facing Gatland is the challenge faced by any Lions coach, to bring players from four separate countries together into a cohesive squad of players. He may be helped in this by having coached in Wales (he has been Wales’ national coach since December 2008), England (he coached the London Wasps club side for 3 seasons, 2002-2005) and Ireland (he was Ireland’s national coach from 1998-2001). So he can justifiably say that he is familiar with the rugby culture in three of the four countries which make up the Lions. We should know long before the first test on the 22nd of June how well he is succeeding in this task.

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