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Hampstead Observatory re-opens in time for moon landing anniversary

President of Hampstead Scientific Society explains what would happen if you fell into a black hole

18 July, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Simon Lang with a telescope that can pick out the lunar surface

SIMON Lang was just nine years old when he was woken-up by his parents to watch astronauts take their first steps on the Moon.

Fifty years later, the long-running President of the Hampstead Scientific Society is organising an anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 mission at the Hampstead Observatory on Sunday.

The observatory, in Hampstead Grove, has a telescope which can magnify 300 times what the naked eye can see and pick out crystal clear details of the lunar surface.

As the New Journal reported last week, it is reopening to the public after a “major mission” of refurbishment spanning three years, Mr Lang said.

He added: “The actual Moon walk was at 3.45 in the morning [UK time]. But my parents knew its historic significance and they knew I was nuts about it and let me get out of bed. The television was black and white and old, the TV was all crackly and then you get this film coming through from the Moon. This was all technology we didn’t understand, but at the time the film and images they sent back felt extraordinary.”

The main instrument in the observatory is the 6” Cooke refracting telescope that dates back to the turn of the 20th century.

The Hampstead Scientific Society, which manages the observatory, was officially founded in 1899. Before its temporary closure, it often attracted more than 200 stargazers.

Mr Lang said there would be no chance of seeing the Moon on Sunday because of a lunar eclipse, adding: “We do however have the wherewithal to look at the Sun. We have a hydrogen alpha telescope that allows you to see all the fantastic things on the surface. That will keep people busy.”

Hampstead Observatory has been out of action for three years

Mr Lang, who lives in Hampstead, dismissed conspiracy theorists who believe the Apollo Moon landings were a hoax, adding: “The real problem is the UFO brigade. They are convinced there are aliens out there. But in my opinion it is extremely unlikely. Mainly because of the enormous amount of time they would need to go through space to get here. The law of physics is that we cannot go faster than light. That is a physical rule that I think cannot be broken.”

Mr Lang suggested aliens were more likely to be “observing Earth, rather than interfering with it”. However, he added: “Having said that, we are not a particularly benign species – anyone superior might see the undesirable politicians on the planet and see us as a wonderful source of protein.” Asked what would happen to a human who flew into a black hole in space,

Mr Lang said: “Assuming you’re flying in like Superman, essentially when you travel into a black hole the front of your body gets pulled into the black hole faster than the back half of your body. This is described as ‘spaghettification’ where you get pulled apart because the gravity difference is so high.”

One small step…

The refurbishment was part of a massive revamp of the Thames Water reservoir land the observatory sits on. A specialist “membrane” that keeps the water safe from infection and disease has been laid underneath concrete.

Further delays to the re­opening were caused by the discovery of dry rot in the observatory. Sunday’s free event, open to anyone, runs between noon and 10pm.

Additional reporting by Joe Edmundson Foot

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