Looking back: 1989

In 1989, I started my first lecturing job, at Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland. My PhD was all but finished and – more importantly – my scholarship money had run out. That was the year that Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced that they had discovered cold fusion. They had not. I’m glad that I was being more careful in my own work.


Griffith University’s bushland setting (photo: Tate Johnson)

Konrad Lorenz, William Shockley, and Andrei Sakharov all died in 1989, while Isamu Akasaki developed the now-ubiquitous GaN-based blue LED. Tim Berners-Lee designed the World Wide Web, the Tiananmen Square protests took place, the Berlin Wall came down, George Bush became President of the USA, and the Soviet–Afghan War ended (Bush’s son was to start his own Afghan war in 2001).


William Shockley in 1975 (photo: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service)

The spaceprobe Voyager 2 (launched in 1977) visited Neptune in 1989, and took some lovely photographs.


Neptune, as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989

In the world of cinema, Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Fabulous Baker Boys were released. Books of 1989 included The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould. An interesting year, on the whole.


Poster for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


The planets, to scale

The above edited NASA image from 2006 shows Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, to scale. Yellow bars show the range of distances from the Sun. There is a more three-dimensional view here.

Even nicer is the image below (a team effort; click on the image for details). It shows (top row) Uranus and Neptune; (second row) Earth, the white dwarf star Sirius B, and Venus; (third row) Mars and Mercury; and (fourth row) the Moon, Pluto, and the dwarf planet Haumea. The last five are shown in more detail here.

Also displaying the orbits to the same scale is more difficult, but a variety of exhibits manage to do that, including a 10-kilometre-long model of the solar system in York, England.

A new-found moon for Neptune

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a tiny moon of Neptune which everyone had missed until now. Even the photograph below was taken years ago, and only now interpreted by Mark Showalter as revealing an undiscovered moon. The moon, highlighted in the image below, is tentatively named “S/2004 N 1.” See the Hubble press release for more details.