Mary, Queen of Scots: An Unfortunate Tragedy

Mary Memorial

In a windswept field, by a quiet canal, in rural Northamptonshire lies a chunk of ancient stone.  Surrounded by an iron railing, this is all that remains of Fotheringhay Castle (shown above).  Nearby is a mound where the castle once stood.  The mound is covered in bracken, heather and grass and, in the adjacent field, is a caravan park.  There is little left to remind the visitor of the violent and tragic events that unfolded here 424 years ago.  A small plaque, attached to the railing around the stone, tells us this is the birthplace of Richard III, and the scene of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, cousin to the Queen of England and once crown head of France and Scotland.  Beheaded for the threat she posed to Queen Elizabeth I, and her throne, Mary was used and intimidated by those around her.  Was she an unwitting pawn in the schemes of others?  Or was she culpable in the plots that inevitably led to her own demise? Read More →

Christiaan Huygens: Early Astronomer

Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was a Dutch polymath who is well known in some circles to this day. While he spent some time in France and England, Huygens lived the latter portion of his life in his native Holland. Having commented on religion while living in many different countries, Huygens espoused a personal philosophy similar to many aspects of modern science.

The modern pendulum clock was among his more illustrious inventions. Horology is the study of measuring time, and it became something of an obsession for him. Nevertheless, he’s also well remembered among astronomers for discovering the moon Titan. His contributions to the field of optics made modern telescope construction possible as well.

While his calculations regarding stellar distances weren’t always accurate, they were always interesting. Huygens made a screen facing the sun and from measurements taken with this device, he figured out that the sun was approximately the same intensity as that of Sirius. By taking the angle and diameter of the hole, Huygens surmised that Sirius was 30,000 times further away from the Earth than the sun is. However, Sirius is actually around 500,000 times further away. Huygens didn’t realize that Sirius was several times brighter than the sun. Strangely enough, his calculations were accurate for the data he was working with.