Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe was already a legend in the deserts of Arabia before he was joined in Cairo during the early months of the First World War by a group of extraordinary specialists in Middle Eastern affairs. One member of this group was T.E. Lawrence who went on to achieve worldwide fame. Colonel Newcombe's story, like those of other unsung figures in the Anglo-Arabian panoply, has been eclipsed by the legend of ´Lawrence of Arabia´, and has languished in the dusty recesses of regimental records, government files or in the elliptical words of Lawrence’s book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However, S.F. Newcombe´s untold story is there to be told. IN THE SHADOW OF THE CRESCENT is a story of extraordinary exploits and courage, coupled with Newcombe's own legendary and inexhaustible supply of energy and of remarkable adventures under the very noses of the Ottoman authorities – full of danger, intrigue and perhaps more surprisingly, of romance during Newcombe's captivity in Turkey.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Life on Mars - Bagnold Dunes

Further to my post Newcombe, Bagnold and the hunt for the lost oasis of Zerzura (22 March 2015) NASA reports that the Curiosity Mars rover has recently reached a field of dark dunes along the north-western flank of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater that has been informally named "Bagnold Dunes", further proof of the importance placed by NASA on the intrepid exploits and academic research carried out by desert explorer Ralph Bagnold and his colleagues.

Bagnold's seminal work, The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes (1941), was an invaluable aid to understanding dune formation and wind erosion prior to the first fully successful soft landing on Mars by a probe in 1976 from NASA's Viking programme. 

Observations of this dune field from orbit indicate that edges of individual dunes move about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. This photograph (taken in December 2015) of the rippled surface of the first Martian sand dune ever studied up close was taken from Curiosity's mast camera and is an image that would have been familiar to Bagnold's own studies carried out in the Libyan Desert (Eastern Sahara).