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You may have noticed that few new stories have been posted recently.  This is because I have spent the majority of my time since the summer writing a new book.  This book is a departure for me, in that it is a work of fiction.  The story is based on the characters at the heart of a key turning point in the history of astronomy and it is the first in a trilogy of historical astronomical stories that I will be completing during the coming year. Working on this book has been a superb challenge and driven my writing in new directions.  With the first book now largely complete, I am looking forward to launching straight into the next book.

I have a new story published over at ESA:


“Venus Express has made the first detection of an atmospheric loss process on Venus's day-side. Last year, the spacecraft revealed that most of the lost atmosphere escapes from the night-side. Together, these discoveries bring planetary scientists closer to understanding what happened to the water on Venus, which is suspected to have once been as abundant as on Earth.”


Read the full story for free here

I have a new story published over at ESA:


“Scientists using ESA’s Mars Express have produced the first crude map of aurorae on Mars. These displays of ultraviolet light appear to be located close to the residual magnetic fields generated by Mars’s crustal rocks. They highlight a number of mysteries about the way Mars interacts with electrically charged particles originating from the Sun.”


Read the full story for free here

As some of you know, I am to accompany a tour of China in July 2009 to view the total solar eclipse.   I am thrilled to say that my good friend and respected fellow writer Paul Parsons is to join me on the trip, which is organised by the travel company Wendy Wu.  The response to the tour has been so overwhelming that there are now too many people for me to deal with alone.  Paul has agreed to be a fellow guide.  His knowledge and enthusiasm will add considerably to the tour.  Here is his official biography from Wendy Wu:

It is with great sadness that I pass on the news that Les Sayer died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday November 1st.  A veteran of World War II, Les wrote a book called Tag on a Stringbag, Aspen Publications, which is on my shelf.  In later years, Les became a great patron of amateur astronomy. He allowed and encouraged North Essex Astronomical Society (NEAS) to refurbish and re-equip an observatory built on his land originally in the 1980s. You can read about it here

I had the honour of performing the official opening some years ago and the observatory has gone from strength to strength. Nikki, my wife, and I extend our condolences to Val his widow, whose own enthusiasm for the club matches Les’s, and to all his friends in NEAS.

This year is the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope to observe the night sky.  To celebrate this turning point in astronomical history, an international collaboration of astronomers is organising events in 140 countries.  For those in the UK on 26 July 2009, there is a major event being organised at Syon Park, West London.

My wife and I spent a most enjoyable day on Monday at the Greenwich Observatory, hosted by the Flamsteed Astronomy Society. During the afternoon Jane Bendall and Mike Dryland showed us around the galleries generously sharing their expert knowledge. In the evening I presented a lecture about The Sun Kings to the Society and had a fascinating time talking to the members afterwards. You can read about the evening here. Or visit their main web page here to learn of their other planned events. They meet in the National Maritime Museum down the hill from the Observatory, which is a lovely setting.

Above image courtesy of Mike Dryland

I have a new story published over at ESA:

“XMM-Newton has caught the fading glow of a tiny celestial object, revealing its rotation rate for the first time. The new information confirms this particular object as one of an extremely rare class of stellar zombie – each one the dead heart of a star that refuses to die. ...”


You can read the full story for free here

I have a new story published by ESA:

“Entries are now being welcomed for the 4th Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition. The competition seeks to find the best solution to an interplanetary trajectory problem. It has proved a unique playground for researchers to test new ideas and to compare methods. ...”


You can read the full story for free here

New Scientist issue 2696
I have the cover story on New Scientist this week:

“THEY are the places gravity forgot. Vast regions of space, millions of kilometres across, in which celestial forces conspire to cancel out gravity and so trap anything that falls into them. They sit in the Earth's orbit, one marching ahead of our planet, the other trailing along behind. Astronomers call them Lagrangian points, or L4 and L5 for short. The best way to think of them, though, is as celestial flypaper.



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