Mountain top blown up to make way for world’s largest telescope – watch again

19 June, 2014

I have a new article published on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


"Construction of the E-ELT monster telescope starts on Thursday with the blasting of a million tonnes of rock from a mountain top. Watch the livestream below.


It was one of the last places on Earth I expected to get a mobile signal. And in a few hours' time it won't exist at all.


Between 17:30 and 19:30 BST, the European Southern Observatory will blast the top off Cerro Armazones, a 3,000-metre-high mountain in the Chilean Andes. And the world can watch it happen live via the player embedded below.


Almost a million tonnes of rock will be blown away in the detonation. This will lower the mountain top by 40 metres and provide a plateau on which to build the world’s largest telescope."


Read the full article and watch the livestream recording here.

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Apparent pause in global warming blamed on 'lousy' data

13 June, 2014

I have a new article published by the Guardian.


"European Space Agency scientist says annual sea level rises since 1993 indicate that warming has continued unabated.


A widely reported "pause" in global warming may be an artefact of scientists looking at the wrong data, says a climate scientist at the European Space Agency.


Global average surface temperatures rose rapidly from the 1970s but have been relatively flat for the past 15 years. This has prompted speculation from some quarters that global warming has stalled.


Now, Stephen Briggs from the European Space Agency's Directorate of Earth Observation says that surface air temperature data is the worst indicator of global climate that can be used, describing it as "lousy"."


You can read the full article here.

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Could World Cup football be played on other planets?

11 June, 2014

I have a new article published on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


"Fifa president Sepp Blatter has joked that one day football could be played on other planets. Here’s my unofficial guide to interplanetary football.


In his address to the Fifa Congress the day before the Brazil World Cup kicks off, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said: “We shall wonder if one day our game is played on another planet? Why not? Then we will have not only a World Cup we will have inter-planetary competitions. Why not?”


Why not? Let me tell you."


You can read this little piece of fun here.

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Shortlisted for the 2014 Association of British Science Writers 2014 Awards for Journalism

10 June, 2014

It is with great pleasure that I announce I have been shortlisted in the Association of British Science Writers 2014 Awards for Journalism.

My work features in the category of best feature. Called Ear on the Universe, the piece was edited by Valerie Jamieson and published by New Scientist on 21 October 2013. You can read the article here.

The winners will be announced at the ABSW Science Writers' Awards Ceremony on 18th June in London. I am humbled to be listed among writers whom I admire so much.

Read more about the awards and see the other category short-listers here.

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Scientists warn against China's plan to flatten over 700 mountains

05 June, 2014

I have a new story posted over at the Guardian:


"Environmental consequences of removing hills to create more land for cities not considered, academics say in Nature paper


Scientists have criticised China's bulldozing of hundreds of mountains to provide more building land for cities.

In a paper published in journal Nature this week, three Chinese academics say plan to remove over 700 mountains and shovel debris into valleys to create 250 sq km of flat land has not been sufficiently considered “environmentally, technically or economically.”

Li Peiyue, Qian Hui and Wu Jianhua, all from the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at Chang’an University, China, write: “There has been too little modelling of the costs and benefits of land creation. Inexperience and technical problems delay projects and add costs, and the environment impacts are not being thoroughly considered.” ..."


Read the full story here.

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Genetic treatment using three-parent embryo may be ready in two years

03 June, 2014

I've been asked to cover the science desk at The Guardian when the newspaper's other correspondents are unavailable. It means you will be seeing some non-astronomy stories popping up every now and again. I hope you enjoy these as much as the spacey stuff.


"Mitochondrial replacement is controversial because the law rules out all treatments on humans that require changing their DNA


A controversial technique involving three-parent embryos, designed to prevent incurable genetic diseases, could be ready within two years but unless the government changes the law, prospective parents will be prevented from using it, scientists say.

Mitochondrial disease afflicts around 100 babies born in the UK every year. It is incurable and passed from mother to child. Symptoms include heart, liver and kidney disease, blindness and deafness, neurological problems and dementia.

The experimental treatment, known as mitochondrial replacement, involves taking the genetic material from a man and a woman and cellular material from a third person to create an embryo. It exchanges the faulty mitochondria from the mother with those from a healthy donor. It is controversial because mitochondria carry a small amount of DNA, and the law currently rules out all treatments on humans that require changing their DNA. ..."


Read the full story here.

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