Pulsating X-rays allow XMM-Newton to unmask a mysterious star

03 June, 2014

I have a new story published by ESA:


"XMM-Newton has revealed a unique star. It is a celestial chimera with the body of a normal massive star yet the magnetic field of a dead, stellar dwarf. This makes it a singular object among the billions of known stars.


The race is now on to understand why it behaves in this way because the work hints at an unanticipated link between the deep interior of a star and the surrounding atmosphere. ..."


You can read the full article here.

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Mars volcano may have been site for life

28 May, 2014

I have a new article published on my Across the Universe blog for The Guardian:


"Life on Mars could have flourished on the flanks of a giant Martian volcano in the relatively recent past


Geological landforms spotted on the flanks of a giant Martian volcano suggest that lakes could have existed there just 210m years ago. In geological terms, this is the recent past. On Earth at that time, the earliest dinosaurs were evolving as part of the late Triassic period.

No one is suggesting that there were dinosaurs on Mars. Instead, the researchers believe that the lakes could have been home to bacteria and other single-celled organisms. ..."


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Nasa would speak out if private manned missions to Mars too risky

19 May, 2014

I have a new article published on my Across the Universe blog for The Guardian:


"Nasa says it will not regulate private missions to land people on Mars but would offer advice if it felt lives were in danger

It’s like an interplanetary re-telling of the famous tortoise and hare story. Nasa and the world’s other space agencies are pursuing a careful, long-winded programme aimed at landing astronauts on Mars by 2035. Private organisations, such as the not-for-profit Mars One, are claiming that they can do the same thing by 2025.

This distinct two-speed approach begs questions. Is Nasa being over-cautious? Are the private organisations being reckless? ..."


Read the full article here.

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The Guardian: Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes

16 May, 2014

My latest article for The Guardian:


"Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea


Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.

The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.

The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.


Designed to be expendable, the RD-180s are not recovered and refurbished after use, so a constant supply is needed to keep up with the US launch manifest. ..."


You can read the full story here.

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The Guardian: Sun's activity triggers lightning strikes

15 May, 2014

I have a new story published over at The Guardian.
"Streams of particles launched from the sun in the solar wind increase the number of lightning strikes on Earth by 32%


Activity on the sun significantly increases the rate of lightning strikes on Earth, say researchers, making it feasible to predict when lightning strikes will become more frequent.


They discovered that when streams of high-speed solar particles strike the Earth's atmosphere, the average number of lightning strikes increased by 32% for more than a month afterwards. The study is the first to implicate the solar wind – the stream of particles launched from the sun at over a million miles per hour – in triggering lightning, a phenomenon that has puzzled scientists.


Previous research had suggested the involvement of cosmic rays, highly energetic particles from deep space. In this scenario, the solar wind should protect Earth because it carries a magnetic field that was expected to deflect the cosmic rays, which would lower the rate of lightning strikes.


The new research shows the opposite effect. ..."


You can read the full story here.

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The Guardian: Beagle 2 scientist Colin Pillinger dies aged 70

08 May, 2014

My latest piece for The Guardian is to report sad news:


"The pioneering scientist Prof Colin Pillinger has died aged 70, his family has said.

The planetary scientist, who was the driving force behind Britain's Mars lander Beagle 2, suffered a brain haemorrhage at his home in Cambridge and died in hospital.

Pillinger, who was awarded the CBE in 2003, was an unconventional scientist who understood the value of showmanship to sell big ideas to the public.

"Colin had the rare gift of being able to make things that were complicated and ambitious seem simple and achievable. We need more scientists like that. He was unique, and I will miss him," said Alex James of Blur.

Pillinger enlisted Blur to write a song to be Beagle 2's call sign back home. It was to be broadcast as soon as Beagle 2 began work on the surface of Mars. He also persuaded the artist Damien Hurst to provide a spot painting to use in calibrating the spacecraft's camera. ..."


You can read the full story here.

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