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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The Observer: Nasa swaps rocket science for rocket salad

04 May, 2014

I have a new article published in the Discover pages of The Observer.


"Veggie 'plant pillows' could soon give astronauts on the International Space Station their first taste of space-grown lettuce


Most people associate Nasa with rocket science but now the American space agency has turned its attention to rocket salad. A portable greenhouse to grow lettuces was taken to the International Space Station (ISS) during last week's supply mission.

Provided that the astronauts can cut the mustard, they should be eating their first homegrown space salad before the end of the year. This will be the first time a Nasa astronaut has tasted something grown in orbit. ..."


You can read the full story here.

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Herschel discovers mature galaxies in the young universe

29 April, 2014

I have a new article published by ESA:


"New Herschel results have given us a remarkable insight into the internal dynamics of two young galaxies. Surprisingly, they have shown that just a few billion years after the Big Bang, some galaxies were rotating in a mature way, seemingly having completed the accumulation of their gas reservoirs.


When galaxies form, they accumulate mass by gravitationally attracting vast, external gas clouds. As the gas clouds enter the galaxy, they fall into haphazard orbits. These disordered paths cause turbulence in the host galaxies, which can drive star formation. ..."


Read the full story here.

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