The Guardian: One thousand exoplanets but still no twin for Earth

17 October, 2013

My latest piece for Across the Universe has been posted:
"Any day now, the thousandth exoplanet discovery will be logged, but Earth's twin is not among them. Where are the habitable planets and why can't astronomers find them?

Imagine Earth's twin planet: shining blue with oceans and laced with white clouds. It orbits a star that is virtually indistinguishable from the sun, and is - of course - teeming with alien life.
The problem is that try as they might, astronomers have not been able to find such a world. Even after two decades of searching, an Earth-sized world, in an Earth-like orbit, around a sun-like star eludes us still.
Jean Schneider at the Observatoire de Paris curates The Extrasolar Planet Encyclopaedia, which currently lists 998 exoplanets. He thinks that the focus on Earth's twin distracts from the real goal. "What we are interested in are habitable planets, even if they are not exactly Earth-like," he says.
Yet there are still problems, even after widening the goalposts. The majority of known exoplanets are completely unlike Earth.
They are either too big, or too small, or just too bizarre. Take the case of CoRoT-7b. It is so hot that astronomers theorise it could rain pebbles, which would condense out of the atmosphere in the way water droplets do on Earth..."

Read the whole article here.


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The Guardian: Making Mars exploration SAFER

15 October, 2013

I have a new piece published on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe:

“Europe's Mars exploration ambition passes a milestone with a successful trial of ESA's ExoMars rover in the Chilean desert

There's always an air of calm about a space mission control room. It's akin to a library but with computers instead of books. The same hushed conversations take place, the same quiet focus. For those seeing one for the first time, it can be a surprise because it is a far cry from the Hollywood control room of frantic activity and slack-jawed gawping.

Give it time, however, and the undercurrent of quiet excitement seeps into you.

I'm standing in the remote control centre of the satellite applications catapult facility in Harwell, UK. The gigantic video wall that spans one end of the room is showing multiple image windows. The one that commands the most attention beams a Martian landscape of desert rocks and distant hills into the room. ...”

You can read the full article here.


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BBC Focus Magazine Podcast

09 October, 2013

 

 

 

 

To tie in with my cover article on the story of the Universe So Far, I recorded an interview for BBC Focus magazine's podcast. You can listen to it here.


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Juno: The spacecraft putting sling theory to the test

09 October, 2013

I have a new article published today on the BBC Future website:

“Why a probe passing our planet on its way to Jupiter might end a decades-old mystery, and reveal something completely new about gravity.

You may not see it, but sometime today, a spacecraft whizzing 350 miles (560km) above Earth is going to use our planet to slingshot its way towards another one. In the process, a group of scientists are hoping the craft will help reveal a mystery that has perplexed them for decades.

When Nasa’s Juno spacecraft arrives at Jupiter three years from now, it will investigate the planet’s origin and evolution by mapping magnetic and gravitational fields. But before it does that, the probe has an opportunity to contribute to a momentous discovery right here in our celestial backyard, and potentially pave the way for the discovery of entirely new physics. ...”

You can read the full article here.


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The Universe: The Story So Far

21 September, 2013

 

I have the cover story on BBC Focus magazine, issue number 260, this month:

“This year could go down in history as the one when a revolution in our understanding of the Universe truly began. The Planck space observatory, located 1.5 million km from Earth, is shedding new light on the story of the Universe, from its inception 13.8 billion years ago to the present day. In this month's Focus, find out how Planck's discoveries are rewriting the history of our cosmos.”

The magazine is available now.

 

More information can be found online here.


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New Scientist: Ear on the universe

20 September, 2013

I have a new article published in New Scientist [issue 2935 21 Sept 2013]

 

Gravity ripples: The race to catch the next wave

 

IT RESEMBLED the Oscars, only with physicists rather than actors. Three hundred of them were gathered in a ballroom in Arcadia, California; another 100 were connected by video link. All of them were waiting for the opening of an envelope.

 

What the event might have lacked in glamour (sorry, physicists), it made up for in drama. In contrast to the Hollywood awards, the note inside would either make them all winners, or all losers.

 

The drama had begun six months earlier when scientists around the world had noticed a peculiar signal.

 

They were looking for gravitational waves - ephemeral ripples in the fabric of the universe that are the last untested prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity. It is thought they can be sparked by the collision of stars, the formation of black holes and the great violence of the big bang itself. By the time they travel ...

Read it online here

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