New Scientist: Wake up and smell the comet: Rousing the Rosetta probe

15 January, 2014

I have a new feature article published in New Scientist this week:


"YOU know that anxious feeling the night before an exam or a job interview, when the alarm clock absolutely, positively has to work. Take that feeling and double it. Multiply it by a large factor, add the number you first thought of... you get the picture. That's how restless mission controllers at the European Space Agency are feeling right now.

For if there is one alarm clock in the whole solar system that has to work, it is the one on their Rosetta spacecraft. Set for 1000 GMT on 20 January, it will, if all goes to plan, wake Rosetta from a three-year slumber travelling through the deepest reaches of space. Bleary-eyed and disoriented, the craft will keep mission controllers on tenterhooks for a few hours more until they hear a faint beep – just enough to tell them that the €1 billion, 3-tonne spacecraft is alive and well. ..."


Read the full article here (a registration may be required).

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What is TIme? on Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe

10 January, 2014

Yes, as unlikely as it sounds, I was a guest on Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe. They wanted to spoof science documentaries and asked me if I would take part. I was to answer questions from Diane Morgan's brilliant character Philomena Cunk, as she grappled with the mystery of 'What is Time?'


The whole episode will be in iPlayer in the Uk for a week. You can watch that here.


It looks like someone has uploaded the What is Time? section to YouTube. If it is still there, you will be able to see it in the viewer below. As you can imagine, it was a lot of fun to record. Get ready to laugh.


And for those of you actually interested in the nature of time. Here is a piece I wrote for New Scientist in 2011.


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New Scientist: Sleepy sun spreads slow solar wind

08 January, 2014

I have a short news story in New Scientist this week:


"EVEN the sun needs a break. A slowdown in solar activity has given us the first real clue about a period of dramatic solar behaviour 350 years ago.


In 2008, the sun entered a deep lull in magnetic activity. Spacecraft measurements show that this caused a belt of sluggish particles, known as the slow solar wind, to thicken. The belt is ruched like a ballerina's tutu, and Earth passes in and out of its ruches during the year. As solar activity dwindles, the belt thickens, and we spend more time passing through it. The speed of the slow solar wind affects the temperature of Earth's upper atmosphere, and impacts climate. ..."


Click here to read the story.

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The Guardian: The artists who own the moon

05 January, 2014

I have a new article in the Shortcuts section of The Guardian's G2 magazine. It is also reproduced online.


"With China sending the Jade Rabbit rover and Google egging on private companies to make their own landings, the race for lunar ownership is hotting up. But has a group of artists got there first?


With as much land as Africa, the moon is a new frontier. Lured by its natural resources, China sent the Jade Rabbit rover there last month. Meanwhile, Google is sponsoring a competition to spur private companies into landing similar vehicles by 31 December 2015. Yet the question of who owns the moon and its exploitation rights is a vexed one.


The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming sovereignty of celestial objects, but is unclear on whether this ban extends to private companies. That makes the Google initiative more than harmless space fun. In law, there may be nothing to stop the competitors from claiming the moon, or at least part of it, for their own commercial exploitation. It could be the start of corporate imperialism in space. With nations hamstrung from competing, this would inevitably lead to private companies holding power over national governments. ..."


You can read the full article here.

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Tags: The Moon

New Scientist: Breaking relativity: Celestial signals defy Einstein

02 January, 2014

I'm pleased to say have the cover story on New Scientist's first issue of the year. For a long time, I have tried to understand the nature of the spacetime continuum. It exists as a mathematical concept but turning that into a physical reality is much more difficult. New Scientist allowed me to explore the topic for this article and what I discovered was that no one knows what the true nature of the spacetime continuum. If we find that out, we may just be able to take our next big leap beyond Einstein. Here's a tease of the article:


"Strange signals picked up from black holes and distant supernovae suggest there's more to space-time than Einstein believed

WE LIVE in an invisible landscape: a landscape that, although we cannot perceive it directly, determines everything that we see and do. Every object there is, from a planet orbiting the sun to a rocket coasting to the moon or a pencil dropped carelessly on the floor, follows its imperceptible contours. We battle against them each time we labour up a hill or staircase.


This is the landscape of space-time: the underlying fabric of the physical universe, perhaps of reality itself. Although we don't see its ups and downs, we feel them as the force we call gravity. Developed by the physicist Hermann Minkowski in the 20th century, and used by Albert ... "


You can read the full story in issue 2950, or online here (sign-in required).

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The Guardian: Geminid meteor shower begins: watch out for fireballs

13 December, 2013

I have a new article on Across the Universe, for The Guardian:


"Nasa says the Geminids will be the most intense meteor shower of the year – and almost everyone can see it


The mysterious Geminid meteor shower lights the skies of Earth between 12 and 16 December and is visible from almost anywhere on the planet. This year the peak rate is estimated to be 100-120 meteors per hour, rivalling the August Perseids, which are usually the most spectacular meteor shower of the year. ..."


Click here to read the full article.

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