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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New Scientist: Ultimate selfie: Space megacamera will map Milky Way

13 December, 2013

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

 

"The Gaia space telescope is preparing to launch, promising a celestial self-portrait of a billion stars that will revolutionise astronomy


IT WILL be the biggest selfie of all time. When the Gaia space telescope launches next week, it is set to map a billion stars in our galaxy with unprecedented accuracy – and fundamentally transform our understanding of the cosmos around us.

 

If all goes according to plan, the European Space Agency's bold mission will blast off from French Guiana on a Russian Soyuz rocket and travel 1.5 million kilometres into space. Far beyond the glow of Earth's atmosphere Gaia will hover in orbit around the sun and start to spin slowly, capturing every celestial object that falls within its gaze for the next five years. As well as charting 1 per cent of the stars in the Milky Way – around one billion of them – the telescope will l ocate planets around other suns, warn us of asteroids in our solar system and pinpoint hundreds of thousands of new and distant galaxies beyond our Milky Way. It is a journey of discovery. "Gaia is going to revolutionise astronomy and I don't say that lightly," says Peter Allan of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, UK, who is part of the Gaia team. ..."

 

To read the full article, click here.

 

 


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The Guardian: Comet Ison appears to survive close encounter with the sun

29 November, 2013

I have a new story published by The Guardian today:

 

"Solar visit threatened to vaporise the comet but the remnant may be visible from Earth in December

 

Comet Ison appears to have survived a close encounter with the sun that had threatened to vaporise it. The remnant could now go on to be visible from Earth in December, but astronomers do not know how bright it might become.

 

Travelling at more than 200 miles per second, Ison passed 730,000 miles above the sun's 6,000C surface on Thursday evening. This would have heated the comet to almost 3,000°C, enough to vaporise rock as well as ice.

 

"It would be an absolutely hellish environment, there's never been a better time to use the words 'snowball's chance in hell'," said Tom Kerss, astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, south-east London. ... "

 

Read the full story here.


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