Habitable Planets Cover Story: Science Uncovered Issue 1

22 November, 2013

I am extremely pleased to announce that a new popular science magazine has started in the UK and that I've been working with them for several months because they kindly asked me to write their very first cover story.  Science Uncovered is a monthly magazine from Future Publishing. Their website says, "Science Uncovered brings together renowned scientists from around the globe to explain how the world around you works. From the far reaches of the Universe to the inner workings of your brain, these experts will provide you with a window into the very boundaries of our knowledge. You'll be able to peer into the future and see how today's breakthroughs will change how we live."


My cover story is titled Closing in on alien life: discover the planets most likely to host our neighbours. Issue 1 is available now from newsagents and supermarkets, or online. Best of all, the first issue only costs £1.

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European GOCE satellite falling to Earth – stay calm

19 November, 2013

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


The European GOCE satellite is falling uncontrollably to Earth but no one need worry too much...


A one-tonne satellite is falling uncontrollably towards the Earth. It is expected to hit sometime late this weekend or early next week. No one knows exactly when or where it will smash down but it is likely to fragment into 25-45 pieces en route.


Written in those terms it sounds like pretty scary stuff, and indeed the news is making headlines across the web. Many seem to have been triggered by a piece in the New York Times, titled Satellite Will Fall to Earth, But No One Is Sure Where.


You can read the full article here.

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Inside Science on BBC Radio 4

24 October, 2013

Today on Radio 4 you can hear me talking about the discoveries of exo-planets, systems of planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers have just passed the 1000 mark on the scoreboard, but we have yet to identify a twin to Earth. I am being interviewed on Inside Science at 16.30 and 21.00 hrs.
If you miss it live, you can hear the programme here. The interview starts about a quarter of an hour into the broadcast.

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Book Review: Voyager

20 October, 2013

I am grateful to Lee Billings who has written a most favourable review of my book Voyager: 101 Wonders between Earth and the Edge of the Cosmos, published this year in the United States by Atlantic Books who published it here in the UK a couple of years ago for Waterstones. This latest and colourfully written review appears in  the magazine Scientific American.


If you would like to read it please click here.

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Tags: Voyager

Asteroid 2013 TV135: doomsday again (yawn)

18 October, 2013

Today's Across the Universe story is:

Asteroid 2013 TV135 has a 99.998% chance of missing Earth in 2032. Yet it's the 0.002% possibility that is capturing the headlines

"Head for the hills (although that won't save you). A number of lurid internet headlines today are heavily hinting at doom in 2032 because a 410-metre-wide asteroid could hit the Earth.
If it does, the reports say, it could create an explosion 50 times greater than the biggest nuclear bomb ever detonated. The unreported details, however, paint a rather different picture.
On 8 October 2013, astronomers at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in the Ukraine discovered an asteroid. Catalogued as 2013 TV135, it is just one of 10,332 near-Earth objects known to exist.
Astronomers tracked it over subsequent nights, piecing together its orbit. They realised that it had made a close pass to Earth on 16 September, drawing within 6.7 million kilometres of our planet....."

Read it all on here.

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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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