Favourite stories from the last seven days

29 August, 2007

To make up for the lack of stories from me, here are some of the ones that have caught my eye during the last seven days or so.


Astronomers Find Enormous Hole in the Universe
“Astronomers have found an enormous hole in the Universe, nearly a billion light-years across, empty of both normal matter such as stars, galaxies, and gas, and the mysterious, unseen "dark matter." While earlier studies have shown holes, or voids, in the large-scale structure of the Universe, this new discovery dwarfs them all.
"Not only has no one ever found a void this big, but we never even expected to find one this size," said Lawrence Rudnick of the University of Minnesota. …”

Read the full press release here.


Next, there are two about Saturn’s fascinating moon Titan:


Will Titan lose its veil?
Titan’s think hydrocarbon atmosphere is a bit of a puzzle for astronomers because Ganymede, a slightly larger moon at Jupiter, does not have an atmosphere.  This press release deals with whether Titan’s atmosphere is a passing phenomenon.
“The question of whether Titan can retain its thick, organic atmosphere for the rest of its lifetime could hinge on how efficiently methane molecules were packed inside water “crates” during a period of the moon’s formation. …”

Read the full story here.


Fasten your seat belts – Turbulent Lessons from Titan
I don’t know about you but turbulence on flights never fails to make me feel nauseous.  So it was with some amusement that I saw this press release: “Have you spilled your drink on an airliner?  Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are finding new ways to understand turbulence, both in the Earth's atmosphere and that of Saturn's moon Titan. …”

Read the full story here.


Space travellers gather in Croatia for historic summit
“On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of space travel, space travellers with a combined 415 days of space experience gathered in Split, Croatia to discuss the future of human spaceflight. …”

You can read about the conference here.


Astronomers have their first chance to see the rings of planet Uranus edge-on since their discovery in 1977.
“As Uranus coasts through a brief window of time when its rings are edge-on to Earth – a view of the planet we get only once every 42 years – astronomers peering at the rings with ESO's Very Large Telescope and other space or ground-based telescopes are getting an unprecedented view of the fine dust in the system, free from the glare of the bright rocky rings. They may even find a new moon or two.”
Read the full story and see the images here.

You can also see Hubble images here.


Finally, here are some stories from the European Space Agency:


The latest from the SMART-1 mission to the Moon
The SMART-1 mission is now just a pile of wreckage on the surface of the Moon but its data lives on:  “Owing to SMART-1’s high resolution and favourable illumination conditions during the satellite’s scientific operations, data from Europe’s lunar orbiter is helping put together a story linking geological and volcanic activity on the Moon.”

Read the full story and see the images here.


AKARI’s observations of asteroid Itokawa
“The space-borne infrared observatory AKARI, observed asteroid Itokawa last month with its Infrared Camera. The data will be used to refine estimates of sizes of potentially hazardous asteroids in the future. …”
There is also a movie of Itokawa’s motion that goes with this press release.


Read the full story here.

Hinode helps unravel long-standing solar mysteries
A year after launch, scientists working with Hinode, a Japanese mission with ESA participation, are meeting at Trinity College, Dublin, to discuss latest findings on solar mysteries - including new insights on solar flares and coronal heating.

Read the full story here.

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Tags: Saturn Titan

Isaac Newton – The Last Sorcerer

24 August, 2007

As you can probably imagine, my broken collarbone has given me some time to catch up on my reading.  I have recently been entertained by Michael White’s excellent biography of Isaac Newton.  Having recently read Lisa Jardine’s book about Newton’s rival Robert Hooke, it was good to see things from this perspective.  This is not a new book, it is ten years old now, but it is well written and portrays Newton more as a reality rather than the extraordinary myth that has grown up around him.

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Tags: Newton

BBC Sky at Night Interview about The Sun Kings

23 August, 2007

You can hear an interview with me about The Sun Kings on the cover-mounted CD of the September issue of the BBC’s Sky At Night Magazine.  The magazine also features a superb article by Marcus Chown on the alternatives to dark matter.  Provocatively titled ‘Dark Matter is Dead’ on the cover of the magazine, it delves into the world of modified gravity as an alternative to dark matter.

I have great hopes that dark matter research will reach a watershed next year when the Large Hadron Collider begins collecting data.  It is working in exactly the right region to generate the most favourable dark matter candidate, the Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs).  Should LHC fail to see these, I think modified gravity theories might become much more fashionable.

On the subject of The Sky At Night, don’t forget that I’ll be their special guest at the Herstmonceux Astronomy Festival on 8th September.  See the 31 July 2007 blog entry for more details.

The September issue of BBC Sky at Night magazine is available in your local newsagent now.  You can also visit them online here.

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Things didn’t quite go according to plan

20 August, 2007

Whilst in Cornwall, I broke my collarbone in two places.  I would like to be able to say that I was doing something heroic but alas I was simply playing rounders before the Thursday show at the Minack Theatre.  According to the doctors I’ll be recovering for six weeks, and I had horrid visions of a month and a half of one-fingered, left-hand typing.  In fact, I’m typing almost normally again now, although my shoulder is very sore.  Nikki is proving more invaluable than ever, by keeping up with my correspondence.

My big regret is that I have had to postpone my lecture tour of Ireland, organized by Astronomy Ireland.  I apologise to everyone who was planning to attend the lectures, and to TV3 who had booked me to appear on the television to talk about the book.  I hope to reschedule when I have recovered.

The good news is that I do not foresee any reason to postpone any of my September lectures – although I might be delivering them in a sling and signing books might be a bit tricky!

I’ll try to keep the blog updated, mostly with cut and pasted material because I imagine my output is going to be quite low over the next month. I do have exciting commissions from the V&A magazine and The Scotsman to look forward to but I don’t want to push my luck taking on a lot of deadlines.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed since being back:


Dark matter mystery deepens
NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope team issued an intriguing press release on 16 August.  In the second paragraph it states:
"These results challenge our understanding of the way clusters merge," said Dr. Andisheh Mahdavi of the University of Victoria, British Columbia. "Or, they possibly make us even reexamine the nature of dark matter itself."
Read the press release here.

Read New Scientist’s story about the discovery here.


Europe’s Weather Satellites
On Thursday 6 September 2007 there is to be a free evening lecture about Europe's Weather Satellites in London.  The lecture will be given by Dr Lars Prahm, Director General, EUMETSAT.  The lecture will be held at 4 Hamilton Place, London, and starts at 18:00 with refreshments available from 17:30.
About two thirds of the data used by the UK Met Office in its weather forecasting comes from satellites - the global coverage of satellite data underpins the gradual improvements in forecasting achieved over the past 30 years. Initially dependent on American satellites, Europe has for more than 20 years operated geostationary satellites covering the Eastern Atlantic and Western Indian Ocean regions - the Meteosat series (since 2002 in its enhanced second generation form). In October 2006, this fleet was augmented with Europe's first low orbiting weather satellite, the EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS), which is now in operation.

See full details at the RAeS Space Group web site and click on "Next event". All RAeS Space Group evening events are public open lectures - all visitors welcome - no admission fee - no tickets required but please let them know you plan to attend by clicking here.


The Sun Kings recommended by the New York Society Library
The New York Society Library, the oldest in the city, was founded in 1754 by the New York Society, a civic-minded group formed in the belief that the availability of books would help the city to prosper. It now contains nearly three hundred thousand volumes.
The Book Committee meets monthly to discuss new books, periodicals, and electronic resources. After each meeting, a list of 35-50 recommended titles is displayed in the lobby on a shelf labelled "Recommended by our Books Committee." I’m thrilled to say that The Sun Kings is one of those books this month.


Visit the library by clicking here.


Worlds in Parallel in BBC Focus
I have a five-page feature in the September issue of BBC Focus about the physics behind that science fiction favourite: parallel worlds.  Until I wrote this feature, I had no idea how much of it is now based in scientific reality.  It was an eye-opener for me, and I hope for you too.  BBC Focus is available from all good newsagents.


Visit them on line here.


The Sun Kings: “the most extraordinary book on the history of science I have recently had the pleasure to read”
As I left for Cornwall, The Sun Kings’ was reviewed in the 3 August 2007 issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement.  Science writer Simon Mitton echoed his review on Amazon.co.uk and wrote “In The Sun Kings, the accomplished science writer Stuart Clark, who holds a doctorate in astronomy, gives a vivid account of the foundation of solar astrophysics and of the Victorian scientists who unlocked the secrets of the Sun's influence on Earth. This is the most extraordinary book on the history of science I have recently had the pleasure to read.  Here is popular science at its best: accurate, meticulously researched, not technical in any way (no equations) and full of adventures.”

If you are a subscriber to the THES, you can read the full review here.

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I’ll be back!

03 August, 2007

It’s going to go quiet on the blog for the next couple of weeks. Firstly, I’ll be taking a break in Cornwall. I’ll be playing mandolin in the production of The True Story of Martin Guerre taking place at the Minack theatre. If you’re local or on holiday there, pop by and say ‘hi’. If you’re not in the locality, you can still keep tabs on me using the Minack webcam. You’ll be looking for the bloke who looks like an extra from Lord of the Rings.

Then I’ll be in Ireland for The Sun Kings lecture tour.  I’ll also be on Ireland’s TV3’s breakfast show on Monday morning around 7:45am.


I’ll be back at my desk 20 August.

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The Sun Kings: “I finished this book in a single enthralled sitting.”

03 August, 2007

Emmet Mordaunt, Astronomy Ireland’s Education Officer, has reviewed The Sun Kings for the August issue of Astronomy and Space.  He concludes, “Clark is an accomplished storyteller, and I finished this book in a single enthralled sitting.  The science behind the story is effortlessly blended into the narrative, and the book is suitable even for those with no previous knowledge of astronomy.  It’s simply a great read about a fascinating story and comes highly recommended.” You can read the full review in the August edition of Astronomy and Space, on sale at newsagents now.  There is also a feature about the new NASA spaceprobe, Phoenix, that sets off for Mars this month.

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