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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Voyager 1 leaving solar system matches feats of great human explorers

13 September, 2013

I have a new post on the Guardian's Across the Universe
about Voyager 1 leaving the magnetic field of the Sun, defining the edge of the solar system:

Voyager 1 has left the building, by which I mean the solar system. A historic milestone in exploration has been reached and the hero is a spacecraft

It's official. Voyager 1 has left the solar system. While there will be little immediate benefit from this feat, it does represent a historic milestone of exploration.


Voyager 1's achievement is every bit as important as Roald Amundsen's party reaching the South Pole on 14 December 1911, or Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquering Everest on 29 May 1953. The difference is that there is no human inside Voyager.

Read the whole story here.

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The 2013 European Astronomy Journalism Prize

12 September, 2013

On Wednesday 11 September I spent the evening in Newcastle at the Great North Museum: Hancock surrounded by The Royal Photographic Society's astounding international scientific photography exhibition. The images all around the walls were taken from medical, astronomical and environmental disciplines and are truly works of art.

During the reception, part of the British Science Festival, it was announced that I had been awarded the 2013 European Astronomy Journalism Prize and that Sandra Kropa and Jonathan Amos had been highly commended. The prize-winning article was When the dust unsettles, published by New Scientist, in August 2012 so I share this honour with the editors and subeditors who brought this to print and my PA who checks things before I submit them.


Sandra Kropa's piece was published on Paul Sutherland's Skymania. In the photo, Sandra and I are standing with Terry O'Connor from STFC.


The prize, which sadly is only for me, is a week in December visiting the telescopes in Chile. I have been there before in 2002 so I am hoping to see the progress achieved over the last decade.

Click the read more button below to see the press release.


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Tags: Astrophysics

Read more: The 2013 European Astronomy Journalism Prize


Starfest III

10 September, 2013

I am delighted that I will once again contribute to this successful function, now firmly established in the UK astronomical events calendar.


Organised by the North Essex Astronomical Society , it takes place all day (9-5) and this year it is in Colchester. There are stands selling all sorts of items, talks on a variety of subjects by some very interesting people and, most of all, hundreds of like-minded people to chat to about the night sky and the universe.


Do come along on Saturday 2nd November and I'll see you there. See my talks page for details.


Or go to the NEAS website, read all about it and book your tickets here.

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The new equation for estimating alien life across the universe

04 September, 2013

There's a new piece on my Guardian online blog, Across the Universe:

How many other inhabited planets are there? It's a question that fascinates scientists and lay people alike. A new equation may help weigh up the possibility


Many of us have glanced upwards at the stars and wondered whether there is other life out there somewhere. Few, however, have then tried to write down an equation to express the probability in numbers.


Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has done just that. Her equation collects together all the factors that could determine how many planets with detectable signs of life may be discovered in the coming years.


The factors include the number of stars that will be observed, the fraction of those stars with habitable planets, and the fraction of those planets that can be observed. First presented at a conference earlier this year, the equation is written as N = N*FQFHZFOFLFS. It was published yesterday in the online Astrobiology magazine...

Read the whole piece here.

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New Scientist: Star Burst

10 August, 2013

I have an article published in this week's (2929 10 August) New Scientist magazine:

Solar superflares: A new danger from the sun

SOMETHING with almost unimaginable power hit Earth in AD 775. Europe was in the grip of the dark ages, yet the skies were alight. "Fiery and fearful signs were seen in the heavens after sunset; and serpents appeared in Sussex, as if they were sprung out of the ground, to the astonishment of all," recorded the 13th-century English chronicler Roger of Wendover.


We don't just have his word for it. In the past year, new evidence has come to light confirming that something cataclysmic took place in the solar system that year. But what? There are no signs of a mass extinction or an environmental disaster which would normally accompany such an event. More mysterious is that no trace of it appears in the heavens today.


The only clues to what happened are found locked inside ancient tree rings. What they reveal is shocking. A supremely powerful blast of radiation ...

Read it online here.

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