Arts and Science

01 July, 2013



Last week I enjoyed two events that brought together the arts and sciences. On Monday I spoke for the London Salon beneath awe inspiring Rubens paintings in a vast and lofty room at The Banqueting House in London's Whitehall. The other speakers and I had to pretend it was 1649 and indeed Oliver Cromwell was in attendance (courtesy of Past Pleasures Ltd). The paintings, commissioned by Charles I to deify his father James I, were explained to us by Brett Dolman from the Historic Royal Palaces; we listened to music from the era, described by cellist and historical DJ Jane Cockcroft and Oliver Cromwell told us how Charles I's stubborn nature had brought about his own execution and why we must all return to more sober and responsible ways.



Here's a podcast made during the evening




Then on Sunday I'd been invited to SundayWise at The Ivy. The other speakers included artists Peter Kennard, who took us through some of his montage work published by The Tate in @earth, Josef Valentino (#AVERAGEJOE) who related his adventure on Damien Hirst's spot challenge, and film-maker Leah Borromeo reminded us of the dreadful societal effects on the sources of some of our cheap clothing. The chairman of Sotherby's Lord Dalmeny explained why auction items reach the prices they do, and Master Distiller Nik Fordham told us all about the new self-sustaining gin distillery at Laverstoke Mill. It will soon be producing our favourite brand and the company generously provided us all with an eminently refreshing glassful, so Nikki and I were delighted. The talks were interspersed by offerings from poet Greta Bellamancia.

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Earth will be a 'pale blue dot' in portrait by Nasa's Cassini probe

19 June, 2013

I have a new story over on the Guardian's Across the Universe blog:


Nasa's Cassini spacecraft will take an image of Earth from 1.44bn kilometres away. From there, our planet will look like the expected images of alien earths around other stars

Nasa takes pictures of Earth all the time – but not like this. The Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn, and so is currently 1.44bn kilometres away. From that distance, Earth is only going to appear as a pixel or two across.
The image, which will be taken on 19 July at around 10:30pm BST, will show our whole, living breathing world of six billion inhabitants, as a single point of light.


It is expected that the Earth will look like a "pale, blue dot". This was the phrase used to describe an image of Earth taken in 1990 from even further away. The Voyager 1 spacecraft was 6bn kilometres away, roughly the distance to Pluto's orbit, when it took pictures of most of the planets in the solar system.


Because of Earth's predominant oceans, the planet appeared as a pale blue dot but was difficult to pick out on the final image.


This attempt should provide something more photogenic. The great ringed world of Saturn will be eclipsing the Sun so its rings will be visible but the great bulk of the planet itself will be in silhouette. Earth will appear to the bottom right of the ring system.

Read the whole story here.

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Moon walker Neil Armstrong celebrated in Langholm, Scotland

14 June, 2013

I have a new post on the Guardian online Across the Universe


It's been said that Neil Armstrong embodied the American dream: coming from a small Ohio town to be the first man on the Moon. As the inhabitants of Langholm, Scotland, know he came from a lot further than that


This weekend the Scottish town of Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway, holds a series of events to commemorate the life of Neil Armstrong. Why, you may wonder, is a town of just 2,500 inhabitants celebrating the life of an American astronaut? The reason is simple: the town claimed Armstrong as one of their own. And he accepted....


You can read the whole article here.

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Manchester explains the Universe

13 June, 2013

On Friday evening 20th July a very special event mixing punk and science will take place in Manchester at



 M1 5WW


I've been asked to contribute to the science bit despite the fact I'm a prog not punk rocker!  It's called The Universe Explained and purports to make easy all of Space and Time through Art, Film, Performance and Punk Rock. If nothing else this venture promises to be highly entertaining and I am all in favour of making science fun. I love the way the poster is illustrated with a cupcake claimed to be from the canteen at CERN. The evening kicks off at 7 and runs until 10 o'clock.


Maybe I'll see you there?


Find out all about the event on the venue’s website. Purchase tickets for the event here.


The bespoke website for the event also has links to venue and the tickets built in plus information about it. It will be updated every few days.

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Black hole bonanza in 'next door' galaxy

13 June, 2013

There's a new post on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


Black holes contain the keys to a deeper understanding of the universe. So finding 26 in our neighbouring galaxy is a big deal.


Twenty-six new black hole candidates have been discovered in the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy. According to the astronomers involved, these could be just the tip of the iceberg. Details of the find will be published in the 20 June issue of The Astrophysical Journal.


The discoveries are the culmination of 13 years of observation. Researchers used Nasa's Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellites. Both record the X-ray light emitted by celestial objects.

Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the universe. They are regions of space in which the density of matter has become so great that the gravitational field is overwhelming. They will devour anything that strays too close. Once inside, nothing can escape back into space, not even light.


So, strictly speaking you can't see black holes. You have to infer their presence from X-rays given out as they rip nearby stars to pieces. Hence the reason astronomers refer to these as black hole candidates. Even so, it's big news.


Read the whole article here.

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Nasa's Opportunity rover finds Martian water appropriate for the origin of life

07 June, 2013

I have a new post on my Across the Universe blog for the Guardian :

Nasa's Opportunity rover is celebrating 10 years on Mars by finding its best evidence yet: that the planet was once habitable

Opportunity has made one of its greatest scientific discoveries so far. Clay minerals in a rock called Esperance clearly indicate that neutral water flowed across the rock some time in the first billion years of its existence.

The rock was found near Endurance Crater, and took seven attempts to analyse because it was partially covered in Martian dust…

You can read the full article here.

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