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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June's special events

05 June, 2013

During June I've been invited to speak at three special events. It's a particularly exciting month for me. Over the weekend of 14th we are visiting Langholm in southwest Scotland. It was the home of the Armstrongs, whose most famous family member was Neil who walked on the Moon.

I'll be delivering an appreciation of the life and work of Neil Armstrong at the memorial service on the Friday evening, in front of representatives of the US, UK and Scottish governments. Then I'll be giving a talk on the Saturday about what the astronauts left behind on the Moon, specifically the mirrors that are still being used today to carry out an extraordinary experiment into the nature of gravity.

A friend who lives there tells us that shop displays are getting into the spirit and that there is a buzz of excitement about the town. Neil Armstrong visited the town with his wife in 1972 to receive the honour of Freedom of Langholm and we are looking forward to meeting people who remember that day. Have a look on the church's website here. And the Buccleuch Centre's here.

On 24th I'll be giving a talk about science at an event called The Salon for the Historic Royal Palaces at Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. For the entire evening everyone present will be pretending it is 1649 - so this will be a talk without my laptop and illustrations! I'll be explaining where science was at that time, what big ideas were coming forward and how they was changing the mindsets and experience of those under Cromwell's rule in London. Find out about the Salon here and Banqueting House here.

My third exciting challenge is to ask: Is science becoming too complicated? to a room at The Ivy containing a hundred people from the worlds of politics, journalism and the arts who like to 'think as they drink'.  Other speakers on 30th include the artist Peter Kennard and the chairman of Sotherby's, Lord Dalmeny. In addition, there will be poetry from Greta Bellamacina and comedy from Rich Wise, Tony Law and Celia Pacquola. This is a lunch experience called Sunday Wise and they have been meeting monthly for about a year. It promises to be a thought-provoking, fascinating afternoon. You can buy tickets here.

Amongst these special events I will also be returning to the astronomers in both Wycombe (19th) and Spalding (21st) who always make me so welcome. This year I'll be talking about my Sky's Dark Labyrinth trilogy of novels dramatising the lives of the men who changed our perspective of the universe.

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Nasa's Curiosity 'hitting full stride' in lead-up to Mount Sharp mission

05 June, 2013

I have a second post this week on my Across the Universe blog for the Guardian :

Nasa's Curiosity rover is approaching the biggest turning point of its mission so far. Soon it will begin the year-long drive towards its primary objective: Mount Sharp

Expect the pace of the Curiosity mission – and presumably the discoveries – to start picking up. Until now, NASA has been going deliberately slowly so that it understands how to do things most efficiently with the rover. Now, it's growing more confident.

"We're hitting full stride," said Mars Science Laboratory project manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California in a news telecon today...

You can read the full article here.

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Space radiation results should spark manned Mars mission debate

03 June, 2013

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

Nasa data shows radiation doses would be so high on a manned Mars mission that we must now debate the ethics of deep space exploration – or wait decades to develop safer technology

It is time for idealism about missions to Mars to end. Going there with current technology would carry a significant risk of harmful radiation exposure.

This was made clear at last Thursday's teleconference of results from the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) onboard Nasa's Curiosity rover.

During the rover's cruise to Mars between December 2011 and July 2012, RAD showed that an astronaut would clock up the same radiation dose in a day that the average American receives in a year. If you exclude medical dosages, it would be 10 times more than the average American.

Taking these numbers at face value, the radiation from a 500-day round-trip to Mars would exceed Nasa's current safety guidelines...

You can read the full article here

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