If I got woken in the middle of the night by my screaming child and then saw beams of light in the sky, I think I’d be worried. When Timmy Joe in Ontario saw them, however, he assumed the multi-coloured beams were the Northern Lights. Turns out they were actually caused by the extreme cold. Moisture was freezing so fast that it formed ice flakes only a few molecules thick that could float in the air. These then refracted the city lights to create a colourful light show in the night sky.
Special edition. (Courtesy: Isle of Man Post Office and Glazier Design)
By Michael Banks
What better way to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday than a limited edition commemorative book?
To mark the occasion, the Isle of Man Post Office has releasedAlbert Einstein to Stephen Hawking: 100 Years of General Relativity – a 32-page glossy tome that features quotes from the two famous physicists.
Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video. (Courtesy: NASA)
By Hamish Johnston
NASA is live streaming a video of a spacewalk on its Facebook page, and you just might be able to catch it live from the International Space Station – or watch it again. The video shows astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson upgrading the space station’s power system – and it looks like hard work to me.
Late last year, I visited the fast-growing physics powerhouse of Beijing, China. Along the way I took snapshots of the people, events and labs I visited – a selection of which I’ve put together here to share my highlights.
During a break from the serious business of science journalism, I visited Beihei Park, a 1000-year-old former imperial park close to the Forbidden City in central Beijing. While looking up at this ornate pavilion ceiling, I couldn’t help being reminded of the ATLAS detector at CERN.
Happy New Year from all the team at Physics World!
To get things off to a cracking start, check out the January issue of Physics World magazine, which has a wonderful feature by Patrick Hayden and Robert Myers about how the study of “qubits” – quantum bits of information – could be key to uniting quantum theory and general relativity. The issue is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop, and you can also read the article on physicsworld.com from tomorrow.
Elsewhere in the new issue, you can discover how physicists have waded into the debate over whether magnetic fields can control neurons and enjoy a great feature on why some birds don’t kick out intruder cuckoo eggs.
You can also find out just why so many physicists are worried about Donald Trump’s imminent inauguration as US president.
From a physicist playing at this year’s Masters golf tournament to an animal halting CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), physics has had its fair share of bizarre stories this year. Here is our pick of the 10 best, not in any particular order.
Dinner that’s out of this world
This culinary concoction was created by food artist Pridence Staite. (Courtesy: Ash Photography)
Before setting off to the International Space station (ISS) for six months late last year, UK astronaut Tim Peake revealed that one of the meals he would miss most was the classic British roast dinner. So what better way to celebrate his safe return to Earth in June than to create a portrait of him made from his favourite nosh? Designed by UK “food artist” Prudence Staite for the Hungry Horse pub chain, the culinary concoction took 20 hours to make and contained 5 kg of roast potatoes, 3 kg of cauliflower, 2.5 kg of meat, 0.5 kg of carrots, 0.4 kg of garden peas, a whopping 46 Yorkshire puddings and one litre of gravy. The finished portrait weighed in at 12 kg and says “Welcome Home Tim”. Hungry Horse has even offered Tim and his family free roast dinners for life.
To keep your brain cells active over the festive period, we have put together a word puzzle based wholly on articles published in Physics World this year. We have two copies of Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Collection 5 to give away as prizes. Download a PDF of the puzzle here.
For the fifth year in a row, the Royal Observatory Greenwich has produced a beautiful hardback book showcasing the winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. This year, its publisher Collins Astronomy has kindly offered us two copies to give away to readers. You just need to complete the festive puzzle in this PDF to be in with a chance of winning. Terms and conditions apply.
Geoengineering: reindeer can change local albedo. (CC BY-SA 3.0/Alexandre Buisse)
By Hamish Johnston
It’s that time of year when everyone is looking for stories with a Christmassy angle. My colleagues here at IOP Publishing are no exception and they have just put out a press release about some reindeer-related physics. Apparently, hungry reindeer in northern Norway are increasing the albedo of their feeding grounds by eating lots of plants. Albedo is a measure of how much sunlight is reflected back from the surface of the Earth – rather than being absorbed and dissipated as heat – and plays an important role in climate. A worry in the far north is that global warming will lead to greater plant cover – which will reduce albedo and lead to even more warming. Now, it looks like reindeer could help break this cycle. “The effect reindeer grazing can have on albedo and energy balances is potentially large enough to be regionally important,” says Mariska te Beest, from Umeå University in Sweden. “It also points towards herbivore management being a possible tool to combat future warming. Most of the arctic tundra is grazed by either domesticated or wild reindeer, so this is an important finding.”
Good things come to those who wait. Indeed, it has been almost six years since we initially thought about making an astronomy documentary set in China – and we finally showed it in public last month. The Science of Heaven premiered on 30 November 2016 at my institution, the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University. By all accounts, it was very well received. While we are ironing out some final issues before releasing it publicly in early 2017, you can watch the trailer (above).
Yesterday we announced the winner of the Physics World 2016 Breakthrough of the Year, which went to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration for its revolutionary, first ever direct observations of gravitational waves. I caught up with six LIGO scientists in the above video Hangout and asked them what it was like when they first realized that they had detected gravitational waves emanating from two coalescing black holes 1.3 billion light-years away.