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Blog

Spacecraft duets, suprise supernovae, the dark side of physics and more

By Tushna Commissariat

While you would not actually be able to hear the uplifting notes of the music in the vast emptiness of space, a newly composed string and piano orchestral piece has unexpected ties to the cosmos. That’s because it is based on 36 years’ worth of data from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Domenico Vicinanza, a trained musician with a PhD in physics who works at GÉANT, a European data-network company, says that he “wanted to compose a musical piece celebrating Voyager 1 and 2 together, so I used the same measurements (proton counts from the cosmic-ray detector over the last 37 years) from both spacecrafts, at the exactly same point in time, but at several billions of kilometres of distance [of] one from the other”. The result of this “data sonification” is a rather beautiful piece of music – one of the best examples of physics and the arts coming together that we have heard. Of course, the story garnered considerable interest…you can read more about on the Wired and Guardian websites.

Following in the vein of space-related stories, a group of students at the University of London’s (UCL) observatory were pleasantly surprised when a routine practical class ended with a bang – the discovery of the closest supernova to the Earth that has been seen since 1987. The story has been widely covered, but you can read more about it on the BBC news site as well as the Astronomy Now site. “One minute we’re eating pizza, then five minutes later we’ve helped to discover a supernova. I couldn’t believe it,” says student Tom Wright. The dazzlingly bright new object is visible in the galaxy Messier 82 in Ursa Major, and although it will grow brighter in coming weeks, you will need a telescope to see it.

Those of you looking for some weekend reading might be interested to see this New York Times profile of “mastermind” Ross Ulbricht, who the FBI claims was behind the infamous Silk Road website that acted as the world’s largest black market for drugs. What has that got to do with physics? Well, it seems that Ulbricht has a degree in physics. In fact, you can still find his thesis on the “Growth of EuO thin films by molecular beam epitaxy” online here. If found guilty, it might prove that his interest in physical chemistry was more than just academic.

Elsewhere, you can take a virtual tour of the Temelín Nuclear Power Plant, read about the time the US state of Indiana nearly changed the value of pi. Also, do take a look at this debate about the merits of string theory and loop quantum gravity with a twist.

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