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Primal colours across the spectrum, impossible space engines


By Tushna Commissariat 

Physicists and artists have long been intrigued and drawn in by the various mysteries that light and its many colours offer. In the latest installation to be unveiled at the Natural History Museum in London, artist Liz West has unveiled her stunning new work dubbed Our Spectral Vision. The exhibit aims to delve into the long and complex history of the development of colour and vision “through the eyes of nature”. Our regular readers will recall the many physics papers that look into the same, from the structural colour of butterflies to the nanostructures in avian eggshells to the mantis shrimp’s visual superpowers. West’s exhibit deals with many of these topics and more including some fantastic “350 rarely seen specimens, from beautiful birds to fossils of the first organisms with eyes”. If you are based in the UK, do visit the exhibit and otherwise, take a look at the video above to see through West’s eyes.

Earlier this week, Tuesday 30 August to be precise, marked the 145th birthday of one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century – Ernest Rutherford. A staunch experimentalist, he believed that “theorists play games with their symbols while we discover truths about the universe” but he also ended up mentoring another scientific heavyweight who just happened to become a famous theorist – Neils Bohr. Head over to the Curious Wavefunction blog, written by Ashutosh Jogalekar, to read an excellent and in-depth perspective on Rutherford’s life and work and the many other scientists he influenced.

And in some space-travel-related news, it’s been an exciting week, but not all of it good. The pioneering private company SpaceX faced a major setback when its Falcon 9 rocket exploded ahead of a launch from Cape Canaveral yesterday. The rocket was actually stationary on the launch pad and exploded during a pre-launch “static fire test”. While the company is still trying to figure out exactly what happened, it has revealed that the “anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries.” Despite this, NASA’s asteroid-mining mission OSIRIS-REx is still on schedule to be launched next week.

But this latest catastrophe for SpaceX has had consequences for more than just the company because the explosion destroyed the rocket’s payload that included a $200m Israeli communications satellite. But worry not – if SpaceX fails at relaunching our space-fairing days, its seems like NASA’s impossible EM-drive machine may fly us to the stars instead.

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