Posts by: James Dacey

Vintage snaps from space history

By James Dacey

1966 Lunar Orbiter picture of the Earth and Moon

1966 Lunar Orbiter picture of the Earth and Moon. (Courtesy: UCL)

If you look incredibly closely you may just be able to make out John Lennon’s flares or the England football team lifting the World Cup. This portrait of our planet from 1966 is part of the first collection of photos of the Earth taken from beyond the Moon. It was taken by a camera on board Lunar Orbiter I, the first US spacecraft to orbit the Moon, which helped pave the way for the Moon landings at the end of the decade.

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NASA asked, so we waved at Saturn

By James Dacey

Wave at Saturn collage

Wave at Saturn collage. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On 19 July the Cassini spacecraft turned back to face Earth from its location by Saturn and captured this humbling photo of our planet as a tiny dot behind Saturn’s rings. As part of the event, NASA encouraged people to snap pictures of themselves waving at Venus and to share these via social-media sites. Now, 1400 of these images have been used to create this collage, which includes people from more than 40 countries and 30 US states.

“While Earth is too small in the images Cassini obtained to distinguish any individual human beings, the mission has put together this collage so that we can celebrate all your waving hands, uplifted paws, smiling faces and artwork,” says Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

NASA has, however, released a larger version of the “Wave at Saturn” collage where you can zoom in to make out individual images. It is well worth doing so, as you quickly come across the whole spectrum of gestures from the gentle wave to the Vulcan salute.

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Particle art lights up Victorian ice well

By James Dacey

Photograph of art installation Covariance

Covariance includes 28,000 glass beads and 36,000 diamantés. (Courtesy: Richard Davies)

“The finished work is everything I had hoped for and more – it takes my breath away!”

That was the reaction of artist Lyndall Phelps upon seeing her physics-inspired installation in London, which will open to the public this Saturday. Entitled Covariance, the work was inspired by the SuperKamiokande neutrino observatory in Japan – reflecting the machinery of particle detectors and the way in which particle physicists visualize their data. The kaleidoscopic artwork is housed in a Victorian ice well beneath the London Canal Museum, in reference to the subterranean location of many large particle-physics experiments.

Phelps is an artist who often creates works inspired by science, where she looks in particular for the personal and emotive themes that can exist within academia. For this latest project, she worked in collaboration with Ben Still, a particle physicist from Queen Mary, University of London. The pair was commissioned to work on the project by the Institute of Physics (IOP) as the first in a programme of artists-in-residence called Superposition.

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How mussels stretch but don’t snap

PW-2013-08-02-blog-mussel

Mussel attached to a rock in the Boston area. (Courtesy: Zhao Qin)

By James Dacey

Ask any old sea dog and they will tell you the same thing – mussels are resilient little blighters that’ll cling onto yer ship no matter how fast ye sail. The secret behind the ability of mussels to remain tightly attached to surfaces has now been uncovered by a group of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

Whereas barnacles fix themselves tightly to the surfaces of rocks, mussels deploy a different form of adhesion. They dangle from surfaces by a series of fine filaments known as byssus threads made from a protein closely related to collagen – a major constituent of skin and bones. The biological explanation for this behaviour is that it allows the mussels to glide through the water increasing the amount of nutrients they can absorb.

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Close encounters of the muon kind

Photo of g-2 magnet

G-2 electromagnet at the Hidden Lake Forest Preserve. (Courtesy: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab)

By James Dacey

Don’t worry, the aliens haven’t landed. The people in this photo are watching with excitement shortly before this giant electromagnet completed its 5000 km journey on Friday to arrive at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory just outside Chicago. The 15 m-wide ring that weighs more than 15,000 kg has been travelling for the past five weeks by land and sea from its previous home on Long Island in New York State.

The giant electromagnet has served as part of the Muon g-2 experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory. This experiment – to describe it crudely – is designed to measure how muons wobble in a magnetic field, as many believe this will provide clues to new physics beyond the Standard Model. This experiment is now relocating to Fermilab, which offers a more intense and pure beam of muons than the Brookhaven lab.

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Carbon map of Panama leads the way

Carbon map of Panama

The first high-res national carbon map. (Courtesy: Carnegie Airborne Observatory)

By Madeleine Fowler, who is doing a work experience placement at Physics World

Panama is a country of diverse ecosystems and complex landscapes, with vegetation ranging from grasslands and scrublands to dense forests. This makes it the perfect location for scientists to experiment with different methods of measuring above-ground carbon density – carbon that is locked up in vegetation.

Scientists have now mapped the above-ground carbon density of the entire country, which is a first in the world of carbon mapping. Field data and satellite data were integrated with high-resolution airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data.  This made it possible to create the first carbon map that could quantify carbon stocks in a local area as small as one hectare. What’s more, it can do this over millions of hectares.

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Never before have we felt so small

Photo of Earth from NASA's Cassini mission

The Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings, the Earth and our Moon in the same frame. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

By Madeleine Fowler, who is doing a work experience placement at Physics World

It is hard to believe while standing among 7 billion other people on this huge and diverse planet we call home that it is not the centre of the universe in the same way that it is the centre of our lives. From the point of view of an ordinary person such as myself, the stars and the other planets seem almost to rotate around us as we go about our everyday lives. But as we all know, this is not the case. In this photo of the Earth taken on 19 July by the Cassini Interplanetary Spacecraft, approximately 900 million miles away, the Earth and the Moon occupy less than one pixel of the photograph. So perhaps we are not quite as important as we thought. Not a big fish in a small pond, but a very small fish in an infinite pond.

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Watch the Physics World Hangout about the physics of cancer

By James Dacey

A little earlier today we hosted a Google+ Hangout about the July issue of Physics World – a special issue about an emerging new research field called the “physics of cancer”. In case you were unable to join us for the live event (or would like to enjoy it all over again), you can watch it again via this YouTube recording.

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Hang out with Physics World as we discuss the physics of cancer

By James Dacey

Cover of Physics World July 2013 special issue on "physics of cancer"

Physics World July 2013 special issue on the physics of cancer.

Tomorrow we will be hosting a Google Hangout about the July issue of Physics World – a special issue on an emergent field known as the “physics of cancer”.  If you have not read the issue already, it is available as a free PDF download.

I will be joined in the Hangout by Matin Durrani, the editor of Physics World, and Louise Mayor, the magazine’s features editor, and the three of us will be discussing the themes and issues raised by the magazine. We would also like to hear from you on this topic. So please send us your questions about the issue by posting a comment below this article.

You will be able to watch the Hangout live, on both the Physics World Google+ page and the Physics World YouTube channel. The Hangout will be taking place this Friday at 12.15 p.m. local time, which corresponds to the following times:

UTC 11:15

London (BST) 12.15 p.m.

New York (EDT) 7.15 a.m.

Mumbai (IST) 4.45 p.m.

Sydney (EST) 9.15 p.m.

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CERN teams up with EUROVISION to inspire the next Peter Higgs

By James Dacey

Illustration of children learning about science

CERN is seeking to inspire tweens in science. (Courtesy: iStockphoto)

I must confess that I was not aware of this partnership, and I must admit it’s not a partnership I would have seen coming. CERN has teamed up with the organization behind the Eurovision Song Contest, in awarding grants to two multimedia companies to develop content that can spark the scientific curiosity of “tweens”.

Okay, let’s back up a second and define a few terms in this equation. Tweens are described by CERN as children aged 8 to 12; not quite teenagers but no longer big babies either. My teacher friends will shoot me down in flames for this cod-pedology but I guess this age group is old enough to be excited by science but not yet old enough to start truly engaging with scientific concepts.

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