Category Archives: The Red Folder

Meteoroid seen from space, Nobel laureates speak their minds on group awards and keeping up with technology

 

By Hamish Johnston

Fix your eyes on the upper-right portion of the above video and pay particular attention about seven seconds into the footage. You will see a fireball falling through Earth’s atmosphere. The video was taken from the International Space Station by the Italian astronaut and prolific photographer Paolo Nespoli.

Was the fireball a piece of space junk, or perhaps a tiny piece of asteroid? And how fast was it moving? For an analysis of what Nespoli may have seen, go to: “The backstory: Paolo spots a meteoroid from the ISS”. There you will also find a fantastic gallery of photographs taken by Nespoli.

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Name a distant world, fireworks through a diffraction grating, radio telescope helps Puerto Rican relief

Double act: artist's impression of the (486958) 2014 MU69 flyby (Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Carlos Hernandez)

Double act: artist’s impression of the (486958) 2014 MU69 flyby. (Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Carlos Hernandez)

By Hamish Johnston

Here is an opportunity to put your mark on the solar system. NASA and the team behind the New Horizons spacecraft are asking the public to nickname the mission’s next flyby target. Located in the Kuiper belt and called “(486958) 2014 MU69”, the target is likely to be two objects – each about 20 km across – in a very close orbit. So, a name like “Cheech and Chong” could be a winner. To enter, go to “Help us nickname a distant world”.

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Putting a stamp on gravitational waves, LEGO’s Women of Nasa, physicist competes in bake-off

Cosmic delivery: German stamp commemorates gravitational waves (Courtesy: German Federal Ministry of Finance)

Cosmic delivery: German stamp commemorates gravitational waves. (Courtesy: German Federal Ministry of Finance)

By Michael Banks and Hamish Johnston

For those wanting to add a physics twist to your season’s greetings, you now can thanks to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance. It has announced two new stamps that will go on sale in the country on 7 December. A €0.40 stamp will feature the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite and will be the first German stamp to include a metallic coating. Gaia was launched in 2013 to measure the positions and distances of astronomical objects, including stars, planets as well as comets. The ministry also announced a €0.70 stamp that depicts the gravitational waves that emerge from the collision of two black holes. The simulation was made by researchers at the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Potsdam, Germany. “The ministry did not announce whether letters equipped with the new gravitational-wave stamp will be transported at the speed of light,” states an AEI press release.

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Hawking’s PhD thesis, Einstein letter up for auction, first zero

By Michael Banks

Page of Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis

Courtesy: University of Cambridge

The PhD thesis of the University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking was made freely available to read this week by the university’s Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication.

Hawking completed his PhD – entitled “Properties of expanding universes” – in 1966 when he was 24 years old. To mark Open Access Week 2017, the 117-page tome was posted on the university’s Apollo open-access repository, which is already home to some 15,000 research articles and 2400 theses.

Yet within hours of Hawking’s opus being posted online, demand was so great that the site crashed. However, according to the university, it was still downloaded more than 60,000 times in the first 24 hours.

“By making my PhD thesis open access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet,” Hawking noted. “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.”

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A rockin’ good milkshake, a telescope that wants to be the next Taj Mahal

The Rock-Music Milk Shake Mixer uses sounds waves to create a milkshake, which is to be launched at the 2018 Big Bang Fair in Birmingham, UK

Sounds tasty: the Rock Music Milkshake Mixer uses sound waves to create a milkshake.

By Matin Durrani and Hamish Johnston

Film fans will well remember the opening scene from Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly (played by Michael J Fox) is thrown across a room by a massive sound wave from an enormous guitar amp. It’s more science fiction than science fact, but to illustrate the impact that sound can have on everyday life, staff at EngineeringUK have come up with something really rather clever. To drum up interest in next year’s science-careers show The Big Bang Fair, which is to be held in March in Birmingham, UK, they’ve built what they dub a “Rock Music Milkshake Mixer”.

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A tenner in space, why just 0.3% of LIGO bagged the Nobel, sounding-off in Havana

Tenner, nine, eight...: Mary Sommerville has lifted off (Courtesy: RBS)

Tenner, nine, eight…: Mary Sommerville has lifted off (Courtesy: RBS)

By Hamish Johnston and Matin Durrani

Primary school children in Scotland have celebrated the launch of a new £10 note by launching it into space. Well, sort of. The Royal Bank of Scotland note was actually sent aloft on a high-altitude balloon with a camera to capture the event for posterity.

If you know your astronomers, you will recognize Mary Sommerville on the tenner. She was active in the early 19th century and famously predicted the existence of Neptune by its influence on the orbit of Uranus. She and Caroline Herschel were the first women to be members of the Royal Astronomical Society and she also wrote the bestselling science book On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences.

There is much more about Sommerville in our podcast “Mary, Queen of Scottish banknotes“.

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Great wrong theories, new spin on golf, physics photo competition

 

The Standard Model: wrong, but wonderfully wrong (Courtesy: Eric Drexler)

The Standard Model: wrong, but wonderfully wrong (Courtesy: Eric Drexler)

By Hamish Johnston

What is the greatest wrong theory in physics? Physicist Chad Orzel asks that question in his latest blog for Forbes and by wrong he does not mean incorrect, but rather incomplete. He makes the argument for the Standard Model, which he says has been wrong for a very long time – but continues to be phenomenally successful.

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Reminiscing about Fermilab, CAPTCHA tests your physics, science of guitar strings

By Hamish Johnston

What do huge snowstorms, pioneering childcare and bison have in common? The answer is that they all feature in video recollections of Fermilab, the particle physics facility that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A playlist of the videos is available and you can watch Cindy Joe’s musings over Snowpocalypse 2011 above.

According to physics blogger ZapperZ, the online retailer Amazon is developing a new CAPTCHA technology that relies on human’s innate understanding of the laws of physics. The idea, apparently, is that a user would be presented with before and after scenarios and asked which seem plausible. This could be a ball rolling down a ramp, or a projectile flying through the air. It seems that web robots can’t solve simple mechanics problems – at least for now.

Ending on a bright note, music technologist and erstwhile physicist Jonathan Kemp of the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland claims to have invented a revolutionary type of guitar string. He riffs on his new creation in the video above.

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Prize-winning astronomy image, the ultimate cost of Cassini, amazing facts about lasers

 

Prize winning: Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex captured by Artem Mironov (Courtesy: Artem Mironov)

Prize winning: the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex captured by Artem Mironov (Courtesy: Artem Mironov)

By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

Hats off to the Russian photographer Artem Mironov, who has beaten thousands of amateur and professional photographers from around the world to win the 2017 Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year. The award is in its ninth year and is run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich together with Insight Investment and BBC Sky at Night magazine. Mironox’s image, which was taken over three nights from a farm in Namibia, is of the swirling dust and gas clouds in the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex. The object is situated approximately 400 light years away from Earth and is home to a cluster of more than 300 protostars. As well as winning the £10,000 top prize, Mironov’s image will be on display along with other selected pictures at an exhibition at the Royal Observatory that will run until 28 June 2018. The competition received over 3800 entries from over 90 countries. (more…)

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A punt on Planck, physicist puts Frankenstein to music, would Brian Cox cope on Mars?

Fancy a flutter? The NIST napkin (Courtesy: NIST)

Fancy a flutter? The NIST napkin. (Courtesy: NIST)

By Hamish Johnston

A paper napkin with a load of numbers scrawled on top has been an unusual source of excitement for physicists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. One evening in December 2013, a group of them had gathered at a local watering hole to celebrate the success of NIST’s latest watt balance – NIST-3 – that had just determined Planck’s constant to a new accuracy. While enjoying “happy hour”, NIST researcher Dave Newell pulled out a napkin and the 10 researchers began to write down their predictions for the final value of Planck’s constant that NIST would submit to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris to help redefine the kilogram. The researchers then sealed the napkin in a plastic bottle and buried it inside a cavity within the foundation of NIST-3’s successor NIST-4, which was then being constructed.

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