Category Archives: The Red Folder

Night visions, the sky 10 billion years ago and unexplained sounds from around the world

View from an Earth-like planet 10 million years ago

Good old days: the view from an Earth-like planet 10 billion years ago. (Courtesy: NASA/ESA/Z Levay (STScI))

By Hamish Johnston

This week’s Red Folder is inspired by a vision I had last night while I was putting out the garbage bins. I happened to look up at the sky just as the International Space Station (ISS) was travelling over Bristol. It was a very bright and impressive sight as it zipped overhead before disappearing at the eastern horizon. If you happen to be on an arc through northern Europe between Penzance and Poznań, you should also have a great view of the ISS this evening; you can find out when and where to look at the ISS Astroviewer website.

The ISS is one thing that you would definitely not see if you could look at the sky as it was 10 billion years ago – but have you ever wondered what that view would be? Zolt Levay at the Hubble Heritage Information Center has, and the above image is his vision of what the sky would look like from a hypothetical planet within a Milky Way-like galaxy 10 billion years ago. The work was inspired by a new collection of nearly 2000 images of galaxies as they appeared at that time in the history of the universe. Taken by a number of different telescopes including Hubble, “the new census provides the most complete picture yet of how galaxies like the Milky Way grew over the past 10 billion years into today’s majestic spiral galaxies”, according to NASA.

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Isaac Newton’s Good Friday, art meets physics and our favourite April Fool gags

APOD image of artwork "Mooooonwalk"

Suiting up for the Moon – an artwork aptly titled “Mooooonwalk”. (Courtesy: APOD/ Robert Nemiroff/Michigan Technological University)

By Hamish Johnston and Tushna Commissariat

As it’s Good Friday today, it can only mean that this week’s Red Folder will include a selection of the best physics-related April Fool jokes from earlier this week. Fermilab’s daily e-bulletin Fermilab Today had an entire joke edition up in the morning – their lead story was probably our favourite as the lab announced its new breakfast cereal dubbed “Neutrin-Os”, but their new day spa sounds pretty good too. CERN went for the funny if slightly obvious Star Wars joke, confirming the existence of the Force, but a slightly more subtle joke came earlier in the week from CERN Bulletin, which ran a story about CERN’s computer-security department handing out prizes for best password – we are still not quite sure if they were joking or not! Astronomy Picture of the Day had a truly fantastic image (see above) of a Lunar Grazing Module described as a “multipurpose celestial bovine containment system”.

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Florida’s declining Space Coast, naming mountains on Pluto and silly rock bands

 

Artist's impression of Pluto

Name game: does that crater look like a Steve, or maybe a Carol? (Courtesy: IAU/L Calçada)

By Hamish Johnston

When I was a young lad back in the late 1960s, my family would join the annual March migration of Canadians to Florida. Along with alligator farms and the endless beaches, the Kennedy Space Center was a popular tourist destination and I can still remember visiting it and getting a solar spinner globe as a souvenir. Sadly, since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, Florida’s “Space Coast” has fallen on hard times. While there are still rocket launches – there are two planned for April – thousands of NASA employees have been let go and the surrounding communities look worse for wear. The New York-based photographer Rob Stephenson has put together a collection of images taken in and around the centre that he calls “Myths of the Near Future”. To me the photographs evoke the allure of the space age as well as the inevitable decline of any human endeavour.

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Partial eclipse, meteorites and northern lights enthral a nation

Spot on: this photograph of the Sun taken during the eclipse clearly shows a sunspot (Courtesy: David Bloomfield)

Spot on: this photograph of the Sun taken during today’s eclipse clearly shows a sunspot. (Courtesy: David Bloomfield)

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier today millions of people in north-western Europe had the opportunity to see a partial eclipse of the Sun – or a total eclipse for the lucky few in northern Norway and the Faroe Islands.  Although it was a bit hazy here in Bristol, we were treated to spectacular views of the Moon covering 87% of the Sun. We have put up a Flickr album of images taken by colleagues here at IOP Publishing including the amazing photo above. It was taken by David Bloomfield and clearly shows a sunspot in the upper-left portion of the Sun.

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Physics mosh pit, stained-glass scientists, opera and dance at CERN and more

 

By Hamish Johnston

Last week Physics World’s Michael Banks was at the APS March Meeting in San Antonio, and at the top of his to-do list was to belt out a few tunes at the event’s regular physics singalong. You can hear him in harmony with a roomful of physicists in a rendition of “(You Got Me) Lasing” in the video above. It is sung by Walter Smith of Haverford College to the tune of Britney Spears’ “(You Drive Me) Crazy” and his performance drives the dance floor into a frenzy of moshing physicists.

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Pioneering women of physics, why you should become a particle physicist and a BICEP2 scientist on all that dust

Photograph of particle physicist at CERN

Smiley happy people: who would not want to be a particle physicist? (Courtesy: ATLAS)

By Hamish Johnston

Over on the Quantum Diaries blog, Aidan Randle-Conde has put together a lovely photo-essay called “30 reasons why you shouldn’t be a particle physicist”. It is reverse psychology, of course, and the 30 images highlight the benefits of devoting your life to studying sub-atomic particles. As someone who chose to do condensed-matter physics, do I now think that I made a huge mistake? No, but I have shared the thrill and excitement of being at CERN when the Higg’s was discovered and seen the Large Hadron Collider and its detectors up close, so I know where he is coming from.

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A journal for brief ideas, Heisenberg’s mirror, space-mission stickers and more

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprobe.es)

Mission accomplished: these graphics were created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. (Courtesy: spaceprob.es)

By Hamish Johnston

Dr Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty” is the name of a series of photographs taken in 1999 by the American photographer Duane Michals. The picture over at that link is lovely, but I don’t really see the connection to quantum mechanics. I suspect my artist friends would accuse me of being a scientific literalist, which doesn’t bother me one bit.

More to my liking are the graphics pictured above, which have been created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard. The pair run a website called spaceprob.es, which “catalogues the active human-made machines that freckle our solar system and dot our galaxy”. Here is their page on Voyager 2, which is packed with facts about the mission’s instruments and many accomplishments. These and other illustrations of space missions can be bought as stickers and posters – the perfect gift for the space enthusiast in your life.

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Oscar-nominated physics, putting the jump into popping corn and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, buttery popcorn – and it seems as if even physicists are enthralled by it as they dig into the pops and jumps of this tasty snack. A recent article in the New York Times caught our attention this week, as it talked about how a French research duo used high-speed video cameras and a hot plate to see just why a kernel of corn not only pops, but also leaps up as it puffs. The team found that as the kernel’s hull is breached, we hear the popping sound and this is swiftly followed by the jump that happens when a puffy bit of the inside pushes out and makes the corn jump, a bit like a muscle twitch. Take a look at the lovely slow-motion video above of individual kernels leaping about like perfect puffy ballet dancers.

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William Blake’s graphene sensor, boiling an egg inside out, quantum woo and more

 

By Hamish Johnston

Are you tired of the same old boiled egg staring up at you every morning? Then why not try this simple trick from the Japanese chef Yama Chaahan, who in the video above creates a boiled egg with the yolk on the outside and the white in the middle. There is angular momentum and fluid dynamics involved, and if you don’t understand Japanese, the Huffington Post has a step-by-step guide in English.

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Poetry please, a protein-folding app for your phone, and a new home for the Institute of Physics

Artist's impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics

Artist’s impression of the new headquarters of the Institute of Physics.

By Hamish Johnston

You may not know it, but you could be a poet.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope have just launched a contest to find the best “Ode to Hubble” as part of the celebrations for Hubble’s 25th birthday. Although described as an ode, the contest is actually looking for a short video tribute to Hubble that can include verse, song, prose as well as still and moving images. The piece can either be about the telescope or one of its many discoveries. There are two age categories, one for “generation Hubble” – those born after its launch – and one for over 25s. So look to the stars and get those creative juices flowing.

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