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Tag archives: astronomy

Balancing bicycles, looking back on Trinity, pricing up Pluto and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

Mechanics was never my favourite topic when I was studying physics for my BSc, but I think I might have been more interested if we had looked at real-world situations rather than square blocks sliding down an incline plane. A bicycle that carries on, sans rider, without toppling over for quite a long time, for example, would have got my attention. This is a rather well-known quirk of mechanics though and it isn’t even the first time we have discussed it on the blog. Indeed, Physics World‘s James Dacey, a keen cyclist, delved into the topic in 2011. This week, we spotted a a new Minute Physics video on the subject, over at ZapperZ’s Physics and Physicists blog. Watch the video to get a good, if a tiny bit rushed, explanation of the three forces that come into play to allow a bicycle at a certain speed to zip along without its human companion. As the video suggests, all is not known about the secrets of free-wheeling bicycles just yet though, and I have a feeling that we will blog about it again in the years to come.

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Pluto fly-by: New Horizons sails past cold, distant world

Image of Pluto todate taken by the New Horizons spacecraft

Perfect view: the sharpest image of Pluto to date taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Tushna Commissariat

After trundling through our solar system for more than 10 years, NASA’s New Horizons mission made its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto earlier today, at 12:49 BST. It was a mere 12,472 km from the planet’s surface – roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

If you want to find out more about the New Horizons mission, read this recent news story by physicsworld.com editor Hamish Johnston. Above is best close-up view of this cold, unexplored world that the spacecraft sent back before its closest approach (when it was still 766,000 km from the surface), revealing in clear detail many of the planet’s surface features, including the “heart” at the bottom.

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A galaxy for a Galáctico and astronomers weigh in on a famous kiss

A galaxy far away: this false colour image of CR7 was taken by several telescopes (Courtesy: David Sorbal et al)

A galaxy far away: this false colour image of CR7 was taken by several telescopes. (Courtesy: David Sorbal et al.)

By Hamish Johnston

Over the past decade or so the Real Madrid football club has acquired a string of high profile players dubbed the “Galácticos”. Now the most expensive of these footballers – the Portuguese forward and Real Madrid number 7 Cristiano Ronaldo – has a distant galaxy named after him. The galaxy is dubbed “CR7” and was discovered by a team of astronomers led by David Sobral of the University of Lisbon using several different telescopes.

CR7 actually has two meanings, the second being “COSMOS Redshift 7”. COSMOS refers to the Cosmological Evolution Survey, which is using a number of telescopes to search for very old galaxies.

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Space Station vacancy, lead balloons on the fly and more

 

By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

You may remember that the “classical crossover” soprano star Sarah Brightman had been undergoing strenuous training at Moscow’s Star City complex before hitching a ride on a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) in September. The singer was set to pay a whopping £30m for a ticket that would have seen her embark on a 10-day journey into space. Brightman even recorded a special song in March that she was planned to perform on the ISS itself – you can watch the 5 News report above. But Brightman has now postponed the trip, putting out a brief statement on her website citing “personal family reasons” for the decision. One beneficiary of Brightman’s no-show will be the Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu, who had been training as Brightman’s back-up. Whether he’ll do his own version of her planned performance isn’t clear.

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On top of the volcano – part two

 

By Matin Durrani at Sierra Negra, Mexico

Just as my Physics World colleague James Dacey mentioned earlier, neither of us felt super-wonderful yesterday visiting the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT), which sits at a height of 4600 metres above sea level.  Spectacular though the facility is, the air pressure is roughly 60% of that at sea level and there is so little oxygen that even walking up a flight of stairs made me feeling pretty light-headed.

So, James and I were both quite glad to descend with LMT director David H Hughes to a height of 4100 metres, where it was time to visit another leading Mexican astronomy facility – the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) gamma-ray observatory.

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On top of the volcano – part one

 

By James Dacey at Sierra Negra, Mexico

Friday was the final full day of the Physics World Mexican adventure and we ended with a breathtaking experience, quite literally.

Matin and I rose early in Puebla to travel over a hundred kilometres east to the ominously named Sierra Negra volcano. This extinct beast is home to two of Mexico’s finest astrophysics facilities.

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A telescope for the Year of Light

The Galileoscope

The Galileoscope – yours for only $25.

By Michael Banks

Avid readers of physicsworld.com may remember the Galileoscope – a low-cost educational telescope kit that was released for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

The telescope marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescope, which he presented to policy-makers from the Venetian Republic on 25 August 1609.

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New York dims its lights for birds

Photograph of birds flocking over Central Park in New York

Birds flock over Central Park. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/giovanni1232)

By James Dacey

It’s been a great week for birds – or at least those flying over the state of New York – after state governor Andrew Cuomo pledged to create safer migration routes for our feathered friends. All state buildings will now have to comply with a national US initiative that seeks to curb levels of light pollution, which can disorient birds and lead to huge numbers of avian deaths by “fatal light attraction”.

Many species of bird rely on the light from star constellations to help them navigate during spring and autumn migrations. Unfortunately, artificial light sources can throw the animals off course, and light reflected from glass can cause the birds to smack into windows, walls, floodlights and other hard surfaces. It is estimated that as many as a billion birds succumb to this cruel end each year in the US alone, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

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Hubble at 25, Star Trek selfies on the ISS, Wu-Tang Clan physics and more

Hubble's official 25 anniversary image of the Westerlund 2 cluster.

Shine on: Hubble’s official 25 anniversary image of the Westerlund 2 cluster.
(Courtesy: NASA, ESA, (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), Westerlund 2 Science Team)

By Tushna Commissariat

25 years ago today, the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched aboard the Discovery space shuttle and since then, it has changed the face of observational astronomy as we know it; taking millions of people worldwide from their homes to the most distant and far-flung reaches of the universe and the imagination. The telescope has also been instrumental in some of the biggest, Nobel-prize-winning discoveries in physics in the past two decades, including that of the accelerating expansion of the universe. The stunning image above of the giant cluster of nearly 3000 stars dubbed “Westerlund 2″ was especially released yesterday to celebrate Hubble’s 25th anniversary. The stellar nursery is difficult to observe because it is surrounded by dust, but Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the cluster. Once you are done staring in awe at the image, watch the short video below, put together by NASA on the HST’s lifetime.

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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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