Tag archives: astrophysics
By Louise Mayor
Woolly hats are being donned and there’s a nip in the air as the longest night of the year in the Northern hemisphere approaches. All this darkness makes it the perfect season to gaze up at the stars, planets and puffy nebulae above. But binoculars and amateur telescopes can only enhance the view by so much. To really push the boundaries of how far and how fine we can see, we must turn to international telescope projects both on the ground and in space.
To update you on what we think are the most exciting current and future projects we bring you the Physics World Focus on Astronomy and Space, which you can read free of charge in its entirety.
One particularly ambitious imaging effort is described in the article “Portrait of a black hole“, in which Physics World reporter Tushna Commissariat reports on how a group of astronomers plans to take the first-ever image of a black hole. Despite their name, black holes are apparently not black and the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration has already begun pointing a network of ground-based telescopes at its target: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.
By James Dacey
Today is Mexico’s Independence Day, marking the Grito de Dolores – the day in 1810 when the Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo called on his congregation in the small Mexican town of Dolores to revolt against the Spanish colonial government. This “Cry of Dolores” is seen as the flash point that triggered the Mexican War of Independence.
Modern-day Mexico is still a place with its fair share of turmoil, as the government faces increasing pressure over its inability to deal with drugs, violence and corruption. One area that is starting to look more positive, however, is Mexico’s science base – the administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to double Mexico’s investment in science and technology to 1% of GDP and has already sanctioned increases in 2013 and 2014.
To shine a light on what the Mexican physics community is up to, this month sees the publication of a new free-to-read Physics World special report on physics in Mexico. We believe that physicists in Mexico are doing engaging work that deserves to be more widely known. In choosing our coverage for the report, we have not only focused on the challenges for the Mexican community, but also hope to give you a flavour of the rich culture and geography of this most colourful of countries.
The Magnus effect in action, destroying the world, an astrophysicist camps out in Manchester and more
By Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks
This week’s Red Folder opens with a fantastic video (above) from the folks at Veritasium. It involves dropping a spinning basketball from the top of a very tall dam in Tasmania and watching as the ball accelerates away from the face of the dam before bouncing across the surface of the water below. In comparison, a non-spinning ball simply falls straight down. This happens because of the Magnus effect, which has also been used to create flying machines and sail-free wind-powered boats. The effect also plays an important role in ball sports such as tennis and is explained in much more detail in our article “The physics of football”.
By Hamish Johnston
Recently I blogged about quark novae, which are a passion of the University of Calgary astrophysicist Rachid Ouyed. I caught up with Ouyed at the Canadian Association of Physicists Congress in Edmonton last month, where between sessions he was busy writing a paper about quark novae.
I managed to coax him away from his calculations for long enough to record the above video, in which he talks about quark novae – huge explosions that some astrophysicists believe could occur shortly after some supernovae. Ouyed also talks about the quark stars that may be left behind and how quark novae could affect how astronomers measure cosmological distances.
By Hamish Johnston at the CAP Congress in Edmonton, Canada
The first day of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress at the University of Edmonton closed yesterday on the theme of time travel. Surely that is science fiction, you are thinking? But Miguel Alcubierre of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) wasn’t joking when he delivered the Herzberg Memorial Lecture yesterday evening (although he did giggle a lot during his talk, which was very endearing). The session was called “Faster than the speed of light” and it was a fascinating romp through some of the more bizarre implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR) – which is 100 years old this year.
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.
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.
By Matin Durrani
A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of travelling 1100 metres below ground to visit a dark-matter laboratory at the bottom of the Boulby Mine on the north-east coast of England. The journey was certainly memorable – it involved plunging down in a rattling lift cage for several minutes with a group of miners setting off on their morning shift. Once in the lab – housed inside a souped-up set of trailers – I interviewed physicist Sean Paling about the experimental projects going on there.
Setting up an underground lab, like that at Boulby, certainly doesn’t come cheap and in recent years, many have started to diversify into new areas. In the May issue of Physics World, which is now out in print and digital formats, Paling and his colleague Stephen Sadler – who is director at DURRIDGE UK Radon Instrumentation – describe the renaissance in the science taking place far beneath our feet. Studies in underground labs now range from Mars rovers to muon tomography and from radioactive dating to astrobiology.
By Tushna Commissariat
In recent years, science and science fiction have come together in cinema to produce a host of rather spectacular visual treats, the best of the lot being Christopher Nolan’s epic Oscar-nominated film Interstellar. That actual science has played a major role in film is pretty well known, thanks to the involvement of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who was an executive producer for the project. But in a near-cinematic plot twist, it has emerged that Thorne’s work on trying to develop the most accurate and realistic view of a supermassive black hole “Gargantua” has provided unprecedented insights into the immense gravitational-lensing effects that would emerge if we were to view such a stellar behemoth.
By Hamish Johnston
The big story this week is that astronomers working on the BICEP2 telescope may have spotted the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation. This is very good news for the physicist Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and others did much of the early work on inflation. In the above YouTube video Linde, who is certainly in the running for a Nobel prize, receives a surprise visit from BICEP2 team member Chao-Lin Kuo. Kuo is the first to tell Linde and his wife, the physicist Renata Kallosh, the news that the theory that Linde developed more than 30 years earlier had finally been backed up by direct observational evidence. Not surprisingly, champagne glasses are clinking!
Here at physicsworld.com we have tried to tell both sides of the story: the thrill of seeing the first hints of cosmic inflation, tempered with calls for caution that more data are needed before inflation is victorious over other theories describing the early universe.