Tag archives: space
By James Dacey
Last weekend I went to a Davie Bowie tribute night at a local pub in Bath. It was a fun evening – roughly a year since the artist passed away – where local musicians played classic tracks by Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and several of Bowie’s other alter egos. One of the more surreal moments of the night was when a man in a pink suit took to the stage to play what the band called his “spaceship” – producing a whirring, repetitive electronic sound that built up to a crescendo. For a few minutes we were transported into space, just as Bowie intended with many of his memorable songs.
By Margaret Harris
Space is, famously, “the final frontier”. It is also – almost as famously – “hard”. We saw this most recently in October, when the Schiaparelli lander crashed onto the surface of Mars, but throughout humanity’s nearly 60-year history as a spacefaring species, our hopes of exploring and observing the cosmos have repeatedly come up against the stiff challenge of building vessels that can survive the journey. Arguably, no other industry on Earth (or indeed off it) has rejoiced in such high “highs”, or agonized through such low “lows”.
That mix of heady dreams and harsh realities is one reason why the latest Physics World focus issue on astronomy and space science carries the tag line “To the stars, through adversity” (I’ll come to the other reason at the end of this blog post). The articles in the issue – which you can read free of charge – pay tribute to the ingenuity of the scientists and engineers involved in the challenging and rewarding practical work of exploring and observing the cosmos. Here, you can learn about the latest advances in astronomical instrumentation, get up to speed with future space missions, and familiarize yourself with recent developments in the entrepreneurial “new space” industry.
By Tushna Commissariat
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has, as of this week, spent two full years in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, since it reached its destination in August 2014. While Rosetta was the mothership, it also deposited its “baby” lander called Philae onto the comet’s surface in November that year. Sadly Philae was switched off in July this year. If you feel like you want to relive the excitement of the initial launch, take a look at the video above. The folks over at Design and Data, who created Rosetta’s iconic cartoons and memorabilia for ESA, launched a plush-toy version of the spacecraft into space, to see how it would fare. Watch the video to see how their “mission” played out.
By Matin Durrani in Beijing, China
I caught up this morning on the second day of my visit to Beijing with Ziyuan Ouyang, chief scientist of China’s Moon programme at the National Astronomical Observatories, which lies not far from the city’s iconic “bird’s-nest” Olympic stadium.
I’d first met Ouyang on my last visit in 2011 when the country had so far launched two lunar missions – Chang’e 1 (which orbited the Moon for 18 months before crash-landing onto the lunar surface) and Chang’e 2 (another lunar orbiter that later moved off into interplanetary space).
China’s lunar efforts have continued and Ouyang explained to me what has happened since my last visit – and what the country plans to do next.
By Margaret Harris
I have a mental block about Carlton House Terrace. This elegant little street in central London is home to several of the UK’s national academies, including the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), and I’m sure I’ve visited it at least half a dozen times. Yet somehow, whenever I emerge from Charing Cross underground station in the middle of Trafalgar Square, I never know which way to go next.
Fortunately, this is the 21st century, so when the usual disorientation struck me yesterday on my way to an “Innovation in Space” event at the RAEng, I simply pulled out my smartphone. Within seconds, an app told me exactly where I was (plus or minus a few metres) and how to walk from there to 3 Carlton House Terrace. Minutes later, I was safely ensconced in the seminar room, nodding in agreement as the event’s chair, Sir Martin Sweeting, explained how space-related innovations – including, ahem, the network of satellites that make up the Global Positioning System (GPS) – have become an integral part of our daily lives.
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 Tushna Commissariat and Hamish Johnston
I’m sure that most of you have wondered what the Higgs boson would sound like if it were a heavy-metal song. Now you can turn it up to 11 (TeV that is) courtesy of CERN physicist and guitarist Piotr Traczyk, who has “sonified” data from two plots from the CMS experiment that were presented at the Higgs discovery seminar on 4 July 2012. His heavy-metal ditty is based on gamma–gamma and 4-lepton data from CMS and after you listen to his excellent song in the above video, you can find out more about how it was created by reading this entry by Traczyk on the Cylindrical Onion blog.
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.
By Susan Curtis in Baltimore, US
After two days of getting to grips with biophysics – see here and here for my experiences – I was ready for a change of scene. And a visit to the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), co-located with the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore but operated on behalf of NASA, was just what I needed.
The STScI is home to many of the scientists and engineers who made the Hubble Space Telescope possible, and who have been working for many years to design the optics and instrumentation for its successor – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due to be launched in 2018. The institute also runs the science operations for Hubble and soon will for the JWST, providing software tools for astronomers to make their observations and processing the raw data acquired by the onboard instruments to make it ready for scientific analysis.
By Hamish Johnston
Giving a fired-up talk at a physics conference is a good way for aspiring researchers to make themselves known to the community, but unless you have a natural gift, lots of practice is required. That’s why many universities and labs host “slams” to encourage staff and students to talk about their research to a broader audience. Above is a video of the sold-out Fermilab Physics Slam 2014, which was held last week at the lab on the outskirts of Chicago.