Rosetta's probe may land 500 metres from jets that produce comet's tail

15 September, 2014

I have a new posting on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


"The European Space Agency is playing a high-stakes game but the potential science return makes it worth taking the chance.


Initially, the European Space Agency thought that its chances of successfully landing on Rosetta’s target comet were about 70-75%. Now chances are lower – maybe much lower – but the agency won’t give a figure because it doesn’t have time to re-run the risk assessment exercise.


That in itself shows that Esa knows exactly where its priorities lie. Instead of re-running an academic exercise, it is concentrating on making the landing as safe as it can possibly be. ..."


Read the full story here.

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Northern lights may put on a show over the UK tonight

12 September, 2014

I have a new article published by The Guardian.


"The aurora borealis could be pushed further south than usual by a coronal mass ejection from the sun on Friday.


Skywatchers in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland could see a display of the colourful northern lights on Friday and Saturday nights. The aurora borealis will appear as a faint glow or as shifting veils of light in the sky.


“If the skies are clear it will be worth keeping an eye on the northern sky,” said Jim Wild, a space physicist from the University of Lancaster in the UK."


Read the full story here.

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Rosetta comet rendezvous is a triumph for the European Space Agency

06 August, 2014

I have a new article on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe:


"Rosetta has arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. One of the most audacious space missions in decades, it is designed to reveal clues to the origins of the solar system, our home planet and life itself


This morning, a thruster burn brought Rosetta into “orbit” around its target comet, signalling the start of its main science phase. The spacecraft will now track comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for a year, following it through its closest approach to the sun to monitor how the extra heating affects the icy surface.


Nothing about this mission is ordinary, and these are no ordinary orbits. The weirdly shaped comet, which some have likened to the shape of a rubber duck, does not produce enough gravity to fully hold the spacecraft. Instead, the flight team will “drive” the spacecraft in triangular-shaped orbits, gradually lowering the altitude from today’s 100km to around 30km. ..."


Read the full article here.

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Tags: Comet Rosetta

Nasa's Curiosity rover finds large iron meteorite on Mars

16 July, 2014

I have a new article published on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


"The iron meteorite discovered by the Curiosity rover must once have been at the heart of a growing planet that was shattered aeons ago.


The meteorite is made of iron and about 2 metres long, which is about the width of the Nasa rover that found it. It is the first meteorite that Curiosity has found on Mars. Scientists have named it Lebanon – presumably because of its shape.


Meteorites are lumps of rock and metal that fall from space and impact the surface of a planet. They are time capsules, usually representing the shattered fragments of doomed worlds from the beginning of our solar system. ..."


you can read the full article here.

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Tags: Mars

Mountain top blown up to make way for world’s largest telescope – watch again

19 June, 2014

I have a new article published on my Guardian blog, Across the Universe.


"Construction of the E-ELT monster telescope starts on Thursday with the blasting of a million tonnes of rock from a mountain top. Watch the livestream below.


It was one of the last places on Earth I expected to get a mobile signal. And in a few hours' time it won't exist at all.


Between 17:30 and 19:30 BST, the European Southern Observatory will blast the top off Cerro Armazones, a 3,000-metre-high mountain in the Chilean Andes. And the world can watch it happen live via the player embedded below.


Almost a million tonnes of rock will be blown away in the detonation. This will lower the mountain top by 40 metres and provide a plateau on which to build the world’s largest telescope."


Read the full article and watch the livestream recording here.

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Apparent pause in global warming blamed on 'lousy' data

13 June, 2014

I have a new article published by the Guardian.


"European Space Agency scientist says annual sea level rises since 1993 indicate that warming has continued unabated.


A widely reported "pause" in global warming may be an artefact of scientists looking at the wrong data, says a climate scientist at the European Space Agency.


Global average surface temperatures rose rapidly from the 1970s but have been relatively flat for the past 15 years. This has prompted speculation from some quarters that global warming has stalled.


Now, Stephen Briggs from the European Space Agency's Directorate of Earth Observation says that surface air temperature data is the worst indicator of global climate that can be used, describing it as "lousy"."


You can read the full article here.

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