This post begins on a personal note. My Mum passed away, suddenly, last week. Mum got me writing, encouraged me to write – and was an avid reader of what I wrote. Including this blog, where her favourites were my science posts. Mum taught me to wonder about everything – about the way our curiosity fuels our… More Of the sense of wonder that casts light into the darkness
This week the SETI institute announced they were going to check the newly discovered Earth-size world 1400 light years away, Kepler 452b, for radio transmissions. I don’t think they’ll find any. Here’s why. The problem is that near-Earth size, insolation and orbit – which is all we know just now – doesn’t necessarily mean Earth-like. The planet was… More Why the new ‘Earth 2.0’ is more likely to be Venus 1.1
I was asked the other week, on Facebook, why Jupiter doesn’t just fly off into space. You know, it’s so enormous, surely the Sun can’t hold it. Actually, it can. Jupiter is around 300 times the mass of Earth, sure – but it’s only 0.09 percent the mass of the Sun. Not only can the Sun… More The Sun’s big. Really big. And really grippy.
The other day I threw a crumpled bag into a bin and almost missed. It hung on the edge for a while. Quite suddenly it began collapsing into the bin, flexing as it did so. In a strict sense this was all understandable; I’d crushed the bag, meaning the energy of my fingers was stored… More Do humans see patterns where there aren’t any? Let’s talk…
I never fail to boggle at the convenience of social media. Even as the southern hemisphere is swathed in a wet and dark winter, a friend of mine on tour in north Sweden has been extoling the experience of the midnight sun on Facebook. More a sort of taunt, really, for those of us stuck… More It’s winter in New Zealand. I blame Earth’s axial tilt.
Yesterday’s Pluto flyby’s been one of the most amazing unmanned space moments of the last half century – up there with the Voyager probes and with the Mars rovers. It’s also only the beginning. Over the next sixteen months the probe will transmit the data it picked up during that super-fast cruise through the Pluto system.… More Why the Pluto flyby means we need to re-think our view of the solar system
Back in the early twentieth century the Solar System was a simple place. Four small planets (three of them possibly inhabited) huddled close to the Sun, girdled by an asteroid belt widely supposed to be an exploded planet. Beyond lay four gas giants with their own moons (also likely inhabited). In and around them orbited various comets.… More How Pluto got (wrongly) demoted to ‘dwarf’ planet