This week’s news that the first exo-moon might have been found, about 4000 light years away, is startling for several reasons. The first astonishing bit is that it was found at all. The majority of planets orbiting other stars have been found by light-curve analysis as the planet passes directly between the parent star and … More An exo-moon that’s as big as Uranus! But it ain’t Endor
On 1 January 2019 the New Horizons probe – the one that whipped past Pluto in 2015 – will encounter another outer solar-system body: 2014 MU69. Informally it’s become known as Ultima Thule. The neat part is that this body wasn’t even known when New Horizons was launched in January 2006. Back then, the probe … More New Horizons and Ultima Thule – the bonus mission
One of the ways we justify going to Mars is that Earth is pretty much on the road to ruin just now, courtesy of human endeavour. We need a new planet. The only problem is that human nature doesn’t change, so we’d probably end up wrecking Mars too, likely while fighting viciously over how to … More Humanity – the scourge of the galaxy
There’s been a lot of speculation of late about a putative ‘Planet Nine’. No, Pluto hasn’t been restored to proper place – this one is a new idea, proposed in 2014 by Chad Trujillo and Scott S. Sheppard on the basis of the orbits of the trans-Neptunian objects Sedna and 2012VP (which hasn’t been given … More Planet Nine from Outer Space
If both Special and General Relativity didn’t work precisely as Einstein said it did, GPS would be far less accurate than it actually is. Like, way off, meaning those auto-drive cars wouldn’t even get to the right road. Or any road. And we’d all be lost. Let me explain. GPS works by very precise distance … More How GPS finds you and lets Google send you adverts
There’s an apocryphal story about the time an eminent scientist was asked to write 500 words for a leading magazine on whether alien life might exist. The resulting article consisted of the words ‘nobody knows’, repeated 250 times. That point’s still true today. There are plenty of clues that point towards the idea that life … More Are there aliens? Nobody knows…
It always intrigues me that whenever we see something in the sky that doesn’t meet our existing idea of what’s out there, the first call is ‘ooh – aliens!’ It happened with KIC 8462852, also known as ‘Tabby’s Star’ after the astronomer Tabetha Boyajian – who led the intitial study. This star was exhibiting some … More I’m not saying it’s aliens… but it’s aliens…
An asteroid was discovered last week by astronomers using the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope. It’s moving at a tremendous clip – and is on its way out of our solar system after whipping through on a trajectory that took it inside the orbit of Mercury. The Minor Planets Centre at Cambridge, Massachussets, has … More Did we just rendezvous with Rama?
Eyes across the US will be pointing skywards today as the total solar eclipse sweeps across America – the first visible from the continguous continental US since 1979. There’s been a buzz about fake ‘eclipse glasses’ on the market, which doesn’t surprise me. Humanity has a very dark side and, of late, it hasn’t been … More The solar eclipse – and what it means
It’s two years this week since my Mum passed away. She was hugely interested in the why of the universe and usually asked me if she wanted something about it explained. It’s a while since I’ve done a science post, so I thought I’d run one this week. It’s about why our law of energy … More When energy isn’t conserved – a physics conundrum
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