Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Fuels for life found on moon of Saturn – an annotated infographic

April 18, 2017

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered hydrogen and carbon dioxide erupting in plumes of vapour from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. These are the critical organic chemical ingredients that sustain microbial life in extreme environments on Earth.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.


Earth-like planet #ProximaB found orbiting #ProximaCentauri – an annotated infographic

September 1, 2016

Scientists have found clear evidence of an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri – the nearest star to our sun. The rocky world, named Proxima b, lies within its star’s habitable zone, meaning liquid water could exist on its surface, and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the solar system.

E&T news reported the full details of the Proxima b discovery earlier this week.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.


Transit of Mercury – tiny planet to cross the face of the Sun on 9 May – an annotated infographic

April 29, 2016

Something yonder this way comes – the planet Mercury. The tiniest and innermostiest planet in our solar system (the one closest to the Sun and the one probably exclaiming every day, “Coo, it’s a bit hot again today, eh?”) will pass between Earth and the Sun on 9 May 2016.

Eagle-eyed skywatchers can catch sight of our perspiring planetary friend by viewing it through a telescope. Mercury will appear as a tiny black dot moving across the face of the Sun.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Mercury revs up for its solar sojourn

Mercury revs up for its solar sojourn

Hallowe’en asteroid spooks Earth on frighteningly close flyby – an annotated infographic

November 2, 2015

Apparently, Asteroid 2015 TB145 – a big ol’ space rock measuring approximately 320 metres in diameter – passed by the Earth at about 1.3 lunar distances on the night of October 30-31, e.g. Hallowe’en. This was the closest flyby of a space rock since 2006.

Did anyone notice this? E&T was naturally too busy prowling the dark October night streets while dressed as zombie Michael Faraday, pounding on strangers’ front doors and demanding highly sugared confectionery for free, to care.

The Earth being pummelled by a giant errant space rock on Hallowe’en would have been quite the shocker, though. All trick, no treat there, for sure.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Hallowe'en asteroid

Hallowe’en asteroid



Book Review: Physics in a Mad World – M Shifman

October 30, 2015

By Jade Fell

“Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness.” ― Bill Bryson


World Scientific, October 2014, 556 pp, ISBN 978-1-906190-92-7 £22 paperback/£45 hardback/£19 ebook

You should never judge a book by its cover, and the same is definitely true for size. While at first glance this book might come across as somewhat of a hefty and intimidating read, perhaps something a physics student might be assigned as weekend reading, the contents of the book is much more manageable. Split into three distinct sections, and interlaced with essays, letters, interviews and diary entries, Physics in a Mad World at times reads like a novel, allowing the reader an intimate glimpse into the back story of two renowned theoretical physicists, and their misadventures in the Soviet Union.

Author M. Shifman first introduces the remarkable Friedrich (Fritz) Houtermans, a Dutch-Austrian-German physicist who was the first to suggest that the sparkling of the stars in the night sky is caused by thermonuclear fusion. Houtermans tale begins in 1935, when, owing to his communist views, he was forced to flee Nazi German and take up refuge in the Soviet Union, working for the Kharkov Physico-Technical Institute. In the pages that follow, Houtermans’ life unfolds, through past interviews and anecdotes of his friends and colleagues, and long-surviving diary entries by his wife, Charlotte. Through these documents, Shifman traces Houtermans’ remarkable contributions to physics, those achieved while working with Russian physicist Valentin P Fomin, and later – having been arrested by the NKVD, tortured, interrogated, and held captive in a soviet prison – as he continued to indulge his thirst for knowledge.

The final section of the book is given over to the life of Yuri Golfand, another familiar name among theoretical physicists, whose work led to one the most important discoveries in the theory of particle physics – supersymmetry. Within the book the story of Golfand’s remarkable life and his key contributions to the scientific and mathematical worlds are narrated through two essays written by Boris Eskin and Boris Bolotovsky. Like Houtermans, Golfand life was wrought with the many challenges of working in the Soviet Union in the late 20th century. In 1973 he was fired from his position in the Lebedev Physics Institute in Moscow, and, blacklisted from further employment owing to his Jewish heritage, and found himself facing years of menial manual labour, and repeatedly interrogation by the KGB.

Physics in a Mad World is a must read for those with an interest in the history of theoretical physics and cold war politics alike. Through personal anecdotes, historical documents and theoretical papers Shifman pieces together the extraordinary life stories of two of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century. The tales of Houtermans and Golfand, combined with an in-depth exploration of life in the Soviet Union during the bloodiest years of the cold war, make for a truly captivating read.

Nasa celebrates #Hubble25 as space telescope hits quarter-century mark – an annotated infographic

April 29, 2015

Nasa has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope this week.

For a quarter of a century, Hubble has peered deep into distant galaxies, revealing images of breathtaking beauty and rewriting our understanding of the cosmos. Scientists hope that Hubble will keep working for at least another five years.

E&T magazine considers next-generation space telescopes in our latest issue online, as we look at the technology behind the James Webb Space Telescope.

Hubble: no trouble

Hubble: no trouble

Keep watching the March night skies for #Comet #PanSTARRS – an annotated graphic

March 11, 2013

Attention, budding astronomers and those of a general cosmic bent: over the next couple of weeks, the comet PanSTARRS should be visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere, being visible above the western horizon just after sunset.

PanSTARRS is making her first visit to our inner solar system, so let’s make her feel right at home. Give her a wave as she passes overhead!

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Comet Pan-STARRS

Comet Pan-STARRS

Killer #asteroid threatening Planet Earth – an annotated graphic

February 25, 2013

While we puny humans go about our days, worrying about trivial matters like shoes, the Oscars and the efficacy or otherwise of coalition governments, an asteroid with – so we’re told – the destructive power of an H-bomb is hurtling towards our favorite green and blue planet, Earth.

And not for the first time, either. These pesky asteroids keep setting themselves on an inexorable collision course with Planet Earth like stone kamikaze pilots at regular intervals across the ages of Man. So far, their aim hasn’t been too good, mostly missing us altogether, but a couple of doozies have snuck through the atmosphere and smacked Mother Earth upside the head. It can only be a matter of time etc.

E&T has covered this intergalactic terror before from a number of angles, including Nasa’s 1,000 most-wanted asteroid list, the ESA crowdsourcing asteroid watch and what exactly can we do about the asteroid threat anyway.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Giant asteroid to skim past Earth

Giant asteroid to skim past Earth

NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory takes flight – an annotated graphic

December 5, 2012

Well, would you look at this – a flying observatory. Cool! NASA’s latest science wheeze is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA to her friends.

A 15-tonne telescope mounted on a jumbo jet, this joint US-German venture (there are two countries you might not immediately put together) is beginning its first full cycle of science  flights. Question: how do stars form and evolve? No problem – SOFIA’s on it.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

SOFIA telescope takes flight

SOFIA telescope takes flight

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – an annotated graphic

May 2, 2012

As E&T reports in a recent news story about the SKA project, ASTRON – the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy – and IBM have embarked on a €32.9M project to develop and build the computer systems that will be needed to support the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope when it begins operations from 2019, in what’s being claimed as one of the most data-intensive science projects ever planned.

Australia and South Africa are competing to host the SKA. This graphic illustrates the concept and design of the planned radio telescope.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

World's biggest radio telescope

World's biggest radio telescope