NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts
May18

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts

Found via the Space Girl page on Facebook is the NIAC 2016 Phase I and Phase II Selections, featuring – as you might have worked out from post title – NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts, its programme to fund work on revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts. Some of the concepts include Brane Craft – “an ultra-light dynamic membrane spacecraft, with 3-axis attitude determination and control plus navigation, that can significantly change both its shape and orbit” – and Tensegrity Approaches to In-Space Construction of a 1g Growable Habitat – “[an] economically feasible approach to building habitats that can grow, spin, and [be manufactured] in space” – among many others. A lot of good stuff and interesting ideas for the science and possibly science fiction fan...

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Talks Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Dec22

Neil deGrasse Tyson Talks Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s become something of a tradition that famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson – how famous? He’s about 0.85 on the Professor Brian Cox scale level of famous – will take to Twitter to discuss elements of some current big thing and describe the science behind it, what’s right, and what’s wrong. Deflategate? He talked about it. Eurovision Song Contest? He talked about it. Proposed acquisition of 99p Stores Ltd by Poundland? He talked about it after converting the currency to those quaint dollars and cents they have over there. As you probably know unless you’ve been in a cave following a terrible spelunkung adventure (in which case thanks for popping by this site first on your escape from the darkness) the Star Wars universe just added a new movie to the collection in the form of The Force Awakens. I wrote a review about it. Recently. Here it is: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Review. It’s a big thing – the movie, not my review – and that means Neil deGrasse Tyson popped up on Twitter and told anyone who would listen about the film. The scientist’s remarks about the new Star Wars film are...

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Einstein’s Other Theories, Summarised
Dec08

Einstein’s Other Theories, Summarised

Albert Einstein is mostly famous for this theory of general relativity and his wild hairstyle. But, for budding future physicists and students of history it’s worth making a note of his other less-well-established yet equally inciteful theories all quite likely proven using chalk and blackboards. Theory of General Relatives The older ones are embarrassing at Christmas. The younger ones are so rude. Cousins are lovely. Theory of Relative Generals The more stars you’ve got the better you’ve probably been at avoiding action. Theory of General Hospital I don’t think this show is ever going to end. Theory of Genital Herpes Too many cousins can be too much of a good thing. Theory of Jenny McCarthy Oxygen...

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KIC 8462852
Oct14

KIC 8462852

Reported elsewhere but I’ll link to Phil Plait’s blog about the story here: Did Astronomers Find Evidence of an Alien Civilization? (Probably Not. But Still Cool.) A star – the titular KIC 8462852 – has produced some very strange observations that are difficult to explain right now but do present some intriguing (with care) possibilities. Most likely, of course, are natural ones that we’re not able to observe thanks to the distance involved (around 1500 light years) but there’s an unlikely-but-appealing argument for something a little more unnatural too. The observations are dips in the star’s light output, the means by which we typically detect planetary transits. As a rule these are periodic and the drop in starlight is a tiny percentage as planets are considerably smaller than the solar bodies they orbit. In KIC 8462852’s case the drops are irregular, sometimes dip slowly then rise quickly, and in a few cases dip by huge amounts (22%). Look at our own civilization. We consume ever-increasing amounts of power, and are always looking for bigger sources. Fossil, nuclear, solar, wind… Decades ago, physicist Freeman Dyson popularized an interesting idea: What if we built thousands of gigantic solar panels, kilometers across, and put them in orbit around the Sun? They’d capture sunlight, convert it to energy, and that could be beamed to Earth for our use. Need more power? Build more panels! An advanced civilization could eventually build millions, billions of them. […] But it raises an interesting possibility for detecting alien life. Such a sphere would be dark in visible light, but emit a lot of infrared. People have looked for them, but we’ve never seen one (obviously). Which brings us back to KIC 8462852. What if we caught an advanced alien civilization in the process of building such an artifact? Huge panels (or clusters of them) hundreds of thousands of kilometers across, and oddly-shaped, could produce the dips we see in that star’s light. The odds are low, but it’s a big universe out there. More observations...

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False Widow Spider Invasion
Sep13

False Widow Spider Invasion

We are duly informed that Experts warn ‘invasion’ of false widow spiders likely in coming weeks! Invasion is, of course, in quotes, because spiders don’t typically plan these sorts of things. Anyway… as a person somewhat afeared of arachnids this story compels me to read this because forewarned is foreterrifiedofeverylittlebitofdarkfluffinthehousefromnowon as they say. Sightings of spiders often peak from September as males of many species reach adulthood and venture into homes in search of a mate, but we could be seeing a lot more of them than normal over the next month or two. Clive Boase Oh no! More than usual! Why? Why! Well, change in climate is one reason, and the fact that there are just more of them and they’re coming over here taking all our native spiders’ jobs is quite possibly the other one although it might not be. Spiders will have fewer places to hide if you keep clutter to a minimum, so I would say keep your house tidy and vacuum regularly. Rob Simpson Well, I think we can all agree that’s some somewhat obvious advice after some vague information from the experts that ITV sought out. Still, we should be a little bit grafteful that at least they sought out the advice of experts on this subject. Experts. Scientists, hopefully. Scientists who’ve studied spiders and spidery behaviour as well as population modelling of arachnids. Scientists that journalists approached when tasked with the story of whether we might be facing an upturn in mildly dangerous spider numbers. I mean, I’d hate to discover that Clive Boase was a pest management consultant or that Rob Simpson was some sort of manager at a pest controllers register and that this was little more than a “press release” for services most people don’t need glossed over as news. I would really hate...

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Birds Of England’s East Coast
Sep13

Birds Of England’s East Coast

Something for ornithologists and amateur bird-watchers alike, a selection of some of the more rare birds you might just spot out and about around the eastern coast of England between late summer and early winter. Factory Swan Named because their black feathers were believed to be the result of soot belching out from late Victorian factories when the birds were first identified living in large groups alongside the Thames estuary these swans are actually 19th century immigrants from Iceland whose colouring made them easy to spot by predators once that country underwent The Coldening during the early 1800s. Their beaks have a very distinctive red flash along the top in adulthood, the result of staining from the swans’ preferred food source of subterranean cherries. Narcissus Tern Visually very similar to other terns along shorelines across northern Europe but distinguishable by silver flecks across the breast and eyes typically 15% larger than other birds of the Sternidae familiy, it is, however, the behaviour of these seabirds that gives them their obvious name; prior to courting – and to a lesser extent immediately before feeding – the Narcissus Tern will often seek out highly reflective surfaces and stare at itself intently, grooming when necessary, but sometimes simply staring at itself at the expense of all other activity. Some bird experts suggest this forms a means of “psyching itself up” although there is no consensus of opinion. Magpie Eagle Not a magpie and not an eagle, but actually a medium-sized hawk typically residing in urban areas in a rough triangle formed of London, Colchester, and Ramsgate during the colder weather, moving to the countryside as the temperatures increase. The bird’s feathers form a black and white fractal pattern that roughly resembles birds in flight but it’s the hawk’s unusual penchant for stealing bright objects with which to decorate its nesting areas – vacant beehives – that gives it part of its name; the remainder being a printing mistake from the definitive 1932 publication of British Hawks & Turtles that’s yet to be rectified. Logan’s Turnstone Like other turnstones the Logan’s Turnstone lives by the coast and feeds on insects, crustaceans, and molluscs, most often in areas with seaweed-covered rocks. Unlike other turnstones the Logan’s Turnstone often throws itself off cliff edges in large numbers once it reaches what is for the bird old age; for reasons not understood it will not use its wings and will either smash itself on the surface below or, if above water, allow itself to drown. The name Logan’s Turnstone was adopted in the 1970s after the movie Logan’s Run, replacing the previous and politically-incorrect name of...

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