Congratulations must go our very own Aditya Chopra for winning the ANU’s 3 minute thesis competition last week. (You didn’t really think he found the origin of life in three minutes did you?). Adi shares his time between the Research School of Earth Sciences and the Planetary Science Institute and by the end of his candidature will be able to tell us where life began, at least that is what he’s told his supervisors 🙂
Adi beat out twelve other finalists from across the ANU to snatch the $500 prize money and a chance to compete in the trans Tasman competition at the University of Queensland later this year.
Space is cool. Being in space is even cooler (both literally and metaphorically!) Doing science in space is perhaps the coolest job there is.
The International Space Station is now in its prime and astronauts on-board are spending most of their time doing experiments of all sorts for scientists on the ground. There are some experiments that are possible only in the micro-gravity experienced on the space station. For example the Geoflow experiment will shed light on conditions deep inside Earth by recreating aspects of mantle flow.
Here astronaut and chemist Dr. Don Pettit does some physics demos that are out of this world.
The Large Hadron Collider is the Apollo program of the 21st Century. The project involves thousands of scientists and engineers from 111 nations and it is perhaps the most complex scientific project undertaken. The world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator operated by CERN has a simple task – to find God. Well, the God Particle (a.k.a The Higgs Boson) anyway.
To checkout it out you will need an iPad – apologies to those who have not yet succumbed to Steve Jobs 😉 Download the Popular Science/Condition One App for a virtual tour of the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. It is a short video but one where you become an active participant and control where the camera looks!
The hunt for the Higgs boson seems to be in its final stages. Earlier this month scientists reported a possible sighting of the elusive particle that is a key element of the Standard Model. While not conclusive, it complements results from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last year and as the search window narrows, physicists are giving the Higg’s less than a year to come out of hiding. When that news does come through, it will be regarded as a successful milestone for the LHC, thanks to the years of effort by a large community supported in some ways by a common goal of the entire world.
While the journey of discovery would continue for the LHC and its siblings around the world, it may be a good time to start thinking about what other grand projects the world could pursue – what should we go looking for next?
Some biologists think they have ideas worthy of the next big adventure in science. In interviews featured in Nature this week, some notable biologists have said that it is time we seriously tackled questions that have historically been the domain of philosophy but in the last few decades become scientifically addressable.
It still surprises me how seriously some people have been thinking about the proposed doomsday at the end of this year. Earlier this year I spent about 3 hours trying to convince a family friend that nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen (but I don’t think I got anywhere with that person!). For about 2 years now NASA scientists have been trying to get the same message across to people of ages and backgrounds through public lectures radio and TV but now they have gone all in and have a YouTube video that explains it all!
Well, the clouds are anyway… Research published in Geophysical Research Letters by University of Auckland physicists Roger Davies and Matthew Molloy suggests that the global average cloud height declined by around 1 per cent over the last decade, or around 30 to 40 metres.
The study on cloud height has revealed a possible cooling mechanism that may be in play in the Earth’s climate. Using data from NASA’s Terra satellite which uses 9 cameras to produce stereo images of clouds from space to estimate cloud height, the scientists found that the overall trend of decreasing cloud height was mostly due to fewer clouds occurring at very high altitudes. Continue reading “New research reveals the sky is falling in!”→
It is a hot, sunny afternoon in Perth and I am doing my daily check of APOD… today’s picture is Day’s in the Sun. I think you will agree it is an ‘interesting’ picture but what got my attention was that this picture was painted by our very own Sun – we just provided it with a canvas!
Solargraphy is a photographic method for recording the paths of the Sun and it is so easy, you will think it is magic. It is literally a diary of the dynamic process on Earth and the Sun.
All you need is a pin-hole camera made from a beer can, some photographic paper (available from eBay), a scanner and a computer. And yes, you get to drink the beer if you’re over 18!
Simple but step-by-step instructions can be found here.
Now all you need is time… about 6 months to a year. The Sun is a slow painter. By pointing the pin-hole camera to the Sun and exposing the photographic paper for such a long exposure, you will capture the path that the Sun takes each day across the sky. In the resulting photo, you should see some dark gaps in the daily arcs caused by cloud cover and bright tracks recording sunny weather, the kind we are enjoying in Perth these days.
I am going to set some up in a couple of places at uni when I get back to Canberra next week. I’ll let you know what my space art looks like in a few months. When you’ve got your solargraph, do send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and in return I’ll send you something from our research school’s vault (a.k.a something cool lying around my desk)!
Our own astrobiologist Charley Lineweaver (my supervisor) and his PhD student Eriita Jones have just published a paper showing that about three per cent of the volume of present-day Mars has the potential to be habitable to Earth-like life.
While the evidence for wet Mars in the past has been building up (Gypsum found recently), the average surface temperature on Mars today is minus 63 degrees Celsius and so you might think any water present now will be in the form of ice. This is true to some extent as we found out last year when the Pheonix mission which actually touched frozen water that is found at the poles on Mars. What about any ice that melts? Couldn’t that become a liquid capable of sustaining life?
The real spacefaring Flying Ducthman is closer to the World’s End. Well, at least the end of the solar system! The Voyager 1 spacecraft is in the cusp of interstellar space, 18 billion kilometers away from Sun. The latest data described at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years. Continue reading “At World’s End”→