Thursday, January 31, 2008

The skies dim for British Scientists

I am not normally political on my blog, but today I feel the need to attempt to articulate and disseminate my serious disapproval of the current leadership of the United Kingdom. Or in other words, what a huge cunt Gordon Brown is!

UK astronomers will lose access to two of the world's finest telescopes in February, as administrators look to plug an £80m hole in their finances.

Observation programmes on the 8.1m telescopes of the Gemini organisation will end abruptly because Britain is cancelling its subscription.

It means UK astronomers can no longer view the Northern Hemisphere sky with the largest class of telescope.

Researchers say they are aghast at the administrators' decision.

"To withdraw from the state-of-the-art Gemini facilities leaves the UK ground-based astronomy strategy in disarray - some would say deliberately sabotaged," said Professor Paul Crowther from Sheffield University.

"This will badly affect the UK astronomical community's ability to address questions such as how galaxies form, or look for planets around other stars, or be able to adequately exploit space observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope," explained the current chair of the UK telescope allocation committee for Gemini.

"The loss of Gemini North is particularly acute, since the majority of the UK past investment has been focused upon the Northern Hemisphere," he told BBC News.

Gemini is one of the international "science clubs" in which Britain has been a major partner and investor. It has a 23.8% share in the project (which also includes the US, Canada, Chile, Australia, Brazil and Argentina) and to date has invested some £70m in construction and running costs.

Membership of the consortium gave British astronomers direct access to two of the biggest, most-modern optical-infrared reflecting telescopes in the world.

The Gemini telescopes take beautiful, pin-sharp images
Gemini South, located in the Chilean Andes, and Gemini North, in Hawaii, are only now reaching their full potential after 15 years of development.

But the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which looks after UK astronomy funding, has signalled that formal notice to withdraw from Gemini would be issued shortly as it seeks to close a large shortfall in its budget.

The STFC's problems have emerged out of the government's latest spending round which has left the council short of £80m in the three-year budget plan to 2011.

To manage its way out of this crisis, the STFC has announced its intention to close certain programmes and cut research grants. Science societies and union officials have warned the damage to UK physics and astronomy will be incalculable and will lead to hundreds of job losses.

A request was made last year to the Gemini partners to allow the UK to come out of the organisation but still maintain some access to the Frederick C Gillett (Gemini North) facility through to the end of the current contract in 2012.

This request, however, has been rebuffed by the partners; and the STFC announced on Friday that it now had no option but to seek a formal cancellation of its subscription.

Observations booked on the Gemini telescopes from 1 February will now be terminated.

"While we sincerely regret the need to withdraw from Gemini, the current circumstances leave us no choice," the STFC said in a statement.

"This is particularly relevant in the context of preserving the highest priority programmes and providing headroom to pursue the next generation of scientific opportunities, for example the Extremely Large Telescope."

The ELT is a super-scope that will have a mirrored surface tens of metres across. It is still in the design phase and will not be built for a number of years.

Britain will incur a penalty of about £8m for cancelling its Gemini membership early; but this would still save more than £15m in "subs" that no longer needed to be paid between now and 2012, according to the STFC's statement.

"We've effectively wasted £70m," countered Professor Crowther. "These facilities had reached their prime, but somebody else is now going to get to use them."

He said the STFC, if it had wanted to save money, should have maintained its membership and rented out a proportion of its time to another nation's astronomers. That way it would have saved the penalty fee, he argued.

"The STFC strategy just doesn't make sense."

The decision of the UK to withdraw from Gemini has undoubtedly angered its partners.

Southern Hemisphere time is still available on Eso facilities
The Gemini consortium has a programme of instrument upgrades proposed for its two telescopes, and the way this is funded into the future will now need to be reassessed.

On Thursday last week, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) - another international organisation with which the UK holds a subscription - expressed concern over how the state of British physics funding might affect its development.

The ESRF has a major upgrade planned and is hoping the UK will still be able to meet its share of the extra costs.

British astronomers will continue to have access to eight-metre-class telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere, in particular through the UK's membership of the European Southern Observatory organisation (Eso).

The Eso has four 8.2m telescopes at its Paranal site in Chile.

In future, the only way British astronomers can look at the Northern Hemisphere sky with the largest class of telescope is if they are working on projects with co-researchers whose national funding agencies are sponsors of one of these facilities.

Effectively, however, British scientists are now locked out from looking at what is directly above the UK with the world's best telescopes.

(UK astronomers still have access to the 4.2m UK/Dutch William Herschel Telescope on La Palma).

Note: We have bailed the Northern Rock Building Society SHAREHOLDERS out to the tune of £26 Billion so far. That's £2000 per taxpayer

Monday, January 28, 2008

Terezin Castle and Theresienstadt Ghetto

Theresienstadt Ghetto is the ghetto just outside Prague that the Nazis sent the local Jewish population to. Apparently over 160,000 souls disappeared through the gates and into the ghetto behind there. Terezin is the castle the the Gestapo took over, and the small village (of about 2000) became a ghetto for over 100,000. It has now been turned into a museum. There are walls just covered with photographs of the atrocities that were committed there. But the wall made up from Jewish childrens drawings is particularly heartbreaking.

The castle is still as the Nazis had it, right down to the gallows and bullet-ridden walls; and of course the legend over the gates "Work will set you free" - Bastards!!

Terezin has another claim to fame in history. It is the place the man who shot Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand and started World War 1 was taken after his conviction.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How to destroy the Earth, part 4

Cooked in a solar oven

You will need: Means for focusing a good few percent of the Sun's energy output directly on the Earth.

What I'm talking about here is: mirrors, and lots of them. Intercept several decent sized asteroids for raw materials and start cranking out kilometre-square sheets of lightweight reflective material (aluminised mylar, aluminium foil, nickel foil, iron foil or whatever you can scrape together). They need to be capable of changing focus direction at will because it is generally impossible to place things stationary in space and the relative positions of the Earth and Sun will be shifting as time passes, so attach a few manoeuvering thrusters and a communications and navigation system to each sheet.

Preliminary calculations suggest you would need roughly two trillion square kilometres of mirror.

Method: Command your focusing array to concentrate as much solar energy as you can directly on the Earth - perhaps on its core, perhaps at a point on its surface. So the theory goes, this will cause the Earth to generally increase in temperature until it completely boils away, becoming a gas cloud.

A variation on this method involves turning the Sun into a gigantic hydrogen gas laser.

Earth's final resting place: A gas cloud.

Feasibility rating: 3/10. The major problem here is: What's to stop the matter cooling and becoming a planet again? In fact, once the top layer of planet becomes gaseous, what would compel it to vent into space rather than remaining on the surface, absorbing more heat and preventing the lower layers from even being heated? Unless the amount of heat put in was really immense, all you'd get is a gas planet at best, and a temporary one at that. Moving the Earth towards the Sun (see later) is likely to be a far more viable method.

Source: This method suggested by Sean Timpa.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

SpaceShip Two

"Virgin Galactic has released the final design of the launch system that will take fare-paying passengers into space.

It is based on the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne concept - a rocket ship that is lifted initially by a carrier plane before blasting skywards.

The Virgin system is essentially a refinement, but has been increased in size to take eight people at a time on a sub-orbital trip, starting in 2010.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said the space business had huge potential.

"I think it's very important that we make a genuine commercial success of this project," he told a news conference in New York.

"If we do, I believe we'll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology.

"This could rival the scale of investment in the mobile phone and internet technologies after they were unlocked from their military origins and thrown open to the private sector."

The 'experience'

Virgin Galactic has contracted the innovative aerospace designer Burt Rutan to build its spaceliners. The carrier - White Knight Two (WK2) - is said to be very nearly complete and is expected to begin flight-testing later this year.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) is about 60% complete, Virgin Galactic says.

Both vehicles are being constructed at Mr Rutan's Scaled Composites factory in California.

The rocket spaceliner will carry two pilot astronauts and six ticketed passengers. They will fly initially from a new facility called Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.

The journeys will last about two-and-a-half hours from beginning to end.

Eight individuals will be aboard each flight

Passengers on SS2 will climb to an altitude of 110km, from where they will get to experience weightlessness for a few minutes, and see the curvature of the Earth and the black of space.

Seats cost $200,000. Virgin Galactic says more than 200 individuals have booked, and another 85,000 have registered an interest to fly.

Tens of millions of dollars in deposits have already been taken, the company adds.

Satellite potential

Sir Richard said the launch system would also be made available to industrial and research groups.

"The fact that this system will have the capability to launch small payloads and satellites at low cost is hugely important," he told the launch event at the American Museum of Natural History.

"As far as science is concerned, this system offers tremendous potential to researchers who will be able to fly experiments much more often than before, helping to answer key questions about Earth's climate and the mysteries of the Universe."

Astrium space plane (EADS Astrium)
Others, such as EADS Astrium, have competing concepts
The designs released on Wednesday are a clear evolution of the concept that won the $10m Ansari X-Prize in 2005 for the first successful, privately developed, sub-orbital human launch-system.

The most obvious difference is the scale. At 18.3m (60ft) in length, SS2 is twice as big as its predecessor.

Virgin Galactic said in a statement: "It incorporates both the lessons learned from the SpaceShipOne programme and the market research conducted by Virgin Galactic into the requirements future astronauts have for their space flight experience.

"It also has built-in flexibility to encompass future requirements for other scientific and commercial applications."

An SS2 simulator is now available to train the pilots.

WK2 is 23.7m-long (78ft). Its wingspan is unchanged at 42.7m (140ft), but it will now sport four Pratt and Whitney PW308 engines.

Virgin Galactic is one of several companies hoping shortly to offer space trips. entrepreneur Jeff Bezos has his own scheme, as does the Paypal founder, Elon Musk. Even Europe's EADS Astrium, the company that coordinates the manufacture of the Ariane 5 rocket, is developing a commercial suborbital ship.

Currently, the only way to buy a trip into space is to pay for a seat on the Russian Soyuz launcher. Tickets purchased through Space Adventures cost a reported $20m and take the recipient to the International Space Station for a short holiday. "

Monday, January 21, 2008

Family Photo Update: Mercury

We haven't had a good picture of cousin Mercury since 1977 (look as his suit!). The MESSENGER space craft is currently orbiting Mercury and taking detailed pictures; the first time since then.

So here is Mercury on 14th January 2008. My hasn't he grown! ;)

Friday, January 18, 2008

How to destroy the Earth, part 3

Sucked into a microscopic black hole

You will need: a microscopic black hole.

Note that black holes are not eternal, they evaporate due to Hawking radiation. For your average black hole this takes an unimaginable amount of time, but for really small ones it could happen almost instantaneously, as evaporation time is dependent on mass. Therefore your microscopic black hole must have greater than a certain threshold mass, roughly equal to the mass of Mount Everest.

Creating a microscopic black hole is tricky, since one needs a reasonable amount of neutronium, but may possibly be achievable by jamming large numbers of atomic nuclei together until they stick. This is left as an exercise to the reader.

Method: simply place your black hole on the surface of the Earth and wait. Black holes are of such high density that they pass through ordinary matter like a stone through the air. The black hole will plummet through the ground, eating its way to the centre of the Earth and all the way through to the other side: then, it'll oscillate back, over and over like a matter-absorbing pendulum. Eventually it will come to rest at the core, having absorbed enough matter to slow it down. Then you just need to wait, while it sits and consumes matter until the whole Earth is gone.

Earth's final resting place: a singularity with a radius of about nine millimetres, which will then proceed to happily orbit the Sun as normal.

Feasibility rating: 3/10. Highly, highly unlikely. But not impossible.

Comments: Getting closer!

Source: The Dark Side Of The Sun, by Terry Pratchett. It is true that the microscopic black hole idea is an age-old science fiction mainstay which predates Pratchett by a long time, he was my original source for the idea, so that's what I'm putting.

I also found this article on the same subject!!!!

No, really -- you just don't want to know this. There’s a remote, but extremely terrifying possibility our planet is about to be swallowed from within by a man-made black hole. In fact, our planet could be booby trapped with baby black holes already.

It is one weird way to go. One moment, you’re here. And the next -- you’re not. It will be sudden, and dramatic. Within seconds, the planet, with everything and everyone on it, is reduced to nothingness. Or actually: it is squeezed together into a tiny black hole, no more than 9 millimeters wide.

If you were to play back the tape of what went wrong very slowly, you would see something very peculiar. Suddenly, you would see the Earth deform. Obviously, not a very good sign. Our planet is flattened out to become a disk. Beams of radiation shoot up from where the poles used to be. And then, zzzp, the planet’s gone. Just like that. Within a split second, it would simply vanish, right before your eyes.

Understandably, on board the International Space Station, this will cause some confusion, to say the very least. Astronauts will be stunned to find that their space ship suddenly no longer orbits a planet -- but, well, nothing much really. The only thing that is out there, is a tiny black spot, invisible to the eye. Still, the speck has the same mass as the Earth. For the time being, the Space Station will remain in orbit, just like the Moon and the satellites. A very silly thing to see, of course.

Perhaps some astronauts will realize what has happened. They might recall how back in the early 21st century, physicists tried to create baby black holes in the lab. And now, many years later... Well, the black holes obviously did show up, after all.

Let's build a hole: The science of DIY black holes

Luckily, the chances of the disaster outlined above really happening should be vanishingly small. But: some risk is there all the same.
There goes the Earth...

First, you should know that in principle, making a black hole is easy. Basically, the only thing you need to do is to slam two tiny, subatomic particles together in a particle accelerator. If you use enough force, the collision should yield a tiny black hole. (To find out what a black hole is, read our section on black holes from space).

Until recently, most scientists believed creating baby black holes couldn’t be done on our planet. You would need a particle accelerator as big as the solar system, most scientists assumed. But nowadays, that's all changed. Quite a lot of physicists think a much smaller particle accelerator can do the trick, too. Such as the ‘Large Hadron Collider’ (LHC), a particle smasher to be opened in Switserland in 2007.

Luckily, a man-made black hole won’t be a roaring monster that gobbles up planets and stars. Rather, science expects an incredibly tiny baby black hole, much smaller than an atom. What's more, it should evaporate immediately. Black holes give off radiation. And our black hole would be so incredibly small and hot, it would radiate itself away in less than 0,00000000000000000000000001 seconds! That’s why physicists feel pretty confident about working with the LHC. No problem if a black hole shows up. According to the laws of physics, black holes from the lab just shouldn’t be stable.

BUT. There is always a small possibility that the predictions are wrong. Particle accelerators are there to break new ground -- to explore new physics. And the physics science is about to explore, is really new and exotic. Nobody has ever seen a mini black hole. In fact, no one has even the faintest idea how gravity works on very small objects.

So, it’s 2007, and science switches on its LHC. According to some calculations, this super particle accelerator could summon up one black hole every second! There they are: black hole, black hole, black hole; Pop! Pop! Pop! Now suppose that against all expectations, these baby black holes aren’t the fleeting, unstable mini monsters we expect them to be. Suppose they’re stable.

At first, no one would notice. They wouldn’t eat up the lab or something. Instead, they would escape. One by one, the baby black holes would leak away from the lab, going through concrete walls as if they didn’t exist. If you’re that small, traveling through solid objects is no problem: you just rarely bump into a molecule.

And then? Slowly, our refugee black holes would begin to sink towards the center of the Earth, attracted by gravity. And there, they would sit and wait.

But sooner or later, a hole will indeed bump into an obstacle. An electron, or an atom’s nucleus -- tiny stuff like that. The black hole will swallow whatever it encounters. This will make it heavier. It will have more gravity, and pull in some more particles. It will get heavier still. And suck in more and more matter.

Eventually, the black holes will merge. They will suck up the Earth’s core, the mantle, and finally -- the entire planet.

Gladly, it could take a baby black hole thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years to mature. That should give us some time to learn more about them. But the bad news is that even in the distant future, there isn’t much we can do. You cannot find or catch a black hole that is so small you cannot even see it, and that hides deep within the molten iron core of the planet. The only option is to evacuate the planet, if we happen to discover the predictions were wrong.

So, should we leave?

Well, that’s hard to say. As far as we know, everything should be okay. Our world is constantly being bombarded by tiny, high energy particles from outer space. This should also create mini black holes, high up in the atmosphere: up to one hundred each year. And as far as we know, these black holes are indeed unstable. For the last 4,5 billion of years, our planet didn’t die.

On the other hand: in physics, quite often, a totally unexpected, new phenomenon pops up. In recent years, physicists lifted their eyebrows over dark energy, the Pioneer anomaly, the missing of the Higgs boson, the pentaquark and the suspected drift of the fundamental constants. No, we're not going to explain all that -- but the bottom line is this: physicists are constantly being surprised by weird new stuff that wasn't in the theories yet.

Now, you don't want to be such a surprise to be a black hole that has our planet for breakfast!

And then there’s this. In march 2005, scientists working on the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in Upton, New York created a fireball that indeed looked awfully much much like a black hole.

It was unstable. In fact, it wasn't even a real black hole. Or so the scientists involved say. Perhaps the first man-made black hole is on its way to the center of the planet already!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Victoria Falls from the air

I've been a-scanning!

Done my photos from the stunning microlight flight I did over Victoria Falls in 2005, as well as our week long trip to Prague in 2001. Photos from Amsterdam 2003 and Sharm El Sheik in 2004 are sadly missing.

I lost my camera on one trip, and was in no fit state to take pictures on the other. I will let you guess which one is which.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Hurricane Ivan

from Space.

Boy, he's a big bastard! ;)

Ninety percent of the houses on Grenada were damaged by the destructive force of Hurricane Ivan. At its peak, Ivan was a Category 5 hurricane, the highest power category on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and created sustained winds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour. Ivan was the largest hurricane to strike the US in 2004, and, so far, the 10th most powerful in recorded history. As it swirled in the Atlantic Ocean, the tremendous eye of Hurricane Ivan was photographed from above by the orbiting International Space Station. The name Ivan has now been retired from Atlantic Ocean use by the World Meteorological Organization.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Stunning Jupiter

Two of frankly, the best pictures I have seen in ages were published this week. I thought we had seen most views of Jupiter, but it seems not!!

Why does Jupiter have rings? Jupiter's rings were discovered in 1979 by the passing Voyager 1 spacecraft, but their origin was a mystery. Data from the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003 later confirmed that these rings were created by meteoroid impacts on small nearby moons. As a small meteoroid strikes tiny Adrastea, for example, it will bore into the moon, vaporize, and explode dirt and dust off into a Jovian orbit. Pictured above is an eclipse of the Sun by Jupiter, as viewed from Galileo. Small dust particles high in Jupiter's atmosphere, as well as the dust particles that compose the rings, can be seen by reflected sunlight.

As the New Horizons spacecraft sweeps through the Solar System, it is taking breathtaking images of the planets. In February of last year, New Horizons passed Jupiter and the ever-active Jovian moon Io. In this montage, Jupiter was captured in three bands of infrared light making the Great Red Spot look white. Complex hurricane-like ovals, swirls, and planet-ringing bands are visible in Jupiter's complex atmosphere. Io is digitally superposed in natural color. Fortuitously, a plume was emanating from Io's volcano Tvashtar. Frost and sulfuric lava cover the volcanic moon, while red-glowing lava is visible beneath the blue sunlight-scattering plume. The robotic New Horizons spacecraft is on track to arrive at Pluto in 2015.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How to destroy the Earth, part 2

2. Fissioned

You will need: a universal fission machine (e.g. a particle accelerator), an unimaginable amount of energy

Method: Take every single atom on planet Earth and individually split each one down to become hydrogen and helium. Fissioning heavier elements to become hydrogen and helium is the opposite of the self-sustaining reaction that powers the Sun: it requires you to put energy in which is why the energy requirements here are so vast.

Earth's final resting place: While Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are gas giants composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, they are massive enough to actually hold on to their tenuous atmospheres. The Earth is not; the gases would dissipate away. You'd get a wispy mess of gas where there should have been a planet.

Feasibility rating: 2/10. Technically possible, but, again, hopelessly, mind-bogglingly inefficient and time-consuming. You're looking at billions of years minimum, folks.

Source: This method suggested by John Routledge.

The worlds largest TV

Me Want Now!!!

A 150-inch high-definiton plasma TV unveiled by Panasonic is the world’s largest to date, the Japanese consumer electronics company claimed Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show. The plasma panel features an 8.84 million pixel image resolution. Its screen is the equivalent of nine 50-inch sets, with an effective viewing area of 11 feet, the company said. It’s a step up from Panasonic’s 103-inch version, which cost $70,000 when it launched. The company did not say in a news release how much the 150-inch panel will cost.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

North Yorkshire

I was out and about with my camera on Saturday.

I know most people are proud of where they live, but I do think (like most Yorkshire folk), that this is Gods own county lol

All these pics are from with-in 10 miles of my home. Beautiful North Yorks! :)