The Era of Gravitational Waves has Begun

We stand at beginning of a new era. Gravitational waves have been detected by LIGO coming from a pair of black holes colliding (wow, it feels good to type that). Gravitational wave astronomy is firmly a reality — in the official, peer-reviewed sense of the word.

I’m incredibly lucky to have found myself in the midst of it all, a tiny part of the team that made the first direct gravitational wave detection. But what does it all mean? Continue reading

The Cassini Mission: Part II – The Moons

July 19th was ‘Wave at Saturn’ day, the day Cassini took our picture from in orbit around Saturn (so I do hope you waved). I feel, therefore, it’s time to post the promised and hotly anticipated Part II of my favourite pictures from the mission so far. Part I can be found here.

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The Cassini Mission: Part I – Saturn & the Journey There

A few days ago I read an article about plans for NASA’s & ASI’s Cassini probe to take a picture of the Earth from its orbit around Saturn, in the same vein as Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot taken by the Voyager 1 probe. This type of picture really drives home how insignificantly small and delicate the Earth is as it floats through the Universe, and I’m sure the new picture will instil people with the same sense of wonder and/or horror that its predecessor did. The Cassini-Huygens mission has expanded our knowledge of the Solar System so much during its time that I’ve wanted to write about it for a while. And by “write about it” I obviously mean “post nice pictures”.

So here is Part I of my favourite images taken by Cassini, and its companion on the long journey to Saturn, ESA’s Huygens probe. All are click-able if you want to open them up for full-screen viewing.

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Taking the Plunge

2013 looks set to be an interesting year for those of us residing in the Milky Way (page view stats indicate this applies to the majority of visitors to this blog). In the middle of this year, the supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy will be paid a visit by a cloud of gas with a mass three times that of the Earth. This could result in a bright flare of X-rays if some of this gas falls too near the black hole and is consumed, allowing us to probe the environment around it better than ever before. But how do we know there’s a black hole there in the first place, and why won’t this gas just get gobbled up without a trace?

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It’s roomy in here

Recently I was talking to somebody about the expansion of the Universe and they asked me a very good question,

“If space goes on forever, how can it be expanding?”

This is related to one I’ve been asked quite often,

“What’s the Universe expanding into?”

It seems obvious at first thought that if something is expanding it must be doing so into some sort of surrounding space, some ‘outside’. So something without an edge, like infinite space, has no ‘outside’ to expand into and therefore can’t expand. The problem here is that our personal experiences in the world tell us one thing, but physics and maths tell us another, and to relate these is very tricky.

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