Friday, 24 July 2015

The discovery of Earth 2.0 (sort of)

NASA's Kepler space telescope has just discovered the most Earth-like exoplanet yet. Kepler 452b orbits a star very similar to our Sun and is at a comparable distance. For example, its orbital period is 385 Earth days. Not only that, it is rocky, albeit around 5 times more massive than Earth  - this corresponds to surface gravity of about 2g.

The next step will be to make further observations and potentially characterise its atmosphere - of course, it may be similar to Venus or Mars, but it could also be similar to Earth's atmosphere. If Oxygen and Nitrogen are key components of 452b's atmosphere, it seems so similar to Earth that life there is a real, if still slim, possibility!

It was also recently announced that a new hunt for alien radio signals will be initiated, supported by the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking. In addition to this, a new radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is being built - consisting of over 1000 telescopes around the world with a equivalent collecting area of 1 square km, and based in Jodrell Bank, it too will be able to hunt for faint radio signals from other worlds. We live in an exciting time - perhaps evidence of alien life is only a matter of years or decades away...

Here's the link to the scientific paper, published in The Astronomical Journal:

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Airbus announce the A380neo

Airbus have announced that they are going to upgrade the A380, the largest passenger aircraft ever built. The upgraded A380neo will feature new engines (from a single supplier, likely RR) and a wing redesign. The decision may be surprising as the A380 has not been the best selling model and will face competition from Boeing's new 777-9X, which is not that much smaller in terms of seat capacity and is a twin!

Furthermore there are only 13 operators of the type, and of these 165 aircraft in service, Emirates has a whopping 64 of them (with 76 on order!). So it appears as though the success of the A380, and the A380neo, depends heavily on one airline. The A380 programme is only just breaking even, without Emirates, it surely would have been a commercial disaster.

Now Airbus claim that the A380 was brought to the market too early, and that there will be an increasing demand for larger aircraft in the future. This is seen to some extent at Heathrow, which sees the most A380 operators, largely because extra flights are out of the question and more seats are needed, the answer is larger aircraft. Some have said that the neo version is too soon, only 10 years after the original, however by the time the first neo flies it will have been something like 15 years and the oldest A380's will be nearing retirement age. It will be interesting to see who orders the A380neo though!



Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Pluto & Pentaquarks

So the 14th July 2015 has been a good day for physics & space science: CERN announced the discovery a new particle, the 'pentaquark', and NASA's New Horizons probe has made its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto completing our exploration of the original 9 planets. So without further ado let's get into the nitty gritty of the science!

Pentaquarks
CERN have announced the detection of pentaquark particles at the LHC. These are composed of 4 quarks & an antiquark, essentially a baryon (3 quarks with colour charge RBG adding up to colourless) bound to a  meson (a quark-antiquark pair). Not as fundamental as the Higgs Boson discovery but a nice find nonetheless!


Pluto
Pluto used to be 9th planet and was demoted in 2006 to 'dwarf planet' for reasons which I personally think are very sensible. It should be said that the whole debate is just semantics and a lot of people, even notable scientists, would disagree - the late great Sir Patrick Moore would've kept Pluto as a planet. So there will be no explanation of it's new categorisation here!

New Horizons was launched in 2006, and is the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Even at 84,000km/h (52,000km/h) it took 9 years to reach its target. The probe is going so fast and Pluto's gravity is so weak it could not possibly go into orbit, instead it has sailed past and will head on out into the Kuiper Belt, joining the Voyager probes in their exploration of the outer solar system and beyond.

So here it is, in glorious colour (looking surprisingly red and Mars-like):

Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI 
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/new-horizons-spacecraft-displays-pluto-s-big-heart-0


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Airbus E-Fan completes channel crossing!

The all electric Airbus built E-Fan has become the first electric aircraft to cross the English channel. Unlike the 'other' famous electric aircraft currently flying, Solar Impulse 2, the E-fan is a two seater light aircraft powered by batteries. Like Solar impulse and other electric vehicles (see Formula E), the E-Fan represents how far electric, and specifically battery, technology has advanced in recent years. The main downside to renewables is currently the inability to store the energy they produce when not needed - and these kinds of project are pushing that technology in the right direction.



Friday, 3 July 2015

Solar Impulse completes Pacific crossing

Solar impulse 2, piloted by Andre Borchsberg, has landed in Hawaii, after flying from Japan powered by nothing but sunlight. It is also the longest solo flight in history. Congrats to all involved!