Selfie from space!

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Rosetta selfieHello again, Rosetta! After a ten year journey, the spacecraft is only 16km from the comet it’s been sent to explore. Earlier this week, it sent back this selfie showing one of its solar panels and the comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It’s an awe-inspiring image. A decade ago, we hurled this little ship out into cold, dark space. It looped around the solar system several times, sending back pictures of Mars and Earth as it looped past us to pick up speed. Barrelling out past the Mars’ orbit, it went to sleep to conserve power. Thanks to the hard work and careful planning of the ESA team, it managed to rendez-vous with the 4km wide comet after a journey of over 6 billion kilometers! That’s amazing! And now it’s sending back pictures as the two of them flirt and dance around each other while Rosetta looks for a place to put down its lander, Philae. Well done, humankind! And congratulations to the Rosetta team!

There’ll be more news next month, when the docking itself should take place. Once on the comet, Philae will send back data for anywhere from a few days to a few months — we simply don’t know how long it will last on the comet’s surface.

Image credit
The picture is, of course, from the ESA. Well done!

Notes from a quantum mechanics boot camp: day 3

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With the third and final day of the workshop done, it’s time for me to wrap up this series on Inspiring Science. While this will be my last post about the workshop, I’m sure it won’t be the last time I write about these topics. I learned a great deal in the past few days, enough to increase both my interest in and confidence about covering physics topics. Before getting to the actual science, I want to thank the organisers, sponsors, and participants for an excellent and fruitful workshop. I hope the series continues and I look forward to coming back next year! Continue reading

Notes from a quantum mechanics boot camp: day 2

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I didn’t have the energy to write about quantum computing last night, but fortunately I can make up for it in today’s post, since that was the main subject of the day — quantum information science and computing. Again, I’ll do my best to get the main idea across, but I’m sure it’s something I’ll revisit again in the future. Continue reading

Notes from a quantum mechanics boot camp: day 1

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I have the good fortune of attending this year’s Nordita workshop for science writers, which is focused on quantum mechanics. It’s been a fascinating and educational experience, so I thought I should make an effort to write a post about the workshop each evening. Since I’m writing about an unfamiliar subject following a day full of lectures, these posts won’t be nearly as polished as the other stuff on Inspiring Science; I’m tired and I may have misunderstood things, so there will probably be some mistakes and clumsy explanations. On the other hand (and with that caveat), I think it’s better to share whatever understanding I’ve gained today and hope that someone will correct me where I go wrong. I’m not going to make any kind of attempt to be thorough, but simply write a bit about a couple of the things I found most interesting each day Continue reading

Rendez-vous with a Comet

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In the cold reaches of space millions of kilometers from Earth, a ten-year journey is coming to an end and an era of discovery is about to begin. Rosetta, a spacecraft built and launched by the ESA has finally reached its target, meeting up with the comet 67P/Curyumov-Gerasimenko somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. We don’t have any vehicles powerful enough to launch Rosetta into the same orbit as the comet, so it’s been a long and lonely trip for the little craft, slingshoting its way around the solar system to make the trip. “After ten years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometers, we are delighted to finally announce ‘we are here'”, said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director general of the ESA. Continue reading

The Ten-legged Spider

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Every word in the title is a lie. The creature I’d like to introduce isn’t a spider and it doesn’t have ten legs, but that was exactly what I thought when I got a good look at it, which wasn’t the first time I saw it. The first time I saw it, I thought it might have been a plant’s root or some kind of stolon. I had just jumped in for a swim on Saturday afternoon when I saw something brown at the bottom of the pool. It wasn’t moving, and it seemed to be about the size of my thumb. Grabbing the sieve, I dived down and fished it out, then called my partner over. “Can you have a better look at this and see what it is? I think it’s some kind of root, but I can’t really see it properly.” My long, wet hair was obscuring my vision and I was trying to keep the sieve above water.

“It’s a spider,” she said. “A gigantic spider!” (It was gigantic — around 8-9cm across!) I’m lucky enough to be married to someone with a fascination for creepy-crawlies; with a smile, she deposited the dead spider in a jar for later examination and then joined me in the pool. Continue reading