UK Physics and Astronomy in Danger

Color composite adaptive optics image of the planetary nebula M2-9 using the ALTAIR adaptive optics system on Gemini North. Image credit: Gemini Observatory/Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage

My true aim for astroengine.com is to post advanced (but interesting) space physics concepts on an informal stage. But when news like this comes along, I feel compelled to say something. In a nutshell, the UK physics and astronomy community has been hit with a series of harsh and ill thought-out budget cutbacks in recent years. Things have gotten worse since April 2007 (when the two main research councils PPARC and CCLRC merged) when all UK physics and astronomy funding started being managed by The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It would appear the main focus is to find ways to plug the £80 million funding deficit it has inherited and not to find ways to protect research projects.

So, physics and astronomy in the UK is facing cutbacks on a scale that defies intelligence. Why is a nation, as scientifically gifted as the UK, making cutbacks to research that will shape the most exciting era of science mankind has ever seen?
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Question of the Day: Were Moons Nix and Hydra Adopted by Pluto and Charon?

The Pluto-Charon system. Image credit: NASA/HST

OK, here are two questions on everybody’s lips:
1) Could we be wiped out by an asteroid in the near future?
2) Are Pluto and Charon’s kids adopted?

Well, #1 has probably been asked a few times (most likely during crappy movies like Deep Impact), but #2? I’m hoping this is the first time it’s ever been asked… and it’s a very important question… well, kinda.
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Daily Roundup: Universe Today Article

Just the one article this time for the Universe Today. Todays article covers a recent US satellite mission carrying out some cool experiments in space. This orbiting mini-lab is carrying out tests on a new nanotech sensor that is sensitive to poisons in air (useful for spaceships, protecting astronauts), and possibly even more interesting, experiments on a new electrochromic film that could be wrapped around spaceships to keep them warm or cool them down. The wonders never cease…

Snippet: Space Debris is Becoming a Serious Problem, but Google Earth is Watching

Space junk as plotted in the Google Earth software.

Every time a rocket launches, a spaceship orbits, an astronaut drops some trash or the US blows up a satellite, debris is created. Space debris (a.k.a. space junk) is a nasty side-effect of our push into space, but it isn’t a recent phenomenon. Even the early Gemini missions in the sixties did it, as does the ultra-efficient International Space Station – bits of spacesuits, cameras, nuts, bolts and tools are accidentally (and deliberately) dropped into the vacuum. But it’s only a bit of litter right? Wrong. That’s a hyper-velocity rifle shot, and it’s coming to a spaceship very soon, if we don’t take action now…
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The Mischievous Nature of Primordial Black Holes

A black hole dining on a star… primordial black holes on the other hand less destructive, but can cause some mayhem nonetheless. Image credit: NASA. Source: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/07/05/black_hole_3_3.jpg

Primordial black holes are strange little critters. They’re not the product of a massive star recently gone supernova and they’re not as exotic as a wormhole, tunnelling a gateway into another dimension. They are very, very old remnants of the very beginning of our Universe. Much like the foamy bubbles left over from washing the dishes, a few bubbles stubbornly hang around on the side of the sink for an hour or so after the water has long gone. Primordial black holes (or PBHs for short) are just that, the leftovers from the very energetic (and very bubbly) Big Bang 14 billion years ago…

…but they’re not done causing trouble quite yet…
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Snippet: Where Science and Art Meet – The Internet “Universe” Frozen in Time

San Diego Supercomputer Center image of the Internet Universe frozen in time. Image credit: UCSD. Souce:http://www.physorg.com/news122832578.html

This striking image has been created by tracking the round-trip times of data packets sent from a web site in Virginia to thousands of nodes around the World Wide Web. Using a new technique, this visualization method (3D “hyperbolic geometry”) allows the viewer to analyse large amounts of data mapped around a sphere. Not only does it give an insight to where data travels around the Internet – like an electronic dye highlighting the route packets of data take – it has also become a work of art…
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Snippet: Can Pieces of Mercury be Found on Earth?

A meteorite on the surface of Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL

This is an interesting thought. We know that rocks from space can fall through the atmosphere and hit the ground as meteorites. But where do these rocks come from? Some come from old remnants of the early solar system, floating through space until they are captured by the Earth’s gravitational pull. Other meteorites come from other planets, ejected pieces of the planet crust (caused itself by a meteorite impact), escaping from the planets gravity by achieving “escape velocity”. We have found samples known to come from the Moon and Mars, but what about the other planets? Venus’ atmosphere is too thick to allow pieces of its surface to fly into space, but what about the first planet from the Sun, Mercury? Can bits of Mercury travel through space and land on Earth?
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Server Errors, RSS Feed Fix and Eeron.com

OK, I think I have it sorted out… I installed WordPress on astroengine.com so I could make life easier for me to write and organize articles – afterall, the previous version was always a “work in progress” and never became a serious science blog. I gained some satisfaction from building the site from the ground up, including custom RSS feeds, custom functions, creating complex gallery systems… all in all the “Astroengine Project” consumed months of development time. And yet, I was never satisfied.
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