Round-up: North Korean Rockets and No Warp Drives

A visualization of fairing separation after N. Korean rocket clears the atmosphere (Video still courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc.
A visualization of fairing separation after N. Korean rocket clears the atmosphere (Video still courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc.

Apologies for the quietness on Astroengine these last few days, this Astroengineer has been taking a small break and as such it has meant a lack of computer access. Expect the site to be running at full capacity on Monday. But for now, I thought I’d give a brief run-down of my activities on the Universe Today.

  • North Korea Threatens War if Rocket is Shot Down
    Some time between April 4th-8th, North Korea will launch a communications satellite into orbit. Unsurprisingly there is huge scepticism being voiced by Japan, South Korea and the United States that the secretive military nation is in fact carrying out a test-launch of the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile system, mounting a “peaceful” satellite to disguise its real intention. If the world’s suspicions are correct, if successful, North Korea will have a means to deliver a possible nuclear strike as far as Hawaii or Alaska. Now the North Korean army has warned that if the launch is interfered with, they will attack “major targets” in Japan.
  • Warp Drives Probably Impossible After All
    Just when I was getting excited about the possibility of travelling to distant worlds, scientists have uncovered a deep flaw with faster-than-light-speed travel. There appears to be a quantum limit on how fast an object can travel through space-time, regardless of whether we are able to create a bubble in space-time or not

Happy 10th Birthday Universe Today!

The vintage UT logo from 1999
The vintage UT logo from 1999

Wow! The Universe Today is ten years old!

It’s one of those websites that I took for granted for many years, until Fraser Cain gave me the outstanding opportunity to write for it on December 21st, 2007. Over at the site, Fraser provides an intimate look into why and how he got Universe Today started, but I thought I’d share some memories of when I first stumbled upon Fraser’s venture and how I had the crazy luck to start writing for him.

To set the scene: It was a cold, dark night, in the frozen Arctic wastes
Continue reading “Happy 10th Birthday Universe Today!”

The AAS Finale: Astronomy Cast Meet-up (Photos)

A unique beer-fuelled AAS camera angle. Clockwise from top right: Pamela Gay, Fraser Cain, Chris Lintott and Ian O'Neill
A unique beer-fuelled AAS camera angle. Clockwise from top right: Pamela Gay, Fraser Cain, Chris Lintott and Ian O'Neill

It’s Thursday afternoon and the hangover is finally subsiding. This morning wasn’t a nice experience, having stumbled back to the hotel at 2am, knowing very well I had to get up at 7am for the final round of sessions at the AAS conference, I knew the lack of sleep might be a problem.

After all, there would be no presentations in the afternoon and I was very motivated to get the scoop on some more breaking astro news. Unfortunately, 7am turned into 10:30am, and although I tried, I couldn’t make it past the hotel lobby. For me, Thursday was cancelled. Oh well, at least the previous night was awesome
Continue reading “The AAS Finale: Astronomy Cast Meet-up (Photos)”

The Universe Today Top 10 Scientific Endeavours of 2008 — Published!


The nominations are in, the votes are counted and the Universe Today writers have been consulted; the Top 10 Scientific Endeavours of 2008 has been published! This was probably one of the toughest top 10 lists to compile as 2008 has been a landmark year for all the sciences. Of course, the Universe Today has a focus on space science endeavours, but there is also a healthy mix of physics, biology and technology, so expect to be surprised at some of the entries in this top 10.

So, get over to the Universe Today and see the definitive Top 10 Scientific Endeavours of 2008!

Introducing the Exomoon, and Detecting them via Exoplanet Wobble

Can astronomers really detect exomoons?
Can astronomers really detect exomoons?

Exomoon: The natural satellite of an exoplanet.

Before today, I hadn’t heard anything about the possibility of looking for moons orbiting planets in other star systems. Sorry, exomoons orbiting exoplanets in other star systems. But a British astronomer has calculated that it is possible to not only detect exomoons, but it is possible to deduce their distance from the parent exoplanet and their mass.

All this is done by measuring the exoplanet’s “wobble”; a practice more commonly used in the pursuit of the exoplanets themselves. By detecting the wobble of distant stars, the gravitational pull of the exoplanet becomes obvious. The same can be done with exoplanets, possibly revealing the presence of Earth-like exomoons.

Of the 300+ exoplanets discovered, 30 are within the habitable zones of their stars. If these large gas giant exoplanets (usually several times the mass of Jupiter) have an exoplanet system of their own, these exomoons also fall within the habitable zone…

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

For the full article, check out Astronomers Now Looking For Exomoons Around Exoplanets on the Universe Today…

Nominate Your Most Important Science Endeavour of 2008


Over at the Universe Today, I’ve started a “Top 10 Scientific Endeavours of 2008” award. I’m calling for nominations for readers favourite topics posted on the Universe Today in the past 12 months (space, general science, or otherwise). Principally, this is in response to Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Scientific Discoveries” where many of the top 10 weren’t “discoveries” at all, more “achievements”. So in the UT top 10, we’re going to keep it simple and list the most popular scientific endeavours of 2008.

So, get over to the Universe Today and nominate! You have 7 days to make your nomination count…

“Politics Has Nothing To Do With Space Exploration” – Debate (Wear Safety Goggles)

Space + Politics = Can of worms
Space + Politics = Can of worms

Today has been a strange day. Last night was much like any other. I wrote a fairly innocuous article for the Universe Today, about a contractor who allegedly ripped off NASA with faulty goods. I went to bed.

But then I woke up this morning to find a proverbial can of worms ripped open all over my little online world.

When I wrote the NASA article, I was keen to point out the legal proceedings were far from over and I wanted to get as many of the facts into the text as possible. It turns out the 60 year-old contractor could be going to jail for 15 years and face $500,000 in fines, so this is no laughing matter.

However, I flexed my blogging rights and added a little levity to the proceedings with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour. The humour wasn’t directed at the chap going through the legal system in Houston, it was an article opener I thought would be a fun read… I was wrong.
Continue reading ““Politics Has Nothing To Do With Space Exploration” – Debate (Wear Safety Goggles)”

Phoenix is Dead, Spirit is Failing

Mars dust is a big problem for technology; it’s very fine, abrasive and sticks to everything. Airborne dust has been blamed for accelerating Phoenix’s death, and the hardy Mars Exploration Rover Spirit looks like it has finally met its match. The critical issue here is a build-up of the red powder over the surface of the energy-collecting solar panels our robotic explorers depend on to power their experiments and movement over the Martian terrain. If solar cells cannot receive light, electricity cannot be generated, hastening the end of of Phoenix, and possibly one of the rover twins…
Continue reading “Phoenix is Dead, Spirit is Failing”

The Universe Today is Unbanned from!

Does Digg love the Universe Today again?
Does Digg love the Universe Today again?

Great news! It would appear that after only day one of the campaign to have the Universe Today un-banned from, somebody in the admin staff was obviously paying attention (unless they are an avid reader of the Universe Today website too), and realised their mistake. is now allowing articles from the Universe Today to be re-listed and dugg!.

I’d like to think that this was all down to blogging power — after all, this little space blogger was blamed for the whole NASA-Phoenix-Perchlorate saga! — but I’m just really happy that the guys at Digg have redeemed themselves a little.

This whole episode does however highlight an ongoing problem with banned sites, I hope it will help to refine Digg’s policy in the future.

Have a look at the first article to be Dugg after a long absence: “More Ares I Development Problems: Is it Really That Bad?” (one of mine!)

Universe Today Banned from

Universe Today has been banned from Digg
Universe Today? Banned??

The Universe Today website has been banned from the social bookmarking site This might come as a surprise to many as the Universe Today is a great source of space, astronomy, science and educational news. Why would such a great resource be banned from a site that is based on community participation?

UT has been captained for many years by its founder and publisher Fraser Cain – I remember first signing up to the UT newsletter in 2001 – and the whole aim of the site is to reach out to Internet users, distributing the best space-based news a website can bring. Surely this is the type of site Digg would want to be promoting? Apparently not.
Continue reading “Universe Today Banned from”