The most remarkable things happen when you push the laws of physics to their extremes. Such a place where this happens is space:

Far away in the Gliese star system is a Neptune-sized planet called Gliese 436 b. This world is covered in ice that burns constantly at 822.2˚ Fahrenheit (439˚ C).

The reason why the water doesn’t liquify and then turn into steam is due to the massive gravity of the planet - it exerts so much force on the water that the atoms are bound tightly together as a solid.


As they’re always good things to have, check out this image of what a solar eclipse looks like from space. It really highlights the fact that when the Sun’s being blocked out, it means you’re just in that objects shadow.

The same applies to night time, you’re essentially just in Earth’s shadow.


45 years ago, for the first time in human history humans stood on the Moon. The human story began 200,000 years ago, 199,939 of which were on Earth.

On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon.

The 45th anniversary is coming up and while I’m at it I’ve got to thank the guys of Apollo 11 for doing what they did. They were Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

They of Apollo 11 have the most fame but they weren’t the only people to be a part of this huge journey so:

Thank you Yuri Gagarin, Gus Grissom, Jim Lovell, Chris Hadfield and Christa McCauliffe just to name a few. Some of you died but you’ve kept the spirit of human dreams and destiny alive. You are and were the best of us. Here’s to hoping the future won’t let you down

This is not a drill:

Did you know that in 4 billion years, a cosmic calamity will happen to our home galaxy?

Speeding toward us at 402,000 kilometers per hour is the Andromeda Galaxy.

When they collide they will twirl around each other a few times, stellar debris and cosmic entrails spilling into the void. Eventually they’ll calm and settle into each other becoming a new elliptical galaxy - a fusion of the two older ones.

Our Sun will actually likely survive this violent event and in a strange way our solar system will become older than the galaxy within which it resides.

If anyone is alive on Earth (unlikely) or Mars (let’s get there people!) then they’ll be able to look up and see a radically different starry sky then the one we have now.

If I asked you what the most devastating natural disaster in human history was, what would you say?

Presumably a volcanic eruption due to the gif above, but which?

Would you say, “Surely Mount Vesuvias burning Pompeii, with all those ashen bodies”?

Krakatoa, maybe? That one killed 32,000 people.

NOPE. Neither. The Haiti earthquake in 2010 alone killed 160,000 people and the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 almost a quarter million.

Enter the calamity that was the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora.

The Horror Story:

Imagine. You live in the volcanoes shadow. Above, the mountain leaps into the sky. The plume of smoke rips up, the belching forth of sundered Earth causes sonic-quakes and your ear-drums explode. The world turns to night and plasmic rock rains over you. A wind picks up and then your house gets torn upward and flung into the sky.

Imagine. You live 200 miles away from the volcano. The house ceases. From the sky and then all around the air bursts with incredible noise. Your hands shoot to your ears but still the noise gets through. You can feel the house shake.

Imagine. You live 800 miles away from the volcano. In the distance you hear the cracking of a coming storm.

Imagine. You live 1600 miles away from the volcano. In the distance you hear the gentle echo of thunder.

Directly, the volcano killed 92,000 people. Tragic and already too-high yes, but this does not yet convey the real toll.

The year Mount Tambora erupted was 1815, nicknamed “the Year Without a Summer”. For a period, the seasons acted like they do in Westeros and Winter had come.

Tsunamis were raised by the eruption. They swept away entire coastlines.

The ashes that flew into the sky from the eruption reached all the way up to the stratosphere.

Unlike the eruption of Krakatoa, Tambora predated the telegraph. News didn’t really reach Europe or America of Tambora’s eruption. No one really knew what was coming.

Above the weather systems, sitting in the stratosphere still was dust from the smoke. Sunlight hardly got through at all and the result was global cooling. Crops started failing.

Since the entire world was made up of agricultural economies, they all collapsed. Conditions to grow food were the worst worldwide in over a thousand years.

In Europe, there were food riots. Famine-friendly diseases such as typhus reigned supreme. Gillen D’Arcy Wood suggested that during this time it was easy for Mary Shelley to conjure the image of Frankenstein’s monster wandering the highways of Europe. The sight of a misshapen, shambling figure haunting the highways would’ve been common.

In order to survive, the villages near Tambora escaped the ensuing madness by selling themselves into slavery. They had no other way of getting off the island.

The climate, for three years after the eruption was radically altered.

The Indian monsoons were greatly weakened by the new climate and this resulted in the reemergence of one of mankind’s ancient enemies: cholera. From India it spread through the globe. Tens of millions died of cholera in the nineteenth century.

Without Tambora, cholera wouldn’t have spread like it did. The impact doesn’t end there though.

Crops in Asia became difficult to grow. Farmers couldn’t subsist off of growing rice, so they started growing opium to sell. Today these parts of Asia are known as the Golden Triangle, and remain a primary source of opium production in the world.

The Lesson:

The eruption of Mount Tambora is a climate change story.

It’s easy for us to become prideful and let our guard down. We are, after all, the only animal to have developed intellect. We create robots. We travel space. We fly.

Our lives rely deeply on the continuing generosity of Earth giving us a Goldilocks-like place to live. Resources come easy (for now). These things could change in a second.

Climate change is a risky thing. Its effects are unpredictable. We learned this for the first time in 1815, the Year Without a Summer. Lets not forget.


You Are A Dead Star

So when Carl Sagan said, “We are star stuff.” do you actually know what he meant?

In the beginning of the universe, there was only one atom: hydrogen. Stars formed out of hydrogen atoms when our universe was much younger.

To this day the only thing powerful enough to make larger atoms are stars ~ the early ones slammed hydrogen atoms so closely together that new, heavier types of atoms started to resonate from the furnace, atoms that wouldn’t normally bond like helium.

Dr. Michelle Thaller of NASA said it best when she said that, “We are dead stars looking back up at the sky.”

As a star starts to run out of its fuel - hydrogen, it starts to collapse under its own gravity. At a peak point of this process iron is formed, one of the first heavy elements. Right after that happens a star breaths its last titanic breath: it supernovas. This explosion marks the death of its star and during the explosion heat is created that is able to form even heavier elements like gold.

The next time you see blood take a moment to marvel ~ you’re literally looking at the fossil of a long extinct solar system. The creation of the iron that makes your blood red is the marking of the start of a supernova. It’s in this concept that biology, geology, and cosmology etc. all come full circle. We are all the same, we’re all living fossils and we’re all dead stars. This is what’s so beautiful about Carl Sagan’s words.

This is why science doesn’t make me feel small. You had one parent and it was a massive star. It burned and died somewhere in our part of the universe before even our own current Sun existed.

When you look at a person, you can read the life of the solar system in their very blood.


Gravity interacts with light.

This may not sound profound but scientists have learned to do great things with as little as possible.

By looking at the light being stretched by things with lots of gravity (galaxies, stars, etc.), they can watch distant objects passing behind get stretched out.

This technique, called gravitational lensing, is a circumstantial one but cheap and profound.

Recently the combination of our amazing space telescopes and gravitational lensing have found the oldest galaxy ever. It’s called Abell2744 Y1.

Abel2744 Y1 is 13,150,000,000 light years away.

Light from that galaxy has been traveling towards Earth longer than our solar system has existed… more than three times the age of our solar system actually.

Did you know that in the constellation of Aquilla there’s a cloud of alcohol 1,000 times the diameter of our solar system called G34.3?

It has enough alcohol to supply 300,000 pints of beer every day to every single person on Earth for the next billion years.

That’s around 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pints of beer.


Just as there are planets of burning ice, there is a star in the constellation Lyra that is cold enough that you could drink or swim in it (although you’d die from non-burning things if you did so).

Enter WISE 1828+2650, a brown dwarf star that gently sits at a comfortable 80˚ F (25˚ C).

This happened because the star didn’t have enough mass to crush hydrogen atoms together that would start the fusion process (nuclear fusion is what generates the heat stars traditionally emit).

Dawn marks on Europa: We will find alien life

Two unrelated items have been on my mind recently. One will have made the news and probably a few of you will have seen headlines about it. The other may have escaped notice but it’s significant.

Firstly, scientists in Antarctica have recently gone through about 2600 feet of ice and discovered that there’s an ecosystem of microbes living, essentially off of nutrients from the rocks down there.

It remains fairly disputed on exactly how “isolated” these microbes are from the ocean, but the implications remain: life as we know it has been confirmed to survive on conditions of incredible icy coldness, no photosynthesis and only inorganic compounds to survive off of.

It’s been pointed out by many that these conditions match those found off Earth in parts of our solar system. Scientists have started to unify in the clamor to direct resources towards the dark oceans orbiting around the Sun.

Europa. Enceladus. Titan. Mars. These alien worlds lurk in the distance. enshadowed at times and at others they creep into the sunlit glare of our robotic eyes.


For shame if we don’t clamor with the them. The Copernican revolution signaled the dawn of an age so completely alien in its revolution that it would test the furthest skills of the linguist to explain television to the sixteenth century man.

Imagine giving someone back in those times the knowledge of retrospection? Had they the foresight to appear on this side of the Copernican Revolution, they’d be spoken of by historians and scientists alike today.

What side, if I pointed it out, would you opt for in the next revolution?

As a member of the Planetary Society’s New Millennium Committee, I receive their reports on the fight for NASA funding.

The official NASA budget proposal made by the House of Representatives this year showed an INCREASE in money… towards a robotic mission to find subsurface alien life on Europa.

The House isn’t the only group that made changes to the previous years funding to Europa. The Senate’s proposal, cuts 100% of the funding to a Europa mission.


Fortunately for us, the scientific community will find the senate to be particularly flexible in their opinions in the coming months. Their control of the senate and hold on Congress is at stake in November’s elections. The Planetary Society will hold every single senator accountable for cutting this mission.

We will not let their budget pass. We will go to Europa. We are the generation that will leave Earth and find extra terrestrial life and no politician will stand in our way.

It’s time humanity stopped dreaming of science fiction and woke up to find that our grandest imaginings were reality all along.

Do you even have a clue what the world will be like after we find alien life? If you do and it means something to you… if you never stopped dreaming and if there’s even the smallest atom of adventure left in you, sign this petition and give us the power of your voice.

It’s these things that command fear before elections. Don’t let your dreams crumble. Join us and strike fear in the heart of Congress.

Some of you may have noticed a few days ago that there was a particularly spectacular meteor sheering across the sky. Well if it was the one pictured above then it wasn’t a part of this months Perseid meteor shower at all but was rather the end of another space ship.

Orbital Sciences is a private company that cargoes things to the International Space Station for NASA but they don’t have the technology to bring their ships home so they discard them after use by dropping them into the atmosphere at orbital velocities.

By entering the atmosphere at such a speed, collision with air particles causes so much friction that the Cygnus space craft literally becomes a  meteor and dissipates.

Did you know that in 2006-2007, Earth had a second moon?

2006 RH120 was an asteroid that got caught in orbit around Earth. It went around us four times before being ejected out again. It now orbits the Sun as a new minor planet.

The Greatest Space Ship We’ll see? Introducing Skylon

I’m quite confident that three spaceships are going to survive into physical production: Lockheed Martin’s Orion, SpaceX’s Dragon V2 (both American ships) and Britain’s Skylon.

Britain and the rest of Europe have historically lagged far, far behind Russia, China and the U.S. in terms of space travel.

This will change rapidly with the introduction of the space plane Skylon, here’s why:

Up until now ALL (essentially) spaceships have required the use of rockets in order to escape Earth’s gravity. Rockets are efficient in this sense but they’re expensive, dangerous and pieces need to fall off in stages as parts of the rockets empty of fuel and then get thrown away so the rest of the fuel won’t be dragging dead weight.

Even the most capable and famous space plane - NASA’s space shuttle - had to launch via two solid fuel boosters and a huge oxygen tank.

Why couldn’t they simply take off on runways like normal planes? A jet engine requires oxygen to generate combustion - something that disappears once you leave the atmosphere behind. At this point a jet simply wouldn’t be able to climb any higher, basically falling with the curvature of the atmosphere around the Earth as this atmosphere gives the engine the ability to function.

The British firm Reaction Engines LTD has however made a fantastic breakthrough: Their SABRE engines start as jet engines that use oxygen in the atmosphere taking the spaceship to the edge of space like a normal jet, then it can turn on internal rocket engines and go where planes can’t: above the atmosphere and into space.

This will be 40x safer for astronauts and much, much cheaper than building and then throwing away 90% of every spaceship we use.

The spaceship will be able to carry multiple tons of cargo to space at a time and will have room for around eight astronauts at once (one more than the space shuttle could take).

*Also a fun fact for all you travelers out there: the SABRE engine could give jets the ability to go anywhere on Earth in no less than four hours. Do you live in London and want to visit Tokyo next weekend? Too easy.

This will not only replace all the capabilities humanity lost when the space shuttles were retired, but by being super cheap and 100% reusable it allows for us to bring many things up, including parts of other spaceships that astronauts could assemble in space - ones that wouldn’t need to worry about overcoming Earth’s gravity.

The Skylon will be able to do something totally essential to a new space age: it will enable a space-based infrastructure. Parts brought up by this space ship could be used to create many things:

  • Space Stations
  • Space Ships that can go to Mars like SpaceX’s Dragon V2 or NASA’s Orion capsule
  • Fueling stations for spaceships
  • Space hotels
  • Asteroid mining stations

Basically, this is a game changer. Personally I’d put it on equal footing with SpaceX’s innovations. While SpaceX is creating the technology to allow for reusable rocketry (essential for exploring new places such as Mars), Reaction Engines LTD has potentially solved the problem of escaping Earth’s gravity for little cost and at much less risk.

On top of recent success of the Rosetta robot reaching orbit around a comet, this will make me much more interested in seeing what the European Space Agency (assuming Britain contributes the plane to that agency) is able to start doing.

Here’s a video showing the space ship and here’s another. Here’s proof that Britain is in fact building a spaceport (to be operational before 2020!!!).

Skylon itself is hoped to be doing test flights by 2019 and trips to the International Space Station by 2022.

Radio signals detected from space

If you’ve been following the news recently you may have noticed a few outlets reporting that we’ve received radio signals from space:



Scientific American

Nature World News

The fact of the matter is that yep - we did receive those radio signals.

We’re constantly getting radio signals from space. Things like black holes, pulsars and other more average stars all emit radio waves.

What’s odd is the specific nature of these waves: they don’t act like any of the naturally occurring ones that we are familiar with.

Anomalies in equipment have been ruled out. Some people suspect a type of neutron star called a magnetar which would spit out as much energy in a millisecond as our Sun does in about 300,000 years.

Then of course, there’s the other theory. I won’t even bother saying it because it’s what you’ve been thinking the entire time you’ve been reading this.

These signals have experts so baffled that some of them are thinking that too.

All I can say is that I don’t have the answer. Just be warned that historically, it’s never turned out to be that theory. “I don’t know” should never mean “which means I know it’s this”.

The cosmos is vast and strange. There’s a lot going on that we haven’t even begun to fathom. Who knows what is happening out there