In the news this week

This is another one of my news round ups, because I do think it has been a rather exciting week for it. Like I said last time, these are not a regular feature but when I spend a lot of time going wow at the news in a particular week, I will likely post a round up of just what has been causing the excitement.

Solar sails

The idea of solar sails really got an elevated profile this week when Dr Hawking weighed in and gave his support. I must say I do often feel a little sorry for the people who work tirelessly on these things to get very little news coverage, then it gets the nod from another physicist and all of a sudden this is everywhere. But that is just part of life – and I am sure that everyone would agree that it is better in the news than not. The idea is to be able to send little ships off into space that look something like this:

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With these ships being so light and sustained by the solar sail; which is set off into its journey by a laser from Earth, they can travel for huge distances and relay information back to Earth. The plan of these ships is to send it to a star in another solar system; that would be 25 trillion mile from Earth. This is only possible because the ship is so small and capable of travelling much faster. This idea sounds very sci-fi, however the progress is really exciting. It is largely expected that within our lifetimes we will be achieving this sort of travel. If that isn’t worth getting excited about then what is?

Planet 9 fleshed out 

The idea that there is an elusive 9th planet floating around out there has been toyed with since Caltech researchers suggested the idea back in January and they have now taken it further with a prediction of what the internal composition might be.

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One very good way of determining the composition of a planet and the atmosphere is to consider the light coming off it. You may or may not know that everything is a certain colour because the object absorbs all of the colours of light except the ones that give it its colour.

Well we cannot do this with planet 9, because the problem is that we have never ever seen it. We have just predicted that it exists based on the interaction with other bodies in the solar system (which is a very good way of finding orbiting planets). The model above has been determined using the planetary evolution model, considering the great spinning disc that clumped together forming planets. I have spoken about this at length in other posts, but the core point is using knowledge of the changing composition of the planets as we go through the disc towards Pluto, predictions are not too far fetched. Taking the knowledge of the planets we already have we can work out what this one is comprised of – or at least make some approximations with reasonable certainty.

An inflatable bedroom

Finally, an inflatable bedroom was taken onto the international space station. This actually nicely links into the fact that a rocket was safely landed for the first time too: where as before a rocket wasn’t landed, a small pod is just parachuted down to Earth and that is the end of that rocket. As humans we really are on the brink of deep deep space exploration – look at this little bedroom! It looks very small, but apparently this is similar to a small room that you might find on Earth – which seems quite large for space. The two things that really hold us back from commercial space exploration are the fact that it is not easy to house large amounts of people and rockets are basically disposable objects. These things really are changing.

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Now I come to think of it there was more news than this…. anyone care to point out the other bits I missed!?

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4 responses to “In the news this week

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