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2013’s greatest hits (according to Cosm)

IT IS the start of a new year. 2013 is behind us and all eyes are looking towards the year ahead. It is a time to cast out the old and welcome in the new. 

But before we push 2013 into our collective wheelie bins to fester with turkey bones, congealed gravy and unrealised dreams, let us take one final look at the year on whose shoulders 2014 will stand.

Like one of those chocolate selection boxes that are ubiquitous to the festive season, 2013 was a year packed with tasty morsels of sciencey goodness. We have reviewed the pictorial insert and (avoiding the whisky liqueur centres) selected a few of our favourites...

[*The decision to run with a 2013 retrospective was in no way influenced by the author’s desire for two weeks off during the Christmas period. The fact that this piece could be prepared in advance is entirely coincidental]


It's a wonderful (and weird) world

SCIENCE HAS REVEALED that all the matter and energy that make up the Universe today was born in the Big Bang – the stars and planets, you and me (and tortoises) are just different facets of the energy that burst into existence 13.8billion years ago. In a very real sense, we are the Universe become self-aware – studying itself through the eyes of humanity and communicating through the language of science.

But not all of us are clued into that language and sometimes we need someone to help us decipher it. 

One such man is Marcus Chown. In his new book jammed-packed with contemplation of the awesome: ‘What a Wonderful World: One Man’s Attempt to Explain the Big Stuff’, he does just that.

Lacking the space to explore them all, we have selected a couple of our favourites and ‘reimagined’ them to fit MetroCosm’s humble pages...

Gaia's great galactic census

ESA’s mission to map a billion stars

IN 1676 THE ASTRONOMER ROYAL, John Flamsteed, sat down to compile the first catalogue of star positions to be recorded with the aid of a telescope. He spent an incredible 43 years dedicated to the task and, when the final catalogue was published in 1725 (six years after his death), he had recorded the positions of nearly 3,000 stars with unrivaled precision. Now, more than three hundred years later, a mission will be launched that aims to map the positions of one billion stars with a level of accuracy that would have made Flamsteed’s head explode – and it will do so in just five years.

On December 19, the European Space Agency’s Gaia space craft will launch on one of the most ambitious space-charting missions ever conceived. From its position 1.5million km from Earth, Gaia will map the precise location, composition, brightness and age of a thousand million stars to create the ultimate three-dimensional map of our corner of the Milky Way.

Catching a cosmic ghost in the ice

AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD, buried beneath more than two kilometers of ice, there lies a trap. But it doesn’t lie in wait for seals, penguins or other unsuspecting antarctic beasties; it seeks one of the most elusive beasts in the Universe – a particle so numerous it outnumbers every other particle in the cosmos, yet so stealthy that billions of their number can (and do) pass right through your body without prompting so much as a tickle. It seeks the ultimate cosmic ghost: the neutrino.

The trap is actually a neutrino detector aptly known as IceCube that, instead of scanning the heavens, gazes through the Earth – using its mass to filter out any unwanted particles – in the hope that a neutrino from beyond our galaxy stops by to say hello.

Neutrinos are created by all sorts of high-energy phenomena. We make them in our nuclear reactors and thermonuclear reactions in the Sun spew countless trillions of them in our direction every second. But the neutrinos IceCube seeks are the product of even more violent processes beyond our solar system, such as supernovae and radiation vented from supermassive black holes. 

Meet the particle snipers (part 2)


LAST WEEK we marked the launch of the new ‘Collider’ exhibit at the Science Museum by straining a feeble sniper rifle metaphor and looking at what lay ahead for the most celebrated of the atom smashers – the Large Hadron Collider. 

We also took a glimpse at a proposed successor whose 100km accelerator ring would dwarf even the mighty LHC.

In week two of our particle sniper special we take a look at some of the more practical particle projects on the drawing board and explore some of the problems they will be training their sights on in the years to come. 

Meet the particle snipers

IN SOME WAYS, machines such as the Large Hadron Collider are like particle sniper rifles – firing some of the smallest components of matter at colossal speeds into each other with exquisite precision and watching the even smaller components that come flying out. 

There can be no doubt that the LHC is master of its art. It is the most ambitious, technologically demanding, expensive and powerful particle sniper ever built but there is always a student waiting in the wings – a next-generation player ready to surpass the master.

With the opening of a new LHC exhibit, ‘Collider’, at the Science Museum (see below), we thought it was time to ponder the future of these gargantuan particle snipers. 

So, over the next two weeks, we will take a look at some of the projects on the drawing board and explore what they will be training their sights on in the coming years.

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