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Ben Gilliland's blog

The star that redrew the cosmos

[Above: It looks unimpressive, but this image (taken 90 years ago this week) proved for the first time that there was something outside the confines of what was then to believed to be the full extent of the Universe – the Milky Way. Edwin Hubble (pictured) excitedly crossed out his previous annotation of ‘N’, for nova, and replaced it with a triumphant ‘VAR!’, for variable.]

AT THE START OF THE 20TH CENTURY, astronomers thought they knew what the Universe was all about. It was an island of light, afloat alone in the dark, infinite sea of existence. Measuring about 100,000 light years across, it contained about 100 million stars – a fixed, unchanging and eternal raft of stars sometimes called the Milky Way.

Then, on October 4, 1923, from a dark mountainside in California, a discovery was made that would redraw the map of the cosmos – starting astronomy down a path that no one could have imagined or predicted, and that would eventually lead the way back 13.8 billion years to the birth of the Universe itself.

Welcome to type-1a supernova school...


Some more t-shirt geekery....

I've knocked up some more physics and science-based t-shirtery... Is Schrödinger's cat alive or dead? You decide!

Check them out (or don't) here 

Will micro black holes point to extra dimensions?

BLACK HOLES ARE AMONG the most evocative and fascinating phenomena in the cosmos. Born from the collapsing cores of massive stars, they are the ultimate expression of gravity’s power – bending the fabric of space and time so absolutely that not even light can escape their clutches. In their most massive incarnations, they lurk at centre of every galaxy – able to dictate the movements of stars and, if they stray too close, strip away their gaseous flesh. Black holes are awesome and terrifying objects.

It’s fortunate then that they can only be found in deep recesses of outer space... but imagine if, during some sort of perverse science experiment, we were to make one here on planet Earth.

Do the string theory fandango

Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration... "Bohemian gravity".

It's a magnificent great dollop of geeky goodness! 

JWST: A Webb to catch the first stars

IN THE KINGDOM OF TELESCOPES, there’s no denying that the Hubble Space Telescope is king. From the moment of its launch (well, from the moment its faulty optics were fixed with the addition of a set of space spectacles) it has beamed back images that have revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos, tapped into humanity’s collective imagination, populated the coffee tables of the world with countless pictorial tomes and titillated the planet’s computer-users with an endless stream of astro-porn screen-savers. But even legends must one day step aside and cede their title to the next generation.

Hubble’s heir-apparent is the James Webb Space Telescope.

But transitions of power rarely run smoothly and Webb’s ascension has certainly not gone to plan. Since it was first conceived in 1996, it has been delayed (from an initial launch date of 2013 to 2018), run over budget by billions of pounds (from £2.2billion to £5.6billion) and even been cancelled but it seems, at last, that Webb is finally on course to assume its heavenly throne.

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