Until 40 years ago, the farthest any man-made object had ventured into space was Mars and many scientists believed that this might be as far as we could ever go.
Beyond Mars, there lay an impenetrable 180million km-wide barrier made up of colossal rocks, barreling through space and tens of thousands of kilometres per hour – the asteroid belt – and any craft that ventured into it would be doomed. At least that was the theory.
Then, forty years ago this month, Nasa put the theory to the test. Launched on March 2, 1972, Pioneer 10 left Earth on a mission to study Jupiter. To reach it, it would have to traverse the asteroid belt.
Anyone who has ever taken the time to examine their poo (probably more men than women) can tell you that what we eat can have profound effect on its quality. There is excruciating “half-chewed peanut” poo, the glorious “you won’t be needing much toilet paper” poo and tedious “eternal wipe” poo (this usually follows a bad kebab, or great curry).
As a layman, we can all marvel in humanity’s faecal variety, but it might surprise you that, in recent years, archaeologists have been developing a bit of an excrement obsession.
It turns out that we can learn a lot about our ancestors from their toilet deposits. Civilisations come and go and cultures rise and fall but humans have always pooed. Sanitation services that remove bottom garbage from the environment are a relatively recent invention so, for most of human history, poo remained where it was deposited.
Last week, an old friend suggested we should make a Cosm podcast. So we did.
We have called it the Cosm Science Ramble – because that is what it is. Just two blokes rambling on about science.
This one was recorded as a tester. No planning or forethought went into it. It wasn't meant to heard by anyone (ever) but we thought it was fun so decided to share it.
The more observant amongst you might notice what seems to be "dead air" for a few seconds at about 7 minutes. I'd like to say that we inserted this gap to allow time for reflection and contemplation... but I'd be lying (sorry).
Future editions will be (slightly) better planned and have more facts and stuff (hopefully). We will also try to move to a proper place in the iTunes podcast world.
If you can't stay glued to the pointless video image or use flash, you can listen to the mp3 here (if you right-click and save as, you can download it too)
If you hate (or love) it let me know – it will have a bearing on whether we do any more. If you are apathetic about it, then just sigh, shake your head and move along...
Man has always hunted. Even before prehistory ditched the ‘pre’ part of its name and became just history, man has used harpoons to make the hunt easier – especially when there was water involved.
Before history even considered dropping its prefix, hunters used long sharp pointy things to spear fish. But sometimes the fish slipped off the end. Then some bright spark had the idea of putting a barbed end on the sharp pointy thing and the harpoon was born.
For centuries, the harpoon was the weapon of choice for hunting at sea but, lately, it has fallen out of vogue.
Nasa are planning to rehabilitate the harpoon but, instead of hunting whales at sea, they will be hunting comets in space.
I have a new article over at Sen (Space Exploration Network). It recounts the first 2,000 years (or so) of humanity's journey to the stars.
You might think you know the story, but there was a long and fascinating technological journey to be made before mankind even left the confines of the ground (left alone the planet itself). From the first kites and ancient experiments with steam and rocketry there are some fascinating and (sometimes) hilarious stories paving the way.
For example, have you heard about the 16th century Chinese bureaucrat who tried to launch himself to moon in a wicker chair with 47 rockets attached to it? Or how about the 19th century Italian who launched sheep into "space"? Or the early 20th century Russian school teacher who designed multi-stage rockets, space stations and a space elevator?
Ben Gilliland joined the Metro newspaper in 1999 as graphics editor, and started the weekly MetroCosm science column in 2005. Since then MetroCosm has increased to a two-page feature and has become one of the paper's most popular sections. Its competitions have taken school children to Space Camps in America and Turkey and even as far afield as the Arctic ice cap. Ben Gilliland has spoken about science journalism at the Royal Aeronautical Society and regularly teaches at the Media Space Summer School at Queen Mary, University of London. He was also shortlisted, along with BBC Online and BBC's Sky at Night magazine, for the 2010 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Best Space Reporting – which he didn't win, so, buoyed by the near-miss he left the Metro newspaper to pursue a freelance career and a life of poverty. He was nominated for the 2011 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Achievement in Space Media, but didn't win that one either. (He is seeking therapy to address his propensity to talk about himself in the third-person)