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The lost land of the first Britons

Once upon a time there existed a magical place called ‘Doggerland’ (no dear readers, don’t chuckle). For thousands of years, the land had lain under a curse of ice but that curse had been broken and the Ice Age was over. Into this new land came a creature called ‘man’ and he found it was very much to his liking, so he stayed and made it his home. He camped by its rivers, hunted in its forests and made tools from its rocks. But a great peril was creeping from the north. All that ice had melted and run into the seas and was rushing south to reclaim its kingdom. Nothing could stand in its way and Doggerland fell. All the land was consumed by water and man was forced to abandon his home forever to the depths.

For eight thousand years his home lay buried and forgotten until one day an inquisitive lobster came along and starting digging it up again…

Deep into that darkness peering

In the lifeless desert plains high above Chile, a giant has awoken and opened its eyes for the first time. Its eyes pierce the rarefied Andean atmosphere to cast their gaze into the deepest recesses of the universe and back to the birth of time.

Alma, or Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array, is a colossus by anyone’s standards. When completed next year, the £840million telescope will consist of 66 radio antennae spread across the Atacama Desert, which, by working together, will have the radiation-gathering ability of a telescope measuring a titanic 10km wide.

Tripping over the light fantastic

Note from the Cosm overlord: Rather annoyingly, I was on holiday when this story first broke – but I figured that (unlike the neutrinos) I would employ the 'better late than never' philosophy...

On September 23, researchers at CERN (home of the Large Hadron Collider) made an announcement that shook the foundations of modern science: the speed limit of light – that most unbreakable of unbreakable things – seemed to have been broken.

Despite the researchers urging caution, ‘Einstein was wrong’ headlines bounced around the media faster than shotgun pellets fired into a safe.

The basis of the announcement was that neutrinos (see box below) seemed to have covered a distance of 730km faster than the speed of light would allow.

The majority of physicists maintain that the results will prove to be flawed. But if the findings are proven to be accurate... is there an explanation that doesn’t involve thowing Einstein’s baby out with the bath water?

So long, and thanks for all the fish

In Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the Earth’s dolphins – knowing the planet is doomed – leave for an alternative dimension. Being intelligent (and polite), they leave behind a note for humanity which reads: ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish.’

The idea that dolphins and whales are the quiet owners of a higher level of intelligence isn’t a new one. Since the idea was suggested in the 1960s, arguments and counter arguments have been tossed around like fish at feeding time.

A dolphin’s endearing sociability certainly makes the idea of intelligence an attractive one. When we look at their demeanour, we see playful inquisitiveness and gentle altruism… dolphins even have a smile on their face.

But how much of what we see is distorted by the mirror of anthropomorphism – the human desire to find human-like qualities, which we hold up to the world around us?

Murder most foul?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of Ötzi the ice man, so what have we learned?

[Ötzi images: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology]

Twenty years ago today (September 9), two hikers were enjoying the pristine, snow-covered trail high in the Alps between Austria and Italy when they stumbled across an astonishing find – a frozen human body. At first, it was thought that the remains belonged to modern hiker and the body was crudely hacked from its icy tomb by the Austrian authorities. But it soon became clear that the incredibly well preserved corpse belonged, not to an unlucky tourist, but to a man who had met his end some 5,300 years ago.

The time bombs ticking on our doorstep

The universe is a pretty ancient place. Since it was born in the explosion of matter and energy we call the Big Bang, more than 14billion years of time has expanded before it.

Within time’s ever-expanding womb, fertile matter has seeded the birth of countless stars, which have burst with screams of hot fury into the universe’s nursery.

But what fate awaits these children of time? Some are born too small and are doomed to live the shame of a failed star. Others are born too large, burn too bright and die young as supernovae. But many, like our very own Sun, live bright, long and unspectacular lives.

When these stars die, they leave behind a sort of skeletal monument, which is a pale reflection of their former glory, called a white dwarf star. A white dwarf is a stellar corpse, a final glowing cinder that is doomed to slowly fade as the universe reclaims its waning heat.

At least that’s what we thought. New research is showing that some white dwarfs might be stellar time bombs, slowly counting down to an explosive supernova finale.

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