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When the Sun goes to sleep...

...does the Earth freeze?

In the last week, the world’s media have been getting very excited about the Sun. It started with reports from America that the Sun’s magnetic field is weakening and that the Sun could be entering a period of decreased activity, or even go into some sort of solar-hibernation. There have been predictions that the solar shut-down could counteract global warming or that it might herald the arrive of a new Ice Age, but what’s really happening and how will it effect our little, blue planet?

Firstly, although our knowledge of the mechanisms that drive the Sun has greatly increased in recent years, there is still an awful lot we don’t know how it works and how it interacts with the rest of the solar system – Earth included.

Our planet inhabits an exotic, complex and inherently hostile environment. Above the protective cocoon of our atmosphere and magnetic field is a seething soup of electrified and magnetised matter, seasoned with a hefty slug of energetic particles and radiation. Some of this comes in the form of cosmic radiation from outside of our solar system, but much of it comes from our Sun. This radiation has lots of obvious effects on the planet but many of its influences are far subtler with a multitude of variables (many of which we haven’t even begun to understand) affecting the ultimate outcome.

Rosetta spies its target

Space probe takes a pic and then a nap

Rosetta is an pretty cool little probe launched in 2004. The European Space Agency probe will go into orbit around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014 and, once there, it will deploy a lander and (hopefully) sample the comet's surface.

Now, after eight years of lonely truckin', Rosetta has its target in sight and has returned the first images.

Image: Rosetta closes in on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – click to zoomify

It might not look like much, but the images (taken by OSIRIS – Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) required a total exposure time of 13 hours.

The plucky little craft is still more than 160 million kilometres from its final destination and, now that it has snapped its quarry, it will now shut down and wait out the rest of its journey in hibernation mode.

The spacecraft will receive a wake up call in January 2014 ready for its rendevous in July 2014. (Graphics about Rosetta and comet-type stuff below)

Mucus, poo and blankets of slime...

A recipe for world domination

In the great circle of life nothing goes to waste, not even life’s most undesirable waste, poo, is…erm, wasted – one creature’s unpleasant dollop is another’s sticky nirvana. It’s a sort of what-goes-in-must-come-out-must-go-in-again-must-come-out-again cycle that ensures that an ecosystem remains in balance. But there is creature that is breaking this rule, with potentially disastrous consequences.

This ‘my-poop-is-your-dinner’ rule-breaker is the jellyfish. The waste that flows from this gelatinous denizen of the deep is a piquant combination of faeces and mucus that is so unpleasant that almost nothing will touch it. 

The only beastie un-discerning enough to touch it is a short-lived bacteria that gobbles it up, breathes its carbon into the atmosphere and then promptly expires.
So what’s the big deal?

A blot on the Sunscape

See that big orange sphere in the image above? That's the Sun (obviously).

But do you see that tiny black splodge in front of it? It's not the splattered remains of an interstellar Daddy Longlegs, it's actually the International Space Station as photographed from the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Where I pucker up and blow my own trumpet

Cosm nominated for a Sir Arthur Clarke award

I am most pleased (and a more than a little humbled) to have been shortlisted for a Sir Arthur Clarke award. 

I have (somehow) made it into the final three for the Sir Arthur Clarke Achievement in Space Media Award. This is where people normally gush about how 'just being nominated is an honour', but in this case, it is the truth. The 'Arthurs' (as they are known) have been dubbed the space industy's 'Oscar's', but what makes them very special indeed is that nominees are put forward by the public.

A glimpse of the (almost) impossible...

Has science found its first white hole?

The universe is littered with the weird and wonderful and GRB 060614 could turn out to be one of the weirdest and most wonderful of them all.
GRB 060614, which we’ll call Ralph to smooth things along, was a gamma-ray burst with some very puzzling properties detected by Nasa’s Swift satellite on June 14, 2006.

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