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I often write about science, technology and the possibilities for the future. From time to time I also touch on matters of health and wellbeing, on travel and on other matters that catch my attention.

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Not everyone who visits space deserves the title. Time to make a distinction between those who do, and those who don’t.

A Soviet stamp celebrating the flight of Gherman Titov, the youngest astronaut.

Take your seat, relax, and look up at the stars. Feel the engines gradually roar to life, their vibrations filling the cabin. Before long you are airborne, the powerful rockets forcing you back into your seat as your capsule hurtles upwards at tremendous speeds. For two minutes the world is chaos, a roaring shaking mess, and then, suddenly, all is calm.

You are gliding now, and outside the sky is an inky black, the curve of the Earth a vibrant blue. You unbuckle your seatbelt and float, weightless while your capsule soars along its arc, high above the planet. Minutes…


Certain doom awaits those who wander the void alone

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

The vision is chilling: a world with no sun, cast adrift in the vastness of space, blanketed in an eternal darkness and doomed to lose every last watt of heat it possesses. The freeze, once it comes, will be unending; an icy grip that strangles the planet and extinguishes hope forever.

This horrifying fate may have befallen thousands, if not millions, of worlds in our galaxy. Astronomers name the victims “rogue planets”: abandoned worlds floating forever across an uncaring cosmos. A handful have already been found, mostly by sheer chance as they happen to drift past our solar system.

They…


A decade ago a star mysteriously disappeared from the night sky. We still have no idea why.

Photo credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI). Shared under CC BY 2.0.

At first glance this star seems much like any other, one slightly red dot among a thousand others. Stare a little longer, though, and it starts to look a bit odd. It is moving too fast, so fast in fact, that it should have long ago escaped our galaxy and drifted into the vast void of intergalactic space. But it hasn’t — somehow, in defiance of Newton’s laws, it is still here.

Ten years ago something even odder happened to this star; something that defies explanation. It vanished, abruptly disappearing from the night sky. For months almost no trace of…


Megaconstellations threaten to block our view of the heavens.

The heart of our galaxy seen in radio wavelengths. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF.

Back in the 1930s, an engineer working on trans-Atlantic radio systems noticed an odd daily pattern appearing in his radio signals. Investigation showed this repeating signal came not from Earth, or even from our Solar System, but from the heart of the Milky Way.

The engineer, Karl Jansky, was soon reassigned to more profitable activities. Still, his chance discovery inspired astronomers to take a closer look at radio signals coming from the heavens. Over the following decades the field blossomed, revealing many surprises — from pulsars to quasars. Today it is one of the main areas of astronomical research.

Jansky’s…


Hundreds of miles across, the icy giant has travelled half a light year to get here.

Credit:ESO/M. Kornmesser

The edge of our Solar System is a still unknown region. Scientists are confident a ring of dwarf planets and comets lies roughly four billion miles from the Sun — something known as the Kuiper Belt. But beyond that, things get murky. Many astronomers think there should be a cloud of scattered, icy objects surrounding the Solar System and stretching far out into interstellar space.

Hard evidence for its existence has so far been lacking. The outer solar system is an area of unbroken darkness, with the light of the Sun no brighter than any other star. …


Credit: Axiom Space

Private spaceflight is edging closer and closer to reality. Space tourism, of the form where billionaires pay for short trips into orbit, has been around for a while, though such trips have always relied on the support of national space agencies. Now, purely commercial flights into space — onboard a privately built and operated vehicle — are on the verge of becoming routine.

The next few weeks should see two sets of private astronauts cross the boundary to space. The first to confirm an attempt is Blue Origin, who will carry Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to the edge of space…


Telescopes have spotted hundreds of powerful signals coming from deep space. Who, or what, is behind them?

Credit: ESO, shared under CC BY 2.0.

Nobody seemed to have any idea what caused them. Was it a spy satellite, perhaps, transmitting clandestine signals and fooling radio telescopes? Could they be the dying screams of supermassive stars, on the verge of collapsing forever into a black hole? Or were they messages from aliens, sending bursts of energy across the cosmos?

For years these mysterious signals have puzzled astronomers. Every now and then radio telescopes would pick one up — a sudden bright flash that disappeared as quickly as it came. When astronomers did the careful work of analysing the flash, it would invariably turn out to…


About One Blue Planet

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” — Albert Einstein

That is, unfortunately, a lie. Einstein probably never said that, though he did mention his belief that science should represent reality as simply as possible. Nevertheless, the quote is a good one. Science belongs to us all, a collective treasure of humanity. It should be shared and understood by everyone.

Sadly, modern science and journalism falls short. Scientists write with complicated words and formula; journalists misunderstand and confuse things, or worse, mislead. One Blue Planet is an effort to change that. I am a trained physicist…


NASA is quietly considering sending astronauts to the Earth’s twin planet

Airship cities over Venus. Credit: NASA

Might we one day send astronauts to Venus? The idea is not quite as farfetched as it sounds. True, the surface of the planet is quite literally hell — temperatures soar to hundreds of degrees and the air is filled with deadly sulphuric acid — but the upper atmosphere is something quite different, almost Earth-like.

Plans to visit Venus have centred around two possible concepts. The first, considered seriously in the 1960s and 70s, would see astronauts fly by the planet, scanning it from close range but not sticking around for long. …

Alastair Williams

Once I studied physics and distant galaxies. Now I fly satellites instead, and spend my time thinking and writing about trends in space and technology.

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