Thanks for checking out my profile and my work! I hope you enjoy it.

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.

I publish a regular newsletter. If you’d like to keep up with what I write, feel free to subscribe here.

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. …

Five rocket launches over the next year will change the way we think about space

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

The history of American spaceflight traces a long arc. Undoubtedly the peak came in the Apollo years, when men walked on the Moon and NASA dreamed of visiting Venus and Mars. The decades that followed had their successes — the Shuttle, the International Space Station, Hubble — but nothing that could compare to the glory years.

Just ten years ago, as the Space Shuttle made its final flight, the descent of that arc seemed complete. For the first time in decades America had no ability to send astronauts into orbit. NASA was forced to turn to an old foe, Russia…

Scientists have found a way to map the invisible Universe. What they see is helping to prove Einstein mostly right.

Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, CC BY 4.0. Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Several stories came out last week claiming scientists had once again proven Einstein wrong. They haven’t, of course, though they might have found a bit more evidence that one day leads to a new theory of physics. More interesting than the headlines are the details of the study itself and how they managed to map something we can’t see or detect: dark matter.

The trigger for these stories was the latest data release from the Dark Energy Survey, a project to map millions of galaxies, supernova and other cosmic structures. …

Mars was once more hospitable than Earth. Could it ever be so again?

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

There has been no recent shortage of people pointing out that Mars is a hostile and unforgiving world. That is not news. The planet is freezing cold, full of toxic soil and bathed in constant, deadly solar radiation. Any life that still survives there faces a desperate daily fight against the odds.

Things have not always been this bad. Turn the clock back billions of years, to the earliest days of the Solar System, and a different planet appears. Back then Mars was much more hospitable, perhaps even more so than Earth was at the time.

Martian investigators have uncovered…

Last time we ventured into deep space we got lucky. Next time we may not.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

The night of August 4, 1972, was marked by strange events. In England bright lights appeared in the sky, strong enough to cast shadows in the streets. Power grids all over America recorded strange fluctuations, threatening to cause a large-scale blackout. Along the Vietnamese coast thousands of sea mines, deployed in the war, suddenly erupted in terrifying explosions.

Around the planet scientific instruments recorded equally bizarre things. Observers in Guam spotted a wave of magnetic energy racing across the planet at tremendous speeds —travelling more than three thousand kilometres every second. Satellites failed; their power systems unable to cope with…

Investors are getting excited, but quantum computing still has a long way to go before it is useful.

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The age of commercial quantum computing is dawning — at least if you believe the marketing hype. Investors certainly seem to. The stock market debut of IonQ, a start-up focusing on quantum computers, is expected to attract a valuation of two billion dollars. That is a lot of money for a company that earned just $1 million last year.

The sky-high valuation suggests quantum computing has a rich future ahead of it. Forget that paltry million dollars of revenue — investors are expecting IonQ will start pulling in huge sums as the quantum market takes off. IonQ, they are hoping…

That's very true! When Copernicus came up with the more correct model, saying the planets moved around the Sun, it was actually worse at predicting things than the old model. It took Kepler to work out orbits were ellipses before it was broadly accepted. So indeed, we can end up with a wrong model that works for a very long time.

Rapid technological development may not last forever.

Photo by Kevin Noble on Unsplash

Will future generations look back at our time with envy? That was the suggestion made in a recent article in The Economist, looking at how a world with falling populations might play out. The result, at least according to a paper by Stanford economist Charles Jones, is a decline in scientific and technological progress that will make the current period look like a golden age.

Is that really something we should be worrying about? Global populations already look like they will start falling in the next few decades. …

They appear as nothing more than ghosts — but the secrets they tell may soon revolutionise science.

The South Pole IceCube neutrino detector bathed in aurora. Credit: Christian Krueger, IceCube/NSF.

The first sign was astonishingly brief, just thirteen seconds long. It was so brief, in fact, that until much later nobody realised it had happened at all. But something unusual was indeed happening on that February afternoon, something that hadn’t happened for almost four centuries.

The next sign followed a few hours later, though for some time nobody noticed that one either. A photographer in Australia captured the event on camera, but wouldn’t realise what he had found until the next day. …

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.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store