On January 23rd a special issue of Science published the intial results from the Rosetta mission to commet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. They also awarded the mission 'Science breakthrough of 2014', see the above video from 3 min 50 seconds. You can view the Rosetta papers that were included here, although only the abstracts unless you or your institution has a subscription to Science. However, there are image galleries for Rosetta and the lander Philae on that page and a PDF of the introductory article here. The image below shows the relative brightness of the comet compared with the earth and the moon.
Along the Finke river in central Australia (where the family heads to next week!) is a population of palm trees. This is interesting as there is no continuous path for them to have got there from the coast of Australia. It used to be thought they might be a remnant population from several million years ago, until DNA evidence showed them to have originated from the north coast of Australia much more recently, only 7,000-31,000 years ago. Described in an original Nature article, and ABC news report from 2012. Amazingly, recent translations of aboriginal legends have shown that traditional knowledge of the transplanting of these palms from the northern coast to central Australia has been passed down in oral tradition to the present day. This suggests that orals traditions such as this may have been passed down for 30,000 years or more, quite astounding. Read the ABC news article here.
There is no fact more damning of our society than the fact that the 85 richest people in the world possess more than the poorest 3.5 billion. History will despise us for this and the failure of our capitalist ideals. We vote for parties that continue this and make the situation worse; over the last 30 years the proportion of wealth generated that is going to the richest 1% has increased year on year. During the "great financial crisis" the rich continued to get richer while the rest of us paid for it. Do you really think this is an acceptable situation? You can at least make your voice heard before the G20 summit in Brisbane. Write to Tony Abbott through the Oxfam website. Want to be depressed even more by our lack of action, read a fuller article at The Guardian. Don't forget, those 3.5 billion people aren't just (or even mostly) the starving you might normally pity. They are people who would consider themselves perfectly well off in the countries we like to go on holiday to.
I noticed an item on the ABC new website today, which had photos of a new volcanic island in the waters of Tonga. Apparently the island only started to appear in January, but it is already impressively large. Must have been quite amazing to be the first people to set foot on it, I guess they were brave too! See some more photos with the news article here.
I recently came across an article that mentioned the nuclear powered engines for rockets that NASA was developing in the 1960's and '70's. I have to admit I had no idea that had been going on, although obviously a range of space probes are nuclear powered. A bit different from the rockets that provide the lift though. What is really amazing is how much more powerful and efficient they were than the conventional chemical rockets we are using today. They would have allowed us to reach Mars in a few months and Saturn in less time than it takes to get to Mars today. If man had chosen to go down this route we would almost certainly have had a manned visit to Mars years ago. It was certainly planned.
A while ago I read an article in the Australian Sky and Telescope magazine showing the differences in city lights from space using photographs from the International Space Station. This is a NASA Youtube video of the same, there are some amazing differences where cities cross political boundaries for instance.
Currently, NASA can't send astronauts up to (or get them back from) the ISS themselves, but they are working on a new capsule for doing this. The first flight of this was a few days ago. There is an 'astronauts eye' video of the re-entry as well, which is quite amazing too.
There is a fascinating article on the Radio National website by John Gardiner of the University of Sydney about the role of plants in science, culture and medicine. A brief look at a big subject, but it elegantly describes the reasons why we should be interested in plants, rather than having "plant blindness" and the myriad ways that they have shaped everything about us. You should read it here!
I was fascinated by the seeming simplicity of plants. I soon discovered that this was an illusion. Their complexity is mind-blowing.
So. Rather than leave everything to Facebook and all the anoyances that entails I have ditched my account and turned my old site into a blog. There are some rather old overviews of my past work, a few random pages on my interests and, by default, whatever random stuff I've felt like posting.