Pythagorean AstronomyNov 21, 2023
Planet Bashing and Dipsticks of the Universe
Recorded in late October, Chris and Edward discuss recent proposals for an all-British mission to space, the launch of Psyche to...erm...Psyche, and Edward's involvement with the detection of something called a Synestia - planets bashing together.
Cardiff University also hosted Prof Duncan Lorimer, who was jointly awarded the 2023 Shaw Prize for the detection of "Fast Radio Bursts". These mysterious cosmic events seemingly come form nowhere, but provide an intersting way of investigating energetic processes in the Universe. They also make a nice "dipstick of the Universe". Prof Lorimer spoke to Chris about their detection, what we're learning about them, and his career to date
00:00 British space mission
05:20 Psyche mission
10:15 Synestia and planet bashing
16:50 Prof Duncan Lorimer and Fast Radio Bursts
Life, but not as we know it?
Chris and Edward discuss some recent stories, such as tantalising possible (emphasis on the possible) detections by JWST of interesting molecules on an exoplanet which coul (emphasis on the could) indicate signs of life. There's also new data on Europa, also from JWST, showing carbon dioxide on its surface - what does this mean? And further afield, astronomers have used ALMA to measure magnetic fields in incredibly distant galaxies, opening a potential new way to study the early Universe.
National Astronomy Meeting - part 2
Dr Ian Harrisonreports from the National Astronomy meeting, which we held in Cardiff back in July. You can hear a couple of interviews we conducted on the previous episode, but in this episode we have a bit of a deep dive into machine learning with Ashley Spindler, what we mean by a modelling in astrophysics with Niall Jeffrey, and what we're learning from the cosmic microwave background with Dr Susanna Azzoni.
July marked the UK's annual National Astronomy Meeting, which this year took place in Cardiff. Chris North, Edward Gomez and Ian Harrison discuss a few recent stories from this month and at the conference, including the Euclid space telescope launch, India's Chandrayaan 3 moon mission, gravitational waves from supermassive black holes, feeding black holes and exoplanets with metal rain. We also have interviews with University of Manchester's Dr Emma Alexander and University of Bristol's Dr Hannah Wakeford.
In 2020 astronomers spotted an object slowly getting brighter, but it wasn't until 2021 tha they quite understood how unusual it was. In 2021, they studied it in more detail, and found that it was something we don't think has ever been seen before. It was also the most energetic single event ever witnessed. Going by the catchy name of AT2021lwx, or simply "lwx" to its friends, this month we learn more about it. Dr Phil Wiseman, from University of Southampton, and Dr Cosimo Inserra, from Cardiff University, explain more.
Elsewhere in the news, Chris North and Edward Gomez discuss how the JUICE mission has been jolting one of its antennas, the retirement of NASA's long-serving astronaut Peggy Whitson, and of course more from JWST.
From exploding rockets to burping galaxies
A news roundup of the last couple of months with Chris North and Edward Gomez. With a few failures - the SpaceX Starship launch, iSpace's moon landing and Virgin Galactic's bankruptcy, it might seem things are going wrong. But it's not all bad news - ESA's JUICE spacecraft has successfully launched on its way to Jupiter!
Elsewhere in the Solar System, archives of data from the Magellan mission to Venus have revealed further evidence of a volcanic activity on the hard-to-reach surface of Earth's evil twin planet. And there's Phaethon, the unusual asteroid that is the source of the Geminid meteor shower, and about which the mystery has deepened.
Much further afield, there's new research on what leads to quasars, the energetic "burps" of galaxies as their central black holes gorge themselves on infalling gas. And finally, there's the mystery of the "impossible galaxies" seen in one of JWST's first ever images, which turn out to be, well, less impossible!
Black Holes: Saviours of the Universe?
In terms of what might be called “pure science”, there’s one topic that tends to get people excited, and that's black holes. A few weeks ago, in February 2023, a pair of papers came out that linked theories about black holes to dark energy – something we really don’t understand. If correct, this could mean that black holes, by their very nature, could explain the accelerating expansion of the Universe. Black holes, of course, are often mis-understood. To find out a little more about them, Chris spoke to Dr Becky Smethurst, from University of Oxford. We also get into a few of the details about what the research suggests might be is going on, with lead author Dr Duncan Farrah from the University of Hawaii. Finally, it's back to Becky, who is sceptical about these new results.
Staring at the Dawn of Time - part 2
In the last month there was a show of the Northern Lights - or aurora - visible from the UK. If you didn't get to see it (spoiler: neither did we!), then you might get a chance in the future if there's another outburst. Edward Gomez and Chris North discuss how to increase your chances of seeing them next time there's an alert. In science news, some new thoughts on how the Moon could have formed, and an intriguing (and controversial) story about how balck holes might - possibly - be the answer to the mystery of dark energy.
Chris also continues the conversation started in the last episode with Dr Ian Harrison and Dr Bob Watson about observing the cosmic microwave background. This time we discuss the advantages and challenges of launching in to space, and the problems caused by increasing numbers of satellites. There's also a new observatory being built in Chile - the Simons Observatory - which will present a huge leap forward in ground-based observations of the early Universe.
Staring at the Dawn of Time - part 1
We also speak to Dr Ian Harrison, from Cardiff University, and Dr Bob Watson, from the University of Manchester, about the telescopes that are trying to unpick what happened at the dawn of time, by looking at the Universe's oldest light, and how a telescope in Tenerife is helping.
Happy Birthday JWST
From our own solar system, to the birth of stars, and out towards the first galaxies, the results have covered a huge range of scales in both space and time. That's thanks to the remarkable scientific instruments onboard JWST, including cameras and spectrometers.
But it's not just the formation of objects that it's looked at - JWST can give unique insights into the deaths of stars as well. Dr Mikako Matsuura and Dr Roger Wesson, both at Cardiff University, explain what they've been discovering about "planetary nebulae".
The Future of Space Exploration
In terms of science, we highlight the analysis of the atmosphere of an exoplanet, and studies of the structure of dust storms on Mars.
On board with DART
Here in Wales, the Comet Chasers team took a diversion from observing comets to looking at Dimorphos with the Las Combres Observatory global network of telescopes. But they weren't the ones doing the observing - that work is done by school children and members of the public at festivals and the like.
Team members Cai Stoddard-Jones, Helen Usher and Prof Paul Roche explain the purpose of the mission, what it's taught us, and what contribution the school students have been making to "help NASA".
Gravitational Field Trip - part 2
Last month we talked about how the detectors work, and the scientists and engineers who operate them. This time, we take a longer-term look, not just into the future but also into the past, and ask what it took to get here, and what the future holds.
Dr Mike Landry, Head of LIGO Hanford Observatory, and Dr Fred Raab, Associate Director of Operations at LIGO explains what it takes to run an observatory.
We hear about some of the technical details from Dr Georgia Mansell. And Corey Gray explains his route to becoming a Senior Operatory at LIGO Hanford, and the impact of his Native American heritage.
Gravitational Field Trip - part 1
Dr Mike Landry, Head of the LIGO Hanford Observatory, explains how, and crucially why, the experiment exists. Dr Fred Raab, Associate Director for Operations for LIGO, looks back to why the desolate landscape of Hanford was selected in the first place.
Looking at the technical details, Drs Georgia Mansell and Craig Cahillane give some insights into commissioning and upgrading the detectors, while Corey Gray tells us about operating such a complex machine, and learning to fabricate one of the critical components - glass fibres that suspend the mirrors.
Ian Sharp is a member of a group of astronomers who have been making observations of something called "Post Common Binary Evolution" stars, two stars which have gone through an interesting phase of their evolution. The team carefully measure` the times at which one star appears to partially eclipse the other. By establishing when those eclipse vary differ from predictions the team can provide evidence to prove, or disprove, the existence of planets orbiting the stars.
This requires careful observation and analysis, which the team of astronomers have been undertaking for a number of years. Their research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a scientific journal used and respected by professional astronomers. Ian also discusses what got him into amateur astronomy, and how that has changed over the decades.
The number of satellites has a detrimental impact on astronomical observations, both with professional telescopes and by amateur astronomers. Dr Meredith Rawls, from University of Washington, is planning observations with the Vera Rubin Observatory, while Professor Andy Lawrence is a Regius Professor at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. With forecasts indicating up to 100,000 satellites in a matter of years, a 20-fold increase on today's numbers, there could be serious implications for astronomers around the world.
But what has led to this increase in satellites? Dr Moribah Jah, co-founder and Chief Scientist at Privateer Space, explains why there are so many satellites being launched, and what the risks are both for satellites and down here on Earth. There are proposed solutions, but they require geopolitical collaboration.
Further afield, this month saw the first images of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. Edward Gomez discusses the implications of the detection, and what it might tell us about the evolution of galaxies.
Coming closer to home, spaceflight has been busy, with two missions to the Space Station in April - one part of the normal rotation of astronauts, and the other a privately-funded mission from SpaceX. Does this mean that space travel is becoming routine? And is that even a good thing?
Most of our exploration of space is, of course, done by robotic spacecraft, and NASA have just announced extensions to a number of their ongoing missions. Some of which have already been going for over 20 years - take a bow, Mars Odyssey! From rovers on Mars to lunar mappers, and from asteroid encounters to voyagers into the unknown, there's still more exciting science to come from these missions.
Shadow of War
Elsewhere in the world, NASA have shown off their newest rocket - the Space Launch System, or SLS. The missions it allows should be impressive, but how does the huge price tag compare to other options?
And finally, how does one de-detect a black hole? Sometimes in science, you have to take one step back to take two steps forward!
Dr William Bains, of Cardiff University and MIT, is part of a team who have developed a model that helps explain how microbial life might make the atmosphere of Venus more hospitable. On the way, it also solves a few other mysteries about our nearest planetary neighbour's atmosphere. From an excess of water and oxygen to the disappearance of sulphur dioxide, and potentially non-spherical particles, could this be the solution that solves all of the mysteries?
It's not a much of a spoiler to say that it wasn't aliens (it's never aliens!), but repeating radio signals with this period hadn't been seen before, and were very hard to explain at first.
This month, Natasha explains to Chris how the discovery unfolded, why it might have been aliens, why it wasn't aliens, what else it couldn't be, and what the current favourite theory is - something called a magnetar, but one which was behaving in a very unusual way.
Mysterious travellers bearing gifts
The Cosmic Webb
Prof Pete Hargrave was responsible for building a calibration source for MIRI, the Mid-Infrared Imager, while Dr Tim Davis will be observing nearby galaxies to study the roles of black holes. Meanwhile, Dr Mikako Matsuura is hoping to study the final stages of stars' lives, while Dr Subi Sarkar will be using the full range of wavelengths the telescope's instruments will capture to understand the composition of atmospheres of planets beyond our Solar System.
Lucy in the Sky with Trojans
As Dr James Robinson, from the University of Edinburgh explains, the discovery of these objects is very useful for understanding the Kuiper Belt, and the different groups of objects within. In turn, that is important for understanding the formation of our Solar System.
Closer in, the Lucy spacecraft has recently launched on its way out to the Trojan asteroids, location near Jupiter. The first mission to these unusual objects, Lucy will shed light on a type of object we've never seen before.
Supernova Detective Story
Prof Quentin Parker, from University of Hong Kong, explains how he and his team made the link, displacing a previously favoured object. And it seems that this was no common or garden supernova, but an incredibly rare "Type 1ax" supernova.
It's the Small Things - Exomoons
The second is one of the smallest exoplanets detected, at less than half the mass of Venus. It orbits very close to its star, and would have very high temperatures on its surface, so it's not a place to look for life (at least not as we know it). But finding planets so small, even around a relatively close star, shows just how sensitive these detection methods are getting.
But the focus of this month is not planets or asteroids, but moons. Specifically, the formation of "exomoons" - moons orbiting planets around another star. Detected using the ALMA telescope array, this is the first time we've seen this happening, and has intriguing implications for our understanding of the formation of our own Solar System. Dr Stefano Facchini, from University of Milan, explains how this discovery was made, and what we're learning from it.
Further observations have shown that 2014 UN271 (its official designation) appears to be active, with a coma and tail like a comet - unusual for an object so far from the Sun. If it is a comet, becoming Comet Bernadinelli-Bernstein, it could be the largest on record, possibly more than 100km across. This month Dr Meg Schwamb, from Queens University Belfast, explains where this objects fits in terms of the size and scale of the Solar System, while Dr Tim Lister, from Las Cumbres Observatory, explains what he and colleagues have found from those early follow-up observations.
Find out what to expect over the next decade from this icy visitor, and how future telescopes should help us find out quite how unusual it is.
But what are the current mysteries and unknowns that we still want to uncover? And how much is our progress guided by technological developments?
Dr Ian Harrison, currently at the University of Oxford, but shortly to return to Cardiff University, studies increasingly precise observations from many different telescopes and observatories, comparing them to theoretical predictions. Dr Samantha Stever, from Okayama University, and formerly an undergraduate here in Cardiff, works on the design and build of scientific instruments designed to make these incredibly precise measurements, including the LiteBIRD satellite currently being built.
Between Ian and Samantha, we can journey from our early developments in theoretical understanding the Universe and the initial measurements, to the latest technological achievements that are allowing us to test the current theories to their limits.
Learned Societies and Society Learning
Both these societies have a long history, and we discuss their role in the development of science in the UK, and how it has changed.
Mike and Bernard have both been here in Cardiff for nearly 50 years, and have seen the way science is done change significantly over that period. But what are their thoughts about the future of astronomy, and of science in general?
What are the challenges facing the two societies, and science in general, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic? What do they think we should we do to protect future of science, and possibly humanity?
The idea was seen as preposterous by some, and others even questioned the validity of the detection itself. This month, Jane gives an update on the process of double and triple checking their result, and what the latest is on this exciting process of scientific discovery. It even features 1970s spacecraft! And could there possibly be a spacecraft sent to Venus in just a few years?
Catching a Shooting Star
To learn about the process of finding, collecting and studying these rare finds, as well as what they can tell us about the origins of the Earth, we hear from Dr Martin Suttle and Dr Helena Bates from the Natural History Museum.
Astrobiology and Technosignatures
There was a flurry of interest in the mid-1990s, when a meteorite that originated on Mars seemed to show signs of fossils of tiny lifeforms. Those turned out to be the product of geology.
But the search goes on, not just in our Solar System, but also beyond. This month, we are joined by Professor Abel Mendez, who is a physicist and astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico, based at Arecibo. We got on to shadow biospheres and technosignatures, but we began by going back to basics, with Abel explaining why we even go searching for life elsewhere.
The Martian Triple
In this episode we'll be hearing about the upcoming missions to Mars, as a bit of insight into the Chinese Space Programme.
Of course, a sensible question is: why all the interest in Mars? It's a dead planet now – or certainly pretty dead – but perhaps that wasn’t always the way. To find out more I spoke to Dr Peter Fawden, whose expertise is the geological history of Mars. Peter is based at the Open University where he works on the imaging cameras of a future mission: the Rosalind Franklin Rover, due to launch in a couple of years. On Earth we can dig up rocks, or go to a cliff, perhaps by a beach, and look at the layers of rock, studying the order in which they were laid down, and taking samples all the time. But what about on Mars, when we can’t get so up-close and personal with the rocks? Well, it turns out, it's not so very different after all. Peter explains the geological history of Mars, where the Perseverance Rover is going to explore, and what the plans are for Rosalind Franklin rover in a couple of years. We also touch on two very intersting aspects of Mars - water and methane.
While it's relatively easy to find people working on Nasa and ESA missions, it's somewhat hard to get information about Chinese missions. Who better to speak to than someone who has their ear to the ground, Freelance journalist Andrew Jones. Andrew writes for a range of publications, where he reports on the Chinese Space Programme. Andrew provides us with some fascinating history of the Chinese Space Programme, and what its other high-profile missions are up to, notably the Chang'e 4 and 5 moon missions.
03:30 - Martian Geology
13:30 - Perseverance
17:00 - Water on Mars
21:20 - ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover
25:25 - Methane on Mars
29:00 - Chinese Space Agency
38:40 - Chang'e 4 and 5 Moon Missions
45:30 - Tianwen-1 plans
48:20 - Hope
Review of the decade and Galactic dynamics
A new results has been published about the structure of our own Milky Way Galaxy, using the emission from carbon monoxide gas. The results, from the SEDIGISM team, show that the galaxy is much more "flocculant", or fluffy, than previously thought. Cardiff-based team member, Dr Ana Duarte Cabral Peretto, explains how the survey of the galaxy was done, and what the results might mean.
00:00 - Reflections of the Year and Decade
08:00 - Galactic Structure
Watery Worlds and Tumbling Telescopes
The second moon is perhaps more surprising, being our own Moon. New measurements from the airborne observatory SOFIA have shown that there is molecular water within the rocks in some places on the surface, and not restricted to the permanently-shadowed craters. Lunar geologists Marissa Lo and Dr John Pernet-Fisher from the University of Manchester (and the Cosmic Cast podcast) explain why water on the moon is of so much interest. And what are we likely to learn when China's Chang'e 5 mission brings samples back from the Moon later this year.
Moving further afield we return to Fast Radio Bursts - phenomena we've covered before a number of times on this podcast. We now have an example of a fast radio burst within our own galaxy, which is repeating its bursts. This gives us a great opportunity to study them in more detail.
We finish with some more somber news: the announcement that the beleaguered Arecibo telescope, jewel in the crown of the world's radio astronomy and star of films such as Contact and Goldeneye, is to be decommissioned. Cardiff graduate Dr Rhys Taylor, who previously worked at Arecibo Observatory and regularly uses the telescope, explains quite how impressive the 300metre-diameter telescope is, and what an important role it has played in radio astronomy.
00:00 - Europa
05:05 - Water on the Moon
18:30 - Fast Radio Bursts
21:45 - Arecibo Telescope
Asteroid Tagging and Stellar Spaghettification
Towards the end of October, NASA's Osiris Rex spacecraft grabbed a sample from the asteroid Bennu. What happens next, and what might we learn from these samples? Chris and Edward discuss.
There's also an update on Betelgeuse (however you chose to pronousne it), which is not estimated to be closer than previously thought - which means it's smaller? But we're still safe when it goes supernova. Right?!
Further afield, telescopes around the world spotted a star getting spaghettified by a supermassive black hole - what an Earth does that mean?
An finally, October is the month that Nobel Prizes are awarded. With Sir Richard Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez sharing the prize for discoveries related to black holes.
(Crucially, recorded before the recent announcement regarding the Moon - but we have something to talk about next month!)
It's (Almost) Never Aliens
This month is also an anniversary of sorts. This podcast has its roots in a monthly item on the Pythagoras Trousers radio show 10 years ago this month. The format has changed over the years, with this extended version of the podcast came later, but when Rhys Phillips and I started, I don’t think we thought we’d still be going 10 years later.
The focus right now is definitely on Venus. Although its surface is pretty hellish, at about 50km altitude it's much more pleasant in terms of temperature and pressure, though there's the problem of sulphuric acid clouds. To find out more, we're joined by three people involved with the study - Prof Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University, and who led the study, Prof Sara Seager from MIT, and Dr Dave Clements from Imperial College London.
Black holes - too big and too small
Regular listeners will be no stranger to black holes, with them featuring regularly – largely thanks to the work of the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave experiments, which detect the subtle ripples in the fabric of spacetime as pairs of black holes merge. Those black holes are thought to be the remnants of dead stars, and are typically called “stellar mass” black holes since their masses are typically between a few and a few tens of times the mass of our Sun.
The detection we’re talking about this month comes from the third observing run, and is the latest in a string of announcements as the long list of candidate events have been studied in further detail and released. Called GW190521 it was observed in May 2019, and immediately caused a stir among the researchers. To find out why, we're joined by Dr Patricia Schmidt. Patricia was a PhD student here in Cardiff a few years ago, and after working the US and the Netherlands is now back in the UK, where she’s a lecturer at the University of Birmingham.
We also come across black holes in the hearts of galaxies, and it’s thought that all large galaxies harbour a so-called supermassive black hole at their core, typically measuring millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun. A recent study measured the mass of one of these supermassive black holes and found that it, well, isn’t so super. Dr Federico Lelli, from Cardiff University explains all, from what a supermassive black hole is, to why this one is so interesting.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 3rd September 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Solar Orbiter: Not Suitable for Vegetarians
In terms of new missions, then this summer marks the best window to launch missions to Mars. These windows come around roughly every two years, or so, since that’s how long it takes for the Earth to line up with Mars’ position around its orbit. This launch window, no fewer than three countries are taking advantage of the opportunity: the United States with the Perseverance Rover, China with the Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover and the United Arab Emirates with the Hope mission.
But from missions to Mars to mission to the Sun. Back in February this year the European Space Agency launched the Solar Orbiter mission to study our star and try to answer some of the remaining mysteries. With the first set of initial images and results out, Professor Lucie Green, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, provides an update.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 30th July 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Mass Gaps and Radio Bursts
First of all, an unusual gravitation wave event, detected back in August 2019 and dubbed GW190814. We’ve discussed gravitational waves a number of times on Pythagorean Astronomy before – these ripples in space that are caused by, among other things, massive objects spiralling in and merging. Cardiff University researchers Dr Fabio Antonini and graduate student Charlie Hoy explain why this discovery is unusual, and what we know about the source objects.
Second up is the conundrum of Fast Radio Bursts. First discovered in 2007, the latest discovery in the unravelling detective story was made by the CHIME telescope, and involves a fast radio burst that appears to repeat on a roughly 16 day timescale. The study was led by Dongzi Li, a graduate student in Toronto University, who explores what might create such a peculiar signal.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 2nd July 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
But the private space sector is much bigger than SpaceX, and is a very international field. There are many companies based here in the UK, including Small Spark Space Systems Ltd, based here in Cardiff. Comprising around a dozen people, and led by CEO Joe Ward, SmallSpark is a relative newcomer. Joe is, in fact, one of our own - a Cardiff physics graduate from a couple of years ago.
This month, Joe explains what SmallSpark is, and what the future might have in store for commercial launches from the UK.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 4th June 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Hubble at 30
Prof Anu Ojha, Director of the National Space Centre, recaps the launch of the mission and subsequent visits to repair and upgrade it.
Cosmologist Prof Steve Eales (Cardiff University) explores how Hubble has reached into the most distant reaches of our Universe. Prof Jane Greaves (Cardiff University), however, delves into the hearts of star-forming regions where solar systems are in the process of forming.
Closer to home, planetary scientist Prof Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester) uses Hubble to study the atmospheres of the giant planets in our Solar System, over both long and short timescales.
Lastly, we look to the future, and the James Webb Space Telescope - often billed as the successor to Hubble. Dr Sarah Kendrew, ESA instrument scientist on the MIRI instrument, explains what this future telescope has learned from Hubble, and what we can expect in terms of discoveries.
We finish with a look at one of Hubble's most iconic images, and what it means for both astronomers and the general public.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 30th April 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
The European Space Agency runs a multitude of missions, from space observatories to interplanetary explorers, and from solar probes to space stations. Prof Mark McCaughrean, Senior Science Advisor at ESA, tells Chris North how the agency is coping with the lockdowns in force around the world, with staff either self-isolating or working from home.
Of course, there are also astronauts on the International Space Station, and they really don't want a serious illness infecting the crew
Finally, are there lessons we can learn from those who have entered isolation voluntarily, in places like Concordia Base in Antarctica, or as part of the Mars500 programme.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 2nd April 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Out with the old, in with the new
While the dimming of Betelgeuse isn't anything to do with aliens, the SETI programme is still going with a new project designed to focus on planets around stars that might be able to detect Earth's presence. And in the centre of our galaxy there's another hint of a mysterious object - an "intermediate mass black hole" being orbited by a bunch of gas clouds. Chris, Edward and Claudia discuss what the implications might be.
In space missions, it's out with the old and in with the new. NASA's Spitzer mission has ended, after over a decade and a half in space. Meanwhile, ESA's Solar Orbiter mission has launched and got underway - after a slightly bumpy start!
Finally, Christina Coch has returned to Earth from the International Space Station, after a record-breaking spaceflight. What are we learning from such long duration space flights?
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 27th Feb 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Dimming stars, Galactic waves and misbehaving gas clouds
Further afield, there's a newly identified wave in our Galactic neighbourhood, changing our understanding of the nearby region. There are also new hypotheses about the nature of some oddly-behaving gas clouds near the galactic centre - what could explain their unexpected behaviour?
Finally emminent astronomer Dr Vera Rubin has been recognised in a couple of ways. A nearby galaxy which was important in developing Rubin's understanding of dark matter has been dubbed Rubin's Galaxy, and an important telescope of the future is to be official known as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory.
Finally, Claudia has a recommendation for something space fans might be interested in...
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 31st Jan 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
What the future holds
Chris North and Edward Gomez discuss the developments in exoplanet discoveries, and what future missions (such as CHEOPS, Plato and Ariel) may be able to tell us about the wide range of planets out there. We've also had the visitation of interstellar Borisov, which we've discussed a-plenty on Pythagorean Astronomy. Meanwhile, IOP Wales' Engagement Officer Dr Claudia Antolini recaps why spacecraft have been visiting some of the smaller objects in our Solar System, and what we'll learn from upcoming missions such as HERA and DART. Specifically - how might they help protect the Earth one day?
Finally there's one of the biggest stories of the last year - the first image of the horizon of a supermassive black hole in galaxy M87 with the Event Horizon Telescope.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 2ndJan 2020 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Stellar Explosions and Interstellar Visitors
Closer to home, there are more signs of water vapour plumes erupting from Europa, and evidence that Hygeia, one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, could be eligble to be characterised as a dwarf planet.
Over recent months, there has been excitement about Comet Borisov, a comet which originated in another Solar System. Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queens University Belfast, is one of a number of astronomers from all around the world studying this interstellar visitor. We also discuss the impact on asteroid and comet searches of the recent launches of large groups, or "constellations" of satellites by groups such as SpaceX.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 28th November 2019 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Interstellar Comets, black holes and gravitational waves
October also saw a planned hiatus in operations of the LIGO and Virgo detectors, which are mid-way through the third observing run, looking for gravitational waves. We got an update from UBC's Jess McIver and Cardiff's Duncan Macleod, who are involved with the operation of the LIGO detectors.They gave an update on how the discovery of gravitational waves unfolds, and what's planned for the rest of this observing run - including the addition of the Japanese KAGRA detector later this year.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 31st October 2019 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Habitable zones, Lunar landers and Interstellar interlopers
Meanwhile, radio astronomers have discovered the most massive neutron star found to date - close to the maximum theoretical limit.
Closer to home, India's first attempt at landing on the Moon has ended in disaster, with the Vikram lander crashing onto the surface in the final moments of its journey.
And we've had a new interstellar visitor - a comet which appears to have come from another solar system. What could we learn from the interloper as it whizzes through our neighbourhood?
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 26th September 2019 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
Lunar Gateways, Belching Black Holes and Warped Galaxies
A number of recent rocket engine tests lead us to consider what the near future of space travel might look like, with a proposed "lunar gateway" providing a staging point for explorers. Where might they go? Perhaps as far as Jupiter's moon, Europa, where recent observations have provided more evidence of a carbon-rich environment beneath the sub-surface ocean. A tantalising place to look for life.
Further afield, NASA's TESS satellite has produced its first tranche of results after a year of observations. They show intriguing worlds that fall in what's been appearing to be a "mass gap" in terms of planets, with a narrow range of masses being under-represented.
On somewhat larger scales we have the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, which appeared to briefly brighten earlier this year - evidence that it may have belched after a small snack. There's even something odd with the galaxy as a whole, with a survey of Cepheid variable stars showing a distinct lop-sided warp to the Milky Way's disk of stars.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 30th August 2019 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.
But for the vast majority of the last 50 years, our exploration has been through our robotic envoys, sent to all manner of planets, moons, comets and asteroids. Some have whizzed by, while others have gone in to orbit. Some have landed on the surface, and a small number have roved or hopped around. The missions have come from a large number of nations, initially the US and Russia, and how Japan, China, Israel and Europe – including, of course, the UK.
So what does the future hold for robotic exploration? Where are we sending spacecraft next and why? Dr Colin Wilson, from the University of Oxford, explains what we've learned from just a few of our robotic explorers, and where they might take us in the future. We discuss past, present and future missions to both Venus and Mars, and an exciting prospect of a quadcopter on Titan.
An extended edition of an original broadcast on 1st August 2019 as part of Pythagoras' Trousers on Radio Cardiff.