Archive by category | Astronomy

Imaging and imagining black holes

The first accurate image of the appearance of a black hole (India ink on Canson negative paper).

Until several years ago, most cinematic and artistic depictions of black holes — including many in the pages of Nature — failed to match the known facts. A black hole (the remnant of a runaway gravitational collapse) often looked like a space whirlpool, or perhaps a simple black sphere representing the event horizon — the surface that constitutes a point of no return for anything that falls inside. This would be pictured either against a background of stars, or surrounded by an ‘accretion disk’. (Think Saturn’s rings, but made of superheated plasma and spiralling in at close to the speed of light.)  … Read more

Tracking the propulsive power of science books

Tracking the propulsive power of science books

What makes a science tome so audacious, original and right that it kickstarts a life’s journey, propelling someone to the bench or field? Science writer Ann Finkbeiner (of The Last Word on Nothing) has written about that for A View from the Bridge. And when Academic Book Week fired up on 23 January, I started musing anew about encounters with remarkable books.  Read more

Top 20 books: a year that made waves


This was a year that made waves — some so steep that I found myself reaching for a psychological surfboard. I skimmed along the discovery of gravitational waves (featured in Janna Levin’s Black Hole Blues and Other Songs of Outer Space), and rode the CRISPR tsunami. The political turbulence stateside, in Britain and beyond had me scrabbling for balance — and historical precedents. Yet amid all the Sturm und Drang, it has been a terrific year for science and culture.  Read more

Lunar balloonist

Artist's impression of Museum of the Moon as it will look in a park setting.

Multi-media artist and researcher Luke Jerram experiments with sound, movement and materials in a dazzling array of installations. He has created monumental blown-glass sculptures of bacteria and viruses (Glass Microbiology), the acoustic wind pavilion Aeolus, and Retinal Memory Volume, an interactive sculpture using the mechanisms of eyesight. Here Jerram talks about his new Museum of the Moon, a vast globe that will premier at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in August.  Read more

On the road with Star Men

Very Large Array radio telescopes, New Mexico.

Fifty years ago, four young men with newly minted PhDs left England for the California Institute of Technology. They were embarking on what turned out to be long and successful lives in astronomy. CalTech afforded Donald Lynden-Bell, Roger Griffin,  Wal Sargent and Neville Woolf opportunities — to probe the heavens, through access to the world’s best telescopes at Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar, and to explore the astonishing landscapes of the western United States on the road.  Read more

Much ado about science

The Chandos portrait, possibly of Shakespeare,

As the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth rolls round again, it’s salutary to recall just how long the hunt for science in the bard’s work has gone on. In 1917, for instance, Herbert Warren, reviewing Shakespeare’s England, mentions the bard’s “world-embracing interest” as encompassing zoology and medicine. And the playwright’s lifetime (1564-1616) certainly coincided with a panoply of key scientific events and figures.  Read more