27 years of Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble's Iconic "Pillars of Creation" image.
Hubble’s Iconic “Pillars of Creation” image.
The pillars are part of a small region of the Eagle Nebula, a vast star-forming region 6,500 light-years from Earth. Stars are being formed deep within the pillars.

27 years ago, in April 1990 the Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off carrying what was to become one of the most successful scientific missions of all time, The Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble and the images it produces, have more than any other mission since the heady days of the Apollo space programme, brought the magic of space to the public. Hubble has probed the depths of space and brought it’s wonders to our magazines, televisions and computer screens where humanity has looked on in awe.

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Digital DNA

Digital DNA
All the movies, images, emails and other digital data from more than 600 smartphones (10,000 gigabytes) can be stored in the faint pink smear of DNA at the end of this test tube
Image Credit: Tara Brown Photography/ University of Washington

Last year a team of researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington announced that they had stored and read back over 200 MB of digital data stored on laboratory synthesized DNA molecules. To put this in context, a typical picture on a smartphone is in the region of 3 – 5 MB. Last week another team reported that they had made further strides and have managed to store more information using DNA than was previously possible.

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Is there anybody out there?

The Arecibo Radio Telescope. One of our tools in the search for extra terrestrial life.
The Arecibo Radio Telescope. One of our tools in the search for extra terrestrial life.

At the start of the 20th century an Italian by the name of Marconi began experimenting with wireless telegraphy. Soon after, wireless telephony and radio broadcasting were developed. Since those early days, humans have been pumping out radio, television and communications signals from our planet in an ever increasing quantity and strength.

Like a wave that travels outward when a stone is thrown into water, radio and TV signals travel by electromagnetic wave at the speed of light in an ever expanding sphere away from the earth. Theoretically, anyone with a powerful enough receiver on another planet would be able to eavesdrop on us. So how likely is this, and if they are listening, are they coming to visit?

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Tripping the light fantastic

Our nearest galactic neighbour, The Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light years away
Our nearest galactic neighbour, The Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light years away

Last week scientist announced that the amount of galaxies in the universe had been underestimated by as much as a factor of 20. Major news, but not something that really affects our daily lives. The discovery does however, illustrate the vast scale of our universe. Thankfully, we as humans have developed the brain capacity, the intelligence and the curiosity to help us understand our place within it. Take for example the speed of light. It travels at 300,000 km per second. Pretty much instantaneous for us on earth, but really noticeable in the realm of the galaxies, stars and planets. Light from the moon takes little over a second to reach us, whilst light from the sun takes over 8 minutes. That means that the light from the sun that is hitting your eyeball is over 8 minutes old.

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