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New Scientist The Collection The Wonders of Space

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

Country:
United Kingdom
Language:
English
Publisher:
New Scientist Ltd
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IN THIS ISSUE

access_time3 min.
an incredible journey

IN OCTOBER 1604, something remarkable appeared in the night sky. Without warning, a light brighter than any star suddenly lit up the darkness. Early astronomers saw it as a miraculous portent of things to come. None of them guessed what it really was – the dying light of a distant star that had exploded thousands of years before. Now known as Kepler’s Star after the astronomer who watched it for more than a year, the supernova helped to usher in a new era of space exploration. Within a few years Galileo Galilei was pioneering the use of the telescope, using one he’d designed himself to observe hills and valleys on the moon, spots on the sun, the phases of Venus, the stars of the Milky Way and, most famously, the satellites…

access_time14 min.
our unknown solar system

ONCE upon a time, 4.6 billion years ago, something was brewing in an unremarkable backwater of the Milky Way. The ragbag of stuff that suffuses the inconsequential, in-between bits of all galaxies – hydrogen and helium gas with just a sprinkling of solid dust – had begun to condense and form molecules. Unable to resist its own weight, part of this newly formed molecular cloud collapsed in on itself. In the ensuing heat and confusion, a star was born – our sun. We don’t know exactly what kick-started this process. Perhaps, with pleasing symmetry, it was the shock wave from the explosive death throes of a nearby star. It was not, at any rate, a particularly unusual event. It had happened countless times since the Milky Way itself came into existence…

access_time11 min.
strangest star

BILLIONS and billions of stars fill our galaxy. Many burn bright, destined to become supernovae, while others are dim burnouts. They come alone and in pairs; with or without planetary companions. We have searched the far reaches of the universe in the hope of understanding the stars, but ultimately everything we know is based on our sole reference point, the sun. Yet our home star remains plenty mysterious. “It’s expected that it’s understood, because it’s right there, it’s so close and dominant in the sky,” says astrophysicist Eamon Scullion from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. “How are we going to understand any other aspect of space if we can’t get to grips with the nearest star?” While we may have to go back to square one, there are things we do know about…

access_time11 min.
spot of bother

FOR years, Gustav Holmberg would leave his desk at Lund University in Sweden to take part in a scientific ritual stretching back to Galileo’s time. Back at his flat, the historian of science would set up a modest telescope and, taking due care not to burn his eyes, point it directly at the sun. He would spend 5 minutes or so counting, and then upload a number to a server in Belgium, to be combined with similar numbers from observers around the globe, many of them amateurs like himself. This number, updated daily, allows satellite engineers to predict how the sun’s future activity will affect their spacecraft. Climate scientists use it to pick out the sun’s long-term effects on Earth’s climate. Electricity companies use it to anticipate solar storms that could…

access_time10 min.
star burst

SOMETHING with almost unimaginable power hit Earth in AD 775. Europe was in the grip of the dark ages, yet the skies were alight. “Fiery and fearful signs were seen in the heavens after sunset; and serpents appeared in Sussex, as if they were sprung out of the ground, to the astonishment of all,” recorded the 13th-century English chronicler Roger of Wendover. We don’t just have his word for it. Over the past few years, new evidence has come to light confirming that something cataclysmic took place in the solar system that year. But what? There are no signs of a mass extinction or an environmental disaster which would normally accompany such an event. More mysterious is that no trace of it appears in the sky today. The only clues to what…

access_time12 min.
liquid asset

IT IS the best of times and the worst of times for lunar scientists. “We’ve got a revolution going on in our understanding of the lunar surface,” says Rick Elphic of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Three recent missions have found an unexpectedly large supply of water on the moon that could both quench the thirst of future lunar dwellers and produce fuel for missions to other places in the solar system. Yet the prospect of astronauts getting there any time soon has all but dried up. In February 2010, President Barack Obama announced his intention to cancel NASA’s Constellation programme, which included plans to get astronauts back to the moon by the early 2020s. His decision left the US without a reliable means of transport to low…

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