Wednesday, 30 April 2014


In 2010 astronomers observed a supernova, called PS1-10afx, that was shining 30 times brighter than any other supernova - exploding star -  in its class. It was thought that it may be a completely new type of stellar explosion.

However, a team at the University of Tokyo's Kavli Institute suggested that PS1-10afx was a normal type 1a supernova magnified by a lens in the form of a supermassive black hole nearby, in the direct line of sight between Earth and the supernova. Light rays from the supernova were bent by a warping of spacetime around the black hole, creating four separate images of the supernova viewed from Earth, which were observed as a single image due to atmospheric blurring.  

Dr Robert Quimby said 'We had no direct evidence for the lens. Looking at the spectra, we could check to see if there was light coming from two sources at two separate distances, which is what we found.' The Keck telescope in Hawaii observed the host galaxy of PS1-10afx.

The discovery could provide astronomers with a new tool to measure the expansion of the universe, because each image will arrive at a different time and the precise delay depends on how fast the universe is expanding.

Professor Masamune Oguri of the University of Tokyo said 'Our discovery implies there are many more gravitationally lensed supernovae that are barely resolved, like PS1-10afx'.

For the first time since May 2013, the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars has drilled into a rock. Images show a sharply defined hole surrounded by a pile of fine grey powder.

Curiosity has travelled more than three miles in the past year towards the primary target, the foothills of the huge central mountain in Gale crater. 

If this test drill proves satisfactory, Curiosity will acquire a second drill sample to be tested in the on-board laboratories.

Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012. Drill samples last year contained evidence of an ancient lake. Conditions would have supported micro-organism if they had been present.

Thursday, 24 April 2014


The NHS Central Eastern Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) which had a turnover of more than £50m in 2013, is set to fold in September.

This CSU sells services to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Essex and Hertfordshire, such as supplies IT, human resources, financial and contract services.

Managing Director David Stout said many CCGs planned to take back some of its services and run them in-house. The support unit has set up a 'transition oversight committee' to transfer services not taken in-house by CCGs to the Central Southern and North and East London CSUs.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, now being negotiated stealthily between the USA and the European Union, is a fundamental threat to the National Health Service.

It's designed to allow international big business access to the public money that funds the NHS.

It will treat our public services as goods to be traded like any other merchandise. NHS services will be sold off to the big American health corporations.

Worse, the TIP will deter future governments from restoring the NHS. Using a racket called the 'Investor-State Dispute Procedure', the corporations would be allowed to sue the government for massive sums for 'loss of profits'.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted chief, is taking personal charge of the Ofsted investigation into claims that some Birmingham schools have been taken over by Muslim hardliners.

The Ofsted findings are due to be published in early May.
There are two other investigations under way: by Birmingham City Council, and also by the Department for Education, to be carried out by the former counter-terror chief Peter Clarke, appointed by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The Ofsted inspection involves 18 school in the city, while the City Council is investigating 25 schools.

Roger King, chair of governors at Springfield Primary School and a local National Union of Teachers representative in Birmingham, has denied that his school has faced an Ofsted inspection more recently than a visit 'maybe two years ago', and said he had not come across extremism or segregation in the city's schools.

Park View Educational Trust, which runs schools linked to the allegations, also warned that it was 'highly irresponsible' for anyone to suggest that schools will face interventions when neither the Department for Education or Ofsted had completed their reports - and when pupils at the secondary schools were about to take their GCSEs. 

The inquiry has become known as Trojan Horse because this was the name of a plan for an organised takeover of schools in an anonymous letter. The letter is not yet established as authentic or a hoax.

Monday, 21 April 2014


The Kepler telescope has discovered the most Earth-like planet, Kepler 186f, part of a five planet system around a small cool star about 500 light years distant from Earth.

The planet's radius is about 10% larger than Earth. It is the outermost of the five planet system, orbiting its star in around 130 days. Importantly, it may have the potential to hold water since its path is not too close or two far from the star - the 'habitable zone' - where the water doesn't boil, or freeze.

Professor Stephen Kane from San Francisco State University explained: 'There seems to be a transition that occurs at about 1.5 times the Earth's radius, such that if the planet is larger then it starts to develop a very substantial atmosphere very similar to what we see in the gas giants in our own solar system. And so anything less than 1.5 is probably more like a rocky planet that we are familiar with'.

Kepler 186f is the most similar planet to Earth yet discovered, despite its star being very different from our Sun.

Nearly 2,000 of these exoplanets have now been discovered, about half by the Kepler telescope.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


New research suggests that the early Martian atmosphere, 3.6 billion years ago, would have led to cold, dry conditions on the planet: Mars was not a permanently warm wet world.

The technique used was to calculate the early Martian atmospheric pressure from patterns of ancient meteor craters and dry river beds seen today on the Martian surface. If the atmosphere was thick, small meteors would burn up before reaching the surface; but some craters in the Aeolis Dorsa region near Gale Crater on Mars are small, only a few tens of metres across. suggesting quite small meteors survived through the thin atmosphere and impacted the surface.

Lead author Dr Edwin Kite said: ' Conditions were mostly very cold and very dry even on early Mars - similar to the Antarctic Dry Valleys on Earth today. However, there is still plenty of microbial life even in the Antarctic Dry Valleys so our work doesn't rule out an early environmental niche for life on Mars.'

It seems that surface water was not permanently present on early Mars, and that periods when the temperature got above freezing were rare or periodic.

Friday, 18 April 2014


Images captured last year by NASA's Cassini spacecraft of a small icy object within the outermost ring of Saturn may be evidence of the first stages of the formation of a new moon.

The object is small - 750 miles long by 6 miles wide.

The report's lead author, Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London, said 'We have not seen anything like this before. We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.'

The theory of the origin of Saturn's moons proposes that initially Saturn had a massive ring formation capable of giving birth to large moons. As the ring material depleted in this way, newly formed moons became smaller. The largest moons formed earlier, and are further away from the planet.

Cassini may have another opportunity to get more detailed images of the new object in late 2016, which could provide further evidence of the formation mechanism of Saturn's moon system.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


A highly sensitive particle detector, located one mile underground in a cavern at the bottom of a former gold mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is an experiment searching for particles of dark matter.

The detector, called LUX, is inside a steel tank containing 70,000 gallons of pure water, free of any naturally occurring radioactivity that could interfere with the experiment. The detector contains 815 lb of liquid xenon. A dark matter particle interacting with the xenon would cause a tiny flash of light.

LUX failed to detect any of the dark matter particles, called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) during a test run last year, but is now being re-run for a longer period of time.

Professor Rick Gaitskell of Brown University, one of the principal scientists leading the LUX search for dark matter, says 'The hypothesis we are working with at the moment is that a WIMP was the relic left-over from the Big Bang, and in fact dominates over the regular material you and I are made of'.

Dark matter may comprise about 85% of all the matter in the universe.

Other experiments are also searching for evidence of dark matter, including the Large Hadron Collider and space telescopes.

Thursday, 10 April 2014


New measurements of the rate of expansion of the early universe indicate a slower expansion rate than expected.

The BOSS measurements were carried out using a 2.5 m telescope in New Mexico. While measurements of more recent expansion agree well with expected values, the early measurements around three billion years after the big bang give a slower rate than predicted.

BOSS team scientists at Portsmouth University say if further measurements with bigger samples confirm these findings, this may be an indication that the dark energy linked to the universe expansion is not a constant value  as assumed, but varies in some way.