How are we going to reach other stars?


Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s epic SF adventure, hits cinema screens in a week, hooking viewers with the tagline: The end of Earth will not be the end of us. Provocative stuff. Leaving aside the small fact that, actually, the end of Earth will almost certainly mean the end for the overwhelming majority of us, and the folks who might have a chance of jumping ship and surviving will most likely be rich, well-connected industrialists who’ve played a big part getting us into this mess, the film does bring up the question of how in the hell we might reach other habitable worlds.

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How can the “Gambler’s Fallacy” help penalty takers score?

Nooooo, Ashley Cole!

The World Cup might be over, but researchers from University College, London, are still sifting through video data in an effort to understand goalkeepers’ behavior during penalty shoot-outs.

After analysing spot kicks from World Cups and European Championships between 1976 and 2012, researchers discovered that goalkeepers were falling prey to a form of “gambler’s fallacy”–an enduring psychological mistake involoving random events that seems to have plagued human thinking for time immemorial. Continue reading

How did the Doppler effect help narrow the search for MH370?

The final fate of Malaysia flight MH370 is still a terrible, unresolved mystery, and I can’t imagine the anguish the relatives of those on-board must be going through, but last week some work by the British satellite communications firm, Inmarsat, helped to narrow down the search.

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How do asteroids bring Armageddon?

By slamming into the planet at many times the speed of sound, triggering tidal waves, setting off earthquakes, vaporising anything in the impact radius, and causing centuries long dust storms, I hear you say.

Well, yeah.

But I’m not asking the question in the physical repercussions sense. I’m asking the question in the the sense of how asteroids in relatively stable, near-circular orbits out in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, can be dislodged and get into the inner system where they could cause, in Busta Rymes infamous phrase, “Extiction Level Events”.

If we can understand that, then maybe we can save ourselves having to send Bruce Willis out to save the planet.

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Why shouldn’t you get your science from Prometheus?

Maybe it was my age, maybe it was the captivating performances, maybe it was the spine-tingling terror that the original film induced, but when I watched Alien sometime in the early Nineties (after hearing about from some kid at school who kept impersonating the grunts in the second film, Aliens), I came away breathless with awe. And I don’t remember having too much of a problem with the science either.

Skip forward twenty years, and oh-boy, do I wish I could hold the latest chapter–or prequel–in the Alien franchise, Prometheus, with the same reverence. Not only did I come away thinking that the film failed artistically, emotionally, and most of all, logically, it also must qualify as one of the most excreable examples of Hollywood attempting something the media-execs probably go round calling “Scienze”.

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