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July 2018: Absent Friends

July 2018

In the show this time, we talk to Dr. Christina Smith about Mars, Pluto and Canada, Nialh McCallum rounds up the latest news, and we find out what we can see in the July night sky from Ian Morison and Gaby Perez.

The News

This month in the news: a LIGO afterglow, complex organics from Enceladus, and Prof. Hawking takes on eternal inflation.

It has been almost a year since the coincidental detection of a neutron star - neutron star (NS-NS) merger through gravitational waves by Advanced LIGO and gamma-ray burst (GRB) observations, yet still new information is being obtained from the event. This was the first detection of a NS-NS merger which is impressive enough as it is, however many months later the afterglow from the collision is still providing insight into the nature of this type of event.

A paper has been released by researchers from the University of Warwick, where the optical afterglow of the GRB has been studied. This paper mentions the fact a jet of material has been ejected, close to the speed of light, from the NS-NS merger but it is at an angle to us. This refutes some theories that the jets from such collisions would occur in all directions. This suggests that all NS-NS mergers create a GRB but we have not seen them all due to the fact the jet was not oriented towards us. As such, they could be occurring far more frequently than was believed, and the ability of Advanced LIGO to detect such events opens up a new window to examine this.

In other news Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, continues to wow researchers as they find evidence of complex organic molecules. Using NASA's Cassini spacecraft's spectrometer it has been found that carbon-rich molecules are being ejected from cracks in Enceladus' icy surface. Up until now only basic organic molecules had been found with a few carbon atoms, so the discovery of these more complex organic molecules some of which with masses above 200 atomic mass units is exciting. This is further indication that Enceladus satisfies the requirements for life.

In March of this year one of the great minds of science, Stephen Hawking, was lost. However, still now his work carries on as one of his final papers has been published, which addresses some of the problems with eternal inflation. Inflation is a process of exponential expansion, which would take the quantum fluctuations of the early Universe and, with some help from gravity, eventually generate the observable Universe we say today. In eternal inflation the issue of the anthropic principle, which is essentially the question of why is the Universe such that we can exist, is addressed, as the theory results in infinite multiple universes, thus meaning our Universe is one of an infinite number of possibilities. However, this has issues itself as it makes it difficult to make any sensible predictions about the Universe. Since any variety of universes can exist in this theory it essentially makes multiverse theory impossible to test. In one of his final papers, Hawking and his colleague Hertog present a new method which produces a finite multiverse which should thus be testable.

Another impressive piece of work from Hawking, rest in peace Professor.

Interview with Dr. Christina Smith

Dr. Christina Smith (York University, Toronto) makes a triumphant return to the Jodcast, now sat on the other side of the interview desk. She talks to us about what she's been up to since departing Manchester for Canada. This includes her work on the Martian atmosphere and NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, better known as the Curiosity rover. Her work also encompasses other parts of the Solar System; how much science can you do from one photo of Pluto, taken by the New Horizons probe? The answer is more than you might think.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during July 2018.

The Planets


Southern Hemisphere

Gaby Perez from the Carter Observatory in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during July 2018.

Odds and Ends

We have an extended discussion about a recent Nature-partnered paper, exploring the numerical abilities of children. The reasoning behind this is that if women are under-represented in science and mathematical fields due to an intrinsic difference in ability, this should be present at an early age. We also take the opportunity to test our own counting and numerosity skills - mostly successfully!

Is it #worthit to go to Mars? This is the question that was put to Josh recently by a student, and we tackle it together, discussing colonies, time scales and lunar pit-stops, and getting briefly lost in US history.

Show Credits

News:Nialh McCallum
Interview:Dr. Christina Smith and Emma Alexander
Night Sky:Ian Morison and Gaby Perez
Presenters:Laura Driessen, Josh Hayes and Nialh McCallum
Editors:Emma Alexander, Andreea Dogaru, Jake Staberg Morgan and Tom Scragg.
Segment Voice:Tess Jaffe
Website:Jake Staberg Morgan and Stuart Lowe
Producer:Jake Staberg Morgan
Cover art:The Jodcast cubby hole - lots of postcards, but not enough staff! CREDIT: J. S. Morgan

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