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December 2019: Who's afraid of big, bad numbers?

December 2019

Who's afraid of big, bad numbers? In the show this time, we talk to Bobby Seagull about the mathematics of astronomy and popularising maths among the public, Michael Wright rounds up the latest news, and we find out what we can see in the December night sky from Ian Morison, Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske.

The News

This month in the news: The potential discovery of a new fundamental force carrying particle, and exploring the possibility of planets orbiting black holes.

Firstly it is worth discussing the claim of a 5th force of nature, what has been called the X17 particle. In the standard model of particle physics forces arise from what is known as a force carrier. For example, photons for electromagnetism and Gluons for the strong force.

Another interesting piece of news is a theoretical paper by Keiichi Wada, Yusuke Tsukamoto, and Eiichiro Kokubo titled Planet Formation around Supermassive Black Holes in the Active Galactic Nuclei . As this suggests, the paper is about the idea of finding planets around supermassive black holes. The notion is not as surprising as it may sound, since we know that discs of gas and dust, from which matter clumps together to form planets, could exist around black holes. Supermassive black holes, for instance, have been observed to be surrounded by a torus of dust, with cold dense gas forming a thin disc shape. The paper attempts to predict mathematically which types of AGN could facilitate planet formation by inserting various system parameters (say, black hole mass) into standard planet formation models.

Interview with Bobby Seagull

Emma Alexander and Joe Hanson conduct an extended interview with Bobby Seagull, known for his appearances on University Challenge and Monkman & Seagull's Genius Guide to Britain. They talk about the mathematics of astronomy, and in particular about the difficulty of conceptualising, nevermind conveying, the magnitude of the scales involved in astronomy. Bobby also talks about his efforts towards helping ordinary people overcome an aversion when it comes to maths, which is the subject of his PhD thesis.

The Night Sky

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during December 2019.

The Planets

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