Category Archives: Radio

Pythagorean Astronomy: Mission Juno


Artist’s Impression of a Juno and Jupiter. Credit: NASA

In July 2016 NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed its five year journey to the planet Jupiter. On board is a suite of instruments and experiments that will provide exquisite insight into the history of our Solar System’s largest planet.

The process of Jupiter’s formation is a long-standing mystery that planetary scientists have been trying to answer for decades. As the University of Leicester’s Dr Leigh Fletcher explains, Juno will make careful measurements of Jupiter’s gravitational field and yield crucial information about its interior.

Originally broadcast on 28th July 2016 as part of Pythagoras’ Trousers on Radio Cardiff.

Pythagorean Astronomy: the Origins of Black Holes

GRO J1655-40 is the second so-called 'microquasar' discovered in our Galaxy. Microquasars are black holes of about the same mass as a star. They behave as scaled-down versions of much more massive black holes that are at the cores of extremely active galaxies, called quasars. Astronomers have known about the existence of stellar-mass black holes since the early 1970s. Their masses can range from 3.5 to approximately 15 times the mass of our Sun. Using Hubble data, astronomers were able to describe the black-hole system. The companion star had apparently survived the original supernova explosion that created the black hole. It is an ageing star that completes an orbit around the black hole every 2.6 days. It is being slowly devoured by the black hole. Blowtorch-like jets (shown in blue) are streaming away from the black-hole system at 90% of the speed of light.

Artist’s Impression of a black hole in a binary star system. Credit: ESA/Hubble

[cross-posted from Cardiff Physics Outreach blog]

On 15th June 2016 the LIGO collaboration released more detections of gravitational waves. As with the first detection, announced back in February, these gravitational waves were emitted by pairs of black holes, spiralling together and merging,

But of course, those black holes need to come from somewhere, and in this case it’s thought to be the deaths of some of the most massive stars in the Universe. To understand more about the deaths of massive stars, and the formation of black holes, I talked to Professor Stephen Smartt, from Queen’s University Belfast, who’s been on the hunt for black holes.

Originally broadcast on 30th June 2016 as part of Pythagoras’ Trousers on Radio Cardiff.

Pythagorean Astronomy: New worlds


Artist’s impression of the Kepler spacecraft

This month’s focus is on two different stories, but both involving the same spacecraft: Kepler. Edward Gomez and I discuss a result from the outer edge of our Solar System, regarding the icy world that goes by the catchy name of “2007 OR10”. By combining information from the Kepler Spacecraft, now in the second phase of its mission with a partially-functioning spacecraft, with results from the Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers have made a new estimate of its size. Continue reading

Pythagorean Astronomy: To Mars – and Beyond!

[Cross-posted from the Cardiff Physics Engagement blog]

March 2016 saw the launch of the first part of Europe’s two-part mission to Mars. The mission, called ExoMars, comprises the “Trace Gas Orbiter” – the part that’s just launched – and a large rover, which launches in 2018. The orbiter will sniff the atmosphere to test for evidence of past  – or maybe even present – life. Elsewhere in the world of astronomy, this month has also seen the discovery a cluster of “monster stars”, and the most distant galaxy ever seen. I chatted to Edward Gomez and Tim Davis, a relatively new arrival here in Cardiff, about these discoveries.

Originally broadcast on 31st March 2016 as part of Pythagoras’ Trousers on Radio Cardiff.

Pythagorean Astronomy: The Voice of Einstein

[Cross-posted from the Cardiff Physics Engagement site]

Unless you’ve been under a bush for the past month, you can’t have missed what could be described the news of the Century – the first direct detection of gravitational waves. This month, I speak to Edward Gomez about what this discovery means, and catch up with some of the gravitational physicists here in Cardiff, Andrew Williamson, Frank Ohme and Lionel London. They tell me quite how sensitive the LIGO instruments are, and how gravitational waves are the voice of Einstein.

Originally broadcast on 25th February 2016 as part of Pythagoras’ Trousers on Radio Cardiff.