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A few months ago this story caught my attention on the BBC news website. It is an image of part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way galaxy, and shows both star birth and star death.


The circular looking “shell” of gas towards the left of the image is a supernova remnant, part of the gases which have been blown off by an exploding massive star. To the right of the image is an area called the Dragon Nebula, which is an area of current star formation.

The LMC is about 170,000 light years from our Milky Way, visible to the naked eye from the Southern Hemisphere. It is a small irregular galaxy which is actually in orbit about our much larger Milky Way, and is so named because the first European to note it was Ferdinand Magellan, who was also captain of the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth. It is called the Large Magellanic Cloud because near to it (and also visible to the naked eye) is a smaller irregular galaxy, which is called the Small Magellanic Cloud (astronomers are nothing if not inventive in their naming 😉 ).

In 1987 a massive star exploded (a supernova) in the LMC, SN1987A, which was the first naked-eye supernova visible since Kepler’s supernova in 1604. However, it is not the SN1987A supernova which is shown in this image, the supernova here is older than that, something we can determine from the size of the remnant (the expanding shell of gases which the supernova blows off when it explodes).

It may seem to be quite a coincidence to capture a supernova remnant and a region of star formation in the same image, but in fact it is not so surprising. The shock waves caused by a supernova explosion are thought to often trigger the collapse of giant molecular clouds which lead to new star formation, so stellar death leads to stellar re-birth. Not only that, but the new generation of stars will contain heavier elements which have been created in the massive star and its supernova. Elements up to iron can be created in the massive star itself, but the many elements beyond iron in the periodic table are mostly created in the supernova explosion itself.

The wispy (mainly) red areas in the image are due to the gases fluorescing, just as I have described in previous blogs, for example here and here. The red colour is due to the dominant line-emission process, the h-alpha emission in hydrogen. You may also notice some dark areas (lanes) in the right hand part of the image where the star formation is going on. This is not the absence of stars, but is due to stars being hidden by dust, the same kind of dust I mentioned in my blog on BICEP2 last week. To see through the dust and to see the stars which are currently still forming, we need to look in the infrared and millimetre, where we can see through the dust and see the much cooler “proto-stars”, I will blog about this in the near future.

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A great heads-up on recent *possible* observational evidence for dark matter.

Of Particular Significance

The past two weeks have been busy!  I was on the road, consulting with and learning from particle experimenters and theorists at Caltech and the University of California at Irvine. And I’ve been giving talks: at the University of California Santa Barbara (for the Joe Polchinski Fest conference), at the University of California at Irvine, and yesterday in Boston at M.I.T. The Santa Barbara talk was only semi-technical, and is on-line.  The latter two, much more technical, focused on the two big projects that I completed this fall (one on whether searches for supersymmetry have been comprehensive, one on looking for unusual things the Higgs particle might do.)

While this has all been going on, there have been two big stories developing in dark matter searches, and those of you who already have heard about them will have noticed I have not written much about them yet…

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As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am huge fan of The Beatles, so I had to re-tweet this blog…..

Restoring the Rock

8 pm, February 9th, 1964.  An astonishing 76 million Americans gathered around their black and white televisions.  60% of America tuned in to see the four young men from Liverpool, the most watched television program to that date.  While the show’s studio was full of screaming girls, children and adults alike watched the event that would soon go down in cultural history: The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.

50 years later, this band has not only stood the test of time, but has become such a part of our culture that it seems as though they never left.  The Beatles paved the road for every artist that followed them; without them, music would not be what it is today.

When they arrived in America, no one was ready for the storm they brought with them.  The British Invasion, in my opinion, began the moment when Ed Sullivan introduced the…

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Restoring the Rock

The 2014 Grammys was a huge night for classic rock (and especially for Beatlemaniacs!).  A few days ago, I published an article about the upcoming event, so now its time to look back and reflect on music’s most extravagant night.

First things first – a Beatles reunion! (Or, the remaining half of the band performing together.)  As a huge Beatles fan who has seen Paul McCartney twice in concert, I saw this as a monumental event.  Paul and Ringo Starr took the stage for one of McCartney’s new songs Queenie Eye.  When the song finished, the pair hugged and bowed to a standing audience in the classic Beatles manner.  Ringo also performed one his own songs, Photograph.

Since the band’s split in 1970 (which I can’t say I recall), fans have been waiting for some sort of reconciliation between the band members.  Although all four members came to…

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Rafael Nadal stands on the verge of making tennis history should he win the men’s final of the Australian Open tomorrow (26th of January). Not only will victory give him his 14th Majors title, but also he will become the first player in the Open era to have won each one of the Majors at least twice. As of now, Nadal has won the French Open 8 times, Wimbledon 2 times, the US Open 2 times and the Australian Open once.

By beating Federer to reach the Australian Open final, Nadal could become the first man in the Open era to win at least 2 of each of the 4 tennis Majors.

By beating Federer to reach the Australian Open final, Nadal could become the first man in the Open era to win at least 2 of each of the 4 tennis Majors.

There are two other players who have won at least 2 of the 4 tennis Majors, namely Roy Emerson and Rod Laver. But neither of them achieved this during the open era. When Emerson won most of his titles in the 1960s the majority of his major rivals (including Laver) were not competing as they had turned professional and were therefore barred from playing in the 4 Majors. Rod Laver won the Grand Slam (all 4 Majors in the same year) in 1961 and 1969, as well as some Majors in other years. But many of these titles were won before tennis went open.

As a big Federer fan I have often been reluctant to admit what an exceptional player Nadal is. When Nadal and Federer play each other I always want Federer to win. But should Nadal win in Australia tomorrow it will make him one of the truly great tennis players of all time.

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Today I thought I would share with you this song from the 1970s – “Every 1’s a Winner” by Hot Chocolate.


The song was a hit in 1978, reaching number 12 in the Disunited Kingdom charts, and number 6 in the US charts. It was co-written by band member Tony Wilson and lead singer Errol Brown. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Hot Chocolate song?

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The third Christmas song I thought I would share with you is “Fairy tale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.


This song was released in 1987 and reached number 2 in the DUK charts. It is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and has consistently been in the top 5 in various “all time greatest Christmas songs” lists.

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