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My latest book, Astrophotography, is now available. You can order a copy by following this link. Astrophotography is a book of exquisite images of space, including some of the latest images such as New Horizons’ images of Pluto, Rosetta’s images of Comet 67P, and Hubble Space Telescope images of the most distant galaxies ever seen. Each stunning image, reproduced to the highest quality, is accompanied by text that I have written to explain the object, and any background science relating to the object.

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Astrophotography is now available. You can order your copy by following this link.

One unique aspect of Astrophotography is that it emphasises the multi-wavelength approach taken to understanding astronomical objects. For millennia we could only study the Universe in visible-light (the light to which are eyes are sensitive), but for the last few decades we have used every part of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma rays to better understand the Universe. This multi-wavelength approach has also enabled us to discover previously unknown aspects of the Universe such as the Cosmic Microwave Background, the true appearance of Venus’ surface which lies hidden below its thick atmosphere, and huge quantities of gas between galaxies (the intracluster medium) which emit no visible-light but prodigious amounts of X-rays.

Astrophotography is split into 5 sections, namely

  1. Exploring the Solar System
  2. Exploring the Milky Way
  3. Exploring the Local Group
  4. Beyond the Local Group
  5. At the Edge of the Universe

Below are examples of some of the beautiful images found in Astrophotography, along with examples of the accompanying text. At the beginning of each page’s text I caption which telescope or space probe has taken the main image, and at which wavelength (or wavelengths).

Exploring the Solar System

Two examples from the first section of Astrophotography, the section on the Solar System, are stunning images of Mercury and of Mars. The images of Mercury were taken by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. There are several pages of images of Mars, the page shown below shows an image of the Martian surface taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover, and an image of Victoria Crater taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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Images of Mercury taken by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. The four main images are spectral scans, and show information on the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface.

The section on the Solar System also includes images of Pluto taken by New Horizons, images of Saturn and Titan taken by the Cassini space probe, images of Comet 67P taken by Rosetta, and images of Jupiter and her moons taken by the Galileo space craft.

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The surface of Mars as imaged by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover and, at right, Victoria Crater, as imaged by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Exploring the Milky Way

The second section of Astrophotography includes images of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), the reflection nebula Messier 78, the Horsehead Nebula, the Pillars of Creation (part of the Eagle Nebula), and the Crab Nebula, the remnant of a supernova which exploded in 1054.

The example I show below is of the reflection nebula Messier 78, and is a visible light image taken by the Max Planck Gerzellschaft Telescope, a 2.2 metre telescope located at the European Southern Observatory’s facility in La Silla, Chile. The text describes the history of observing Messier 78, and explains what produces a reflection nebula.

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The reflection nebula Messier 78 imaged in visible light by the Max Planck Gesellschaft Telescope. The text explains what reflection nebulae are, and the history of observing this particular object.

Exploring the Local Group

The third section of Astrophotography looks at the Local Group, our part of the Universe. The Local Group includes our Milky Way galaxy, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and the Andromeda galaxy. Some of the images shown in this section include the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, NGC 602 (in the Small Magellanic Cloud), the Andromeda galaxy, Supernova 1987A and the Seahorse Nebula.

The example I show here is the Seahorse Nebula, a dark cloud of gas and dust located in Large Magellanic Cloud. This Hubble Space Telescope image was taken in 2008, and the nebula is in the bottom right of the image.

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The Seahorse nebula is a dark cloud of gas and dust found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, an irregular galaxy visible to the naked eye and in orbit about our Milky Way galaxy. The seahorse nebula is in the bottom right of the image.

Beyond the Local Group

The fourth section of Astrophotography looks at the rich variety of galaxies found beyond our own neighbourhood. Examples are galaxies like Messier 82, which is undergoing a huge burst of star formation in its centre, Centaurus A, which shows huge lobes of radio radiation stretching far beyond the stars we see in visible light, colliding galaxies such as The Antennae galaxies, and evidence for dark matter such as the Bullet cluster.

The example I have shown here is the spread for Messier 81, a beautiful spiral galaxy found in Ursa Major. It is one of the best known galaxies in the sky, and is visible to northern hemisphere observers throughout the  year. The main image illustrates the multi-wavelength approach astronomers take to studying many objects. The image combines visible light, infrared light and ultraviolet light to teach us far more about the galaxy than we would learn if we only looked in visible light.

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Messier 81 is a beautiful spiral galaxy found in Ursa Major. Hence it is visible throughout the year to northern hemisphere observers. The main image shown here is a combination of of a visible light image (taken by the Hubble Space Telescope), an infrared image taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, and an ultraviolet image taken by Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

At the edge of the Universe

In the final section of Astrophotography, I show examples of some of the most distant objects known. Images include the Hubble Deep Field, the Cosmic Microwave Background, the most distant galaxy seen (GN-z11, lying about 13.4 billion light years away), gravitational lenses and the recent discovery of gravitational waves made by LIGO.

The example I show here is the spread about the gravitational lens SDP81, a galaxy lying about 12 billion light years away which is being lensed (and brightened) by an intervening cluster of galaxies which lie about 4 billion light years away. The top image was taken at millimetre wavelengths by the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the bottom image in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Gravitational lenses enable us to see distant galaxies which would otherwise be too faint to see, but they also provide us with a way of tracing the distribution of dark matter in clusters.

I hope these few examples from Astrophotography have whetted your appetite to find out more. I really enjoyed putting the book together, and am very pleased with the quality of the images and their aesthetic beauty.

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The evening before last (Tuesday the 1st of March) I was on the programme Science Cafe on BBC Radio Wales talking about 10 Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of the Universe, the book I co-wrote with Brian Clegg. I was interviewed by Adam Walton, who presents this weekly science programme. We discussed how the book came about and then ran through the 10 physicists in the list. You can listen to the programme via the BBC iPlayer by following this link (it will be available on the iPlayer until the end of March; it will also be re-broadcast on Radio Wales on Sunday 6th March at 6:30am GMT)

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I discussed our book 10 Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of Reality on BBC Radio Wales’ weekly science programme Science Cafe. The book was co-written with Brian Clegg

As you can see from the screen capture above, the ten in the list (it is not our list, it was taken from The Observer newspaper) are

  1. Isaac Newton
  2. Niels Bohr
  3. Galileo Galilei
  4. Albert Einstein
  5. James Clerk Maxwell
  6. Michael Faraday
  7. Marie Curie
  8. Richard Feynman
  9. Ernest Rutherford
  10. Paul Dirac

Thirty minutes was not enough to talk in any detail about any of the ten, but I hope it gave the listeners a nice taster of the fascinating characters whom we write about in each chapter. The book has been available since early December. You can order a copy by following this link if you are in the UK, and this link if you are in the US.

At the BBC studios in Cardiff recording this interview for Science Cafe

I am currently in Namibia (see my blog from Tuesday), and recorded the interview in the few days between getting back from a 3-week trip to the USA and leaving to give talks on a cruise in South America. The broadcast of the interview was delayed a little as Science Cafe had recently done a programme about antimatter, and as Paul Dirac is one of the physicists in the list the producers decided to leave a few weeks pass before its broadcast.

Last night (Wednesday the 2nd of March) I gave a talk about ‘the oldest light in the Universe’ (the Cosmic Microwave Background – the subject of another of my books) to the Swakopmund Scientific Society here in Swakopmund (Namibia). I will give a summary of that talk next week when I am back in Cardiff.

You can also find out more about 10 Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of the Universe by following this link.

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A few years ago I blogged about a list in The Observer newspaper of the 10 best physicists. I felt it would be nice to write an up to date book about the greats in physics, and this list was as good as any. After enlisting the help of Brian Clegg, we set about writing a book with a chapter about each of the 10 physicists in The Observer’s list, along with a discussion in the last chapter as to whether we would choose the same 10. We agreed that nearly all physicists would include 4 names in their own list of the top 10 (buy the book to find out which 4!), but that the other 6 were much more subjective. Neither of us would have chosen the same 10 as are in this list.

"10 Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of the Universe" will be available in shops in early December

“10 Physicists Who Transformed Our Understanding of the Universe” will be available in shops in early December

As the back of the book says

Standing on the shoulders of giants…. 400 years of scientific breakthroughs, from Galileo to Feynman

Just to remind you, the list as presented in “The Observer” was

  1. Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
  2. Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
  3. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
  4. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
  5. James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
  6. Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
  7. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
  8. Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
  9. Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)
  10. Paul Dirac (1902-1984)

We quickly realised that it would not be possible to write about e.g. Niels Bohr before writing about Ernest Rutherford, as Bohr’s work was based on the model of the atom which Rutherford introduced. The same is true of many others, including Isaac Newton, whose famous laws of motion were based on work that Galileo had done.

So, we re-ordered the list into chronological order, which gives us

  1. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
  2. Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
  3. Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
  4. James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
  5. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
  6. Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)
  7. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
  8. Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
  9. Paul Dirac (1902-1984)
  10. Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
The back cover of the book

The back cover of the book

You can read more about the book by following this link, or you can pre-order your copy by following this link (this is the Amazon UK website, the book is also available in the US Amazon website by following this link)

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