Imagine being able to catch a flight to Mars as easily as we travel to another country – that was the idea behind the Trip To Mars session I attended at the Cheltenham Science Festival. It was conducted by Dr Suze Kundu and Dr Simon Foster and presented as a pre-flight safety briefing, with both of them dressed as pilots! There were a lot of humorous moments and sci-fi references but also some great science.
Suze and Simon suggested that in the future, flights to Mars could be far quicker than they are now, and explored how some of the bigger problems could be overcome. For example, the Sun’s magnetic field deflects a significant proportion of the cosmic radiation that could be harmful to humans on Earth; as spaceships travel further away from the Earth and Sun they will have less protection because the magnetic field weakens. To combat this it’s possible that spaceships will contain or be covered with large and powerful magnets, to produce the same deflective effect. This would have the added advantage of also deflecting radiation from solar flares.
Spaceships journeying to Mars would travel at such speed that even tiny fragments of rock and dust could be damaging to the hull. To combat this, and also the heat generated when the spaceship passes through an atmosphere, Suze and Simon discussed the possibility of spaceships being coated in aerogel. This amazing material is a solid formed from silicone dioxide but is 98% air; this means that it is extremely light but also strong. Its melting point is 1,200°C (equivalent to asbestos) and it is a wonderful insulator. Because it consists of large pockets of air between thin layers of silicone dioxide, any dust or rock fragments that hit it would be slowed and stopped before they could penetrate the aerogel completely.
Suze and Simon also discussed the possibilities and problems with cryostasis. Theoretically this is when a person’s body is cooled to temperatures so low that they enter hibernation, ideal for long journeys through space. Unfortunately our technology isn’t advanced enough to do this at the moment; any attempt would result in the cells rupturing and the person dying. But in the future it will be possible, perhaps after the person’s DNA has been altered slightly so that they can produce antifreeze proteins like some species of wasps and turtles.
This October Earth will be passing through the tail of Halley’s comet, which will mean a shower of meteors flashing across the night sky. Our science editor Sam Gouldson explains.
What is Halley’s Comet?
A comet is a lump of rocky particles, ice and dust all bound together like a dirty snowball. When the comet nears a star, its surface transforms from a solid to a gas. The star’s light shines through these gases and makes them visible to observers as a fuzzy cloud around the comet’s centre, and a tail streaming out behind.
Have you ever seen barges on the river, and wondered what it would be like to live on one? Is it really cramped and damp, and do you have to move around and go to a different school every week? We spoke to 11 year old Annabelle to find out what it’s really like to live on a boat.
I expect most of you have heard of antonyms, and even if you haven’t heard the word, you know them and use them every day. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite. For example, hot is the antonym of cold, rich is the antonym of poor.
But what happens when we have a word that doesn’t have another antonym – it is the antonym of itself?! You are probably wondering what on earth that could mean. Well, there are some words that have two meanings which are the opposite of each other. This makes the word its own antonym. Words like this are known as contronyms.
One very common one that we shall start with is a word that you use all the time without ever thinking about it being a contronym. This is left, which can mean “gone, departed” or “still there, remaining” . If you have gone, then you have left, but if everyone else except you has gone, then you are left!
This is first of a series of Stories From The Stables, by Carolyn Ward.
Learning to ride is a fabulous hobby. It can be pricey, but you can borrow a hat and crop from most stables, and start off in trousers and strong shoes. It is great exercise, very exciting, and teaches respect for animals, balance, and correct posture.
When I was very young I rode at Stourton Stables, a children’s riding school where the ponies were mostly grumpy and had to be separated in the fields for fear of kicking each other to pieces.
Oh, happy riding lesson days. Hours spent in icy pouring rain, in snow, in fog, and even more rarely; in lovely sunshine. The best riding times of year for me were spring and autumn, before and after the major insect season.