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Blog

Melbhenge goes world-wide

Alan Duffy

The alignment of the setting Sun with Melbourne's Hoddle Grid only occurs twice a year, causing a beautiful sight of the Sun framed by a mile-long corridor of skyscrapers. The astronomy is easy, but where is the best location to view this? Which of the East-West streets (Collins, Bourke, Lonsdale or LaTrobe?) and what intersection as the trams and trees can get in the way... I asked the City of Melbourne to get out and snap photos and post online with their location using the hashag #Melbhenge to crowd-source the answer. Incredibly the request was shared on ABC Melbourne radio, The Age, Broadsheet and finally to a world-wide audience on the BBC. Amazing. Stay tuned for the best location for November 3rd's event as I go through all the incredible photos (like the image I've grabbed from Rachel Dexter on Collins St) from this event.

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Flying high in the Qantas mag!

Alan Duffy

Super bizarre but cool honour to find myself featured in Qantas Magazine! I travel ridiculous amounts for work and find myself flicking through this mag on take off and landing, never thought I'd be reading about myself! Thanks iQ for uncovering my secret shame that I am rubbish with DVD players.

As you can tell I was a little excited about seeing myself at the end of an international flight in the Spirit of Australia inflight magazine..!

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An Australian Science Superhero

Alan Duffy

So this is absurdly cool, the Chief Scientist has named me as one of Australia's Science Superheroes... I honestly can't claim this (and especially not when you see the other superheroes) but it gave me a chance to answer some fun questions about what my 'superpower' in science actually is.

How do you become a superhero scientist? Well firstly you don't need to get bitten by a radioactive (and very smart) spider instead during National Science Week in August 2016, Australia’s Chief Scientist launched the #5ScientistPledge to recognise Australian Scientists. Those scientists are now getting recognised with a new tag – #AusScienceHeroes

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Space turkey, touring Saturn and impossible rockets

Alan Duffy

My regular column in theconversation (as well as appearance on ABC Breakfast News) explored a Thanksgiving meal that was out of this world, as well as the beginning of the end for the Cassini mission (but not without a spectacular final view) and a new fuel-less rocket that set the internet alight might be a misfire after all.

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The impossible EM drive

Alan Duffy

A new rocket that seemingly can create thrust without using fuel to push backwards has just been published. My thoughts in news.com.au were not entirely positive. Simply put this would break Newton's 3rd law, and also translation invariance (or the idea that the laws of physics don't change in one spot to another). If this rocket really doesn't need fuel to create thrust than that would be the end of physics as we know it. Instead my guess is that this is likely just thermal expansion as the microwaves (inside the EM drive) are turned on and heat it. 

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International Mining and Resources Conference

Alan Duffy

An unusual opportunity came up to speak at the International Mining and Resources Conference housed at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to explore the possibilities of spin off tech from our underground dark matter searches. I focussed on the science of SABRE, the possibilities of an X-ray like scan for gold in the mine around using Muon Tomography and other underground science such as understanding how life grows without radiation / astrobiology. Finally I discussed the possible future for mining, in space! Key technologies such as automation and refinement have been deployed by the giants in the resource extraction sector and could find a home for their advanced technologies in the final frontier.

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Shrinking Mercury all it's cracked up to be

Alan Duffy

Amidst the exciting news of landing on comets and SpaceX plans to get to Mars, NASA released astounding findings that the smallest planet Mercury actually has tectonic activity just like Earth. Such a small world should be geologically dead and yet it has features that appear unweathered by bombardments from meteors meaning that they are no older than a few million years. It means Mercury joins Earth as the only rocky planet to have tectonic activity, and also means it may have Earthquakes (or should that be Mercury-quakes?)

I wrote about it in theconversation and chatted to ABC Breakfast News TV as well as ABC 702 radio.

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The Greatest Science Experiment

Alan Duffy

An amazing opportunity to be the official Ambassador for the Sydney Science Festival a role which meant I got to give the opening lecture on the incredible Large Hadron Collider at CERN which you can watch here. There was a great write up of the event in the Sydney Morning Herald (where the image came from) and which featured in several TV and radio interviews. 

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Digital Preservation - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

I was interviewed as part of the Born Digital Week by National and State Libraries Australasia to raise awareness of how much data we create, what it's value is and how best to preserve it. Far from being preserved forever online, the digital world is potentially entering a Digital Dark Age as a book two thousand years old is still readable while I haven't got a clue what to do with a floppy disk from just two decades ago.

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Brian Cox - Journey into deep space

Alan Duffy

An amazing opportunity to see Prof Brian Cox speak in a sell-out MCEC plenary event during his Journey into Deep Space tour of Australia. He basically explained the beginning and ultimate end of the universe (Eternal Inflationary Cosmology explains both if you were curious) from first principles which is no mean feat. 

Event better was getting backstage to hang out with him and Robin Ince (thoroughly lovely human being) and chat science. Definitely one of the coolest things I've done recently and it's given me some great ideas (i.e. that I'll steal) to use in my own talks!

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Juno and Triple Star systems - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

Fun chat in my regular space segment on ABC Breakfast News about the astoundingly ambitious Juno mission to Jupiter, seriously it's still wondrously madly insane to try this orbit but NASA managed. Here's my thoughts in ABC The Drum. I then got to show off a beautiful new image by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Nebula and finally a triple star system found by ESO that has a planet around it (and which doesn't experience night for hundreds of years at a time).

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Take two on ABC's The Conversation with Richard Fidler

Alan Duffy

I truly adore chatting with Richard, he has an insatiable curiosity and that fact he loves science (astronomy in particular!) means our hour long chat flies by... This time we focussed on the hunt for dark matter with SABRE, the world's first dark matter detector in the Southern Hemisphere, and the science of scifi which films do it well and which don't, I'm looking at you Armageddon.

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Mini-ice age from a quiet Sun? No - The Project

Alan Duffy

An amazing opportunity to sit at the desk on The Project and discuss the science behind solar studies of the Sun's activities, that we going into a regular Solar Minimum, although it may be heralding the beginning of a Maunder Minimum which saw Europe plunged into a 'Mini-Ice Age'. Read here and here about why that's not the case (for starters the Mini Ice-Age began before the 70 year lack of sunspots in the Maunder Minimum!) but even if it were to occur now we've warmed things on Earth so much it would only slow the heating down not reverse it. 

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3D printing in space - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

Fun chat on the ABC Breakfast TV couch describing the latest in 3D printing tech - on board the International Space Station!  It allows astronauts to print off any spares as needed, including a new tool designed by a high school student! I also chatted about Saturn's flawless rings seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft to have a blemish by a nearby moon's gravity and CSIRO's upgrading of the largest telescope on Earth, China's FAST.

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Feeding black holes - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

An amazing discovery by the ALMA telescope of giant clouds of cold gas falling towards a supermassive black hole, seen as shadows against the bright glow from this feeding black hole. In addition I discussed the worsening global light pollution phenomenon and a surprise chain galaxy found by citizen scientists from Russia using the Australian Radio Galaxy Zoo!

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Inflatable space stations and landing rockets - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

Read my thoughts on an incredible week for commercial exploration of space at theconversation or watch on ABC Breakfast News. It started with Bigelow Aerospace successfully inflating their BEAM attachment to the ISS. If the two year long test of this inflatable space module works then they plan to launch larger inflatables to form a commercial space laboratory as well as potentially even a space hotel! This week also saw the landing at sea of a rocket for the third time in a row by SpaceX. Now they need to demonstrate an economic refurbishment and relaunch of any of these three rockets to usher in a new era of space travel.

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NASA saw a magnetic reconnection from inside - Cosmos Magazine

Alan Duffy

This is quite frankly an astounding feat of engineering but NASA's MMS mission has flown through a magnetic reconnection event - this is where titanic eruptions from the Sun slam into Earth's protective magnetic field and it snaps, releasing energy which we see as an aurora (at best, at worst it destroys our electricity grids!) 

One of the most challenging computational puzzles and these observations will be key to understanding this physics. It's also the same physics that limits us in perfecting nuclear fusion power on Earth so something we can all hope is solved and soon!

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Earth's magnetic poles are swapping - ABC Breakfast News TV

Alan Duffy

Some huge stories this week (which I covered in theconversation as well as ABC Breakfast News) on ESA's Swarm satellites measuring the pulsing of the Earth's magnetic field, it's so called magnetic heartbeat. This then lead on to the topic of the magnetic poles swapping places (always a startling fact!) and then the measurements from Australian rocks that a younger Earth had a thinner atmosphere than today when we always had assumed it must have been thicker... These stories were so huge that the fact we found 1284 planets around other stars by NASA's Kepler satellite was left to the end!

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