What does Cosmology have to do with Formula One?

bbc web pageIt’s great – a while ago I had the opportunity to teach a course on Physics and Motorsport. It was a great way of uniting two of my passions.

Now this is taking a new direction, and I’ve been contributing to a BBC article on technology in Formula One. “Would Formula One be more thrilling without cutting edge tech”.

I love the broad span of physics. Both Cosmology and Formula One are a matter of understanding, of seeing through complicated equations to the principles that underly them,  of developing an intuition about how things – in this case, cars and galaxies – will behave under extreme conditions.

 

Re-live the Durham 2015 Lumiere

 

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Ross Ashton has just sent me the “official” video of the World Machine installation from Durham Lumiere 2015. If you missed out, now you can relive the experience. If you want to recreate the amazing atmosphere, you’ll need about 200,000 friends and some huge speakers to carry the depth of John Del’Nero/Isobella Waller-Brige’s amazing sound track. Giles Gasper suggests that for the complete experience,  you’ll also need a bucket of water to pour over your head while you watch… it poured with rain.

Hopefully we can bring the real thing to a dark night near you. Let me know if you have a 12th Century Cathedral that I can borrow.

LDSS at the Las Campanas Observatory

It’s amazing. I’m at the Las Campanas Observatory, using the LDSS (low Dispersion Survey) spectrograph. A triumph of North East engineering, she was built in Durham University in 1991 by a team of “real” engineers,  including John Webster. It was one of the first instruments to allow astronomer to survey the distant Universe and to see galaxies when the Universe was only a fraction of its present age.

In 2001, John and I moved LDSS to its new home at the incredible 6.5m Magellan Clay telescope. The instrument has evolved for strength to strength, using its solid engineering as a plot form for the latest technological developments in optics and, most recently, its CCD detector. LDSS is still at the leading edge of cosmology.

Now, here I am looking for some of the faintest galaxies in the Universe. Our new ‘Deep Depletion’ detector lets us find galaxies at even higher redshift, and clever electronics allow us to detect lower mass galaxies than ever before, revealing the secrets of how galaxies, and the nuclear elements they contain (such as the carbon and oxygen that we are made of) have been created over the history of time.

 

The World Machine at Lumiere

The World Machine is a daring new art work for Durham Lumiere 2015.

Over the past year I’ve been putting together a study comparing understanding of the Cosmos in Ancient Greece with its understanding in Medieval times and today. It’s been great to see many of these ideas inspire the “World Machine” and major art project for the Durham 2015 Lumiere. Its been a great pleasure to work with Carlos Frenk (Institute for Computational Cosmology) and Giles Gasper (Ordered Universe Project), together with a whole team of young people, on this project. Our role has been to supply many of the images and movies that underly the artwork. The World Machine is a major collaboration between our Art and History teams, projection artist Ross Ashton, sound designer John del’Nero, and composer Isobel Waller-Bridge.

 

 

EAGLE’s own website

The EAGLE project now has its own website.

My two summer “interns” (Sam Bancroft and Josh Borrow) have done an amazing job of creating a website to host (some of) the images that we’ve created during the EAGLE project.  Please take a look and tell me what you think!

You will find plenty of cool images and movies to down load, such as this one..

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EAGLE takes off

The first EAGLE paper is now available on the astro-ph archive. It will tell you everything you wanted to know about the project (and more probably more!).  Most importantly, it sets out the project philosophy and shows just how much the simulated universe looks like the real one.

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This plot counts the numbers of galaxies of different masses. It compares the main Eagle simulation (the dark blue line) to previous work (the other lines) and observational data (the fray points)… you’re meant to see that EAGLE fits the data really well – it captures both the flat part (similar numbers of galaxies with masses to our Milky Way galaxy and with mass 10 times smaller), and the exponential break at higher masses (galaxies much larger than our own are incredibly rare). EAGLE is a huge step forward compared to previous work. There are many more comparisons like this in the paper.

Here’s the paper’s abstract…. Continue reading EAGLE takes off

Cosmic Own Goal

gas imageOne of the very exciting things about the Eagle project is that it is possible to pick out interesting objects, and then re-simulate the volume around them at higher resolution giving a much better view of what’s going on and letting us find even the smallest galaxies.

So what are the smallest galaxies? Surely galaxies can be as small as you want? Well – no. There’s a limit to the smallest size of galaxies, and Till Sawala has just written an exciting paper demonstrating why.

The science paper is available here…  http://arxiv.org/abs/1406.6362

but we’ve also issued a press realease with some very cool pictures. The full pictures are here… http://star-www.dur.ac.uk/~till/

Here’s the story ….

Continue reading Cosmic Own Goal

EAGLE in the News

Images from our EAGLE simulations appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight program last night. Journalist Rebecca Morelle used them to explain the concept of Dark Matter: the exotic and invisible matter that makes up most of the mass of the Universe. The images contrast the universe as we see it (from looking at starlight) to the way it would appear if it were possible to see the Dark Matter.

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Follow the on-line story at the BBC’s news website.

If you would like to explore more of the Universe, download our app “Cosmic Universe” from the apple store.

The Medieval Multiverse

As part of the interdisciplinary Ordered Universe project we’ve just submitted a paper on the “Medieval Multiverse”.  I hope you’re as fascinated as I am.  Far from being a dark and ill-informed era, the 13th century was full of new scientific discoveries and dominated by  logical thinking.  In his paper “De Luce” the medieval scientist (and later Archbishop) Robert Grosseteste uses his theory of the interactions of light and matter to explain the origin of the (Aristotelian) Universe. His mode of working is very much like that of a modern cosmologist.

You can read the paper on arXiv. Animated versions of the figures are available too. Here’s the abstract:

“In his treatise on light, written in about 1225, Robert Grosseteste describes a cosmological model in which the Universe is created in a big-bang like explosion and subsequent condensation. He postulates that the fundamental coupling of light and matter gives rises to the material body of the entire cosmos. Expansion is arrested when matter reaches a minimum density and subsequent emission of light from the outer region leads to compression and rarefaction of the inner bodily mass so as to create nine celestial spheres, with an imperfect residual core. In this paper we reformulate the Latin description in terms of a modern mathematical model. The equations which describe the coupling of light and matter are solved numerically, subject to initial conditions and critical criteria consistent with the text. Formation of a universe with a non-infinite number of perfected spheres is extremely sensitive to the initial conditions, the intensity of the light and the transparency of these spheres. In this “medieval multiverse”, only a small range of opacity and initial density profiles lead to a stable universe with nine perfected spheres. As in current cosmological thinking, the existence of Grosseteste’s universe relies on a very special combination of fundamental parameters.”