Remote Scottish peninsula chosen for satellite launchpad with promise of jobs
A remote area of land on the northern coast of Scotland is on track to become the UK’s first rocket spaceport after it was selected as the best place in the country from which to blast satellites into orbit.
The isolated county of Sutherland is one of the few spots in Britain where golden eagles and sea eagles still take to the skies, but from the early 2020s the birds may be sharing airspace with rockets bearing small satellites for communications and Earth observation.
Scotland’s north coast has been chosen as the site of Britain’s first spaceport. Vertical rocket and satellite launches are planned from the A’Mhoine peninsula, in Sutherland, which the UK Space Agency said would pave the way for spaceflights
Over the next two weeks Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since 2003
Late birds with a good south-eastern horizon will probably have already noticed Mars in the dead of night. In the early hours of the morning, it is a radiant beacon, shining low in the constellation of Capricornus. During the next fortnight, the planet is going to brighten steadily as it heads for its closest approach to Earth since 2003. Mars makes a close approach every two years. It happens when our planet “laps” Mars, passing between it and the sun. The moment is known as opposition because Mars is in the opposite hemisphere of the sky to the sun. Mars’s opposition this year takes place on 27 July. The chart shows the view for midnight tonight when Saturn is clearly visible as well. Saturn appears in the neighbouring constellation of Sagittarius and the two planets will be the bright objects in that part of the sky. They will form a nice contrast: the subtle yellow of Saturn and the vibrant red of Mars.
Our galactic neighbour is closer and brighter than it has been for 15 years – and its appearance will coincide with a total lunar eclipse. It has never been a better time to take up stargazing
If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest. “Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society. “That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.
So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south. “It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it. The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.
The universe is so big and full of stars that it seems obvious some must have evolved intelligent life. But it turns out we know so little we can’t know what’s obvious. Quite likely we are alone
Are we alone in the universe? Of all the billions of stars out there, is there none around which intelligent life has arisen, no other conscious beings who have looked at their sky and asked themselves whether there was anyone else out here? All we can know is that we don’t know of any others. But that has not stopped more or less well-informed speculation. The universe is so unthinkably enormous and old that it seems almost impossible that only one of the quintillion or so stars in the universe has actually developed intelligent life.
So where are they? So asked the physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950. If other intelligent species are out there, why haven’t we seen them yet? The mismatch between what we’d expect from the numbers, which is a universe full of spacefaring civilisations, and what we observe – nothing – is known as the Fermi paradox. Few of the explanations proposed for it are cheering. Perhaps all civilisations advanced enough to develop space travel are also technologically capable of annihilating themselves as well, and perhaps they all do. Perhaps the first culture to develop interstellar travel has already snuffed out all its rival species as they emerge, and is at this moment watching our first tentative explorations of the solar system as a cat might watch a fledgling on the ground. Or perhaps we have simply got the numbers wrong.
Airbus lands £3.9m contract from space agency to design spacecraft to bring back samples from Mars in the 2020s
The European Space Agency has awarded a £3.9m contract to Airbus, in Britain, to design a new rover, in a project with Nasa, that will visit Mars to retrieve samples for bringing back to Earth for the first time.
Discovery may solve 100-year-old puzzle of high-energy cosmic rays that occasionally hit Earth
A mysterious, ghostly particle that slammed into Earth and lit up sensors buried deep beneath the south pole has been traced back to a distant galaxy that harbours an enormous spinning black hole.
Astronomers detected the high-energy neutrino, a kind of subatomic particle, when it tore into the southern Indian Ocean near the coast of Antarctica and carried on until it struck an atomic nucleus in the Antarctic ice, sending more particles flying.
As dusk darkens into night next Sunday, the patient watcher will be rewarded by a sight worth waiting for
Set a reminder on your phone for this one – it will be worth it. Just after sunset on Sunday 15 July, the moon and Venus will come into conjunction, very low in the west. Although you will need a clear horizon to see, it will be a particularly beautiful sight. Only 11% of the moon will be illuminated, making it a very slender crescent indeed. The chart shows the view looking west at 21:30 BST on Sunday. The sky will still be quite bright, but brilliant Venus will cut through the late evening twilight and guide your eye. If you can’t see the moon at first, just be patient and wait. As the sun slips lower below the horizon, the sky will darken and the sliver of illumination will gradually become visible. The conjunction takes place against the backdrop of the constellation Leo, although you will be hard pressed to see any stars. Only as Venus and the moon drop below the horizon, will the sky darken enough for the stars to shine.