EU protection could be boon for Monaco’s science sector

A political manoeuvre by the government of Monaco could lead to disaster for large scientific facilities, but would be a boon for the economy of the small principality. The European Union has protected products from specific geographic regions for over 20 years. As a result, anything designated as a “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO) can only be produced in a defined geographic region. This has resulted in champagne only being produced in the appropriate region of France, protection for the economically important Cornish pasty industry and has been a lifeline to traditional Arbroath Smokie factories which make up 40% of the economy of the Angus region of Scotland. The Monégasque government has applied (as an EU associated country) to allow its distinctive “Monte Carlo” name for casinos to be afforded the same status. The principality believes this will protect its exclusive brand from competition from down-market amusement arcades.

Monte Carlo, soon to become major centre for European research. Credit: Wikipedia

This application could have wide-reaching implications in the scientific community. Traditionally, large-scale simulations which rely on random number generation have been termed “Monte Carlo” a brand which would fall foul of the PDO designation. Large EU-based scientific institutions could now be faced with a choice, close down their computer simulation departments, or move them to the tiny city-state on the Mediterranean coast. Mark Ofchane, professor of computational astrophysics at the Irish National Space Agency says this could lead to funding problems for many departments. “Governments fund Big Science based on our ability to train the next generation of young minds for the modern workforce,” he said, “Now we have to tell the politicians that our students will be sunning themselves in glamorous Monaco rather than slaving away in subterranean labs across Northern Europe”.

The move has resulted in big plans to expand the currently tiny science research-base in Monaco. Count Simeon Poisson-d’Avril, the Monégasque science minister, has announced plans to build a new “Science City” on the outskirts of the capital. Named after a wealthy benefactor, the Hastings Metropolis will allow Monaco to fully explore the probability space offered by the influx of scientists. “We see this as a massive step up,” the Count said, “Maybe there will be some steps down in future, but we are confident these will be only part of determining the probability of us gaining the maximum economic benefit from this move.”

Carnival of Space: 203

It’s Carnival time in the Gutter again! We’re hosting this week’s round-up of space and astronomy blogging news. If you’d like to find out more or get involved yourself check out the Carnival’s homepage over at Universe Today.

We’re kicking off this week with the massive Solar flare that exploded from the Sun on 7th June. The Chandra blog explains what they had to do to protect the satellite from the incoming radiation. If you didn’t see any of the movies of the flare, or if you’re unsure just how big this eruption was I strongly recommend the following, courtesy of Matt Parker:

Next up is the Pan-STARRS1 project which has discovered a new comet in the outer Solar System which could reach naked eye visibility in March 2013. One of the astronomers who discovered the comet Richard Wainscoat outlines how it was found and what we know about its orbit.

Virtual telescopes such as Google Sky, World Wide Telescope and Wiki Sky have allowed people to explore the sky in great detail at many different wavelengths, and look for their own mysterious sky objects. However, if you don’t have some understanding of what you’re looking at you can end up with misidentifications, such as the ones discsussed by the Astroblog for comet Elenin and the mythical planet Nibiru.

If you want to know more about why astronomers use many different wavelengths for their observations check out the first of Cheap Astronomy’s two part podcast series on astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Over to Mars now. Vintage Space looks at the challenges in designing and testing the parachutes that slow the descent of the landers that are sent there. Once they reach the surface the pictures they send back can seem very familiar – head over to The Meridiani Journal to see an excellent example of “mud polygons” or mud cracks on Earth, and their striking similarity to the bedrock terrain seen by Opportunity in Meridiani on Mars.

Could Saturn’s moon Enceladus have a salt-water ocean? NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has already confirmed that there’s liquid water below the surface, but now it may also have detected salt grains in the plumes of icy spray shooting up from its surface. Both Discovery News and Weirdwarp have the full story.

Next Big Future brings news of a new supersonic business jet concept, the SonicStar, which was unveiled at the Paris airshow. It promises flight times from Paris to New York of under 2 hours thanks to its revolutionary engine design. If you want to travel a little further though, they also have an interview with writer Keith Henson about his ideas for cheaper space launches using a combination of Skylon rocket planes and concentrated lasers.

There’s two slightly more offbeat offerings to end on. First, shhh, don’t tell anyone but Universe Today has been spying on spy satellites, thanks to the skill of astrophotographer extraordinaire Thierry Legault. Check out the post if you want to know how he does it.

Finally, could the forthcoming movie Iron Sky have any basis in fact? Everyone knows that WW2 Germany developed rockets far in advance of the Allies, but some argue that in 1945 the Third Reich was on the verge of developing a space program. Armagh Planetarium’s Astronotes finds out more.

Well, that’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat surprising journey from solar flares to spies and Nazis!

From Earth to the Edge of the Universe: V

It’s the last day in our series of videos about astronomy from the University of Portsmouth. Time for Gongbo Zhao to explain all about large scale structure using Universes he builds in his computer:

Gongbo – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.

From Earth to the Edge of the Universe: III

It’s day three of our series of videos featuring Portsmouth astronomers doing their bit for National Science and Technology Week. In today’s installment Karen Masters talks about galaxies with the help of some beautiful images:

Karen – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.

You can see all these videos, together with lots of others, on BBC Big Screens in various cities around the UK from now until the beginning of the Olympics next year. Here’s Alejo, our star from Tuesday, on the one in Portsmouth earlier this week:

(Image courtesy @maricarjagger via @KarenLMasters)

From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe – II

For the second of the From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe series our very own Rita talks about the distribution of matter in the universe.

Rita – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.

From Earth to the Edge of the Universe – I

This week is National Science and Technology Week in the UK. To mark this the vaguely lovely people at the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth have got together with their School of Creative Technologies to make a series of videos about their research. Here’s the first, Alejo Martinez-Sansigre takes us on a voyage away from the Earth to the largest scales possible

Alejo – From Earth To The Edge Of The Universe from CCi Live on Vimeo.

Happy New Year from the Gutter!

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For the first time since we started this blog, all four of us were in the same room together over the weekend. Well, when I say weekend, I mean New Year. And when I say room, I mean castle (we’ve had to give the castle back now sadly!)

We thought this would be an ideal opportunity to take our first ever group photo. However, this is what we ended up with:

from left to right: Emma, Stuart, Rita & Niall

taken during the middle portion of Total Eclipse of the Heart, which is an astronomical reference at least.

Anyway, what we really wanted to say was Happy New Year to all our readers! Thanks for visiting during 2010; please come back during 2011. If you’re very good, Stuart might even post something!

Mysterious web site

Hey all

Stuart here with my first post in an embarrassingly long time. Promise to get back to blogging more regularly but until then I just wanted to share this mysterious website:


its counting down to midday today … wonder what it could be ?

Carnival of Space 178

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Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s Carnival of Space. If you’ve not been to one of these before it aims to be a handy round up of all the astronomy blogging that’s been buzzing round the internet in the past week. And if this week’s news isn’t enough for you head over to the Carnival Homepage for the full archive.

First up, zombie microbes at Discovery News! The idea that life on Earth was spawned by cometary hitchhikers isn’t new, but were they dead when they arrived? On a similar theme, Weird Sciences discusses a new project which aims to find out whether life on Mars (if it exists) is related to life a lot closer to home.

Sticking with Mars, 21st Century Waves talks about astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s recent book and his ideas about martian colonization. Universe Today assesses the chances the hibernating Spirit rover might wake up (fingers crossed) or whether it truly is lost for good. On a more positive note Spirit’s twin Opportunity is still going strong even if it has no time to stop and enjoy the scenery, much to The Road To Endeavour‘s disappointment. Next Big Future has a solution that would allow future rovers to harvest gas from the Martian atmosphere to give them a rocket-propelled boost.

The stuck Spirit rover, as imagined by Universe Today

Moving further out, the Urban Astronomer continues an interesting series on the planets with the seventh, Uranus, whilst The Martian Chronicles recounts the troubles the Hayabusa probe encountered in successfully returning asteroid dust to Earth. Still on the space travel theme, Cheap Astronomy‘s podcast this week is on the best way to power deep space missions.

Time for some much more distant planets now. The big news this week has been HIP 13044b, though you may know it better as ‘The Planet From Another Galaxy’. Dynamics of Cats, Astronotes and Centauri Dreams all cover the story. On a similar theme, Weird Warp discusses a new way of finding other exoplanets using their dust tails.

The star HIP 10344 from the Aladin database. There's a planet around it and it's from another galaxy...

Stars are the topic for the next couple of posts. First, Science Backstage discusses how pulsars could be used to detect Earth’s motion. Next, definitely head over to Starry Critters to see the death throes of a star as a beautiful space jellyfish. A more explosive type of stellar death is concerning Simoastronomy – do puny white dwarfs make wimpy supernovae? These explosions make heavy elements; you can find out more about this over at the interestingly-named Lounge of the Lab Lemming.

I think we’ve established there are lots of fascinating things out there but can we ever go and visit them? Weird Sciences is trying to find out, whilst Next Big Future is trying to make the journey safer.

Finally, AstroWoW has started a new project to explore the Universe, one word at a time. This week’s word (thanks to some cheeky hyphenation) is Light-year. Head over there to find out more.

A proper carnival needs a firework at the end, so here’s a massive one – the Firework Galaxy (NGC 6946) as seen by the Gemini Telescope:

A carnival needs fireworks so how about a giant one - the Firework Galaxy (NGC 6946) as seen by T. Rector with the Gemini Telescope