Breakthrough of the year 2014 and runners-up

As for the last two years, my first post of this new year will be an overview of the ten scientific advances the editors of Science deemed the most notable of the year (see here for 2013 and 2012).

Breakthrough of the year 2014: the Rosetta mission

Most likely, you’ve already heard of the Rosetta mission’s little lander, Philae. Continue reading


Planet-building space available

Have you always dreamed of building your own planet? Or perhaps your own Death Star? Well, here are good news for you: there may be plenty of potential orbits out there that could host it.

For a planetary system to be stable, stars and planets must be spaced at specific distances: the gravitational forces at play must be such that the system holds together stably, allowing planets to follow their orbits without colliding or being ejected. Continue reading

Game of Thrones weather forecast and planetary system

Ever wondered when this fracking winter everyone is talking about is coming?!

Well, maesters have probably tried to answer such a crucial question, but it seems that their knowledge of the universe (not to mention their computer power) is widely inadequate to tackle the problem. So the people of Westeros are condemned to suffer the erratic season pattern that characterizes the world invented by George R. R. Martin in A Game of Thrones.

A bunch of graduate students at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, has now published a paper in which they explore what could possibly cause summers to last for years and winters for a generation.

Although they do mention that magic could do the trick, their main hypothesis is that of a planet orbiting two stars instead of one. However, other scientists are skeptic. As reported in a news article in Science, another astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena suggests a more “chaotic” system, for example a 3-star system, or a moon orbiting a gas giant.

In their paper deposited in arXiv, Kostov et al. conclude that, unfortunately, their “attempts to provide the good folks of Westeros with a reliable weather forecast are inconclusive”. Nevertheless, they also mention that they will turn their attention to the dragons, their carbon footprint and impact on climate in a subsequent paper. Looking forward to it.

Kostov V, Allan D, Hartman N, Guzewich S & Rogers J. Winter is coming. 1 April 2013. arXiv:1304.0445 [physics.pop-ph]

Antibiotic resistance, Higgs boson, likes on social networks and four-winged birds

A few samples from this week’s science news:

– This week’s issue of the scientific journal Nature focuses its editorial on the threat posed by the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and on the importance of that threat being given proper attention by policy-makers worldwide.

Over the last decades, misuse and overprescription of antibiotics have led to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and related infections. Despite a growing number of voices warning against the dangerous consequences of such practices, antibiotics remain largely over-prescribed by doctors and are still widely used as a growth supplement in livestock. The general decline in research and development of new classes of antibiotics is making the situation even more alarming. While Nature’s editorial show that policy-makers Continue reading

Breakthrough of the year 2012 and runners-up

Every year the team of editors at Science selects ten scientific accomplishments to highlight as some the most notable advances of the year. I very much enjoyed reading about them, so I indulged myself in making a summary of it for my first post of the year. (And if you’re not that much into science, you probably do not know what Science is. To give you an idea, I’ll just say it’s a highly renowned international scientific journal that haunts the publishing fantasies of many a researcher.)

Breakthrough of the year: the Higgs boson

If you have not heard of the Higgs boson, Continue reading