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Danny Boyle’s Sunshine: the science behind the fiction

Ben Stevens H P Stevens12 November 2014

From Georges Méliès to Tarkovsky and Kubrick, the wonders of space have taken a special hold on the imaginations of some of the world’s most visionary film directors.

UCL’s very own Christopher Nolan (UCL English, 1991) is the latest to offer his response with the hugely anticipated Interstellar, which opened on Friday.

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Before him, Danny Boyle gave us his own epic vision in Sunshine (2007) – which was shown at a special screening organised by the UCL Public and Cultural Engagement (PACE) team at the Stratford Picturehouse in east London on 28 October.

The film, starring Cillian Murphy, follows the crew of the Icarus II as they attempt to reignite our dying Sun with a specially designed nuclear weapon that must be delivered directly into its core, if life on Earth is to survive.

Before the screening, visitors had the chance to view the space-themed objects from UCL’s museum collections, including a meteorite, part of a crashed satellite and some historical NASA images of space. (more…)

Astronaut touches down in Swiss Cottage

Oli Usher10 October 2014

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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visits UCL Academy

Charlie Bolden was born in the deep south of the US, during the days of segregation and institutionalised racism. Despite this inauspicious start in life, he went on to a high-flying military career, commanded the Space Shuttle, spent 28 days in orbit and, in 2009, was made head of NASA by President Obama. He is the first African American to hold the position.

During a trip to the UK to meet senior officials in the UK and Italian space agencies, Bolden dropped into the UCL Academy for a few hours to talk to the students and teachers there. The visit was organised by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.

He started off with a conventional inspirational speech, full of quotable soundbites – “study hard, work hard, don’t be afraid of failure” – as well as first-hand anecdotes from the four Space Shuttle missions he flew on. (Most memorably, he went on a long and highly entertaining digression about Newton’s laws of motion, and how in microgravity you need to be attached to a computer keyboard if you want to avoid launching yourself across the cabin when you type.)

As he went on, and the students gradually became more and more enthused, more and more hands shot up in the audience.

A quarter of an hour in, any pretence of this being a lecture was off. Instead, it had become a wide-ranging conversation covering everything from what happens if someone falls ill in space (there is someone with basic surgical training on every mission) to whether or not there is wi-fi on the International Space Station (there is).

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Narrowing our search for life on Mars

news editor12 September 2013

Life on Mars? (Image by MelissaBowersock on Flickr.)

Life on Mars? (Image by
MelissaBowersock
on Flickr.)

pencil-iconWritten by Cassy Fiford, a recent graduate from UCL and a science communication intern at the European Planetary Science Congress.

What might Martian life look like? Not like little green men, according to Dr Lewis Dartnell, a UK Space Agency research fellow who was talking at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) currently being held at UCL. Dr Dartnell is a former member of the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck.

Even the gloomy Monday morning rain did not dampen the spirits of the many scientists who joined the congress at UCL, each counting down until the 2016 launch of ExoMars, a European space mission with the purpose of finding life on Mars. UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory is playing a leading role in the development of ExoMars, including the design of the main camera, which will land with the second ExoMars probe in 2019.

Contrary to the classic Martian stereotype of little green men, Dr Dartnell and his team have focused on microscopic signs of life. They found that certain minuscule biomarkers, chemical ‘fingerprints’ of life, could be able to withstand the hostile conditions of Mars and may be indicative of life on our neighbouring planet. The survival of these man-made biomarkers in a Mars-like environment means the real thing might have survived on Mars and could be detected by the ExoMars programme.

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The highs and lows of our nearest star, the Sun

David R Shanks9 December 2011

Solar researcher Dr Lucie Green from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory gave an excellent Lunch Hour Lecture on Tuesday 29 November. The talk responded to conflicting reports in the popular press about the activity levels of the Sun, and sought to inspire the audience with an appreciation of the beauty and significance of solar phenomena.

The SunIt certainly wasn’t difficult to engage with this material on an aesthetic level. Coronal Mass Ejections, one of Dr Lucie Green’s specialities, were seen erupting magnificently from the surface of the Sun, and beautiful animated cutaways revealed the mechanisms taking place within.

It was emphasised that none of these were diagrams but visualisations of actual data. One became aware of the volume and variety of information being captured, and felt involved in its interpretation.

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