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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.

Solar2

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…)

Exoplanets, alien atmospheres and life, Jim…but not as we know it!

news editor12 June 2013

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Exoplanet by NASAblueshift on Flickr

Artist’s impression of the exoplanet Tau Boötis b from
NASAblueshift on Flickr.

Written by David Robertson, who attended a lecture by Dr Giovanni Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy) at the Cheltenham Science Festival, entitled ‘Exoplanet explorers’.

1992, was the year it hit me! As I entered the brave new world of primary education, I remember being startled with the knowledge that we lived on a ball of rock, travelling some 67,000 miles per hour around a massive burning ball of fire. Naturally, this was a pretty terrifying turn of events!

As the shock subsided, and my terror turned to awe, I was told that the Earth was one of a small group of planets orbiting our local star.

There was more.

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A new level of extreme weather is upon us: solar super storms

news editor10 June 2013

pencil-iconWritten by Emily Burns, a UCL PhD student working in the Structural Biology laboratory at the London Research Institute.

The surface of the Sun is a searing 5,500 degrees Celsius, with an ionised atmosphere that is brimming with magnetic fields. As activity levels rise, this giant ball of gas hurls its matter towards Earth, altering our own magnetic field and atmosphere.

Solar flares on the surface of the Sun.

Solar flares on the surface of the Sun.
Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo & Video.

The threat of extreme space weather wreaking havoc on our world all sounded a tad science fiction to me, until Dr Lucie Green explained all at the Cheltenham Science Festival.

As the audience was shown videos of the Sun releasing huge amounts of energy and expelling its atmosphere towards us, it became apparent that solar super storms – discussed a great deal in the media recently in light of a report released by the Royal Academy of Engineering – are a very real threat.

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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.

(more…)