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I often write about science, technology and the possibilities for the future. From time to time I also touch on matters of health and wellbeing, on travel and on other matters that catch my attention.

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Astronomers have spent a fortune on the James Webb Space Telescope. Will it be worth it?

James Webb Space Telescope by Kevin Gill. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

When the idea first landed on a NASA administrator’s desk, the project was supposed to be fast and cheap. For $500 million, NASA thought, they could build a telescope to reveal the secrets of the early universe. It should have taken just eleven years to build and launch; it ended up taking twenty-five.

The James Webb Space Telescope — which now has a price tag of over $10 billion— is finally, after years of delay, ready for launch. Sometime this summer the telescope will be packed up and sent by ship to Kourou in South America. …


How should science deal with existential risks?

Credit to hipydeus. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

At first the terrifying prospect seemed plausible. Detonate an atom bomb in water, scientists had already realised, and you can trigger an even bigger explosion — a technique would later become the hydrogen bomb. But why, Edward Teller wondered, would water be needed? What would happen if you used air instead?

The concept was simple. When an atom bomb explodes in a tank of purified heavy water, the result is an explosive chain reaction. The energy of the bomb forces hydrogen atoms in the water to collide, and every time that happens a powerful pulse of energy is released. …


Schrödinger’s mysterious cat in a box explained

Credit to Nicolas Raymond, shared under CC BY 2.0.

The situation, Schrödinger complained, is getting ridiculous. Why, one could dream up quite absurd scenarios! Put a cat in a box, for instance, and sometime later it may turn up both dead and alive, trapped in a curious position between life and death. That, Schrödinger felt, was too much. Physics had gone wrong.

Einstein agreed. The idea of the cat, somehow alive and dead at once, was absurd. But so were all the alternatives. Quantum physics by nature seemed to be an absurd theory, but one that all the evidence suggested to be true. The result was shocking, but unavoidable…


We need more than clever engineering to prevent climate disaster.

Polar Bears near the North Pole. Christopher Michel, shared under CC BY 2.0

In the early days the yearly rise could hardly be seen. The annual cycle of carbon dioxide — the summer drop as forests bloom and soak up carbon, the winter jump as leaves wilt and rot — dominated the measurements. But the rise was there, nonetheless.

By the 1960s the cumulative effect of our global carbon dioxide output was becoming harder to miss. Now, sixty years later, the trend is obvious to all but the most unwilling to look. …


A hitchhiker’s guide to the Red Planet

Tharsis and Valles Marineris — Mars Orbiter Mission. Image Credit: ISRO / ISSDC / Justin Cowart. Shared under CC BY 2.0

Welcome to Mars! It’s cold, dusty and hasn’t had running water for four billion years. We’re just sure you’re going to love it. From the stunning highlands of Mons Olympus to the frigid depths of Hellas Planitia, Mars has everything an intrepid traveller could dream of, and more.

Make sure you come prepared for some serious adventure travel. Mars has a grand total of zero hotels and even fewer restaurants and bars. You’ll need a tent, preferably one hardened against harmful radiation, and decent supplies of food, enough to last a year or two until the next flight home.

Don’t…


A dozen startups are shooting for the stars. Can they all succeed?

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

The rocket industry looks red hot right now. Every week brings half a dozen announcements of new companies, more funding or another failed test launch. And yet, despite the massive amounts of money pouring in, it is not at all clear the rocket industry is really commercially viable.

Much of the excitement is inspired by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s revolutionary rocket company. And while it is true that SpaceX has changed the market and probably earned a lot of money for Musk, few others companies will be able to replicate that success.

Musk’s key insight was the importance of reusable rockets…

Alastair Isaacs

Once I studied physics and distant galaxies. Now I fly satellites instead, and spend my time thinking and writing about trends in space and technology.

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