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“See you at the finish line” by Stefan Barna, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Everybody knows the script. After a brief and energetic youth, humans enter a long decline after middle age. Backs start to ache, joints stiffen up, and general aches and pains become a part of every day life. By the time retirement comes along, we’re too feeble to enjoy the few years we have left.

But what if I told you that story is wrong? What if humans could stay healthy, active and mentally sharp throughout their lives? What if a seventy year old could outrun a twenty-five year old?

Biologically, the evidence suggests that they can. It doesn’t need a wonder drug, or futuristic therapy either, the answer is much simpler. Three things make for a long and healthy life — good food, regular exercise and a positive attitude. …

Galileo, Kepler and Newton challenged the ruling elite of Europe, fighting for science over religion.

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The great comet of 1577. These mysterious visitors inspired Kepler and Newton to unlock the secrets of gravity.

Long after Man discovered gravity, he used his mastery to reach another world. Those who went found a dusty, barren landscape, scarred with craters and scattered with boulders. The Moon was not, as the Church once taught, a perfect sphere, smooth and uncorrupted by forces of nature. Instead, much like the Earth, it was shaped by universal laws of physics and chemistry.

Four hundred years ago such an idea would have been heretical. The Church believed in a perfect universe. Celestial bodies moved in a divine realm, and obeyed their own mysterious laws. …

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The waves break endlessly against the rocks, forming a regular, comforting, rhythm. Birds swoop and call, and sometimes take flight in groups, flapping against the sky, itself slowly changing from blue, to green, to orange, to red.

As the Sun dips into the ocean it seems to grow larger and redder. Its shape fattens and distorts, and it is no longer the round yellow star we knew in its younger hours. In its dying moments, before being swallowed up by the boundless Ocean, the Sun seems to lose its power. We, mere humans, are no longer afraid to stare into its heart. What do we see there? …

When galaxies collide the results can be extraordinary

Since the dawn of our species we have looked up, and gazed with wonder upon the star strewn heavens. The night sky connects us to almost every other human who has ever lived, a shared experience of beauty unchanged and eternal like nothing else.

And yet the true magnificence of the cosmos has only recently become clear to us. We are fortunate to live in an era where our eyes on the universe are more powerful than ever before. Our telescopes peer across vast distances, look back billions of years, and unveil objects that no human has ever seen before.

Some of those objects are stunning. We’ve seen stars being born from clouds of dust, watched black holes rip their victims apart, and spotted the dying moments of supermassive giants. …

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Sprinkled with midwinter snow, the Grand Duchy seems more fairytale than reality. The towers become the homes of sleeping princesses; magical creatures spring from the steep valley sides, and Disneyesque citizens walk the streets in good cheer.

Don’t be fooled by appearances. The towers do not host sleeping princesses; they store bankers and astonishing wealth. The clock tower belongs to Spuerkeess, the state-owned Savings Bank of Luxembourg. The valley, once a hive of military fortification, is now a park.

Behind the tower lies the ARBED building. Appearing more like a palace than an office, ARBED once headquartered a powerful steel industry. Those glory days are long gone. …

One great joy of writing is the stories you encounter along the way. Two recently caught my attention and worked themselves into articles I’m drafting. Both tell the lives of extraordinary people who took themselves to places most would never dare to go.

First is Bobby Fischer, the great chess player. He was obsessed with the game, interested in nothing else until paranoid conspiracies warped his mind. What caused such a brilliant mind to unravel?

Second is Michel Siffre, a Frenchman who spent months alone, underground. The effects of such profound isolation are terrifying; more intriguing is the fact he was a willing volunteer. What possessed a man to isolate himself in darkness and then volunteer to go again?

Why are these characters such good reading? Simply, we like to hear of extreme places and the pressures they exert on the human mind.

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The Japanese do not build castles to survive. In a land of volcanoes and earthquakes everything is temporary. Yet this castle did survive, avoiding three centuries of earthquakes, revolutions and fires that destroyed so many other castles and temples.

In 1931, almost exactly three hundred and forty years after Mori Terumoto laid the first timbers, the castle was declared a National Treasure. Its feat of survival was not the only reason. The pine wood castle was a splendid example of a Japanese plains castle, and more, it was one that give the city of Hiroshima its name.

When the bomb fell both the city and its people were consumed with fire. Survivors spoke of people rushing to rivers and pools to find relief from the searing nuclear inferno. Those unfortunate enough to jump into water found it boiling. Those unfortunate enough to survive found a shattered wasteland. …

The Moon explodes, shattering into seven large chunks. Who did it, or why, is unknown. Before long, the seven chunks smash into each other, rapidly disintegrating. The debris falls towards the Earth, enters the atmosphere and heats the planet so much that it becomes uninhabitable for five thousand years.

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The Moon, in its unexploded form. Original content.

This terrible scenario is the opening premise of Seveneves, a science-fiction novel by American author Neal Stephenson. Seveneves belongs to the hard science-fiction genre, which stresses scientific accuracy and realism. But how scientific is his exploration of an exploding Moon? What would really happen if the Moon exploded tonight?

The idea is not as absurd as it sounds. Moons do sometimes explode. This can happen in two ways — they can be struck by something big, or they can be ripped apart by gravitational disturbances. These two possibilities are not even that rare — the rings of the gas giants in our solar system may have formed from the remains of exploded moons. …

You can find success by publishing fewer, better articles

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Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

Every new writer hears the advice: you need to write and publish every day. Even that probably isn’t enough, they say. You should publish two, three or even more times per day. If you don’t do that you’ll never build up a following, you’ll never earn a penny, you’ll never make it as a writer.

The problem with this approach is that it focuses on quantity over quality. Almost anyone can pump out huge amounts of unoriginal writing; it’s not hard, it just takes time.

Publishing every day means you need to complete an average of one article each day. All the effort and time you need to put into producing something worth reading — the research, the writing, the revising, the editing — all of that must be crammed into a handful of hours. …

The camera is the beating heart of photography. This is the device where the magic happens — where light is captured and imprisoned, by chemical or electrical means. If you want to master photography, the camera is the essential place to start.

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A Rolleiflex 3.5 camera, from the 1950s. Photo by Ardi Evans on Unsplash

There are many different types of camera. All essentially capture light, but, since the invention of the first photographic devices more than 150 years ago, countless different techniques for doing so have been developed. Nowadays most cameras are digital, and most serious photographers will have either a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera.

Here we’ll cover those two types of camera. But don’t give up if you have another type of camera, even if it’s just a phone camera. The basic principles of the camera hold for most modern devices, and all photographers can benefit from understanding them. …


Alastair Isaacs

Physicist and ex-astronomer. Satellite operator. Traveller, writer, photographer. Sign up to my newsletter at

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