The Missing Link

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(Update: one paper is now published http://iopscience.iop.org/2041-8205/781/1/L3/)

Today I’d like to  tell a brief story and discuss three recent papers accepted or submitted to The Astrophysical Journal & The Astrophysical Journal Letters (and make some self-promotion as I’ve been involved in writing two such papers). The story is about an extraordinary object, called PSR J1023+0038, or the “Missing Link Binary Pulsar”, and the three papers I’d like to talk about are recent works on this pulsar.

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Quantum Vortices in the Sky

vortex21Turbulence is a common chaotic phenomenon that everyone has certainly experienced: you witness the development of turbulence when you stir a coffee too vigorously or watch the smoke of a cigarette or feel the aeroplane going up and down. What makes turbulence often spectacular is the presence of several vortices which are indeed seen in many atmospheric phenomena from the magnificent tornadoes and hurricanes to the tiny dust devils. Such vortices have a certain life-time that is set by the amount of energy that sustains them and that works against viscosity, which tries to re-establish the calm and quietness of the flow.

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Public or Proprietary Data ?

lockNowadays astronomical data is recorded in two ways. Either remotely, for example with space telescopes, or in ground based observatories. In the latter case however, astronomers do not usually perform the observation by themselves, but they propose which object (and how) should be observed. Then, if the proposal is approved, a mission control centre or a resident astronomer in a specific observatory sets up the instrument to perform the observations. What happens next ?

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The Clouds Around the Monster

storm-clouds-chile_66705_990x742Neutron stars are few kilometres sized objects that come to life when a massive star dies in a devastating supernova explosion. A few months ago a very peculiar neutron star has been discovered in an even more peculiar location of our Galaxy. A magnetar is neutron star surrounded by a magnetic field so intense that it is billion of times stronger than the strongest magnetic field ever produced in a physics lab on Earth. Place yourself in such a strong magnetic field and you won’t survive a whole second.One such magnetar has been discovered in the Galactic Center, very close to the supermassive black hole that exists there. Continue reading

Creative Thinking in Science

Dilbert-Creative-ThinkingScientific discoveries can be divided, very broadly speaking, into four categories: major serendipitous discoveries, major discoveries that happen within a well known theoretical framework, major discoveries achieved by following unconventional ideas and minor incremental discoveries that most commonly are made when following an established agenda. The latter kind of discoveries certainly embrace the largest number of scientific papers published every day. Obviously, they should not be considered unimportant works as they constitute the building blocks that allow new ideas to sprout and grow. Serendipitous discoveries instead are perhaps what makes science a funny and challenging intellectual activity; quoting Heraclitus: “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult”.

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