The Future of High Energy Astrophysics

loftThe European Space Agency has made its final decision: the M3 class mission that will fly in the next decade is the exoplanet mission PLATO. The LOFT observatory, a competing high energy mission, arrived close second and will not be funded in this ESA call (a formal decision from ESA still has to be made in mid-February, but it’s safe to assume there will be no surprises). Continue reading

Some Free Codes for Top Research in Astronomy

mhdI am mostly an observer working in the field of high energy astrophysics, doing experiments and performing observations with space and ground based telescopes. However, once in a while I also like very much to use numerical codes to solve complex physical problems that require large computational resources. So I would like to share the numerical codes that I’ve used throughout my career and that I found exceptionally useful and easy to use.

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Do Mid-sized Black Holes Exist?

Black-Hole-WallpaperWe know that black holes exist in Nature with at least two different sizes: super-massive black holes, that live in the centre of galaxies and stellar-mass black holes. The origin and evolution of these two types of black holes are very different. The millions of stellar mass black holes that populate our galaxy are mostly formed during the gravitational collapse of a massive star. The formation of super-massive black holes is much less well understood. Continue reading

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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Why do astronomers not leave feedbacks on papers ?

paperAstronomy is a very fast evolving science and astronomers have always been at the forefront when using the latest web technologies. We astronomers use the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), a great bibliographic database that contains an enormous amount of papers published in astronomy, astrophysics and physics in the last century or so. We also use the Astronomer’s Telegram, a free online service used for rapid communication of astronomical news (e.g., the explosion of a new supernova) which have completely replaced the outdated IAU circulars (which were also quite expensive).  Another fantastic web service is arXiv a wonderful open access pre-print service where we post our papers before or right after they are published on peer-reviewed journals.

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