Tom Clarke on Science

Our science editor with the latest in research and the environment, science and discovery on our crowded planet and beyond.

January 20, 2016 5 Comments

Could our solar system have nine planets after all?

And then there were nine (again).

Researchers in California have announced there may be a giant ninth planet at the very outer edge of our Solar System.

It’s great news for those who never quite got over the relegation of Pluto to non-planet status back in 2006, leaving the solar system feeling a bit empty.

And because this new planet isn’t just some weedy, qualifying-on-a-technicality type planet (sorry Pluto), it’s unlikely to ever get demoted.

There’s an irony too – in that the co-discoverer of the new object Prof Mike Brown at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is the man who did most to prove Pluto didn’t qualify for planet status.

“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown

According to Brown and his colleague Konstantin Batygin, also at Caltech, the new object is an absolute monster. Five to ten times more massive than the Earth, and a full 4,500 times bigger than Pluto.

It  is so far from the Sun it takes 10 to 20 thousand years to go round it once. A year is a very long time on Planet 9.

Well, that’s if it can actually be proven to exist.

Planetary scientists and Mike Brown inferred its existence by studying the orbits of very distant objects in the Kuiper Belt — an area of rocky debris beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.

The only explanation for the irregular orbits of the objects was the presence of a very large object in orbit around our Sun with enough mass to have its own gravitational effects – in other words, a planet.

Planet 9 should be large enough for some of our largest telescopes to spot – and confirmed observations of the object in orbit would be required for it to be officially recognised and named.

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January 11, 2016 3 Comments

David Bowie: Space Oddity with geek appeal

David Bowie appealed to a lot of people with a lot of peculiar leanings. And for those of us with a sciencey, spacey, creepy-crawly leaning, the connection was a powerful one.

September 9, 2015 2 Comments

Alzheimer’s disease: can you really catch it?

Evidence emerged today that Alzheimer’s disease might have the potential to spread from one person to the next. Should we be terrified? In short: No.

August 21, 2015 1 Comment

Dementia in decline, latest research suggests

It’s the best news in dementia research for years. So why is no one celebrating?

August 20, 2015 1 Comment

London gets the seal of approval from some well-loved mammals

As the Thames river gets cleaner, London residents are getting ever more chances to spot animals such as seals and porpoises.

July 3, 2015 2 Comments

Ashya King is back – but was it right for him to go?

Perhaps the only good thing about the story of Ashya King, taken to Prague by his parents in 2014 to treat a brain tumour, is that it raised the profile of childhood cancers in the UK.

June 14, 2015 1 Comment

Why Philae’s long sleep could be even better than planned

Now they’ve re-established contact with their probe – missing, believed dead for seven months – they now find themselves at the centre of the greatest comeback story in the

June 11, 2015 4 Comments

Peanuts lengthen your life? You’d be nuts to believe it

Don’t imagine that a bag of salted peanuts in the pub is going to do the job if you’re looking for ways to extend your lifespan…

May 13, 2015 7 Comments

Dark clouds on horizon for renewable energy, despite new solar high

The amount of wind and solar power being produced in the UK has risen rapidly. But industry bodies fear government plans to cut subsidies could undermine moves to a low carbon future.

April 23, 2015 1 Comment

Human genetic modification: a bold step forward or a slippery slope?

Well they’ve only gone and done it. A team of Chinese scientists have published research showing that they have used “gene editing” techniques to manipulate the DNA of a human

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