The Antikythera Mechanism

November 29, 2006

A paper on the Mechanism appears in tomorrow’s Nature. In brief what it is these days is a rather unimpressive looking lump of heavily corroded metal. I have a photo of it somewhere, but it’s a very bad blurry photo which doesn’t do justice to its lumpy unimpressiveness. Fortunately Wikipedia has this much better photo.

Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism in the National Museum, Athens. Photo from Wikipedia.

The reason why it’s news is that there’s been a lot of painstaking work to try and see beyond the corrosion, and its proven spectacularly successful. The mechanism has been examined using X-ray tomography, which is where X-rays are used to build up a cross-section of a subject slice by slice without physically pulling the subject apart. The results are confirming that Greek technology could be staggeringly sophisticated.
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Weekly Roundup from Science of the Invisible, 17th November 2006

November 17, 2006

Transit of Mercury

November 8, 2006

Mercury is passing in front of the Sun as I type. You can follow the Mercury transit until 0100 GMT (UT) via the Big Bear Solar Observatory‘s webcam. Here’s the start. You’re looking for the black dot that shifts.

Mercury Transit

Below is a version I’ve re-coloured, but hopefully you can see where the dot has moved.

Mercury recoloured

The reason the live image appears black and white is that the Big Bear Observatory is only looking at light in the H-Alpha wavelength, which means that it’s all one shade. This limitation that allows them to pick out features on the Sun better. Observations of this transit were used as a test of Einstein’s theory of Relativity.

Prize Students Enrol

November 2, 2006

Two potential future Nobel Prize winners have enrolled at the University of Leicester.  The pair, both medallists from the 2005 International Physics Olympiad, have qualified for direct entry into the second year of the MPhys degree in the department of physics and astronomy.

Professor Ken Pounds said: “It is perhaps no coincidence that 2004 and 2006 saw the strongest results ever from our final year, with a record number of first-class honours, as our own UK students sought to match the high standards set by their international colleagues. Olympiad students could be the Nobel Prize winners of the future.”