Plus Blog
April 23, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
On Friday the 13th, in April 2029, the asteroid Apophis will pass close enough to the Earth to be viewed with the naked eye. This will be an exciting event for stargazers, but for a short time in 2004 there was concern that this event would be cataclysmic. In December 2004 Apophis, named after the Egyptian serpent god who brings darkness to the Earth, was given a 1 in 37 chance of impacting with the Earth based on initial observations of the asteroid's orbit. Luckily, additional observations showed that the asteroid would just be a near miss in 2029, though there is still a slim chance of an impact during a pass in 2036. While you breathe a sigh of relief, some people are already making plans for how to deal with any potential armageddons in the future. One such person is David French, a PhD student in aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, who has has determined how to stop asteroids from impacting with the Earth by attaching a massive ball and chain... Labels: Latest news posted by Plus @ 10:26 AM 0 Comments: 
April 22, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A Gömböc for CambridgeThe University of Cambridge today received a Gömböc. It was donated by its inventors Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi. But what is a Gömböc and what is the University going to do with it? A Gömböc (pronounce goemboets) is a threedimensional body with one stable and one unstable equilibrium point. If you put it down on a horizontal surface, it will start wobbling around until it has safely reached the equilibrium position, a bit like a Weeble toy. In theory, you could balance it on the unstable equilibrium point, but in practice that's really hard because the slightest nudge will make it fall over, just like a pencil that is balancing on its tip. Unlike a Wheeble, whose selfrighting ability is down to a weight in its bottom, the Gömböc is homogenous inside: its density is the same everywhere, ie there is no offcentre weight which forces it to take on a particular position. The Gömböc is also convex. The question of whether a convex and homogenous body with one unstable and one stable equilibrium exists in three dimensions was first raised by the Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold. Mathematicians knew before that in two dimensions there are no such shapes, and they also knew that every threedimensional object must have at least two equilibria. Domokos and Várkonyi started working on the question and did not only prove that the Gömböc exists, but also built one. In fact, they're building many, from different materials, and they're selling them on the Gömböc website. The Gömböc is not only beautiful and interesting, but also sheds some light on how a certain species of turtle, with a Gömböclike shell, manages to get back on its feet after it has been toppled over. Gömböcs need to be engineered to the highest levels of precision, otherwise they won't work. The Gömböc that was today donated to the University of Cambridge can be admired at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. Plus will interview its inventors next month and you'll be able to read the interview here soon. You can see a Gömböc doing its thing on YouTube, though the video clip is in German. posted by Plus @ 1:15 PM 0 Comments: 
April 8, 2009
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
As part of our celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 we brought you the article What happened before the Big Bang?, in which John D. Barrow tells us all about the bubbly multiverse we apparantly live in. Here is the podcast of this interview, so you can listen to these strange ideas with your own ears. If this has whetted your appetite for astronomy, then why not take part in our online poll to nominate the next question we'll put to the experts. posted by Plus @ 8:51 AM 5 Comments:

April 3, 2009
Friday, April 03, 2009
Maths in the movies and moreIf you've been following Plus coverage on maths in the movies and theatre, and happen to find yourself in Edinburgh next week, then check out the Edinburgh International Science Festival's movie season and complementary talks. The themed season looks at the way mathematicians are represented in different kinds of narrative: pure fiction, fictionalised real life and documentary. The pure fiction offering is The Oxford Murders, starring John Hurt and Elijah Wood, screened on April the 7th. The Hollywood retelling of the story of maths students taking on the Las Vegas casinos is the second film, 21. It stars Kevin Spacey and is screened on the 9th of April. The season concludes on the 16th of April with the documentary N is a number, a film portrait of Paul Erdös. This screening will be followed by an audience and panel discussion. To complement the film theme, on the 14th of April Academy Award winner David Baraff of Pixar Animation Studios will be giving a talk on the role of mathematical modelling in computer animation, illustrated with clips and computer graphics. There will also be a screening of Pixar's Oscar winning tale of a French rat's ambition to be a chef, Ratatouille. David Baraff will give a special introduction to the film at Filmhouse Cinema earlier that afternoon. And if you prefer live entertainment to film, you could head for Allen Knutson's presentation on the relationship between mathematics and juggling. By mathematically analysing the process of juggling, Knutson, of Cornell University, found it was possible to discover new tricks that may never have come to light otherwise. This promises to be a most entertaining event as Allen demonstrates the principles involved using his dazzling juggling skills. The event takes place early in the evening of 14 April. posted by Plus @ 9:49 AM 1 Comments:

April 1, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
The Plus new writers award has now closedThe Plus new writers award 2009, our writing competition inviting you to share your favourite bit of maths with the rest of the world, has now closed. We've had a great response, so if you have submitted an article, but not yet received confirmation of receipt, don't worry. We're working through the stacks of entries and you'll hear from us within the next few days. Thanks for taking part! posted by Plus @ 3:26 PM 0 Comments: 
March 30, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
What would you like to know about your Universe — The second pollThis poll is now closed. The most popular question was: "Are the constants of nature really constant?" We will publish the answer in an article and podcast on Plus shortly. Thank you for taking part! This is our second online poll in our series to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Choose your favourite question from the list on the right, and we'll put the one that proves most popular to worldleading astronomers and cosmologists, including Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and author and cosmologist John D. Barrow. The poll will remain open for a month and the answer will be published in a Plus article and podcast soon after. If your most burning question is not on this list, then leave a comment on this blog and we'll endeavour to include it in a future poll — there will be five more polls dotted throughout the year. The most popular question in our first poll was "What happened before the Big Bang?". You can now read the mindboggling answer here on Plus, and discuss it on our blog. Labels: IYA2009 posted by Plus @ 12:10 PM 7 Comments:
