Tonight sees a rare astronomical event: the Moon, Venus and Jupiter can all be seen close to each other in the same region of the night sky. In fact, Venus just passed behind the Moon! Over the next few nights, clouds permitting, you'll be able to see them slowly moving apart — get out your telescopes and look out for bright objects near the Moon!
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter's mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish." An immense debris disc about
21.5 billion miles across surrounds the star. Fomalhaut b is orbiting 1.8 billion miles inside the disc's sharp inner edge, and is 1 billion times fainter than the star.
In a separate development, Canadian scientists have used ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to take infrared images of three giant planets they believe are orbiting a star about 130 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation.
These are not the first examples of exoplanets — planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system — but Formalhaut b is the first that can actually be observed in visible light wavelengths. All others have been detected indirectly, for example through the wobble their gravitational pull induces on their star.
It may come as a surprise that your average proof in an academic journal is riddled with holes. Authors gloss over details, appeal to pictures, even intuition, and take hidden leaps of logical faith that, philosophically speaking, aren't entirely justified. These days mathematics contains proofs so long and complex that few people are able to check and understand them in full, yet once a
result has made it through the peer review process and into a journal, its truth is taken as read.
All this is a far cry from the mathematical dream which started with Euclid over 2000 years ago: that every mathematical statement should be derived from the very axioms of mathematics in a sequence of verifiable logical steps. Proofs which do this are known as formal proofs, and they are the focus of a special issue of the Notices of the American Mathematics Society, which is
now freely available online.
According to media reports there are two suspects in the dock: the rocket scientists' (a.k.a. the financial mathematicians) who provided the information behind the market's decisions, or the greedy bankers who only thought about quick profits and their end-of-year bonuses. In our latest podcast, we talk to David Hand, Chris Rogers and John Coates to
find out who is guilty.
Zero, and infinity — more than just numbers, these two mathematical concepts have worried and inspired mathematicians for centuries. But they have also inspired philosophers and artists. What is zero? What is infinity? What do they look like: A black hole or a blank page? A spiral or the horizon? Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, historian of mathematics Eleanor Robson, Science Museum curator
Jane Wess and artist Paul Prudence will be discussing Zero to Infinity at the Dana Centre in London. You can hear their perspectives, take part in the discussion, and have a drink at the bar on Thursday 20 November at 7pm.
For further information visit the Dana Centre website. And while you're waiting, you can read more about infinity on Plus.
Why are some people generous and others selfish? There's no doubt that both strategies pay off under certain circumstances, but research (as well as everyday experience) shows that we are not mere opportunists — some people simply are nicer than others. This raises a question which intrigues evolutionary psychologists: is there a selective force that works in favour of a wide range of
personalities, preventing us from all evolving the same optimal character trait? A possible answer has recently been published by mathematicians from the universities of Bristol and Exeter.