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Wednesday 27 June 2012

Photographing the Venus transit

Last week, we explained why scientists are still interested in the Venus transit of the Sun, which featured this stunning photo taken by astronomer and TWDK contributor Nick Howes.
Photograph of the Sun using H-Alpha and CaK filters
© All rights reserved by Nick Howes, image reproduced with permission.

As promised, Nick explains how he did it in our first ever guest post.

Sunday 24 June 2012

A busy week writing up 'Things'

Hello, Jon here again, just a quick update on how things are going. Last week's visit to CERN (the European centre for nuclear research, site of the large hadron collider and home to scientists working at the very forefront of sub-atomic research) was great; I learned a whole lot about how experiments are conducted on a colossal scale. I returned to London smiling but exhausted (and sunburnt too!) late last Thursday. That gave me a full weekend to recover, ready to start writing again fresh and early Monday morning.

This week has in the main been spent continuing with writing content based on news articles. These are spread across a wide variety of subjects. The work involved in producing this content leaves me with the impression that I am getting a better feel for how to conduct research online, checking facts thoroughly across multiple sources. I feel that my writing style is improving too, allowing me to present material in an engaging and accurate manner appropriate to the intended feel of the website.
As well as the numerous short pieces I have been submitting to the website, I have also begun work on a larger piece, outlining an entire research topic, and the unanswered questions therein (in this case the questions of Dark Matter and Dark Energy). To this end I have emailed academic staff at my university, Queen Mary, University of London, and after discovering who would be the most appropriate person to speak to, have arranged a meeting with a researcher for next Monday. Hopefully this will permit me a deeper understanding of the field and this should come across in my written work.

On a more personal note, the feedback I received after my last blog post was very encouraging, and I'd like to thank those who took the time to read it and especially those who went on to share it further. Feel free to leave a comment below, and remember you can stay up to date with what's happening at Things We Don't Know on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Ogling at Venus

In the last few weeks, astronomers around the world have been getting hot under the collar about the beautiful planet Venus. Because Venus orbits the Sun inside the orbit of the Earth, every now and then we form a straight line - something astronomers call a "conjunction". This means that we can watch as Venus transits across the face of the Sun, and this is what happened on the 5-6 June.

Within hours of the transit finishing, the internet was awash with hundreds of images of a small black dot against the surface of the Sun. These were perhaps not the most awe inspiring of astronomy images out there, so why were astronomers so excited about it?

First of all, this is a very rare occurrence. Although conjunctions between the Earth and Venus happen every 19-20 months, the planets have different inclinations. In other words, we see Venus passing by a little bit above, or a little bit below the Sun. Only when all the conditions are exactly right can we see Venus crossing the face of our parent star, and that only happens every 243 years (in pairs separated by 8 years). The last transit was 8 years ago, so we won't see another one until December 2117!

Historically speaking, transits of Venus have been a boon to astronomers. In 1769, one of the biggest Things We Didn't Know of the time was the size of our solar system. Although we knew the relative spacing between the inner planets (we hadn't discovered the outer planets yet!) we had no idea what the actual distances were. How far was the Earth from the Sun? Watching Venus cross the face of the Sun would answer that, but there was one big problem - they couldn't just watch it from Europe.

Monday 18 June 2012

Introducing the team

The team at Things We Don’t Know is steadily growing, so I thought we could take this opportunity to introduce you to the main people involved behind the scenes.

You’ve probably seen a few posts already from Ed – he’s the man who came up with the concept, is one of our two directors and the person doing most of the technical stuff in the background. Ed is working hard to get the website ready to launch, but when he’s not doing that he works as a spacecraft Engineer in Germany.

I’m Laura, and I'm working on communications for the company. At the moment that’s mainly updating people on progress on our Twitter and Facebook pages, but once the site is live I think I’ll be a bit busier! When I'm not editing blogs and suchlike on here I'm working in London promoting Britain to tourists around the world.

Stewart, a former physicist is our second director and looks after the finance and legal bits and pieces. When he's not working for us he's busy in the complex world of tax, or setting up his own wine business.

Amruta is our chief editor for the site and works closely with Ed to ensure our editorial team will have all the tools they need to get the job done. She's got a lot of experience with online editorial work, previously working for the European and German space agencies, and the European Commission. Based in India, as well as keeping our editors in line, Amruta will play a key role in helping to ensure we have a truly global focus.

And finally Jon is our new intern from QMUL, here for the summer through our partnership with SEPnet, to help us gather information on current research in Physics and translate it into simple English. Jon will be blogging about his experiences working with us over the next few weeks. Catch up on his first week here.

To stay in the loop with what we’re doing you can follow us on the blog here, Twitter - @twedk or Facebook - Things We Dont Know.

Monday 11 June 2012

Jon's first week

Hi, I'm Jon, last week was my first week of a summer internship here at Things We Don't Know. I applied for a number of positions this summer, but was absolutely delighted to be offered the chance to work on this particular project, and so accepted immediately when I was offered the position. This is a great opportunity for me to share my enthusiasm for science, and especially to work with people who recognise how important it is to be able to honestly say "We don't know" and acknowledge the vastness of the mysteries which still exist in our scientific understanding.

This week, I have met with Ed Trollope, the man behind the idea for the project, who is in charge and also deeply involved with much of the content, especially in the area of physics. We discussed his vision for the company, and how he would like me to approach my role, writing up and tagging pieces on scientific quandaries across a range of fields. I was also introduced to the company's other director, Stewart, and he shared some of his experiences in science with me, these stimulating discussions around the communication of science, and the manner in which an engagement with the subject can be maintained, have helped form my own ideas in terms of the manner and style in which I will be writing.

On Wednesday, Ed and I were working at the Hub, a shared workspace near Kings Cross, with a diverse mixture of small and medium-sized businesses based there. The facility is unlike any office I have worked in before (and I've had the pleasure of a very wide range of working environments), with large shared working areas, a cafe area, and private meeting rooms available. It was full of interesting, vibrant, and hard-working people, focussed on a broad range of commercial interests, and the stream of snippets of overheard conversations were surprising and thought-provoking. I hope I'll have the opportunity to work there again soon, although the freedom to work independently on Thursday and Friday has meant I've been able to focus well and produce a number of pieces for the site.

As for the work I've been doing thus far, I have been producing content for the website based upon a series of articles provided for me as jumping-off points, and my own research into the unanswered questions these pointed to. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work independently, following a thread and seeing if there is some interesting unsolved puzzle at the end of it has been tremendously exciting. I have been able to learn much about fields as varied as Active Galactic Nuclei and Nanotechnology, Climatology and Dark Matter.

I’m in Switzerland for the rest of this week visiting the research facilities at CERN with my university physics society (I have just completed my 2nd year at QMUL), but am very much looking forward to getting back to London and TWDK, and peering further into the unknown.


Tuesday 5 June 2012

New science communicator

We had a tremendous response to our new science communicator internship, launched in partnership with SEPnet, and we're happy to introduce you now to the latest addition to our team: Jon.
Jon is studying physics at Queen Mary, University of London, and is already hard at work converting the complexities of the universe into simple English. He's also going to write some guest posts on this blog over the next few months, talking about his experiences working with us. We hope he'll be nice!
If you're a student or recent graduate, and you'd like to hear about paid internship or volunteering opportunities with us, get in touch by sending an email to our recruitment team.