Magnetar near supermassive black hole delivers surprises

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In 2013, astronomers announced they had discovered a magnetar exceptionally close to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way using a suite of space-borne telescopes including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

UCL researcher strikes Bronze for physics display in Parliament

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Left to Right: Philip Diamond, IOP’s Associate Director Programmes, Performance and Policy, Jason Hunt, Physics Bronze Winner, James Perham-Marchant, Director, Government and Academic Affairs, EMEA at John Wiley and Sons, Dr Stephen Benn, Society of Biology, Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee Credit: © John Deehan

Jason Hunt (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) has struck Bronze at a competition in the House of Commons, for the excellence of his physics research, walking away with a £1000 prize.

UCL scientist takes his research to Parliament

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UCL-MSSL student Edward Malina

SET for Britain Press Release

Edward Malina, 26, a PhD Research Student at Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL), hailing from Watford, is attending Parliament to present his physics research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges, as part of SET for Britain on Monday 9 March.

Highlights from the 2015 Planck Cosmology Data Release

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Artist’s rendering of the Planck satellite with view inside the telescope shields. The focal plane unit is visible as the golden collection of waveguide horns at the focus of the telescope positioned inside the thermal shields (external envelope) which protect the telescope from unwanted stray light and aids the cooling of the telescope mirrors by having a black emitting surface on the outside and a reflective one on the inside. For reference, the Earth and Sun would be located far towards the bottom left of this picture. (Credit: ESA/Planck)

New maps from ESA's Planck satellite, forming the second major data release (Feb 2015) from the project, have unveiled the 'polarised' light from the early Universe across the entire sky, revealing that the first stars formed much later than previously thought.

Venus is slowly losing its atmosphere

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Artist's view of Venus, a planet with no magnetic shelter. Copyright:  ESA - C. Carreau

Two new papers on ionospheric photoelectrons in the tail of Venus are about to be published in Planetary and Space Science, led by UCL-MSSL scientists. They show that Venus is losing 300kg of its atmosphere per day.

UCL to play role in world's largest solar telescope

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Sunrise over the DKIST construction site in Hawaii, December 2014 Credit: NSO/AURA

The UK science community has secured a pivotal role in the world's largest ground-based solar telescope, the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST). A consortium of UK institutes including UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Andor Technology plc, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, is investing £4.5M to develop cameras for the instruments on DKIST.

MSSL Solar Physics Recognised in RAS Awards 2015

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Members of the Hinode EIS team, winners of the RAS Group Achievement Award (G) 2015

The work and achievements of members of the MSSL Solar Physics Group has been recognised by the Royal Astronomical Society in their annual awards. The Group Achievement Award in Geophysics went to the Hinode EIS team, led by MSSL's Prof. Louise Harra, and the RAS Service Award was awarded to Prof. Lidia van Driel-Gesztelyi.

Origin of polar auroras revealed

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Theta aurora (courtesy NASA)

Researchers from UCL, University of Southampton and University of Leicester together with ESA and NASA have uncovered the origin of a colourful display in the night sky called ‘theta aurora’, explaining for the first time how auroras at high-latitudes form.

Research Excellence Framework 2014 Results

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MSSL is delighted to be part of the top-rated university in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework, and to be listed as one of the top physics departments in the UK.

MSSL Awards 2014

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George Seabrook, winner of the Elizabeth Puchnarewicz Award 2014

Staff and students gathered to celebrate their achievements at the annual MSSL Awards Ceremony on 20th November, 2014. This event recognises the achievements of staff and students across the range of activities undertaken by MSSL. This years awards went to:

Pioneering work helps to join the dots across the known universe… and the human brain

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Artist’s impression of the Square Kilometre Array at night (Credit: SKA Organisation)

A team of astrophysicists, engineers and computer scientists are spearheading research on imaging techniques which will potentially not only unlock secrets from the far reaches of the universe, but also impact modern medicine.

Mars has macroweather too

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Mars from Hubble Space Telescope (Credit: ESA/NASA Source: ESA)

But weather forecasting on the Red Planet is likely to be even trickier than on Earth

Mars has the same three-part pattern of atmospheric conditions as Earth, finds a new study by researchers at UCL and McGill University. This includes weather, which changes day-to-day due to constant fluctuations in the atmosphere; climate, which varies over decades and a third regime called macroweather, which describes the relatively stable regime between weather and climate.

Waiting for the Philae landing...

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Philae descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014. Image: ESA/ATG medialab

The Planetary Science group at UCL-MSSL are eagerly awaiting the Philae landing planned for Wednesday this week. Professor Andrew Coates is a co-investigator in the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) on the orbiter, which will be monitoring the plasma environment during the descent and landing, and has already been making measurements of the comet plasma environment since achieving orbit in August. He will be an invited guest at ESOC for the landing itself.

'Arthur' Awards for MSSL's Harra and Green

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Prof. Louise Harra and Dr. Lucie Green of MSSL's Solar Physics Group were each awarded an 'Arthur' by the British Interplanetary Society at an event held at the Royal Aeronautical Society on Wednesday. The Sir Arthur C Clarke Awards, sponsored by the Arthur C Clarke Foundation, are awarded annually and recognise notable or outstanding achievements and contributions to all space activites.

Upflowing Gas from the Sun’s Active Regions – Can it Reach Earth?

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Research presented last week at the European Solar Physics Meeting, held at Trinity College Dublin, shows how scientists are solving a 60-year old paradox relating to our Sun’s million degree atmosphere. A super-sonic solar wind blows out from the atmosphere in regions where a strong magnetic field should instead keep it confined. The key to unravelling the contradiction has been found to lie in magnetic wind tunnels that channel hot gas from regions where it is trapped, to regions where it can escape into the Solar System

Tom Pollard wins Best Doctoral Poster at UCL Festival for Digital Health

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Tom Pollard's winning post from UCL’s Festival for Digital Health (small)

Tom Pollard, who works on an interdisciplinary project between the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and University College Hospital, won the prize for ‘Best Doctoral Poster' at the UCL’s Festival for Digital Health ( The Festival seeks to connect researchers across disciplines and features two weeks of events highlighting UCL’s world-class research in computer science, engineering, medicine and health service delivery.  

Fast-flowing gas curtails galaxy’s glow

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Image of the galaxy NGC 5548 taken at the MDM Observatory 1.3m telescope (Courtesy of Dr Misty Bentz)

The bright core of a spiral galaxy has unexpectedly dimmed, according to a new study by an international team of astronomers including Graziella Branduardi-Raymont and Megan Whewell of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. 

All the Sky – All the Time: UK astronomers debate involvement in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

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Model of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Credit: LSST Consortium

Astronomers gathered in Portsmouth for the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting have today been excitedly discussing the possibility of widespread UK involvement in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project.  UCL MSSL joined LSST earlier this year through an institutional memorandum of agreement.  The LSST will be sited at Cerro Pachón in the Chilean Andes and will have a primary mirror 8.4 metres in diameter, making it one of the largest single telescopes in the world, as well as the world’s largest digital camera, comprising 3.2 billion pixels.   It will achieve first light in 2020 and its main sky survey will begin in 2022.  

ExoMars Landing Sites Narrowed Down - And PanCam Appears on BBC News

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Artist's impression of the ExoMars rover. Copyright: ESA

The first landing site selection workshop for the Esa-Roscosmos ExoMars rover was held on 26-28 March at ESAC near Madrid. Prof Andrew Coates of the Planetary Science Group attended the meeting, as Principal Investigator of the PanCam instrument on the rover. MSSL leads the international PanCam team which includes hardware from Germany and Switzerland, with important contributions from Austria, as well as the UK. PanCam includes a pair of wide angle cameras (WACs) for stereo imaging and a High Resolution Camera (HRC) for zoom capability. PanCam provides geological and atmospheric context for the mission.

Gaia Live!

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Gaia Live!

Megan Whewell, George Seabroke and Daisuke Kawata visited the UCL Academy, and explained about the European Space Agency’s new astrometry mission, Gaia (launched on 19th December 2013). This is a part of a Pan-European outreach event for the Gaia mission, Gaia Live in school ( organised by the GREAT-ITN network, of which MSSL is one of the associate nodes. During the event, 34 schools in different countries in Europe linked up with ESA, and learned about the Gaia mission, which will map a billion stars in our Milky Way. 

MSSL student wins UCL poster competition

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All images and text copyright their author and MAY NOT be used for any purposes without the express permission of the original author. All Rights Reserved, 2014.

MSSL student Jason Hunt won 1st prize in the Built Environment, Engineering Sciences and Mathematical & Physical Sciences category in the UCL Graduate School Research Poster Competition 2013/14 for his poster entitled PRIMAL: Mapping the Milky Way from Gaia data. The competition highlights the excellent work done at UCL, showcasing a variety of different projects from different subject areas including Radiation Therapy, Ecology and Galactic Astrophysics.

ESA selects Plato as its next science mission

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Artist’s rendition of ESA’s space-telescope PLATO eying into new, exotic worlds, a planetary sys-tem with gas giants and Earth-like planets resembling our Earth – and several more distant stars with planets orbiting them. Credits: DLR (Susanne Pieth)

Plato will discover Earth-like planets in our part of the galaxy and add a whole new dimension the the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Each of the PLATO telescopes will comprise a focal plane of light sensitive detectors made by the UK company e2v. These specially designed devices will be the largest ever flown in space. The associated detailed characterisation of the devices together with their readout electronics, will be developed at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, part of University College London. Professor Alan Smith, director of MSSL said ‘This is a wonderful mission and MSSL are excited to by part of it.  Our role is essential to the mission and builds upon similar involvements in earlier ESA missions”. The mission science is led by Don Pollacco from Warwick University, Cambridge University has a major role in the complex image processing software while the Open University will be engaged with public outreach.

Astronomers find solar storms behave like supernovae

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The plasma falling into the Sun split apart into 'fingers', like ink dops falling through water Photo credit: NASA/SDO

Researchers at UCL have studied the behaviour of the Sun's coronal mass ejections, explaining for the first time the details of how these huge eruptions behave as they fall back onto the Sun’s surface. In the process, they have discovered that coronal mass ejections have a surprising twin in the depths of space: the tendrils of gas in the Crab Nebula, which lie 6500 light-years away and are millions of times larger.

UCL and Big Data: funding announcement

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Big Data

UCL is involved in a number of projects under the £73 million ‘Big Data’ initiative announced today by the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP.

Kimberley Birkett awarded 2013 Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) at the AGU Fall Meeting

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Congratulations to PhD student Kimberley Birkett, who won the prestigious award for her poster ‘Modelling Cometary Sodium Tails’ at the AGU Fall Meeting 2013.

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