top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#190 - Nicholas Booth part 2 - Life On Mars

We are joined on the Podcast by Nicholas Booth for Part 2 of our chat about his work reporting on Mars and his new book, We have a chat about some UK space news and really young Magnetars.

“In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox”

Liu Cixin, The Dark Forest


Shout out to patrons.

Justin Roberts and Justin Young for serving the Podcast at ACE level month in and month out… Legends. Their support has allowed us to convert our podcast in Youtube format from now on. So if you find Youtube a convenient way to listen to the podcast now can!!!!


Nick's book will be released on August 6, 2020 in the UK and on June 23, 2020 in the USA

Published to coincide with the launch of NASA’s Perseverance rover mission this summer, the definitive account of our quest to find life on the Red Planet.

.The Search for Life on Marsis based on more than a hundred interviews with experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, who share their insights and stories. While it looks back to the early Mars missions such asViking 1and2, the book's focus is on the experiments and revelations from the most recent ones—including Curiosity, which continues to explore potentially habitable sites where water was once present, and the Mars Insight lander, which has recorded more than 450 marsquakes since its deployment in late 2018—as well as on the Perseverance and ExoMars rover missions ahead.


On this day

Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev 19 June 1933 – 30 June 1971 was a Soviet cosmonaut who flew on the Soyuz 11 mission. Onboard the space station Salyut 1 he operated the Orion 1 Space Observatory and so became the first man to operate a telescope outside the Earth's atmosphere. He may also be the first person to die in space, when all the crew perished in the return capsule when a faulty valve caused depressurisation. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov became the first known Soviet space fatality when his Soyuz 1 ship's parachute did not open upon returning back to ground on Apr. 24, 1967


21 June 2020 Annular Solar Eclipse!!!

Only visible near the equato

Also the longest day of the year!!!! (solar eclipse on the longest day hasn’t happened since 1982)

Huge boost for UK space

UK Ambassador Dame Karen Pierce and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation, Christopher Ford, signed the US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement, which will enable U.S. companies to participate in space launches from the United Kingdom, on Tuesday 16 June 2020.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

This deal with the US takes us one step closer to seeing the first-ever launch into space from British soil.

The UK space sector which already employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 billion each year, The new agreement promises to generate further growth for both countries.

The UK Government has already awarded grants totalling nearly £40 million to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports and put in place the necessary regulation to enable the first launches to take place in the early 2020s.

Still a long way to go!!

  • A public hearing for Sutherland planning permission hopefully next week.

  • Loads more laws required for the safe running of spaceports and these will be looked at in consultations happening later this year.

So who are the contenders

  • Orbex - Vertical launch using their Prime Rocket from Sutherland

  • The location would be useful for launching small satellites to polar orbit and Sun-synchronous orbit

  • Lockheed Martin - With a rocket similar to, or actually an Electron, “Electron is well-positioned to be the first orbital rocket launched from U.K. soil,” said Peter Beck

  • Skyrora - who recently did a static burn and a suborbital launch, more on that in a minute. Want to go orbital with their XL Rocket

  • Virgin Orbit - Horizontal launch from Cornwall

  • Other potential UK spaceports include Shetland, the Western Isles, Glasgow Prestwick, Campbeltown, and Snowdonia.

RAL Space have also just finished installing a huge test chamber at the very busy Harwell Space Cluster.

Space Park Leicester has won £500,000 towards building a new centre dedicated to exploring deep space. The new Wolfson Deep Space Centre will build links between business and universities to study some of the biggest challenges in space exploration - from powering longer missions without solar power to getting more spacecraft into low orbit.

It will be part of the £100 million Space Park Leicester, currently going up close to the National Space Centre.

The first stages of Space Park Leicester will open in 2021, and will bring together academia and industry. Partners include Leicester City Council and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership.

Dr Nigel Bannister, associate professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, said:

“ our knowledge of the ice giants Uranus and Neptune is based on just a few hours of data taken as the Voyager-2 spacecraft flew past in the 1980s, carrying technology developed in the 1970s. The Wolfson Deep Space Centre will develop new technologies and methods, and adapt existing ones, to enable smaller, lower cost spacecraft to be used in deep space - to expand our exploration of the solar system, to visit planets more often and in ways not possible before, and provide an opportunity for the UK to become a leader in a new generation of space exploration mission.”


Skyrora have Conducted a suborbital launch from the uk.

Edinburgh-based Skyrora successfully launched its Skylark Nano rocket from remote land, the Fethaland Peninsula at North Roe on the Scottish island on Saturday, the 13th of June.

Reaching an altitude of six kilometers, this marked the third time the 2 meter (6.5ft) projectile took to the skies. The launch was completed for educational purposes, collecting meteorological data, measuring wind profiles, analysing the vehicles trajectory and providing critical training in support of Skyrora’s future plan. vehicles use a kerosene fuel developed from discarded plastic waste that the company claims produces fewer emissions than traditional rocket fuel


Nanda Rea, researcher from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) at the Institute of Space Sciences (ICE, CSIC), has won the prize for her contribution to the field of astrophysics, for the study of a class of neutron stars with extremely intense magnetic fields: magnetars, a particular type of pulsar. These magnetic fields are a hundred million times stronger than any man-made magnet

The prize, worth EUR 50,000, aims to recognise the achievements of young researchers.

A Very Young Radio-loud Magnetar

P. Esposito, N. Rea

The magnetar Swift J1818.0–1607 was discovered in 2020 March when NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory (a GRB detecting machine orbiting 550km out in space) detected a 9 ms hard X-ray burst and a long-lived outburst.

  • Swift has a University of Leicester involvement - which is cool.

Prompt X-ray observations revealed a spin period of 1.36 s, soon confirmed by the discovery of radio pulsations.

The burst average luminosity was L burst ~ 2 × 1039 erg s−1 (at 4.8 kpc).

Simultaneous observations with XMM-Newton and NuSTAR three days after the burst provided a source spectrum well fit by an absorbed blackbody

Characteristic age of 240 yr, the youngest currently known.


rchival observations led to an upper limit on the quiescent luminosity <5.5 × 1033 erg s−1, lower than the value expected from magnetar cooling models at the source characteristic age.

A 1 hr radio observation with the Sardinia Radio Telescope taken about 1 week after the X-ray burst detected a number of strong and short radio pulses at 1.5 GHz, in addition to regular pulsed emission; they were emitted at an average rate 0.9 min−1 and accounted for ~50% of the total pulsed radio fluence.

We conclude that Swift J1818.0–1607 is a peculiar magnetar belonging to the small, diverse group of young neutron stars with properties straddling those of rotationally and magnetically powered pulsars. Future observations will make a better estimation of the age possible by measuring the spin-down rate in quiescence.

"This object is showing us an earlier time in a magnetar's life than we've ever seen before, very shortly after its formation,"

said Nanda Rea,

This all is happening about 16000 years ago, of course, The light of the death of a star and the birth of this magnetar would have reached earth just as Elizabeth Fry, the "angel of prisons" was born, and Nelson was going around winning naval battles.

About 3000 Neutron stars that we know, only 10% are magnetars.

"Maybe if we understand the formation story of these objects, we'll understand why there is such a huge difference between the number of magnetars we've found and the total number of known neutron stars," Rea said.

Actually 16000 light years is pretty close. The Neutron star is only about the size of Barcelona yet when it gets all outbursts they get ridiculously bright in the Xray spectrum about 10 times brighter than normal, lasting days or weeks, important events like this can tell the other great observatories to stop what they are doing and take a look at this interesting event.

They also give of very energetic Gamma-ray bursts at one end of the energy level of the light spectrum and this particular one gives of radio waves at the other lower end of the spectrum. This is only 1 of 5 that does!!!

Turns out Magnetars are all pretty oddball and different, not only rare but quite variable.

Recently, astronomers have reported narrowing down the source of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which may now plausibly include "compact-object mergers and magnetars arising from normal core-collapse supernovae

  • A magnetic field some 70 quadrillion times stronger than that of Earth.

  • Earth is 1 gauss, Neutron star Trillion Guass, 10^12, Magnetar 10^15

  • The magnetic field of a magnetar would be lethal even at a distance of 1000 km due to the strong magnetic field distorting your every atom, rendering all your chemistry impossible, you would sort of dissolve. Before this the nerve signals would have long stopped working, so you couldn’t even describe your journey.

  • The magnetic field is soo strong that Atoms are elongated into cylinders a hydrogen atom becomes a spindle 200 times narrower than its normal diameter

  • It’s all crazy because the magnetic field is soo strong it should create bending in space-time, but quantum information would be lost, due to any spin-related deviation from spherical symmetry violating relativistic causality... so it may not actually be viable, this is one of those extreme situations where scientists really need to get their act together and sort out Quantum Gravity.

  • Examples of known magnetars include: SGR 0525-66, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, located about 163,000 light-years from Earth, the first found (in 1979)

  • magnetars don't last long - 10,000 years

73 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page