Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction


Science for Fiction 2015

We are doing it again!

The Imperial College & Science Fiction Foundation workshop for writers to meet and talk to scientists is back for another year.

The dates are 1-2 July, starting after lunch on the 1st and running all day on the 2nd.

Costs are not yet finalised, but likely to be about £30 to cover catering. Some financial support is available via the Science Fiction Foundation. Overnight accommodation, if you need it, would be extra.

Details of subjects to be covered are still being sorted out – and will in part be determined by what writers are after – but it will certainly include astronomy, physics and some biology.

If you are interested drop me an email at d dot clements at imperial dot ac dot uk. Please include any specific requests for subjects to be covered, and if you have any dietary restrictions that would affect what we order for lunch and tea.

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Infrared Astronomy: Book Review

Just been sent a copy of a nice review of my Infrared Astronomy book from The MidWest Book Review Bookwatch website.

Infrared Astronomy – Seeing the Heat
David L. Clements
CRC Press
6000 NW Broken Sound Parkway NW, #300, Boca Raton, FL 33487
9781482237276, $49.95, http://www.crcpress.com

Most books covering infrared astronomy assume a prior background in advanced math and astronomy, so it’s a surprise to find a physics book that assumes neither, but provides a comprehensive (and comprehendible) overview to infrared and its applications. It considers what this process reveals about heavenly bodies both within and outside the solar system, it develops and provides astronomical techniques and discoveries with the relative lay reader in mind, and Infrared Astronomy – Seeing the Heat from William Herschel to the Herschel Space Observatory pairs history with scientific advancements to provide a fine reference for any who would understand the latest findings on infrared. The fact that it’s accessible by a much wider audience than graduate astronomy readers sets this coverage well apart from competitors, making it a recommendation for students, grads, and even the general reading public with an interest in astronomy.

Thanks for the review!

Click on the cover image to the right and you can buy a copy for yourself.

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Twice a winner: Ships of the Aleph Review

Unusually, I won something!

Tower of Chaos Press ran a twitter competition for their first publication, Ships of the Aleph by Jaine Fenn, and I won!

And then I won again because it’s a rather good novella (novellette? not sure of the formal classification as I don’t have a word count).

Lachin lives in a small fishing village on the coast, but he yearns for greater things. He reads, studies and dreams of eventually travelling to the city of Omphalos and the University there. But it is not to be.

Instead, the Duke comes to Lachin’s village with plans to build a great ship that can sail out of the bay, crossing the Current and exploring what lies beyond. Lachin seizes his chance to see more of the world and joins the Duke, only to find that their expedition is doomed as, beyond the Current, they sail off the edge of the world.

But it doesn’t end there. In fact, this is only the beginning, as Lachin wakes to a village that is both the same and oddly different from his home. What he then gradually learns gives him an entirely new perspective on his world and all that has come before.

This story is in the classic mode of learning the world, and a very interesting world it is. Lachin’s learning and explorations gradually expands what he, and the reader, know. His expectations and ambitions also change and grow as he works against the confines of the limited world he finds himself in, until, having grown in knowledge, curiosity and understanding, he leaps beyond what he is comfortable with and finds that he is part of something far, far bigger.

I’m not going to give any of the bigger picture away, as discovering that is one of the joys of this story. Suffice it to say that it is very different from what the young Lachin expected when he joined the Duke’s voyage.

Ships of the Aleph is available as an ebook from Tower of Chaos Press.


I am a Mancunicon Guest of Honour!

This has been a possibility that has been bubbling under the surface since a bit before Christmas, but is something that can now be revealed…

I will be one of the Guests of Honour at the UK National SF Convention next year (2016). This is called Mancunicon and, unsurprisingly with a name like that, it is being held in Manchester.

Things are just coming together for the Con, as it only won the bidding session at this year’s Eastercon yesterday, but they already have a twitter account @Mancunicon and web pages etc. will be following shortly – the con team were too busy taking memberships in person at this year’s Eastercon (Dysprosium, at the Park Inn just outside Heathrow) to get the web presence up and running.

The rest of the guests are great as well: Ian MacDonald, Aliette de Bodard and Sarah Pinborough (that’s @iannmcdonald @SarahPinborough and @aliettedb if you’re on twitter).

Easter is early next year so there is only 50 weeks to prepare, but I already have some interesting schemes in mind for science and other aspects of programming, since that is one of the things I do. And the great thing about being a GoH is that I can suggest things and don’t have to do too much myself :-)

I’ll try to keep things updated here as they develop, and especially if one special super secret project comes off.

See you in Manchester!

ETA: Some terminological clarifications

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South By High Redshift – the first and last, thanks to SXSW

I’ve spent the last couple of days at an excellent astronomy conference in Austin Texas, called South by High Redshift, or SXHZ. I’m learning a lot and, hopefully, my talk in half an hour will be a useful contribution.

But this is going to be the last conference with this title, because the South By Southwest – SXSW – festival doesn’t like the astronomers using something that looks a bit like their name. Yes – essentially they’re complaining about wordplay!

This meeting is an academic conference. Nobody is making money, or intending to, and the wordplay actually helps spread knowledge of the SXSW festival – I didn’t know much about it until I heard about SXHZ. I also didn’t know that SXSW includes some science events and has hosted a NASA stand for the last few years.

The festival’s attitude to the SXHZ name, though, means that I’m now going to associate SXSW with idiotic, funless pettiness and money-grabbing paranoia. I suspect it also means that SXSW will find it harder to get local astronomers to contribute to its science events. I know I’d be disinclined to help people who had fired lawyers’ nastygrams at my colleagues.

So well played SXSW. You’ve besmirched your reputation to no useful result, and damaged the goodwill you’ve earned with both the Austin and international astronomical community.


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Press Release: More than 200 ancient galaxy clusters discovered

Text from the press release Imperial put out about a paper I’m involved with from the Planck and Herschel missions.

Link for this press release is here, there is a companion press release from ESA is here, and the paper itself is here.

Astronomers have spotted more than 200 rapidly star-forming clusters of galaxies that could shed light on galaxy evolution.

These clusters are the most massive objects in the universe, containing hundreds or thousands of galaxies. Early estimates of the new clusters predict they could be forming the equivalent of 7,000 Sun-sized stars per year. By studying their properties, astronomers hope to learn more about the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters in the early universe.

A montage of some of the clusters we have found

Light takes time to travel, meaning that when we observe objects far away in the universe we are actually seeing them as they looked in the past. More detailed analysis is needed on the new clusters to estimate their ages accurately, but they could be up to 10 billion years old, dating from just 3 billion years after the universe first formed.

We had hints of these kinds of objects before, but this study found a huge number of these things.
– Dr David Clements
The star-forming galaxies in the clusters are thought to be early stages of what we see today as giant elliptical galaxies, containing many stars but little dust and gas. Dust and gas are used to form stars, meaning elliptical galaxies are highly evolved systems. Finding so many early galaxy clusters will allow researchers to study the evolution of these galaxies in greater depth.

The clusters were discovered by the Planck Collaboration, a large group of researchers from around the world. “We had hints of these kinds of objects before, and had found a few examples in previous studies, but this study found a huge number of these things,” said Dr David Clements from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, who is part of the team. “That means we can now get a much clearer understanding of what’s going on.”

The next steps will be to look in more detail at the clusters in order to define their ages and investigate the shape and environment of their star-forming galaxies. Looking at shapes can uncover galaxy collisions, where smaller galaxies combine into larger ones.

It is the collision of ever larger galaxies that are thought to form the giant elliptical galaxies. In fact, our own galaxy, the Milky Way, will collide with the Andromeda galaxy in approximately four billion years, forming a new giant elliptical galaxy.

More detailed observations could also reveal the make-up of the clusters, and whether rapidly star-forming individual galaxies are surrounded by less productive galaxies, giving insight into the evolution of the system.

As some of the most massive systems in the universe today, galaxy clusters provide clues about the distribution of mass in the early universe. The Big Bang did not distribute matter evenly, causing very tiny fluctuations in the density of different areas of the universe. Small centres of mass attracted more matter through the action of gravity, eventually forming stars and galaxies. As huge centres of mass, galaxy clusters might reveal the limits of density differences in the early universe.

Galaxy clusters are rich in dark matter. Dark matter cannot be observed directly, but makes up most of the matter in the universe, exerting a large force of gravity. It’s this gravity that drives the accumulation of visible matter into galaxies and clusters.

To find the clusters, the team combined data from the European Space Agency’s Planck and Herschel missions, which are both now finished. The Planck satellite could scan large areas of the sky, allowing the team to select candidates, which they then looked at more closely with the Herschel space observatory to confirm the presence of galaxy clusters.

Professor Hervé Dole from the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in France, who led the analysis, said: “Although the data were taken a few years ago, when Planck and Herschel were operating, we’re only at the start of this project, with many exciting targets being followed up using other observatories. This is a fantastic effort, and more impressive results are expected in the coming months.”

‘Planck intermediate results. XXVII. High-redshift infrared galaxy overdensity candidates and lensed sources discovered by Planck and confirmed by Herschel-SPIRE’ by the Planck Collaboration is published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.


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