Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

MNRAS Jan 2021

Extreme collision of stellar winds at the heart of Apep, the cosmic serpent

Apep is a stellar system named after the Egyptian god of chaos due to the spiral pattern of dust generated by its two member stars. Now, astronomers have looked at Apep’s heart with the highest resolution available. They have revealed the strongest shock produced by the collision of the extreme winds of the two stars in our Galaxy.

Read More
MNRAS Letters

Giant hidden black hole discovered only 1.4 billion years after the Big Bang

Black holes are some of the most bizarre objects in the Universe but their existence is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity of Albert Einstein. Scientists have known for some time that much larger black holes with mass billions of times that of the sun existed as early as a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. An international team of astrophysicists have discovered such a hidden giant black hole.

Read More
Live after gravity

Isaac Newton’s London life: a quiz

Isaac Newton is known as the scientist who discovered gravity, but less well-known are the many years he spent in metropolitan London, and what precisely he got up to in that time…

Read More
MNRAS

Modifying gravity to save cosmology

The unexpectedly rapid local expansion of the Universe could be due to us residing in a large void. However, a void wide and deep enough to explain this discrepancy—often called the “Hubble tension”—is not possible in standard cosmology, which is built on Einstein’s theory of gravity, General Relativity.

Read More
MNRAS

Supermassive black holes: monsters in the early Universe

When matter is squashed into a tiny volume the gravitational attraction can become so huge that not even light can escape, and a black hole is born. A star such as the Sun will never leave a black hole because the quantum forces between matter stop this squeezing into a sufficiently small volume.

Read More
MNRAS

The enduring mystery of how galaxies grow up

Astronomers have discovered that there are two different types of galaxies in the Universe: elliptical galaxies and spiral galaxies. Elliptical galaxies are dead galaxies full of very old, red stars that move on chaotic random orbits around the centre of their galaxy in such a way that makes their shape look like fluffy footballs. On […]

Read More
MNRAS

How old galaxy groups stay active in retirement

As recently as the start of the 20th century, the idea that the Milky Way contained everything that existed in the Universe was predominant and astronomers were unaware of the existence of other galaxies or any kind of star systems outside our galaxy. A few observed nebulae that had been identified as clusters of stars […]

Read More

Why chemical imbalance is the wrong way to talk about depression

Depression has often been described as a “chemical imbalance.” This description is helpful in that it shifts the view of depression from a moralizing, personal stance into a medical model, and it can help encourage people to receive treatment. However, the “chemical imbalance” model is outdated and inaccurate. The chemical imbalance theory started in the […]

Read More

Testing Einstein’s theory of relativity

Albert Einstein is often held up as the epitome of the scientist. He’s the poster child for genius. Yet he was not perfect. He was human and subject to many of the same foibles as the rest of us. His personal life was complicated, featuring divorce and extramarital affairs. Though most of us would sell […]

Read More

The scientific mysteries that led to Einstein’s E=mc^2 equation

Scientists deal with mysteries. As Richard Feynman once commented:  “Science must remain a continual dialog between skeptical inquiry and a sense of inexplicable mystery”. Three examples: it is profoundly mysterious as to why mathematics can so accurately describe our physical world, and even predict events, such as the motion of the planets or the propagation […]

Read More

Is motion an illusion of the senses?

According to Aristotle, Zeno of Elea (ca. 490 – ca. 430 BCE) said, “Nothing moves because what is traveling must first reach the half-way point before it reaches the end.” One interpretation of the paradox is this. To begin a trip of a certain distance (say 1 meter), a traveler must travel the first half of it (the first 1/2 m), but before he does that he must travel half of the first half (1/4 m), and in fact half of that (1/8 m), ad infinitum.

Read More

Understanding quantum mechanics [quiz]

Mechanics is that part of physics concerned with stuff that moves, from cannonballs to tennis balls, cars, rockets, and planets. Quantum mechanics is that part of physics which describes the motions of objects at molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic levels, such as photons and electrons. Although quantum mechanics is an extraordinarily successful scientific theory, on which […]

Read More

Envisioning a post-crisis world

Early in World War II, in August 1941, before the United States had entered the war and Britain stood alone against Adolph Hitler, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill steamed in secret aboard their respective battleships and met off the coast of Newfoundland on HMS Prince of Wales. Their aim: Shape the Post […]

Read More

Space for concern: Trump’s executive order on space resources

Among the bevy of executive actions undertaken by President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 crisis is, of all things, an executive order (issued on 6 April 2020) promoting the development of space resources, which states in part that: Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer […]

Read More

The physics of swarm behaviour

The locusts have no king, and yet they all go forth in ranks, noted King Solomon some three thousand years ago. That a multitude of simple creatures could display coherent collective behavior without any leader caused his surprise and amazement, and it has continued to do so for much of our thinking over the following […]

Read More