Ian Barnett takes a look at the summer Science news

Venus in Transit

Second Rock From The Sun

Venus made its last transit across the Sun for 112 years on June 4th. The rare event, which last occurred in 2004, will not be seen again until December 2117. Venus and the Earth do not orbit the sun in the same plane, which explains why these transits are so infrequent; it is only when Venus lines up between the Earth and the Sun that a transit is observed. Transits tend to be observed in pairs, with eight years between the transits and over 100 years between the pairs. Unfortunately it is unlikely that many of us will see another transit of Venus, but do not despair! Transits of Mercury are much more common, and the next one can be seen in 2016.


Confirmation of the Higgs’ Boson

July saw the eventual discovery of the Higgs’ Boson, 48 years after Professor Peter Higgs postulated its existence in 1964. It has taken two independent teams at the multi-billion pound Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva until now to tentatively announce its discovery. After a Higgs’ Boson is generated, when two proton beams are smashed into each other in the LHC, it immediately decays into smaller and smaller particles. The decay paths are specific to the initial particle; in this case, they detected a boson with the same properties as the Higgs’ Boson. Scientists working on the projects reported a 5-in-10 million chance that the result was wrong – odds good enough to confirm the new particle’s existence. Bosons are usually responsible for the forces felt by particles, and the Higgs’ Boson is what gives particles their mass.

Neil Armstrong at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony

One Giant Loss for Mankind

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Sea of Tranquillity, he was immortalised; however he was a reluctant hero according to his family.  Flying was his passion: he had a student’s flying licence aged 16 and had piloted over 200 different aircraft models in his lifetime. He was a prolific pilot with the US Navy, having attended Purdue University on scholarship, he went on to fly 78 missions in Korea. It was not until 1962, when he was promoted to astronaut, that his name started to become famed. After several jaunts into space, Armstrong uttered his infamous ‘one small step’ line on the 20th July 1969, and became the first man to step foot on the Moon. Shortly after, in 1971, he rejected his new found fame and became a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Neil Armstrong received numerous awards during his lifetime, including honours from 17 countries. In November 2011, he received the highest award available to American civilians – the Congressional Gold Medal. On the 22nd August Neil Armstrong sadly passed away, after suffering cardiovascular complications, aged 88.


Ian Barnett

Venus image by R Hensley

Neil Armstrong image by NASA