8 Things About Uranium

As is fairly obvious, the recently inaugurated President of the USA, Donald Trump, has no idea what uranium is. To quote him directly:

“You know what uranium is, right? S’thing called nuclear weapons and other things and lots of… things are done with uranium including some BAD things.”
Donald Trump

Very… astute. And eloquently put. Reminded me of something I’d seen before. Needless to say, “s’thing called nuclear weapons and other things and lots of… things” is not a particularly good description of uranium. Despite its understandably bad reputation, it’s quite an interesting element, for a number of reasons. So for anyone else who’s a little hazy on what exactly uranium is, here are 8 things about it.

1. Uranium makes excellent fuel

Fission energy is the thing everyone will know about uranium. Being unstable and consequently radioactive, uranium’s atomic nuclei tend to fall apart when bombarded with neutrons, releasing prodigous amounts of energy. The actual physics behind this were first understood in 1939 by Lise Meitner, who also realised the dangerous potential behind it.

xkcd-energy-densityWhen discussing fuels, many scientists talk about energy density – which just means how much energy any given fuel contains, per kilogram. It’s often measured in megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg). Atomic nuclei contain a massive amount of energy, and nuclei which can be split are the densest source of usable energy of any fuel, by quite a long way.

The petrol which you put in your car has an energy density of 46.4 MJ/kg. Uranium, on the other hand, contains 79,390,000 MJ/kg. That’s 1.7 million times as much energy! This xkcd comic explains that rather nicely.

2. Uranium has several isotopes

Isotopes are different forms of any chemical element. An element’s identity is defined by it’s protons but the number of neutrons it has can vary, so any atomic nucleus with 92 protons will always be uranium, with the rest of the mass being made up by neutrons. Most uranium atoms have 146 neutrons, making uranium 238 (or U-238 for short).

U-238 is relatively stable, with a half life of 4.468 billion years (I’ll come back to that later) and accounts for over 99% of the uranium on our planet. The other most common isotopes are U-234 and U-235. The one to be aware of here is U-235 which is “fissile”, meaning that it can sustain a chain reaction and can therefore be used in nuclear reactors to generate energy. In fact, U-235 is the only fissile atomic nucleus to be found naturally in any significant amount.

3. Uranium contains stored energy from a supernova

crab-nebula-sliceThis one’s pretty cool. Uranium is the heaviest element to occur naturally in the universe (unless you count the stuff that happens in neutron stars, but they’re weird). Atomic nuclei have what we call a valley of stability. Elements of a certain mass range are the most stable, and natural nuclear processes occurring in unstable nuclei are constantly trying to move towards that mass range. At the bottom of this valley is Iron-56.

Much heavier than this, and elements are radioactive. The nuclei shed fragments as alpha particles to try and get back to a more stable place on the periodic table. The heaviest naturally occurring elements can only be created in supernovae.

Any star is in a constant battle between gravity pushing everything inwards and the energy created by nuclear fusion pushing everything outwards. In the most massive stars, fusion in the star’s core creates heavier and heavier elements. The process keeps going because fusion gives out more energy than it takes in. That is, until iron is formed

Once the star has no choice but to fuse iron, gravity wins the fight. Rapidly. The star’s entire mass starts to fall inwards, compacting the material in the star’s core. The outer layers, full of unreacted material, continue to rush in and a gargantuan flurry of fusion creates an immense explosion. The supernova that results is bright enough to be seen halfway across the universe.

The mindbending temperatures and pressures in supernovae create a huge array of heavy but unstable elements. Some fall apart nearly instantly, existing for millionths of a second. But the more stable ones persist. The energy which forged them was the energy released by an exploding star, which they’ll slowly release over millions, or even billions of years.

4. Uranium can help us work out the age of minerals

Uranium dating might be a good name for a website where you can meet singles, but it’s actually the name of a technique used by geologists in a study known as geochronology.

ancient-zirconAs I said before, U-238 has a half life of 4.468 billion years. When it does decay, it fragments into a chain of other isotopes, one of which is Thorium-230. Essentially, the older a rock is, the more uranium will have transmuted into thorium, and the ratio of the two can be used to find the age of the rock you’re looking at. This is known as uranium-thorium dating and can determine ages up to 500,00 years.

Older and more refined is uranium-lead dating. Lead-206 is the ultimate product of uranium decay, and looking at the ratio of etween 1 million up to over 4.5 billion years, with precision of around 0.1-1%.  Given that Earth itself is only 4.543 billion years old, this lets us identify some of the oldest minerals our planet has. Like the blue crystal fragment in that picture there which, at 4.4 billion years old, is perhaps the oldest mineral ever found.

5. Nuclear reactors aren’t all created by humans

oklo-fossil-reactorSince our species discovered nuclear chain reactions, nuclear power has been a significant, albeit controversial, source of energy. It’s typically much cleaner than using coal, but if catastrophic circumstances occur, the end result is significantly worse.

The interesting thing is that nuclear power is not new. In the small country of Gabon, on the west coast of Africa, are the Oklo fossil reactors. Mineral deposits which show what used to be a total of 16 nuclear reactors which occurred entirely naturally (one of which is shown here in this photograph). U-235 has a half life of roughly 704 million years. There’s not much around today, but 1.7 billion years ago about 3% of uranium on Earth was U-235. With the right conditions, this is enough U-235 to sustain a nuclear reaction to generate energy – which is exactly what happened in the Oklo fossil reactors.

They didn’t generate much energy, but the nuclear reactions in them were self-sustaining for a few hundred thousand years.

6. We’ve known about uranium for over 200 years

uraniteUranium was first discovered in 1789 in a mineral called pitchblende. Now more commonly known as uranite, this mineral is actually uranium oxide – mostly UO₂, but with some amounts of U₃O₈.

It’s a black mineral, as its name might imply, and given uranium’s tendency to decay and spontaneously transmute into other substances, it contains a host of other elements too, including thorium, radium, promethium, and the curious and ultra-rare technetium. You’ll also find lead, the end product of uranium decay, and helium from alpha particles. In fact, after helium was discovered in the spectrum of the Sun, it was first observed here on Earth in uranite.

7. It’s been used in glassware

Uranium glass is glass made with uranium oxides. It has an unusual lime green colour and used to be quite popular. It goes by a number of different names, including vaseline glass, Burmese glass, and custard glass.

While typically made with about 2% uranium, there were some pieces of uranium glass made in the 20th century containing up to 25% uranium! Uranium glass only fell out of fashion due to the cold war, when uranium became significantly more difficult to buy.

 In fact, using uranium in glassware dates back as far as the Ancient Romans. Nearly 2000 years ago, it was used in ceramic glazes to give a yellow colour, and glass containing 1% uranium was discovered in a Roman villa in Naples.

Another fun thing is that uranium actually fluoresces. Shine a UV light on some uranium glass and it’ll glow with an eerie green colour not unlike comic book depictions of radioactive materials.


8. Uranium has found a few other surprising uses too

uranium-denturesOne interesting use which people have found for uranium was actually in early photographic chemicals. Uranium nitrate in particular, was used as a toner to adjust the final colour.

Other odd uses for uranium in the past have included lamp filaments for stage lighting, as stains and dyes for wood and leather,  and in mordants for fixing dyes in wool and silk. It was also once used in dentures, to improve their appearance! I promise I’m not making this up.

In more modern times, the organo-uranium compounds uranyl acetate and uranyl formate have been used as stains in electron microscopy, where they can increase the contrast in ultrathin sections being studied, and for small, isolated subjects like viruses and organelles.

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Tarry Tarry Night

Ceres is a fascinating little world. The Empress of Asteroids. The little planet that couldn’t. A tiny, primordial remnant from the early days of the solar system, full of answers to questions, and new questions to be answered. And now, carbonaceous material has been discovered there! I’m quite enamoured with Ceres, as I am with discussions about astrobiology. However, that doesn’t change one big fact – discussions of life on Ceres are vastly premature.

It's an funny old world...In a feeding frenzy of the kind which should surprise absolutely no one who understands how the news media works, the past several hours have seen numerous reports from sources across the globe about how Ceres “contains the building blocks of life.”

Of course, this is something we’re always excited about. Another object in the solar system added to the list of things which might support life would be quite a discovery. That said, I’m loath to be the burster of bubbles but, to me, making claims like that seems to be quite an excessive leap in reasoning. It’s far too early to be able to speculate.

The thing is, chemically speaking, what we’ve found on Ceres is about as far from being the building blocks of life as a bucket of molten plastic is from being a set of Lego bricks. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been busily surveying the surface of Ceres with spectrometers to see what delicious molecules it can find lurking on the surface. I haven’t found a copy of the journal paper to read yet, but as far as I can tell, Dawn found alkanes. A kind of hydrocarbon made up of long chains – shorter chains are found in things like petrol, longer chains are found in things like candle wax. New Scientist lays the facts out quite cleanly:

The identity of the tar-like minerals can’t be pinned down precisely, but their mineral fingerprints match the make-up of kerite or asphaltite. The constituents and concentrations of these organic materials suggest that it’s unlikely they came to Ceres from another planetary body.

Now for a start, tar-like substances make up a huge amount of the carbon-containing material we’ve seen on other planets. It’s either that or carbon dioxide, typically. Tholin, for instance, is a tarry substance which is found everywhere from Titan to comets. But what we have here are minerals. Asphaltite is bitumen impregnated rock and kerite is a rubbery material made from bitumen and sulfur (I’m not a geologist, so if I’m wrong here please do correct me). Bitumen is the heavy tarry stuff to make roads – American English speakers probably have instantly recognised the word asphalt.

No, we did not find alien roads either. No matter how cool that would be.

At least it'll be easy to build a car park on CeresAdmittedly, this is less exciting than “the building blocks of life” for most people. Though bitumen does contain a fairly interesting collection of organic compounds. Mostly saturated hydrocarbon chains, but with an eclectic assortment of aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic compounds. And given that things like DNA do contain heterocyclic aromatics, yes these are what we could consider to be prebiotic molecules – in other words, while we have no idea how life formed in the first place, we think that if you take molecules like these and leave them in the right place for a few million years, life might happen.

There is mounting evidence that the clays and carbonate minerals found on Ceres were processed in warm water at some point in the distant past. They’ve certainly been chemically altered by water – hydrated minerals actually contain chemically bound water molecules. And yes, this does suggest that the bitumens we’ve seen on Ceres may have been processed the same way. Given how little we know about the way life formed, it’s impossible to say what may have formed on Ceres, or how long it was simmering. Unfortunately, we need more evidence before we can place too much confidence in our speculations. It’s still a long stretch from prebiotic molecules to Cerean microbes in the same way that finding iron ore in the ground is not evidence of cars.

The fact that Ceres is full of carbonaceous mineral goo is still rather interesting. In a sense, I suppose it’s a gargantuan carbonaceous chondrite meteor. Chondritic meteors have long been known to contain prebiotic molecules. Even amino acids, though these have not yet been seen on Ceres (at least, to my knowledge). So an interesting fact we can learn here is that the solar system appears to be full of prebiotic molecules. That does suggest the inevitability of life, given the right conditions.

The biggest news here, to me, is that Ceres is far from being just a boring round rock. It’s a complex little world, with deposits of various raw materials. We’ve found mineral deposits, water ice, and now hydrocarbon deposits.

This is also the first time carbonaceous material like this has been found on an object in the asteroid belt, but it suggests we may be able to find more elsewhere. This kind of thing is very promising if we’re looking at the future potential for constructing habitats in the asteroid belt, or mining asteroids for resources – two things which may ultimately be a good idea if we’d like to ensure the continued survival of our species.

The sweet spot where they found all this carbonaceous material was Ernutet crater, which seems to have an abundance of it.

Have to wonder what else is waiting on Ceres for us to find

Personally, I’d love it if they were to find some actual evidence of life on Ceres. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But I’m not overly fond of jumping the gun. I’m sure talking about life gets news pages a lot more clicks than talking about minerals, so I can see why this happens, but in a way that’s a little sad. Discoveries should be interesting because of what they are, not because of what they aren’t yet.

Interestingly though, while we haven’t found life just yet, technically we did strike oil. Bitumens are made of very similar stuff to tar and crude oil found here on Earth – though the stuff on Ceres didn’t come from long dead animals. Being essentially a big collection of heavy petrochemicals, bituments can be refined into synthetic crude oil. Whether telling the US government that there’s oil on Ceres will encourage them to send people there remains to be seen.

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Save the Planet

It is my informed opinion that Donald Trump, with his government of the USA, is one of the greatest threats to the continued survival of our species. Unfortunately, the reason is climate change – and simply upon hearing that, some people are going to stop reading this.


Still with me? Thanks. I appreciate it. Look, I’m going to be straight with you. I know you’re sick of hearing about climate change – but how do you think I feel? It’s 2017 for Foxe sake! It’s the 21st century! I literally grew up hearing phrases like “greenhouse effect”, “global warming”, and “climate change”. The fact that this is happening is a truth I’ve known for my entire life. Scientists have known about since long before I was born. We’ve made some progress, certainly, but not enough. Things are still getting worse. I have to wonder why I’m still needing to say all of this.

After decades, politicians finally started paying attention and telling people, and the first thing that people did was to start saying “No, I don’t believe you, I know better!” for some reason. There aren’t many professions which have to deal with someone telling you how to do your own job. You don’t argue with an electrician about the voltage of your house. You don’t argue with your mechanic about the reason why your car broke down. But apparently, people just love to argue about scientists about peer reviewed scientific research.

a-crack-in-the-worldOur planet is at a tipping point. 2016 was the warmest year on record. Over the past 400,000 years, carbon dioxide levels had never been higher than 300 ppm. Earth’s atmosphere currently contains 404.48 ppm of CO₂. Earth’s polar ice caps are melting. Quietly and without even realising, we are destroying Antarctica and its ice shelves. One of those shelves currently has a gigantic crack in it (in the image to the right here), which is threatening to cause a chunk of ice the size of a small country to break off and float away into the sea. As anyone who likes ice in their drinks may realise, it will melt. When it does, our sea levels will rise.

Consequently, our already overcrowded planet will lose vital coastal habitats. I’m not just talking about wildlife – Miami is going to be submerged into the Atlantic Ocean, together with most of Florida. Meanwhile the haywire weather we’ve been seeing over the past few years is set to intensify. Expect the wildfires in California to get worse as the global temperature rises. Expect tropical storms to intensify as climate systems are disrupted and become more unpredictable. Expect winters in the Northern hemisphere to get colder as reduced temperature gradients between the polar and equatorial regions cause weakened air currents and allow Earth’s polar vortices to bring more snow to the Sahara.

Honestly, I don’t know how many “once in a lifetime” weather events need to happen over the course of 5 years for people to start paying attention, but I’ve lost count of how many we’ve had now.

2013-co2-by-countrySo why is Trump so dangerous? Well, the USA is the second biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. The only country worse in China. Interestingly, China’s CO₂ emissions are falling as the country moves away from using coal.

Meanwhile, Trump intends to “embrace the shale oil and gas revolution” and is “committed to… reviving America’s coal industry“. Which, from a climate perspective, is horrifying. This is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing if we actually want our planet to remain habitable to humans.

America has already spent far too much time sitting on its hands and pretending everything is fine under the Bush Administration, who surreptitiously hid clear evidence of global warming from the world. By which I mean these satellite images showing obvious differences in sea ice off Alaska. These images, in fact:


With Trump, we’re not just in for more of the same. It’s going to get worse. Trump is a demagogue who’s shown every indication that he’s only in this for himself. He’s hired a team of billionaire supervillains to run America, complete with ties to Russian oil companies. There’s no reason to believe that they won’t chase profits even if they happen to ruin the planet in the process.

The worst part is that the Trump Administration is not just denying climate change – it seems to be actively censoring the discussion of it. Employees of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) have been ordered to remove pages from the web, and researchers there are busily safeguarding their data – they have been for weeks now. Their grant programs are also being frozen, and they’re being instructed not to talk about it.

The most recent affront was the Badlands National Park twitter feed. 2 days ago, whoever manages the account tweeted several climate change facts, such as this one:


Shortly afterwards, all of these were deleted, apparently by instruction from someone at a higher level. And that’s horrifying. Speaking the objective truth should never be an act of courage or defiance. A society in which it is, is going down a very dark path indeed.

Trump is making his intentions clear. He is staging an assault on objective truth. He is actively hampering science and fact from reaching the public. He seems to be attempting to wage a war on science. And in doing so, he threatens to destroy the environment of the planet we’re all living on – and it simply cannot take much more.

This is an affront to all of us. Every human living on this planet. Not to mention the billions of other species we share it with. And I, for one, don’t think we should all just sit back and let an angry orange man with tiny hands ruin our planet for us.

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❝ Remember, you have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.❞

Louise L. Hay

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Impostor Syndrome can bite me!

I’ve met very few people who, when asked, would say that they had a good year in 2016. Most people seem to look at their feet, hesitantly say a few words about how things could have been better, and then change the subject. I was no exception. For me, 2016 was the year when impostor syndrome won.

But do I really need to care about that? Perhaps what this requires is a change in mindset. A few days ago, I found this on a friend’s twitter feed:

Liz was, in turn, quoting this tweet:

The article this comment stemmed from was published in the New York Times entitled Stop and Acknowledge How Much Luck Has to Do With Your Success – an interesting read, which can be summarised by saying that no matter how much you work hard, a lot of your career boils down to being lucky. Being in the right place at the right time, and taking advantage of serendipity.

My immediate reaction to this is one of some consternation. No one likes to believe that their entire life is like sitting down at a roulette table and hoping for the best. And, quite frankly, I’ve never been particularly lucky. But the more I think about this, the more I realise that if this really does boil down to probability, then like any system, it can be gamed.

I’ve known a few academics in the past who’re quite fond of a tactic known as the scattergun approach. People who apply for every single source of grant money they can, because statistically they’re more likely to win out that way. Where someone in an actual game of roulette may worry about money, the things I have to worry about are time and motivation. And while it’s impossible to conjure more money (no matter what Nicholas Flamel may have believed), it’s entirely possible to conjure more motivation. Applying this approach to jobs may feel uncomfortable, but I can say with some authority now – any job is better than no job.

Smaug's daily affirmationsOf course that goes back around to perpetually doubting whether I can actually do those jobs.

As if on cue, another thing which popped up on my twitter feed a few days ago was a piece in Times Higher Education entitled Think like an impostor, and you’ll go far in academia which was really quite interesting. In a nutshell, I can summarise it by saying – if you feel like an impostor anyway, who cares if you act like one?

Being as Impostor Syndrome has been a blight on my life for longer than I’d usually care to admit, the idea of flipping it upside down and making it work for me is rather pleasing. After all, all the greatest people in history may well have doubted themselves. But it never stopped them. So why not just go with it. I’m an impostor. All those things you’re not supposed to do – like asking for clarification on seemingly “basic” concepts or picking up an undergrad level textbook to brush up things which I’m not entirely clear on – are exactly the kind of things an impostor would do.

Which is interesting, because they’re also exactly the kind of things I’ve seen some of the highest ranking professors do.

If ever I’m concerned about the number of rejections I’ve received (which I definitely have been recently), I like to remind myself of rejection letters sent to famous authors before they were famous authors.  And in fairness, none of the rejections I’ve received have been nearly this scathing, notwithstanding how plentiful they may have been.

So let this be a late New Year’s Resolution. 2016 may have been the year Impostor Syndrome won, but 2017 is going to be the year I stop caring about that.

Tiny Smaug up there is by GinnyDi on Tumblr – you can buy him as a t-shirt too!

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Jupiter or Wood?

As I’ve said before, in my humble opinion, Jupiter looks like it’s made of wood. So, with that in mind, let me present my new favourite game. Fun for the whole family!*


Just look at the following 9 images. Some of these are images of Jupiter, taken from NASA’s marvellous Juno probe, currently in orbit around the big gas ball. Some of them are cut and polished burl wood. But which are which? Click the images to see a larger version and find out what you’re really looking at.

*”Fun” is conditional, dependent on the specific family and their relative level of nerdiness.

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In light of everything that’s going on in the world right now, Carl Sagan’s words seem somehow more poigniant than ever.

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So here’s an interesting little fact. In Chinese and Japanese, Jupiter is known as 木星 which means “wood star” – and I think that’s a wonderful name for it!


Interestingly, the name is pure coincidence. Just as our name for the planet originated in Ancient Rome, in East Asia the name originated in Ancient China.

Chinese mythology contains the Wu Xing (五行) or five elements – wood (木), fire (火), earth (土), metal (金), and water (水). Because the ancient Chinese Astronomers could see five planets moving through the sky, they named them after these elements.

Mercury is 水星, the water star,
Venus is 金星, the metal star,
Mars is 火星, the fire star,
Jupiter is 木星, the wood star, and
Saturn is 土星, the earth star.

So rooted are the five elements in East Asian culture that together with the sun and moon (日 and 月) the days of the week are still named after them.

half-a-JupiterExactly why they were named this way, I don’t know. Logically, Mercury is fast like running water, and Mars looks fiery red to the naked eye. Venus shines brightest like polished metal, Jupiter has a faint wooden orange hue, and Saturn is the slowest and most stable, like earth. But that’s speculation on my part, and I should really read more about it.

All the same, by accident or by design, Jupiter is the wooden star. Which is just so incredibly fitting because that’s exactly how it looks. I love the gorgeous swirling clouds this planet has, and I’m looking forward to some breathtaking high resolution images from Juno soon.

But whenever I look at Jupiter I still get a first impression of polished wood.


See what I mean?

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Why Michael Gove is a reprehensible spam faced tool bag

The internet is such a fickle beast. After staying up well past my bedtime yesterday to live tweet Juno being inserted into Jupiter’s orbit, I achieved a thin slice of tinned internet fame for tweeting at UK politician Michael Gove to call him a reprehensible spam faced tool bag.

Thanks, Huffpost! Yeah, hurling internet insults at politicians is a cherished British pastime (in Scotland I’m fairly certain it’s an olympic sport), and my insult wasn’t even particularly bad compared to some of the others.

But honestly though? Michael Gove is, without question, a reprehensible spam faced tool bag. This has been my opinion of him for a long time before all of the recent idiocy about the UK leaving the EU. I’m going to explain here why this is – and, wherever possible, I’m going to try very hard not to get angry and swear like a trojan.

I have always been a staunch opponent of University tuition fees, irrespective of whether or not I’ve been paying them myself at the time. I believe that anyone who qualifies for a university education should receive a university education if they want it. It is my firm opinion that pursuit of knowledge is something which all people should have a right to, irrespective of gender, race, mental and physical condition, religion, social background, or anything else. In my opinion, forcing students to be burdened with massive amounts of debt is hugely unfair to them and their families. This results in people being discouraged from further study, leading to a lower level of education and qualification in the entire country, which is ultimately damaging to our entire society. And no, I don’t just mean damaging economically, even though money is the only language most politicians seem to understand.

There are many who disagree with my stance. Among them, Michael Gove, aka spam face. Formerly the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, I might add. Pork-luncheon-lips Gove has long been pro-fees, stating his case in an article he wrote for The Times back in 2003. The article is now hidden behind a paywall, but conveniently The Guardian has an excerpt reproduced here.

To quote directly:

“Do you want to run up a debt of £21,000 in order to go to the best British universities? Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is all to the good.”

When I was 18 and first starting University, I was not wealthy. I’m still not. The prospect of taking on a huge debt will always be daunting to someone in my situation. People like fetid-spam-nugget Gove think it’s a good thing that scum like me should be discouraged from pursuing an education.

He continues:

“The first point that needs to be made about the so-called deterrent effect of a £21,000 loan is that anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of that debt doesn’t deserve to be at any university in the first place. Incurring such a relatively small debt to pay for the huge economic benefit conferred by proper higher education is a fantastic deal.”

So, I don’t deserve an education at all apparently. Because education isn’t really about knowledge. It’s all about money. Obviously. Thanks Gove, you repugnant meat byproduct.

For the record, £21,000 is quite a lot by many people’s standards. Particularly to those of us who choose to continue in higher education and pursue postdoctoral studies. The sum has increased somewhat since Gove wrote that too. Universities in England currently charge up to £9000 a year in tuition. Considering loans to cover tuition and maintenance, if I was 18 this year and planning on studying, I very likely wouldn’t be able to afford it.

I could go into detail on putrescent-hamjelly-breath Gove’s revolting reasoning and why I think he’s an obnoxious macerated snout, but I can’t really be bothered. Ultimately the end result is that attitudes like this put off the disadvantaged and turn education into a playground for the financial elite. It becomes not about knowledge and learning, and instead becomes all about money – and this is opposed to my entire philosophy on higher education. Gove’s comments embody that. And no matter how much of a flaccid, ineffectual waste of oxygen this shoddy excuse for a man may be, his comments on this matter exemplify everything that’s wrong with our society’s attitude towards education. Being as my career path is in research and higher education, I’m entirely qualified to say this.

These supercilious attitudes which compacted-pork-waste Gove trots about are what you might expect from someone who went to a private school which requires you to pay for the privilege. Not that this malodorous rancid reformed meat product of a man actually paid for his private education, having been given a scholarship for it.

I often find myself wondering not when the next Einstein might appear in our world, but exactly how many Einsteins have been ignored by our species because they happened to have the wrong social status, and were discouraged from shouldering a huge burden of debt. You should never confuse “uneducated” with “unintelligent.” Someone may not have a degree, but there’s a good chance they may be smarter than you are.

Oh, and while I normally like to furnish my blog posts with an image or two, I don’t want to put a picture of Gove on my blog. So here’s a picture of some actual spam. Honestly, it bears a striking resemblance.


(image source)

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Ludicrous Speed

So Juno is now safely in orbit around Jupiter, and NASA scientists are triumphant, celebrating it as the “hardest thing NASA’s ever done.” They may not be wrong. No spacecraft has ever passed so close to Jupiter before. Jupiter’s radiation belts can deliver a dose of 200,000 Grays, which is enough radiation to kill any life and almost any electronics on Earth. Getting a spacecraft to pass through and survive is really very impressive!

But a thing which I’m always impressed by with spacecraft is slightly simpler. Their speeds. While I was watching the live simulation, the highest speed I saw Juno make on its closest approach to Jupiter (perijovion?) was a blistering 208400 km/h.

Speeds used in interplanetary travel are difficult to fully comprehend because we don’t really have any reference for comparison. NASA made this helpful little graphic to try and show it…

Ridiculous speed

…but I think this image doesn’t quite show it correctly. So I made one with the speeds actually to scale.

Ludicrous speed

Note that this isn’t the same speed which I saw for Juno. I’m going by NASA’s graphic here, and I’m assuming they have accurate values. For most of us, being in an airliner travelling long haul is probably the fastest speed we’ll ever travel at. And that’s just a tiny blip compared to the speeds which Juno reached.

Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

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