Satellites the size of bread; why making anti-matter matters; telescopes on a chip; our neutrino world and more

Monday 5 December 2016

A new constellation of Australian satellites – packed up and ready for launch in 2017 (Canberra)

Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

Australia is heading into space: Professor Christine Charles (ANU) was part of the Australian team of Universities that are launching Australian research satellites into space for the first time in over a decade.

Three Australian designed and built cubesats – satellites the size of a loaf of bread – are soon to be launched into space as part of the EU QB 50 Program.

Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

Charles’ plasma thruster system for spacecraft is just one of the Aussie ideas which is being studied to extend the capabilities of nano-satellites. Christine Charles will explain the possibilities for this renaissance of Australian space science.

ANU’s new telescope-on-a-chip will help us squint at alien Earths (Canberra)

Harry-Dean Kenchington Goldsmith and his colleagues at ANU have assembled a chip-based interferometer that could squint at far away stars to reveal Earth-like planets which could harbour life. The chip uses photonics – like electronics, but using light – to cause the light from the star to cancel itself out, highlighting the tiny signature of orbiting planets. Unlike conventional interferometers, the chip is flat so it doesn’t wobble, made of special glass so it doesn’t absorb the light it’s supposed to collect, and light enough to be put into orbit cheaply. The team hopes to use chips like this one to study the atmospheres of planets far, far away, looking for the tell-tale hue of life.

Making antimatter: mass producing hydrogen’s opposite (WA)

Researchers at Curtin University have been modelling particle collisions and think they may have found a way to mass produce antimatter. Antimatter is rarely found in nature and is difficult to produce and store due to its tendency toward mutual annihilation with ordinary matter. But colliding antiprotons with positronium–a particle made up of an electron and positron orbiting each other – creates large amounts of anti-hydrogen, the opposite of ordinary hydrogen. Because it is electrically neutral, it is much more stable, allowing antimatter to be probed for its strange properties. Professor Igor Bray hopes his work will help unravel the mystery of how antimatter lost out to matter in the early moments of our universe – a question which goes to the heart of matter. Now they are playing with what happens when you increase the levels of positronium.

Also at the conference today:

  • Our neutrino world – explained by 2015 Nobel Prize winner Professor Takaaki Kajita
  • What’s next for Cosmology? How ‘new physics’ is taking us from the theories and into real world hunts for the origins of the Universe – Professor Richard Easther
  • A tribute to lasers; and Australia’s forgotten Nobel Prize winner Alexander Prokhorov

The APCC-AIP Congress is the Joint 13th Asia Pacific Physics Conference and 22nd Australian Institute of Physics Congress incorporating the Australian Optical Society Conference. It’s on at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 4 to 8 December 2016