The top five films about science or scientists

To celebrate the Oscars weekend, Physics World asked me to come up with the top 5 films about science or scientists. They span 51 years and include two Stanley Kubricks, one Ridley Scott, one Steven Spielberg, and one film by the not-so-famous Shane Carruth.

My top 5, in order of the year of release, is as follows. My reasons for choosing them are here.


  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
    1964 | Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
    1968 | Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Jurassic Park
    1993 | Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Primer
    2004 | Director: Shane Carruth
  • The Martian
    2015 | Director: Ridley Scott

The Martian is also one of the great disco movies…

Japanese spacecraft set to attempt asteroid sample grab

At around 8am on Friday morning (Japan time), Hayabusa2 will attempt to grab a sample from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. My latest piece for Physics World is an interview with mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa.

Citizen scientists spot meteorite strike during lunar eclipse

This week’s total lunar eclipse featured a dramatic bonus: shortly after the start of totality, a space rock hit the moon and vaporised in a flash of light. My latest piece for Physics World tells the story…

Can you spot the lunar flash…?
Here is a link to the moment of impact on our timeanddate.com broadcast. It’s on the left edge of the moon, just below the 10 o’clock position, at 04:41:43 UTC.

The moon, the earth’s shadow, and some clouds…

We are enormously grateful to the brilliant teams around the world who supported our live coverage of yesterday’s total lunar eclipse on timeanddate.com. Alas, it seemed like most of the night-time side of earth was covered in cloud… However, we obtained some truly spectacular images from timeanddate’s mobile observatory in Ouarzazate, Morocco, and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Enormous thanks to Cleyciane Da Costa Maciel and the team at the European Space Agency office in Kourou, French Guiana; Theo Wellington and the fabulous folks at the Warner Park Nature Center in Nashville, Tennessee; and Diego García Lambas and his wonderful colleagues at the Instituto de Astronomía Téorico y Experimental (IATE) in Córdoba, Argentina.

The fascinating rhythm of the sun and the moon

Fascinating rhythm
You’ve got me on the go
Fascinating rhythm
I’m all a-quiver
Fascinating Rhythm (George & Ira Gershwin, 1924)


The motions of the sun and the moon across the sky will create a fascinating rhythm in 2019, producing five different kinds of eclipses. There will also be a rare-ish transit of Mercury.

The first new moon of the year (Sunday 6 January) will produce a partial solar eclipse across most of north-east Asia. Two weeks later, the first full moon of the year (Sunday 20/Monday 21 January) will produce a total lunar eclipse visible across North and South America, Europe and the western half of Africa. (In the US, this eclipse falls on the Sunday night of the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend, making it a prime-time event…)

Jumping forward six months — when the earth, moon and sun become aligned once again — the new moon of Monday 2 July will produce a total solar eclipse. Totality will be visible along a narrow corridor (about 150 km or 90 miles wide) that begins in the South Pacific and ends close to Buenos Aires in Argentina (map below). The following full moon on Tuesday 16/Wednesday 17 July will produce a partial lunar eclipse across every continent except North America.

2 July 2019 total solar eclipse (timeanddate.com)

Another six-month jump brings us to the year’s final eclipse: an annular solar eclipse on Thursday 26 December. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too far from the earth to cover the sun completely: the result is an annulus, which is the shape of a ring (picture below).

Image: Juan Carlos Casado

During the new moon of 26 December, this ‘ring of fire’ will be visible along a narrow path stretching from Saudi Arabia to Guam in the North Pacific (map below).

26 December 2019 annular solar eclipse (timeanddate.com)

One more thing: over the course of five-and-a-half hours on Monday 11 November, the planet Mercury will cross the face of the sun. Transits of Mercury are rare-ish events — they happen about 13 times a century — and can only be seen with a telescope equipped with a telescope solar filter.

I’ll be part of the team at timeanddate.com providing live coverage of the 20-21 January lunar eclipse, 2 July solar eclipse, and 11 November transit of Mercury.


IMPORTANT: NEVER look at the sun with the naked eye.

Getting ready for three Japanese eclipses in the next 18 months…

“OK, so if the earth is here…”

In 2019 Japan will experience two partial solar eclipses. The first comes at the start of the year, on the morning of Sunday 6 January 2019. The second comes at the end of year, on the afternoon of Thursday 26 December 2019. Six months after that, on 21 June 2020, Japan will witness its third partial eclipse within 18 months — but it will then have to wait ten years until the next one…

This week I gave a presentation about the eclipses at a study camp organised by Omikyodaisha, an amazingly inspiring high school in the city of Omihachiman. We had fun thinking about how big — and how far away — the moon and sun would be if the earth was 10 centimetres in diameter. We also asked ourselves: if the moon goes round the earth every 29.5 days, why isn’t there an eclipse every month…?

The school funded 200 pairs of eclipse glasses to give to its students. Thank you to Takeshi Taniguchi, Noriko Nishimura, and the fabulous students at Omikyodaisha for a hugely enjoyable session!


IMPORTANT: NEVER look at the sun with the naked eye.

Astronomy beyond sight

Our favourite astronomy professor Richard Gelderman (Western Kentucky University) and I have produced two stories for EarthSky about astronomers who are exploring the universe through hearing and touch.

In Listening to the patterns of the universe, Richard talks to Wanda Díaz Merced (International Astronomical Union) about using ‘sonification’ to find signals hidden in large data sets; in Astronomy beyond sight, Amelia Ortiz-Gil (University of Valencia) tells me how she uses tactile models to bring people into contact with the constellations, moon and planets.

The complicated relationship between science and sci-fi

How important is the science in science fiction? I talked to three big thinkers – physicist and philosopher David Deutsch, film-maker Olga Osorio, and scientist turned novelist Gianfranco D’Anna – for a piece in Physics World.

How to help people in Palu, Indonesia

In March 2016 the city of Palu gave an incredible welcome to people from across the world for the Indonesian total solar eclipse. Following last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Palu, The New York Times has published some guidance on how to help those affected.

On awareness and understanding of different cultures

Image: Takobou/Wikimedia Commons

The dynamic Keisuke Tabata, of Kobe Shinwa Women’s University, will be talking about our recent Japan-Indonesia-China-Vietnam project at the annual convention of the Japan Association for Educational Media Study in November. The convention is being held at Kagoshima University on the island of Kyushu.

Our project involved an online movie read-through with university and high-school students. It also featured a workshop on cultural differences, including a discussion of the Lewis Model of communication.

Image: Richard Lewis/CrossCulture

A paper will also be published in the Bulletin of the International Education Research Center at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University. Thank you to Keisuke Tabata and his wonderful students, Ritsuko Anzai (formerly at Amagasaki Kita High School), and the fabulous team at Tadulako University in Palu, Indonesia.