Zeroing in on baby exoplanets could reveal how they form

The way that a young exoplanet interacts with its star's disc of dust and gas determines the type of exoplanet that will ultimately form. Image credit - NASA/JPL-Caltech/D. Berry

Twenty-four years ago, Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered the first planet orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system – a milestone recognised by this year’s Nobel prize in physics. Today we know of thousands more ‘exoplanets’, and researchers are now trying to understand when and how they form. The known exoplanets … Read more

Quantum – a double-edged sword for cryptography

Cryptography that would be impossible for a regular computer to crack, would take a quantum computer just seconds.

Quantum computers pose a big threat to the security of modern communications, deciphering cryptographic codes that would take regular computers forever to crack. But drawing on the properties of quantum behaviour could also provide a route to truly secure cryptography. Defence, finance, social networking – communications everywhere rely on cryptographic security. Cryptography involves jumbling up … Read more

‘Online voting isn’t ready for high-stakes elections’

Image credit - Santeri Viinamäki, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Online voting is often considered a way to improve voter turnout and security. But according to Dr Steve Kremer of the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, computer scientists have got a long way to go before they make it a viable alternative to pencils and paper. He is researching ways of making … Read more

Blockchain could democratise banking, music – but at what cost?

Free blockchain-based platforms can make bank accounts accessible to those unable to afford regular banking technology.

Few technologies have the potential to disrupt old institutions as much as blockchain – a system that maintains records on huge networks of individual computers. As with any new technology, it could be used for social good – such as supporting people who are priced-out of the current bank accounts – but the big challenge … Read more

Age and foaming: how to predict when a volcano will erupt

Image credit - Jimmy McIntyre, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The eruption of a volcano can have devastating consequences – killing people and destroying livelihoods, as well as releasing vast amounts of ash into the sky that disrupts air travel and alters the climate. Knowing what goes on underground, however, would facilitate better warnings for when an eruption will occur – and help save lives while … Read more

Hydrogen use doesn’t emit carbon but its production often does. That could soon change

Trucks on Orkney carry hydrogen produced by wind- and tide-powered electrolysis in special lightweight high pressure cylinders, designed to adhere to the low weight limit of the island roads.

Hydrogen can be used to power cars, supply electricity and heat homes, all with zero carbon emissions. The snag is that the vast majority of hydrogen itself is derived from fossil fuels – a fact that scientists are now hoping to change. They plan to clean up production to kickstart a dedicated economy – something that … Read more