Jonathan O'Callaghan

Scientific American | BBC Earth | WIRED | Alphr | MailOnline | IFLScience | All About Space | All About History | How It Works

Science and technology journalist, editor, and copywriter. Below is a selection of my work over the last few years.

The Bizarre Story Of The 'Mutiny' On Board A Space Station

Skylab was in orbit from 1973 until 1979. Note, this illustration depicts boosters that were never used. NASA It’s a tale worthy of Hollywood. In December 1973, three astronauts aboard the US space station Skylab stopped working for an entire day, rebelling against their NASA overlords after complaining of being overworked. They said NASA had been working them too hard, so they took some time off without permission, even going so far as to switch their radio off so they couldn’t be contacted.

The UK unicorns and how they made their first billions

If you’ve recently ordered a takeaway, picked up a beer or had your DNA sequenced, you may have encountered one of the UK’s “unicorn” companies. Unicorns are a rare breed of company, hence the playful moniker, billed as startups that have eclipsed a valuation of $1 billion (around £720 million). They’re companies making the impossible seem possible, acting as disruptors in their fields. The term unicorn is not clearly defined, so there is a bit of contention over its use. Some argue publicly l

Can We Find the Home of Our First Interstellar Visitor?

When an interstellar object called ‘Oumuamua raced through our solar system last year, astronomers were thrilled. The event provided the first glimpse, however fleeting, of a visitor from another star. But almost immediately a taxing question was raised: where did it come from? A number of studies have since attempted to answer this question, pointing in the general direction of constellations like Lyra. But none is as accurate as the latest effort by Coryn Bailer-Jones from the Max Planck Inst

A New 'Space Sculpture' Is Launching Soon And Astronomers Hate It Already

An artist from Berlin may be risking the ire of astronomers after revealing a new “space art” project to orbit Earth. Trevor Paglen, in partnership with the Nevada Museum of Art, has been working on his Orbital Reflector idea for 10 years. The idea is to deploy a giant reflective object in space stretching 30 meters (100 feet) across, purely for artistic purposes so that people can see the glint of it in the night sky, at a height of about 575 kilometers (350 miles). The structure will launch

Astronomer Who Controversially Missed Out On Nobel Wins $3 Million Physics Award For Monumental Discovery

An astronomer who infamously missed out on receiving a Nobel Prize for a groundbreaking astrophysics discovery has been announced as the recipient of the $3 million Breakthrough Physics prize. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was responsible for discovering the first pulsar, a rapidly rotating neutron star, in 1967 while a postgraduate student at the University of Cambridge. The discovery has been heralded as changing our view of the universe. But while the finding earned the 1974 Nobel Prize in Phys

Surprising Twist In ISS Leak Story As Russians Suggest A Human, Not A Meteor, Was The Cause

The story about the hole discovered on the International Space Station (ISS) last week has taken an unexpected twist – as it may have been drilled by a person. On August 29, a slow leak was reported on the ISS from a hole on a docked Soyuz spacecraft. Astronauts patched it up pretty quickly, although one of them did have to temporarily plug it with his finger. Originally it was thought the hole was caused by a micrometeoroid hitting the orbital segment of the Soyuz spacecraft. But now Russian

Plastic Straws Aren't Our Biggest Problem When It Comes To Ocean Waste

The world has enjoyed picking up on plastic straws recently when it comes to ocean waste, despite them accounting for just 0.02 percent of ocean waste. But there are bigger fish to fry. One of those appears to be cigarette butts, according to a report by NBC News. They reported it was the number one human-caused contaminant in the world’s oceans, and it has managed to avoid regulation so far. The main issue appears to from cigarette filters, which Thomas Novotny, professor of public health at

A Mysterious Russian Satellite Is Doing Something Suspicious In Orbit, Claims The US

There are fears the satellite could be used to take down others. Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock The US has voiced concerns that a Russian satellite is performing malicious activities in orbit – although industry experts have expressed doubts about those claims. On August 14 at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Switzerland, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Yleem Poblete said the US was “concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior” from a Russian satellite. Although not

A NASA Spacecraft May Have Detected A Giant Wall At The Edge Of The Solar System

NASA‘s New Horizons spacecraft has helped scientists study a mysterious phenomenon at the edge of the Solar System, where particles from the Sun and interstellar space interact. This region, about 100 times further from the Sun than Earth, is where uncharged hydrogen atoms from interstellar space meet charged particles from our Sun. The latter extend out from our Sun in a bubble called the heliosphere. At the point where the two interact, known as the heliopause, it’s thought there is a build-

A Huge Lake Of Liquid Water Has Been Found On Mars

For decades we have searched for water on Mars, and we’ve found very little, either in the form of trickles on the surface or frozen as ice. But an incredible new discovery may change everything. Reported in the journal Science, researchers led by Dr Roberto Orosei from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Rome say they have found a vast reservoir of water beneath the south pole of Mars. So vast, in fact, that it looks similar to a subglacial lake on Earth – one where life could ari

The UK Is Building Its Own Spaceport, And It Will Be Ready Sooner Than You Think

Exciting news people of Britain, as it’s been announced that the UK will be getting its very own launch pad, set to open in the early 2020s. The announcement was made yesterday by the UK Space Agency, who said the spaceport would be located in Sutherland – a remote peninsula on Scotland’s north coast. Initial funding of $3.3 million has been given to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop the site. “This spaceport grant will help kick-start an exciting new era for the UK space industr

Incredible 'Ghost Particle' Discovery Heralds A New Era In Astronomy

Artist's impression of the blazar which sent the neutrino towards us. DESY, Science Communication Lab Gravitational waves have deservedly held the astronomical spotlight for the last two years, opening up a new way to see the cosmos. But thanks to a groundbreaking discovery, it might well be time for the humble neutrino to take the stage. That’s because, for the first time ever, a global team of astronomers has found the source of some of these high-energy particles coming from the distant uni

Astronomers Just Made A Seriously Fascinating Exoplanet Discovery

I’ve got one hell of a soft spot for exoplanet research, especially new and interesting ways to find planets. And this latest one, well, it just might change everything. Here's why. In a paper published on arXiv and accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, researchers led by Helen Giles from the University of Geneva found a planet 1,800 light-years from Earth called (deep breath) EPIC248847494b. The planet itself is very interesting, and we’ll come to that later, but

The EU Just Took A Disastrous Step Towards Destroying The Internet

Another day, another threat to the open and free Internet. Earlier this month, the US officially repealed net neutrality rules. Now, the EU has voted in favor of legislation that could censor the Internet. Called the Copyright Directive, the legislation has been widely derided by pretty much anyone who knows anything about the Internet. This morning, the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) approved it, meaning it will now go to the full European Parliament for a vote in July, after which it cou

This Amazing Image Of A Meteorite Impact On Mars Is Not Quite What You Think

The impact probably occured in the last decade. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona Sometimes you see an image that just takes your breath away at first sight. This, undoubtedly, is one of those images. Snapped by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on February 7, 2018, the image shows the aftermath of a meteorite striking the Martian surface. In the image, you can clearly see the impact crater where the meteorite hit, thought to have
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