Jonathan O'Callaghan

IFLScience (Senior Staff Writer) | BBC Earth | WIRED | Alphr | MailOnline | All About Space | All About History | How It Works

Science and technology journalist, specialising in space. Below is a small selection of my work over the last few years.


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

7 Of The Worst Diseases You've Never Heard Of

Some disease can cause an intense amount of pain. luxorphoto/Shutterstock There are some pretty painful diseases on planet Earth. Some are infectious, others genetic, but most have some pretty grisly symptoms. From permanent disfiguration to endless pain more intense than childbirth, here we run through some of the diseases and disorders you really don't want to develop. Modern treatment techniques have helped reduce the severity of some of these conditions, but many remain untreatable with u

What Is Sleep Paralysis, And Why Does It Happen?

Have you ever woken up unable to move, with a shadowy figure looming over you and filling you with immense terror? If so, you may suffer from something known as sleep paralysis – and you’re not alone. Sleep paralysis is a little-understood condition that is thought to affect a range of people. It can last from seconds to minutes, and the experience can be extremely unnerving, enough so that people are afraid of shutting their eyes and going to sleep. It usually occurs when a person is waking u

The Incredible Story Of The Monkeys That Rafted Across The World

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story of how we think monkeys came to inhabit the Americas. And it’s a weird one, because we think we got there by sailing across the seas. Our story begins 140 million years ago during the Cretaceous, when the continents of Africa and South America first split through continental drift. This caused the diversification of many species as the South Atlantic Ocean opened, ending any land link between these two locales. But it wasn’t until 45 million years

What's The Largest Man-Made Object To Ever Fall To Earth From Space?

If you’ve been paying any attention to space news recently, you’re probably aware that China’s Tiangong-1 space station is about to fall uncontrolled to Earth, possibly over Easter weekend. This has spawned all sorts of alarming headlines, but even though it weighs 8,500 kilograms (18,700 pounds), it’s not actually that big. And it pales in comparison to other objects that have fallen onto our planet. In fact, in the history of man-made objects that have returned to Earth, it ranks pretty low.

Something Strange Is Happening To The Clocks In Europe

A dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has resulted in clocks across Europe running up to six minutes slow. But why? The issue stems from the way digital clocks connected to the mains keep time, such as the ones in your oven or microwave. They do this by measuring the oscillations in the alternating current they receive, which is when the electricity sort of changes direction. This frequency in Europe is about 50Hz (meaning the current alternates 50 times a second), while in the US it’s 60Hz. But

Scientists Identify A Microbe That Could Live On Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Saturn’s moon Enceladus has looked like a tantalizing possibility for life in the Solar System for quite some time. Now, we may have identified something that can live there and explain why we found methane in its plumes. Published in Nature Communications, a study led by the University of Vienna describes a particular microbe found in the deep sea near Japan called Methanothermococcus okinawensis that could survive the temperature, pressure, and chemical make-up of the ocean hiding under the i

One Of The Most Enduring Mysteries Of The Pyramids May Have A Very Simple Solution

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one. That’s what an archaeologist is proposing for Egypt's great pyramids, suggesting the Earth’s position around the Sun was enough to give these structures their odd alignment. The Great Pyramid of Giza, along with another at Giza and one at Dahshur, are all remarkably aligned along the cardinal points – north, south, east, and west. However, experts have struggled to explain why this is the case, as the Egyptians did not have access to tools to

Not Everyone Is Happy About Elon Musk Sending His Car Into Space

Yesterday a billionaire launched his car into space on a $90 million rocket. It was a fun publicity stunt, sure – but some are bemoaning the lack of any scientific value to the launch. That billionaire is of course Elon Musk, who launched his Tesla car on the test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Thanks to a bigger than expected boost from the rocket’s upper stage, the car is now on its way to the asteroid belt in an orbit that may last a billion years. And on board the car? Well, there was

Elon Musk's Car Is On Its Way To Mars Orbit After Stunning Falcon Heavy Launch

Well, it happened. It actually happened. After seven years of waiting, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off last night from Cape Canaveral in Florida in a stunning launch watched around the world. On board was Elon Musk’s own Tesla Roadster car, intended to be shot to the orbital plane of Mars because reasons. However, it looks like the car overshot a bit, and it’ll actually head further into the Solar System, to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The car was on a six-hour coast th

Why SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Launch Is Such A Big Deal

If you thought the Superbowl was a big deal, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Tomorrow, the world will be gripped by the biggest rocket to launch in more than a generation – and despite some teething issues, it heralds a bright and exciting future in spaceflight. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1.30pm EST (6.30pm GMT) at the earliest tomorrow, February 6. The rocket will have a 2.5-hour launch window, with a backup launch date scheduled for Feb

It's Been More Than A Year Since NASA Had Someone Properly In Charge

If you’re keeping count, yes, it has been more than 365 days since NASA last had an Administrator. That is unprecedented, and the end is not yet in sight. At the moment, the Trump administration is trying to push forward the nomination of Republican Jim Bridenstine. He was put forward in November and then resubmitted in January, but it's not clear when a full Senate vote will take place. This is the longest time NASA has been without an Administrator in its 60-year history; it took just six mo

Astronomers Are Really Pissed Off About That Disco Ball Satellite In Orbit

Hey, remember the other day we told you about that “disco ball” satellite that had been launched into orbit? Well, astronomers aren’t too pleased about it. Not pleased at all. Called the Humanity Star, it was launched into space by the fledgling US company Rocket Lab, on the second ever launch of their Electron rocket from New Zealand. That launch itself was quite an achievement. But it wasn’t until after the launch that the company revealed a secret payload on the rocket – this geodesic ball

These Are The Most Exciting Space Missions To Look Forward To In 2018

Hooray! We made it into 2018. And with another year comes another host of exciting space missions to look forward to, from long-awaited launches to deep space rendezvous. Last year saw a number of fascinating developments in space. India launched a record-breaking 104 satellites on a single rocket, for example, while the Cassini mission came to an end and SpaceX wowed us all with repeated rocket landings. This year should be even more thrilling though, and things get started almost immediately

Scientists Think They've Finally Worked Out What Caused The Mass Death Of Saiga Antelopes Three Years Ago

Back in 2015, more than 200,000 saiga antelopes mysteriously died in Kazakhstan over a three week period, wiping out 60 percent of the global population. Now, more than two years later, scientists think they finally know why. In a paper published in Science Advances, an international team of researchers suggests that a disease called hemorrhagic septicemia is likely to have caused the mass mortality event (MME), triggered by conditions that can be associated with climate change. More than ever,

An Adorable New Species Of Dwarf Lemur Has Just Been Discovered

We just want to smoosh its little face! E.E. Louis, Jr Break out the “awws”, because an adorable new species of lemur has just been discovered in Madagascar. Just look at its little face! This delightful little animal will join more than 100 known species of lemur. Called Grove’s dwarf lemur, or Cheirogaleus grovesi, it was found in two of Madagascar’s national parks – Ranomafana and Andringitra. A study describing the animal is published in Primate Conservation. It is specifically known as a

Psychedelic Dinosaur With Multicolored Feathers Discovered In China

A dinosaur with a beautiful plumage on its head has been discovered, showing us that iridescent feathers go a long way back in history. Named Caihong juji, which means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin, the creature lived 161 million years ago during the Jurassic Period and was found in northeastern China. It was about the size of a duck and had a bony crest on its head. A study describing the creature is published in Nature Communications. In it, an international team of scientists exa

This Terrifying Robotic Crawling Baby Actually Has A Scientific Purpose

Heads up people, we’ve got a creepy robot baby alert. And this is not just your standard creepy baby. Oh no. It’s born out of your deepest, darkest nightmares. Scientists from Purdue University in Indiana created this abomination, no doubt to strike fear into their worst enemies. But this spawn of Satan apparently has a scientific purpose, too. Yes, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers showed how this crawling baby highlights the amount of “bio-gunk” t

NASA Says The Global Effort To Repair The Ozone Hole Is Working

In 1987, the nations of the world came together to save the planet in part by banning chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Now, three decades later, a NASA satellite has confirmed those measures were successful. That pact in 1987 was the Montreal Protocol. It came about as a response to the discovery two years prior in 1985 of a hole in the ozone over the Antarctic. The result of this treaty was to phase out the use of CFCs, seen in things like aerosols and refrigerants. A new study

NASA Will Return To Titan Or Comet 67P In The 2020s, But Other Exciting Destinations Miss Out

NASA has selected two possible new missions to launch in the 2020s, one to a comet and one to Titan. The selection, however, has highlighted how many exciting destinations there are to go to in the Solar System, and how little money there is available to do them all. The two finalists, announced yesterday and selected from a list of 12 possible missions, are part of NASA’s New Frontiers programme. After further development of the concepts in 2018, one of the missions will be selected in the spr
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