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The eclipse chasers...preparing for tomorrow's event

Tomorrow morning the skies over the south will darken as the moon covers the sun during the Solar Eclipse. Yes safely of course, people wearing special glasses or using pin cameras stop what they are doing to see the event - the first for 16 years.

We must stress you must not look at the Sun with the naked eye - and even sun glasses are not enough to protect you. In our part of the world we can expect around 85% of the sun to be obscured - weather permitting - but for some people that's not enough.

So called Eclipse Chasers - many from our region are heading to the Faroe Islands - so they can see a Total eclipse. Our reporter Mike Pearse, is with them and sends this report.

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David Cameron unveils £300 million in Dementia funds

David Cameron talks to Gina Doherty, the millionth Dementia friend and Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society Credit: PA Wires

The Government has pledged more than £300 million to be spent on research into dementia while all NHS staff will have to undergo training in the condition. The announcement was made by David Cameron while visiting a Dementia Friends / Alzheimer's Society event at The Clare Charity Centre in Saunderton, Buckinghamshire. The centre is located west of Thame in Oxfordshire.

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University of Kent awarded £3.5 million for 'world-leading' research

The University of Kent has been given a multi-million pound grant to carry out research at their School of Biosciences.

The £3.5 million will help scientists to look into creating cells with an enhanced utility, which could go towards improvements in medicine and industry.

The money will go towards funding 'cutting-edge' research Credit: PA

It is one of five universities to be given the grant by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which recognises 'world-leading' projects .

Other universities awarded the grant are Oxford University, the University of Manchester and the University of Glasgow.

Lettuce set to be first life on Mars by 2018

A team of student researchers have plans to put the first life on Mars by 2018 - in the form of a humble lettuce.

The student project, called Lettuce on Mars, is looking to send a small greenhouse to Mars in which lettuce will be grown using the atmosphere and sunlight on Mars.

The brains behind lettuce on Mars Credit: Southampton University

To live on other planets we need to grow food there. No-one has ever actually done this and we intend to be the first. This plan is both technically feasible and incredibly ambitious in its scope, for we will be bringing the first complex life to another planet.

Growing plants on other planets is something that needs to be done, and will lead to a wealth of research and industrial opportunities that our plan aims to bring to the University of Southampton."

– Project leader Suzanna Lucarotti
Students from the University of Southampton are aiming to put the first life on Mars. Credit: Southampton University

The researchers decided to plant lettuce, although it's not the most nutritiously rich plant, to study its growth on Mars.

It will open the doors for richer plants, such as tomatoes and strawberries, to be transported and cultivated on a foreign planet.

Scientists lead the way in measuring distances in space

The galaxy Credit: Press Association

A new way of measuring precise distances to galaxies tens of millions of light years away has been developed by scientists from the University of Southampton. Dr Sebastian Hoenig has created the method which is similar to what land surveyors use on earth, by measuring the physical and angular, or "apparent", size of a standard ruler in the galaxy, to calibrate the distance from this information. The research,which is published in the journal Nature, was used to identify the accurate distance of the nearby NGC 4151 galaxy, which wasn't previously available. The galaxy NGC 4151, which is dubbed the Eye of Sauron by astronomers for its similarity to the film depiction of the eye of the character in The Lord Of The Rings, is important for accurately measuring black hole masses. Recently reported distances range from 4 to 29 megaparsecs, but using this new method the researchers calculated the distance of 19 megaparsecs to the supermassive black hole.

One of the key findings is that the distance determined in this new fashion is quite precise - with only about 10% uncertainty. In fact, if the current result for NGC 4151 holds for other objects, it can potentially beat any other current methods to reach the same precision to determine distances for remote galaxies directly based on simple geometrical principles. Moreover, it can be readily used on many more sources than the current most precise method. Such distances are key in pinning down the cosmological parameters that characterise our universe or for accurately measuring black hole masses. Indeed, NGC 4151 is a crucial anchor to calibrate various techniques to estimate black hole masses. Our new distance implies that these masses may have been systematically underestimated by 40%.

– Dr Hoenig, University of Southampton

A university spokesman explained that the method involves measuring the dust rings that form around supermassive black holes. The hot dust forms a ring around the supermassive black hole and emits infrared radiation, which the researchers used as the ruler. However, the apparent size of this ring is so small that the observations were carried out using infrared interferometry to combine WM Keck Observatory's twin 10m telescopes, to achieve the resolution power of an 85m telescope. To measure the physical size of the dusty ring, the researchers measured the time delay between the emission of light from very close to the black hole and the infrared emission. This delay is the distance the light has to travel (at the speed-of-light) from close to the black hole out to the hot dust. By combining this physical size of the dust ring with the apparent size measured with the data from the Keck interferometer, the researchers were able to determine a distance to the galaxy NGC 4151. Dr Hoenig, together with colleagues in Denmark and Japan, is currently setting up a new programme to extend their work to establish precise distances to a dozen galaxies in this new way and use them to constrain cosmological parameters to within a few per cent. In combination with other measurements, this will provide a better understanding of the history of expansion of our universe.

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