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This Day in History: Genesis from the Moon

Forty years ago this day, Christmas Eve, a riotous and troubled world stopped in its tracks and held its breath.  The crew of Apollo 8, which had blasted off 3 days earlier in the new behemoth rocket Saturn V, masterminded by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, had reached orbit around the moon, and was about […]

Dream On, Astrobiology

An astrobiologist at Open University (UK) has classified habitable worlds into four types, even though only one of them is known to have life.  Astrobiology Magazine reported the list by Jan Hendrik Bredeh?ft: earth-like, Mars-like, Venus-like and water-worlds.  After considering all the facts, Bredeh?ft says our best bet to find extraterrestrial ecosystems is to hunt […]

Cassini Celebrates Season of Change

It’s approaching equinox on Saturn.  Cassini is now well into its first extended mission, aptly dubbed the Equinox Mission, till Sept. 2010.  The Cassini Team just exhibited its snazzy new website.  It’s not all bells and whistles.  The science is ringing the phones off the hook.  Even without the pictures the following announcements could stop […]

Applying the Scientific Method to Prehistory

What could be more scientific than the scientific method?  A scientist observes an unexplained phenomenon.  He or she gathers data, analyzes it, proposes a hypothesis to explain it, and tests it.  The results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.  Mission accomplished, right?  Here are two papers on very different phenomena – one dealing with the […]

Ganymede Age Threatened by Magnetism

The biggest moon in the solar system is Ganymede, the third large moon out from Jupiter.  Larger than Mercury, Ganymede has a heterogeneous surface of dark and light areas (picture), grooved terrain, abrupt changes of landforms, and bright splashes where impacts have scarred its icy surface (gallery).  What goes on inside, though, is more surprising: […]

Poison Planet Was Life’s Training Ground

Navy Seals go through “Hell Week” in their training to become warriors.  The radical hardships they endure help prepare them for missions that will call on their deepest resources of courage and determination.  These men of the elite special forces also become experts in dealing with explosives.  Can molecules do the same, with a little […]

Young Lava Conflicts with Lunar Age

The Japanese found what the Americans and Russians didn’t: young lava on the far side of the moon.  “Volcanoes shook up the far side of the moon for far longer than scientists thought,” reported National Geographic News on photos from the Japanese Kaguya (Selene) spacecraft (11/15/2007).     Crater-count dating estimates the lava flows at […]

Solar System Surprises

In the last few days and weeks, more amazing discoveries were made about bodies in the solar system. Mercury:  Results from the second flyby of Mercury on Oct. 6 by MESSENGER were announced Oct 29.  This pass covered more “hidden” territory that had never been seen before, bringing the coverage to 95%.  According to Space.com […]

FrankenTitan Comes to Life

There’s electricity at Titan, the large moon of Saturn.  That can only mean one thing: life!  “Electricity Found on Saturn Moon–Could It Spark Life?” asked a headline on National Geographic News by Rebecca Carroll.  Visions of spark discharge tubes in a mad scientist’s lab arise in the imagination.  “Recently identified electrical activity on Saturn’s largest […]

Habitable Zones Are Not Forever

A new realization has broken on the astrobiological community: planetary habitable zones have no fences.  Michael Sherber wrote for Astrobiology Magazine (see Space.com) that planets around low-mass stars tend to be pulled out of the habitable zone toward the star.  They have just a billion years before migration can pull them in and cook them.  […]

Bangin’ Around to Get Something New Under the Sun

You’ve heard of the Big Bang, and the Cambrian Explosion.  Now, to get the solar system started, astronomers have added a Little Bang to move things along in the naturalistic path from nothing to everything.  Science Daily, Space.com and PhysOrg all reprinted a press release from the Carnegie Institution claiming that a nearby supernova led […]

Making Earths the Natural Way

Creating a solar system is as easy as spinning a dust cloud around a star.  Before long, rocky orbs will emerge from the dust as platforms on which life can evolve.  Is it that simple?  We know now that planets surround a number of other stars – perhaps most of them.  Textbooks and artwork make […]

Short-Term Flings at Saturn’s Rings

The Saturn system is assumed to be 4.5 billion years old like the rest of the solar system.  What mean the delicate dances of ring particles that have been observed by Cassini lately?  One would think moons and particles had pretty much settled into a stable old age by now, but no: some things change […]

Comet Conundrums Resist Bluffing

Scientists may claim they are learning about the origin of the solar system, but the fine print shows them scratching their heads.  This is apparent in a couple of discoveries about comets this week.     One Science Daily article is entitled, “Comets Throw Light On Solar System’s Beginnings.”  Scientists at the UK’s national synchrotron […]

Modeling Just-So Stories for Earth History

Models are only simulations of reality.  In science, they have a long history of simplifying complex physical phenomena in an attempt to understand them.  Many times, empirical evidence can correct a model.  The model then becomes a more accurate simulation, and can even provide additional insights and make predictions.  Can modeling work for the unobservable, […]
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