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Loving Dark Matter Rather Than Light

There are two ways to describe dark things in science. One is phenomena we know exist, even if invisible to us, because we can measure their effects with instruments (X-rays, infrared radiation). The other is darkness as a placeholder for something not yet explained. Cosmologists have been talking about “dark matter” for decades now, and “dark energy” since the 1990s. Which category of dark ideas are they? Whether scientifically valid phenomena or placeholders for ignorance, one thing is clear from recent articles: much more knowledge is needed.

Naturalizing Miracles, or Miracle-izing Nature?

Certain scientists feel a need to explain all phenomena by means of natural processes, including reports of miracles. The word “natural,” however, is slippery, taking on a variety of meanings. Is scientific reasoning, for instance, natural? If so, it is not composed of atoms and forces acting according to “natural law.” Is it possible that the tables can be turned on the naturalizers, to rescue Christmas from materialist re-interpretation?

Observations Upset Models of Stellar Evolution

Stellar evolution models go back decades. Ever since the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram came out in 1910 (graphing temperature against luminosity), showing most stars fell on a line called the “main sequence”, astrophysicists have sought to understand the life cycle of stars from birth to death. In general, the story goes, collapsing clouds of gas and dust produce main-sequence stars that burn nuclear fuel till they run out. Depending on their masses, they end up as supernovae, red giants or slowly-cooling cinders. While red dwarfs cool down slowly into the darkness, supernovae and red giants eject mass outward into space . Two new planets found close to a red giant are among new headaches for theorists.

Philosophy on the Phringe

Some philosophy is just common sense. Some is abstruse, recondite, and technically challenging. But when employed against common sense, such as to support the belief that everything came from nothing, philosophy can get downright weird.

Earth’s Twin: What Does “Potentially Habitable” Mean?

The Kepler spacecraft has found dozens of “potentially habitable” planets around other stars, but this week announced one that some news sources are calling “Earth’s twin.”

Curiosity About Mars Rising

If all goes well on November 26, the newest Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, will rise above Earth’s atmosphere on a rocket pushing it toward the red planet. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is the largest and best-equipped rover ever built for the robotic exploration of another planetary surface.

Europa Plus Water Does Not Equal Life

NASA gave one of its high-profile press releases this week to dazzle reporters: Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, may have large lakes of liquid water under its icy shell, closer to the surface than the deep ocean long believed to exist miles down. The curious domes rising above the ice seem to indicate heating that Would the reporters resist the temptation to speculate about life?

Selling Confabulation as Science

Science is supposed to be all about demonstrable proof through experiment. Should some scientists get away with confabulation – mere storytelling? Look at these recent headlines published on science news sites and consider whether some serious housecleaning is in order.

Space Physics and Fables

Physics is supposed to be the king of “hard science” because of its precise mathematics, predictability and falsifiability. When transferred off our planet, however, it seems speculation is the order of the day.

SETI at Night

For 50 years, searchers for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI) have thought that radio waves would provide the best signals, being able to traverse at the speed of light with little scattering. Now, two physicists suggest another way: looking for the lights of their cities at night.

New Worlds

Members of our solar system that were little more than points of light for decades or centuries have now become familiar family members, seen up close and personal by spacecraft. Here are introductions to three worlds that are no longer mere names in a catalog. Even the names of members in this trio may be unfamiliar to some. They’re worth getting to know.

Aliens Among Us

Some SETI researchers are looking for intelligent design on Earth – by aliens! Paul Davies has written seriously about the possibility of “alien bioengineering” that could be detected in DNA. NASA’s tax-supported Astrobiology Institute gave the idea good press, apparently unaware that most SETI researchers and astrobiologists vociferously reject the theory of intelligent design.

Ski Enceladus

Want the ultimate in powder snow? Ski Enceladus, a little moon of Saturn. The snow is deep and vast. Drawbacks: except for occasional craters and steep canyons, the land is flat; there are no ski lifts; there is no air; you would weigh one or two pounds, and transportation will cost you billions of dollars. Other than that, science news outlets are advertising it as a great place for snow lovers!

Comety Show: Oceans from Space

Finally, a comet has been found with a deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio that is close to that found in Earth’s oceans. That had not been true of many other comets. Astrobiologists claim this ration in Comet Hartley 2 as “proof” that our water came special delivery from water-balloon comets. But why do they believe that, what constitutes proof, and what new problems does the “proof” lead to?

Three Strikes Against Uranus

Uranus has an axial tilt of 98 degrees, giving it the appearance of a bulls-eye as it revolves around the sun. Its moons revolve comfortably around the planet’s equator. This unusual arrangement, unique in the solar system, has challenged planetary scientists since its discovery. A new model accounts for it through a series of gentle bumps from impacts as the planet was forming from dust and gas, but how would one ever test such an idea?
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