Freakish Star Stuns Astronomers

Astronomers have detected a star that should not exist. Current theory cannot explain the composition of a star in the constellation Leo. This “freakish star,” moreover, is probably not unique. What is it, exactly, that modern star formation theory does explain?

Lucky in the Sky with Diamonds

There are treasures all around us we do not perceive. Sometimes we speak figuratively about sparkling gems that are, if we realized it, literally real, right there under our noses. Children sing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky” without knowing that there really are diamond stars up there, with diamond planets, so magnificent and huge they are unfathomable in value. These are actual discoveries that have been announced by scientists this week.

8.7 Million Species Is Not a Scientific Fact

Human beings love to classify things. We pigeonhole items into bins of our own making, for whatever the reason, to give us a feeling of having things organized and understood. Do our pigeonholes reflect categories that are “out there” in nature, or are they constructs of our own minds? Science reporters are announcing in bold print that there are “8.7 million species on Earth,” but a look at the fine print shows the error bars to be so enormous, there is more error than data. What does this imply about the scientific validity of human classification schemes?

SETI Blurs Line with Hollywood

Down again, up again; the SETI Institute got a reprieve for its Allen Telescope Array from actress Jodie Foster, star of the Sagan SETI saga Contact. And just in time; NASA needs contact to protect earth from aliens who might invade to punish us for global warming.

Earth Uniqueness Up; SETI Down

Our earth seems special – maybe because it is. Some astronomers are seriously considering that life might be rare or unique on our rare (or unique) planet. If so, hopes for finding sentient aliens on the celestial radio dial drop accordingly. The 50th anniversary of the first SETI search came, unfortunately for search enthusiasts, came at a time when funding is harder to get.

Planetary Eruptions

Eruptions can come in two types: literal and figurative. Some planetary bodies are literally erupting. Others are causing figurative eruptions in theories. Here are some recent news stories about planets, moons, comets and other objects circling our sun and other stars. There hasn’t been much news from Mercury or Venus this month, so we’ll start on the home planet and work outward.

Water, Water Everywhere in Space

The largest mass of water has been found surrounding a black hole in a quasar 12 billion light-years away. says the cloud harbors “140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.” The discovery not only that “water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence,” but that it “was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the universe.” Alberto Bolatto, of the University of Maryland, said, "This discovery pushes the detection of water one billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.” In other cosmology news:

Cosmology Could Be Way Off

The “lumpiness problem” in cosmology refuses to go away. This old conundrum about why the universe is lumpy with stars and galaxies has been around for decades. The big bang predicts no such lumps. Since the late 1990s, tiny differences in temperature measured in the cosmic background radiation held hope of being the seeds of lump formation, provided theories added copious fudge factors like dark matter, dark energy and inflation. A new survey finds more clumps than expected, casting doubt on whether the fudge factors are wrong, the hot big bang is wrong, or relativity is wrong. Words can hardly express the gravity of the situation when gravity itself – an icon of scientific verity – is called into question.

Spiral Galaxy Upset

In 1964, C. C. Lin and Frank Shu looked at the galaxy’s curvaceous arms and said, “You are my density.”  The density-wave theory of spiral arm formation was married to galactic astronomy for nearly a half century.  Now, however, we are back to the future, where theories do not always fulfill their destiny.  An upstart […]

Upsets in Space

Three different astronomy teams have announced findings that upset long-held beliefs.  What does this portend about the confidence we can have in other theories? Galaxy growth: direct challenge:  “Galaxies are thought to develop by the gravitational attraction between and merger of smaller ‘sub-galaxies’, a process that standard cosmological ideas suggest should be ongoing,” announced the […]

SETI Ignorance Gets Stronger

“Science is not about blind faith” begins a video posted on MSNBC about SETI.  Part of an article by AP reporter Seth Borenstein, “Evidence for E.T. is mounting daily, but not proven,” the video explains Frank Drake’s famous equation that tries to quantify the probability for extraterrestrial intelligence (09/29/2010, 11/24/2008).  Though Drake confidently asserts the […]

Plasma May Revamp Cosmology

A “diverse new field” of astrophysics is poised to revolutionize our understanding of stars, energetic galaxies, and perhaps the entire universe.  The properties and interactions of plasma, that hot, electrically-charged gas that makes up the sun and stars, have not been considered as often as matter and light have in astronomy.  A set of top […]

Using Aliens to Titillate the Public

Geologists cannot even figure out our own planet (next headline), but some of them claim to know a lot about other planets – their geological history, and even their prospects for life.  Is it fair to tease the public with the L-word life when so much remains to be understood on the ground under our […]

Are There Limits to Scientific Speculation?  A Royal Case

Question: When does science become like a priesthood?  Answer: When its practitioners engage in speculation on big questions impossible to verify with empirical observations.  Is this what the chief astronomer in Britain is doing?     Sir Martin Rees certainly would not have thought of himself as a priest as he wrote an article for […]

Man Will Never Fly (to the Stars)

It’s risky to say “never” in science.  The Man Will Never Fly Society had a short life.  However, an article on makes it seem a safe bet that, Star Trek notwithstanding, warp-speed flights to the stars are out of the question for humans.  “Warp speed will kill you,” the article announced; why?  Because interstellar […]
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