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Doomed Worlds: Planets Seen Disrupting, Not Forming
May 23, 2012
Much as astrobiologists would like to see the birth of a new planet, the ones we observe seem to be dying, not being born.
Earth's Magnetic Field Less Sustainable than Thought
May 17, 2012
Geophysicists have found that their favored dynamo theory for Earth's magnetic field is less stable than thought, leaving them wondering how our planet sustained its magnetic field for "geologic time."
Saturn Moons Continue to Shine
April 23, 2012
Saturn just passed opposition on April 15, making it a good viewing object from Earth this season. Amateur observers with telescopes may be able to make out the moons Titan, Rhea, Dione, Iapetus, Tethys, and Enceladus. They may look like beautiful little gems from Earth, but from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit at Saturn, they are no less than astonishing. Recent observations of these moons add to the astonishment.
Wernher von Braun Remembered
April 20, 2012
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) would have turned 100 on March 23. His name is almost synonymous with "rocket scientist" to many. Father of the American space program, including the first American satellite, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, the moon landings and Skylab, von Braun left an indelible mark on America and the world.
Lunar Upsets Challenge Paradigms
January 27, 2012
Forty years after the last moonwalkers came home, new discoveries about the moon are calling into question what scientists know about our celestial partner. But is it legitimate for scientists to invoke mystery forces when a favored theory faces falsifying evidence?
SETI Finds Intelligent Humans
January 15, 2012
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is 50 years old this year. SETI’s latest scientific discovery was the detection of a human-made satellite in Earth orbit. In a sense, this counts as a success: the detection of a signal of intelligent origin from an extra-terrestrial source (beyond terra firma). The false alarm helped calibrate the instrumentation, but did little to garner support for the effort to find aliens. The SETI Institute was all SETI-ready to party hardy at the 50th anniversary of Frank Drake’s first search, but instead, found itself struggling to keep its doors open after a severe shortfall of private funds, highlighting questions about the scientific status of the long-shot project.
Tilt-A-World: Another Constraint on Habitability
January 12, 2012
Did you ever ride a Tilt-A-Whirl, one of those cheap carnival rides that makes you dizzy and sick? Our planet would be like that if its inclination were out of control. Without tilt stability, a new study reveals, we wouldn't be sick, we'd be dead, or never alive in the first place. It's not enough to be in the Habitable Zone. Would-be inhabited planets need to avoid a new problem, called “tilt erosion.”
Cosmologists Forced to “In the Beginning”
January 11, 2012
The late astronomer Robert Jastrow detailed in his 1978 book God and the Astronomers how cosmologists were repulsed by the idea the universe had a beginning. He found it quizzical that they would have such an emotional reaction. They all realized that a beginning out of nothing was implausible without a Creator. Since then, various models allowing for an eternal universe brought secular cosmologists relief from their emotional pains. It now appears that relief was premature.
A Young Moon for Life
January 3, 2012
Our moon is unique in the solar system. Just the right size and just the right distance, it is positioned to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s axis, providing stable seasonal cycles. Science lacks data so far to know just how unique the Earth-moon relationship in a habitable zone is among other stellar systems. We know from the planets of our own solar system that moons come in all sizes, from tiny Deimos to massive Titan, and orbit in apparently arbitrary radii from their host planets. What astrophysicists can do is predict what would happen on earth if things were different. That’s what one scientist did. Another discovery could change the view of the moon’s surface being unaltered for billions of years.
Loving Dark Matter Rather Than Light
December 31, 2011
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?
December 24, 2011
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
December 22, 2011
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.