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.
Earth’s Twin: What Does “Potentially Habitable” Mean?
December 5, 2011
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
November 22, 2011
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.
Selling Confabulation as Science
November 11, 2011
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
November 9, 2011
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.
October 28, 2011
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
October 26, 2011
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.