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Are Saturn’s Rings Evolving?

Can ring particles grow into moons? And is that how planets grew from rings around stars?

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 […]

How Well Do We Know What Stuff Is Made Of?

When we think of the “hard sciences,” physics usually tops the list.  A closer look at what physicists think the universe is made of, though, hardly makes the science look hard.  Look at this headline on PhysOrg, for instance: “Study finds there may be multiple ‘God particles’”.  The title refers, of course, to the famed […]

The Limits of Scientific Speculation

How far can a scientist speculate and get a respectful hearing, just because he or she is a scientist?  One case to examine is a story on PhysOrg, “The Chance for Life on Io” (see also Astrobio.net).  Jupiter’s innermost large moon Io might be considered the last place to look for life.  It is the […]

Could Cosmology Be Based on Flawed Calibrations?

This is the era of “precision cosmology,” we have been told (09/20/2004 04/13/2007).  Especially since the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), measurements of faint deviations in the cosmic microwave background have reached exceptional detail (02/14/2003, allowing cosmologists to discriminate between cosmological models and, hopefully, provide insight into the nature and origins of the universe.  But […]

Making Model Earths

Modeling how the earth got here can be fun.  One doesn’t have to be right, just creative.  There are certain accepted paradigms to work within, and certain accepted constraints that are taken as a given.  Beyond that, there is a lot of leeway.  This is illustrated by two teams who published in two different journals […]

Not Life on Titan Again

Something weird is going on at the large moon of Saturn.  “What is Consuming Hydrogen and Acetylene on Titan?” teased a press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory”s Cassini mission: Two new papers based on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft scrutinize the complex chemical activity on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.  While non-biological chemistry offers […]

Jupiter Scores Another Hit

Amateurs saw Jupiter get struck by something again on June 3.  Last year, an asteroid also hit the giant planet.  Good thing Jupiter caught it and not Earth.  The asteroid, believed to be about 500 meters across, left a scar as big across as the Pacific Ocean.  National Geographic and the BBC News have photos […]

Science Explains Why the Universe Exists

They’ve done it again – those clever scientists have figured out why the universe exists.  What would we ever do without them?  Michael Bolen at Yahoo News had to share the good news, “Scientists discover explanation for why the Universe exists.”  Space.com explained it as a victory in an ancient contest: “Why We Exist: Matter […]

How Science Is Done: Upsetting Applecarts

Hardly a week goes by without some scientific finding upsetting an applecart – a long-held belief.  Often, those beliefs are scientific theories taught in textbooks by science professors.  Defenders of science say that this is the way science works.  It’s a self-correcting process, they argue; it’s to be expected that new data will lead to […]

Titan Continues to Surprise Saturn Scientists

Since reaching Saturn in 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has now made 68 flybys of Titan, the large smog-shrouded moon.  Space.com highlighted a recent picture showing the rings appearing to bisect the moon.  What are some of the latest findings of this alien world – the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere? […]

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 […]

Cosmologist Suffers Paranoid Delusions: Media Promotes His Views

“They’re coming to get us, and I’m sure of it, because I know everything.”  What would you think of someone who talked like that?  What if he were one of the most famous cosmologists alive today?  The man is Stephen Hawking – that wheelchair-bound math wizard who talks with a speech synthesizer and once fell […]

SETI and other Pointless Gimmicks

Astrobiologist Paul Davies sure knows how to ask interesting questions, and ruffle feathers in the process.  His new book about SETI, The Eerie Silence, reviewed by Leslie Mullen in Astrobiology Magazine, defaced some long-standing notions.  But are his suggestions any improvement?     Davies thinks the Voyager record was a “pointless gimmick.”  He thinks that […]

Conflicting Reports About Earthlike Planets

Are earth-like planets rare or common?  Your opinion might depend on which news stories you read.  “Polluted Old Stars Suggest Earth-like Worlds May Be Common,” reported Space.com and Science Daily.  The idea is that hydrogen in the atmospheres of white dwarfs might have come from water, which might be remains of rocky planets that got […]
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