Findings vs Surmisings in Astronomy

The Galex satellite (Galaxy Evolution Explorer) found “bright features” with an ultraviolet glow in the outskirts of a spiral galaxy, reported the BBC News.  What are they?  Scientists “think” they are large clusters of stars.  How much is known, and how much is interpreted?     The region imaged is the dark area around spiral […]

Is Inflation Theory in Trouble?

For more than a quarter of a century, “inflation” has been viewed as the savior of the Big Bang theory.  The Big Bang was in trouble in the late 1970s because of the flatness problem and the horizon problem: our universe appeared to be too homogeneous and isotropic to be an accident.  If a runaway […]

Imagination as Science

Can a science exist without evidence?  Astrobiology, and its subcategory “the search for extraterrestrial intelligence,” involve a great deal of scientific equipment, trained researchers, and funding, but still have no observational evidence to support their reason for being: extraterrestrial life.  Where is the line between imagination and reality in these fields?     Some insight […]

Mars Lacks Safety Shield for Humans

Forget all those optimistic, futuristic sci-fi tales of humans landing on Mars.  It isn’t safe, said  NASA’s space radiation program doubts that a human body could survive prolonged exposure to space.  This is a problem for long stays on the moon, too.     “The magnetic field of Earth protects humanity from radiation in […]

Fooling Oneself About Aliens

Would you give a Bible to a Neanderthal, or invite a porpoise to your church?  Who would ask such questions?  Seth Shostak would – director of the SETI Institute.  On, he speculated about “alien sociology.”     Shostak wrote the weekly SETI column for to answer critics who think that broadcasting our presence […]

Enceladus: Hotter Chemical Plume Found

Initial results of Cassini’s March 12 flyby of Enceladus have been published.  You can watch a replay of today’s press briefing, read the blog, and read illustrated bulletins about the organic material, chemical signatures, hot spot locations, the stellar occultation (see also the Quicktime animation).  Another article shows the plume locations.  An astrobiologist (Chris McKay) […]

Crater Dater Deflator: Impactors Can Be Recycled

They came from outer space – that was the old paradigm about impactors that made craters on planetary bodies.  Then, we learned how secondary craters can confuse a surface’s history (06/08/2006, 09/25/2007).  Now, two papers in Icarus show that moons can do a lateral pass.     Alvarellos et al,1 showed that Jupiter’s moon Io […]

March Moon Madness

Moons of our planetary system are supposed to behave themselves.  They were expected to just quietly orbit their host planets like nice, cold, frozen, inactive chunks of rock and ice.  It seems like whenever we get a close look at them, they are madly at work destroying theories – just like their planets have been […]

Simple Molecules: The Building Blocks of Lie

At a physical level, everything in the universe is made of atoms and molecules.  Life, being a subset of everything in the universe, is composed of a subset of all molecules that exist.  It could be said that any atom or molecule present in a living thing is a building block of life, but how […]

How to Address an Alien

How would you like this job: your assignment is to be the speechwriter for planet earth.  You are to figure out what our first message is to the aliens – to give them a good first impression as we introduce the human species to the galactic community.  “No kidding? What does it pay?”     […]

Astrobiology Justifying Itself

Is astrobiology a legitimate science?  Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, tried to answer that question in the weekly SETI Thursday column on  He estimates there are “approximately a thousand scientists who would be proud to print ‘astrobiologist’ on their business cards.”  Astrobiology still gets a cool reception in some quarters.  Shostak likened […]

How to Avoid Dark Energy

Who needs dark energy?  Copernicus?  George Ellis (U. of Cape Town) said we could get rid of dark energy by throwing the Copernican Principle overboard.  Writing in Nature,1 he said that dark energy may simply be an artifact of the geometry of space-time.     Copernicus did not invent the Copernican Principle.  He was just […]

Falling Rocks Leave Holes in Science

Hard data in astronomy is hard to come by, except when it comes by special delivery – as with meteorites.  If there is any class of phenomena that should be well understood, it should be space debris and the craters they form, because the processes involved can be watched in real time.  Meteorites adorn many […]

Saturn Moons Continue to Surprise Scientists

Just days before a long-awaited dive into the plume of Enceladus (see PhysOrg and JPL press release, flyby stats and news release), Cassini found another surprise in the Saturn system: a moon with rings.     A Jet Propulsion Lab press release on March 6 reported that the large moon Rhea may have rings – […]

Is Cosmology Getting Wimp-y?

Physics and astronomy are usually thought of as the “hard” sciences, where empiricism is king.  Read the following excerpts from a story on the BBC News science page with that in mind (suggestion: replace “dark matter” with “mysterious unknown stuff”). The first stars to appear in the Universe may have been powered by dark matter, […]
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