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Astrobiology Ten Years Later: Can It Justify Its Funding?

Astrobiology just turned ten years old, but is experiencing growing pains, partly due to a starvation diet.  This “science without a subject” (as George Gaylord Simpson quipped about its predecessor, exobiology) is struggling to justify itself at the Congressional feeding trough.  Proponents tout it as the most important subject in the universe.  Why, then, is […]

“Fertile Imagination” Envisions Life on Titan

The dramatic landing of the Huygens Probe on Titan over a year ago (01/14/2005, 01/21/2005, 12/05/2005) is finally getting some overdue notice from the media.  The PBS science series NOVA just aired a new program on Cassini-Huygens, “Voyage to the Mystery Moon” (see your local PBS station for rebroadcast times), and Astronomy Magazine’s May 2006 […]

More Hints at Early Origin of Stars, Galaxies

Several articles this month showed further evidence for a growing realization in astronomy: stars and galaxies were already mature at the beginning of the universe (see, for instance, 09/21/2005 entry).  Some recent examples: Spitzer Clusters:  JPL issued a press release stating that the Spitzer Space Telescope, on a “cosmic safari,” found evidence for clusters of […]

Dry-Marsers Score Points

Those looking for water on Mars in hopes that life would grow in it had some setbacks this week.  National Geographic and Mars Daily reported on work by Gwendolyn Bart (U of Arizona) who found gullies on the moon similar to those on Mars thought to be formed by water.  Since the moon never had […]

Planet-Making a Lost Art

Exclusive  Solar system theorists are trying to reverse engineer the planets without the recipe.  Planets exist, but they can’t get from a rotating disk of dust and gas to a solar system from their models.  They are at a loss to explain Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and a host of Jupiter-class planets around other stars. […]

Stardust Finds Burnt Rock in Comet Dust

In a surprise upset, scientists analyzing cometary material returned from the Stardust mission found minerals that must have glowed white-hot when they formed.  Comets were long thought to have formed in the outer fringes of the solar nebula or in the Oort Cloud, far from the sun where it’s icy cold and calm.  They were […]

The Astrobiology Sky Is Falling

Rocco Mancinelli (Principal Investigator, SETI Institute) made an impassioned plea on Space.com for continued funding of astrobiology projects, calling threatened funding cuts a “national disaster” if not reversed.  And what is astrobiology?  He defined it as “the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.”  His reasons for keeping astrobiology […]

Deities for Atheists, or Atheism for Dummies?

Michael Shermer wrote a book review in Science entitled “Deities for Atheists.”1  The article reviewed George Basalla’s recent book, Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials (Oxford, 2005).  Basalla (historian of science and technology, U of Delaware) contends that SETI is the continuation of an ancient religious quest.  If so, who are the […]

Spiral Galaxies Wind Up Into Blurs In Short Cosmological Time

Cosmic billions of years received another challenge.  Sky and Telescope reported on a announcement by Michael R. Merrifield (University of Nottingham, England), Richard J. Rand and Sharon E. Meidt (University of New Mexico) in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that they measured the velocity of gases in the spiral galaxy, M77, and found […]

Keeping Icy Moons Warm for Billions of Years

Each spacecraft that has explored the outer solar system has yielded surprises.  It is common knowledge that Voyager scientists were blown away by the first views of active moons they expected to be cold and old.  Recent discoveries have only intensified the surprises.  Richard Kerr wrote recently in Science,1 Why is there geology on Saturn’s […]

Alien Engineering: Is It Intelligent Design?

The SETI Institute finished airing a 2-part series on the History Channel called Alien Engineering (it will be rebroadcast on Feb. 18).  The series, featuring SETI Institute scientists Seth Shostak and Frank Drake, asks the following questions: Prepare for an exercise in imagination.  Suppose that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert and we humans […]

SETI Tries to Stretch the Habitable Zone

Can life exist outside the circumstellar habitable zone, that ring of life around a star where the temperature is comfy?  “For more than 150 years,” Ker Than wrote for LiveScience, “…this zone has been defined as a narrow disk around a star where temperatures are moderate enough that water on the surface of a planet […]

Keeping Saturn’s Moons Old

The Saturn system has a problem: young moons.  The current consensus on the age of the solar system (4.5 billion years) cannot handle such young objects.  Richard A. Kerr in Science last month described the vexing problem:1 Why is there geology on Saturn’s icy satellites?  Where did these smallish moons get the energy to refresh […]

Big Bang Threatened by Axis of Evil

“We thought we knew all about the Big Bang – but a blip in the cosmic afterglow is threatening our ideas,” reported Marcus Chown in The Independent.  The “Axis of Evil” he speaks of is not North Korea and Iran, but a newly found polarity in the cosmic background radiation that is not explainable by […]

Space Travel Too Hazardous for Humans

Astronomy magazine’s March 2006 issue contains a couple of sobering articles for those who like to dream of humans mastering the universe.  Asking “Will moon dust stop NASA?”, Trudy E. Bell described the dangers of space dust: “it sticks to spacesuits, wreaks havoc on equipment, and may be physically harmful,” she wrote, citing the experiences […]
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