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Should Cosmologists Get Worried Yet?

The unexpected finding of mature galaxies in the early universe (see 01/02/2004) has Robert Irion worried, but he seems surprised the theorists are not.  Reporting on last week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society in the Jan. 23 issue of Science,1 he titles his article, “Early Galaxies Baffle Observers, But Theorists Shrug.”  He begins: “It’s […]

Mars Rover Lands

From the scene of news at Jet Propulsion Laboratory At 8:35 p.m. Pacific Time Saturday, January 3, signal was lost as a large set of air bags bounced on the surface of Mars.  After several nail-biting minutes, signal was reacquired by two Earth stations, indicating that the Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” had survived the heat […]

Instant Galaxies?

The Hubble Space Telescope, with its Advanced Camera for Surveys, has taken a peek at the most distant galaxy clusters ever seen.  The astronomers found “embryonic” galaxies in a “proto-cluster” of galaxies, named TN J1338-1942, that they estimate formed a mere 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang.  This find has been reported in the […]

Stardust Mission Successfully Flies Through Comet Cloud

In the first of what is hoped will be a series of spectacular space missions in 2004, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory flew the Stardust spacecraft today on a wild ride right into the dusty coma of comet Wild-2 (pronounced Vilt-2).  Though the dust storm would have killed an astronaut at that range, the craft emerged […]

Globular Cluster Origins: Where Do We Go From Here?

The simple explanation of globular clusters as bundles of ancient stars seems to be in a state of crisis, though the authors of a paper in the Jan. 1 issue of Nature1 try to keep a stiff upper lip.  They begin, “Nearly a century after the true nature of galaxies as distant ‘island universes’ was […]

Dark Energy Doubted

We’ve been told recently that two thirds of the universe consists of a mysterious phenomenon called dark energy.  Now, some scientists at ESA say it doesn’t exist.     Observations by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory of clusters of galaxies 10 billion light years distant show remarkable differences from nearby clusters in the […]

Keeping Planetary Rings Going for Eons

It’s common knowledge that planetary rings, like those at Saturn, don’t last forever (see 02/12/2002 headline), so scientists either have to find a way to keep them going, or admit that we live in a special period in the lifetime of the solar system to see them now.  That latter option is “philosophically unappealing” to […]

Vega Has a Neptune?

The BBC News and EurekAlert are pretty excited about a discovery at Vega, the sapphire-blue star that hangs overhead in summertime (from the Northern Hemisphere; Aussies see it at the horizon).  Astronomers think they see a clump of material that might be at the distance from the star similar to Neptune’s distance from the sun.  […]

Ring Around the Moons

51; Saturn is known for its rings, and some small moons have been found inside its rings.  But wouldn’t it be strange if some of its moons had rings of their own?  Such a thing had not been widely considered before 2007, when there was a tentative detection of a ring around Rhea (see 03/10/2008).  […]

Planets and Moons Suddenly Got Much Younger

A planet or moon covered with craters just looks old, doesn’t it?  Planetary geologists have long relied on crater counts to estimate the absolute ages of surfaces, such as on the moon, Mars, Europa, and every other solid body.  Lots of craters meant old.  Few craters meant young.  Presumably, impacting bodies came in like clockwork […]

SETI at 50: Onward with Style

51; It’s been fifty years since the first scientific paper suggested listening in on the stellar radio dial for signs of intelligence.1  Nature celebrated the occasion with two articles and an Editorial that said,2 “Despite the long odds against success, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has come a long way.”     SETI sure has […]

Questioning Earth’s Privileges

51; Two articles this week downplayed considerations that would make the Earth seem like a special place in the universe.  Both have ties to NASA.     Are life-friendly stars limited to a narrow band in the galaxy called the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ)?  NASA-supported Astrobiology Magazine cast doubt on the idea.  Citing a study […]

How Precise Is “Precision Cosmology”?

When data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) came in, cosmologists heralded it as the era of “precision cosmology” and immediately began to make claims that resulting data map confirmed some cosmological theories and falsified others (see 02/14/2003 headline).  Two papers in the Astrophysical Journal, however, are discounting the precision of the data and […]

Dark Energy Is Embarrassing

Robert Scherrer is trying to come up with a theory that combines dark matter and dark energy, reports Space.Com.  “It is somewhat embarrassing to have two different unknown sources for the dominant forms of matter and energy in the universe.  On the other hand, that may just be the way things are.  We don’t get […]

A “Completely Different Slant” on Solar System Formation

51; “Did great balls of fire form the planets?” New Scientist asks.  A new theory “challenges the notion that the solar system started out as a placid sea of dust motes which simply clumped together to form planets.” If accepted, it “puts a completely different slant on what happened in the early solar system in […]
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