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Mercury’s Magnetic Field: Another Attempt to Save Theory from Data

Nature Feb. 121 restates a puzzle about Mercury known since the Mariner 10 encounters (1974-5): …why, against expectations, does Mercury have a global magnetic field? The planet’s diminutive size means that it should have cooled quickly after it formed.  Any molten core would have become solid, or almost completely so.  A magnetic-field-generating dynamo in an […]

Comets as Cosmic Storks

Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised the bar on tale-telling ability.  They believe that comets splatting on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and farther out, eventually escaping the sun’s pull.  Over time, they might spread life to other worlds.  They estimate that since the origin of […]

Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy the New Epicycles?

An article in The Economist suggests that dark matter and dark energy may not be necessary to understand the structure of the universe.  It refers to two recent papers that explain the cosmic background radiation and galaxy clusters with ordinary matter, without a need for either of the other two unknown quantities.  Are dark matter […]

Accretion: The Missing Link in Planetary Evolution

Every school child has seen artwork of planets evolving from a disk of dust and gas around a star like our sun, but there’s a missing link in the story. How did the dust particles stick together?

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.  […]

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 […]

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).  […]

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 […]
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