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Lunar Complexity Challenges Simple Theories

Tomorrow is “International Observe the Moon Night” according to Space.com, stimulating laypeople and astronomy neophytes to get outdoors to look at the moon with telescopes, binoculars, and the naked eye while the last-quarter moon is in convenient position for evening viewing.  Humans have contemplated the moon for millennia on such evenings and imagined all sorts […]

Many Stars Are Planet Destroyers

A NASA study is being called “Bad news for planet hunters.”  A survey of stars in globular clusters has not turned up the number of planets expected.  Astronomers conclude that stars in these presumably ancient clusters have long since devoured their planets or sent them careening out into oblivion.     The leading popular science […]

Asteroid Pi

Asteroids are much more diverse than previously imagined.  The Spitzer Space Telescope (now in its “warm” mission after the liquid coolant has dissipated) is targeting about 700 asteroids in a program called ExploreNEOs (Near-Earth Objects).  NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope website reported results from the first hundred studied.  The scientists found that near-Earth asteroids… …are a […]

Exoplanet Hunters Fail Predictions

Before the first extrasolar planets were discovered, astronomers had high confidence that other solar systems would resemble ours.  We have rocky planets close to the sun, and gas giants farther out.  Planetary scientists were pretty sure the pattern would hold up around other stars.  Now that we have hundreds of examples to compare, the reality […]

Moon May Be Active Today

The old story of our moon was that it was geologically dead.  Except for the occasional meteor impact, not much happens there; the interior had cooled down long ago, leaving it an inert, battered sphere.  That was before the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showed scientists evidence that it has continued to shrink and form new surface […]

Best Face-on-Mars Photo Looks Dead

Conspiracy theorists will probably have little to say now that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken the clearest photo yet of the alleged “Face on Mars” in Cydonia.  For the before and after photos, see PhysOrg.  The new photo is clearly an eroded, rocky mesa – that’s all, folks. Use this as a teachable moment.  […]

Things in Space that Shouldn’t Be

A history of astronomy and a history of surprise discoveries in space would track pretty well.  Recent stories show that the trend continues even today. Wet moon:  The moon was thought to be depleted of volatiles – until now.  According to PhysOrg, “Researchers discover water on the moon is widespread, similar to Earth’s.”  Shouldn’t all […]

Dating of Impacts and Impacts of Dating

Earth and Neptune were both on stage this week with stories of impacts.  How do scientists know when they occurred? Neptune:  A comet struck Neptune 200 years ago.  That’s what planetary scientists are claiming, according to National Geographic.  The data only “suggests” this explanation, according to Space.com.  Since nobody witnessed the impact in 1810 (Neptune […]

Scratching Heads With Imaginary Stars

It was lurking out there, astronomers said.  Our sun’s evil companion, invisible, dark, like a stealthy general of an enemy force, wandered silently in hiding, waiting for the next opportunity to order its agents of death into combat.  Its name was Nemesis.  Every 27 million years, using its gravity, it sent comets from the Oort […]

Wishing ET Upon a Star

What are the odds of finding extraterrestrials?  That subject has been discussed ad infinitum, but David Shiga at New Scientist thinks the odds just went up.  “Solitary suns like ours are not as rare as we once thought, boosting the likelihood that there are other life-friendly solar systems in the universe.”  It should be noted […]

Tricks to Preserve Deep Time

It’s not always easy to prove that things are very, very old.  After all, no one has ever experienced deep time (millions and billions of years).  The key is to maintain a public “feeling” in the oldness of things.  Once that feeling is in place, some pretty major tweaks can be made by the experts […]

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 […]

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 […]
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