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Earth Still Privileged Planet
May 24, 2011
Astronomers have found over a thousand extrasolar planets now. How does our solar system compare? Thanks to the Kepler spacecraft, we now have a catalog of 1,235 alien planet candidates after just four months of operation. Of the 408 that have been found in multiple-planet systems, 170 of these containing two to six planets have been pictured in a “Kepler Orrery” posted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The press release says, “most of those look very different than our solar system”.
Ups & Downs of SETI
May 15, 2011
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence arouses excitement in some, boredom in others. The SETI Institute has taken lumps recently; due to a $5 million shortfall in funding, they had to mothball a search using the Allen Telescope Array. But PhysOrg announced that an unspecified group of astronomers will be using the Green Bank Radio Telescope […]
Science Out of Touch
May 11, 2011
When science became a profession instead of an avocation, there were some unintended consequences. Scientists began to lose touch with the public. When a scientist goes to work doing science for a living, he or she sometimes takes public support for granted, thinking the work is justified for its own sake. Recent articles, however, warn […]
Imagining Worlds: Is It Science?
April 2, 2011
An entry on Space.com is almost pure speculation with no observation. Does it belong on a science news site? Reporter Clara Moskowitz gave Viorel Badescu [Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania] free rein to imagine life on free-floating planets (FFPs) – bodies wandering free in space after being abandoned, like wayward children, from their […]
Young Galaxy Cluster Already Mature
March 9, 2011
“Isn’t that special.” The remark, in common parlance, is a generic way of avoiding a judgment call. When astronomers were confronted with the sight of a galaxy too mature for its age, Space.com reported the response: “And that makes it special, researchers said.” The headline was, “Surprise! Ancient Galaxy Cluster Still Looks Young.” […]
Busted! Planet-Making Theories Dont Fit Extrasolar Planets
February 23, 2011
Famed planet-hunter Geoff Marcy is giving theorists headaches. The leading theories of planet formation won’t stand up to observations of hundreds of planets we know. In National Geographic News reporter Richard Lovett lamented, “The more new planets we find, the less we seem to know about how planetary systems are born, according to a leading […]
Planets a-Plenty, but Are They Lively?
February 2, 2011
The Kepler spacecraft has found over 1,235 planets so far (Space.com), 54 in their star’s habitable zone, and some Earth-size or smaller. Science media are having a field day reporting the discoveries, portraying them with artist imaginations, licking their chops at the possibility of life in outer space. What does this mean? Space.com […]
Science Done by Humans Is Mushy
December 3, 2010
Discoveries in science must be mediated by flawed agents: human beings. Though the most hardened scientific realists maintain strong beliefs in external reality, the perceived reality is mediated by senses, then interpreted by minds that are not omniscient. Those are some of the reasons that science keeps changing, as illustrated by some recent examples: Endangered […]
SETI Reinvades Oz
November 13, 2010
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first SETI search, astronomers from around the world are going to tune into the stars, listening for aliens. Frank Drake named his first attempt in 1960 after the land of Oz: Project Ozma. Today’s searchers, looking at promising candidates with much better resolution, are once again paying tribute […]
Life: Do Ingredients Imply Emergence?
October 8, 2010
Science articles continue to push the idea that if water is found somewhere, life is certain to emerge. Other articles look for so-called “building blocks of life” or “ingredients for life,” implying or even plainly stating that life simply emerges from its parts. While many have complained that this kind of thinking is as ridiculous […]