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Faint Young Sun Paradox Resolved

For decades, astronomers and geologists have worried about a paradox.  Stellar evolution theory claims sunlight on the early earth would have been 20-30% dimmer than it is today, but geology shows the oceans were liquid in the earliest (Archean) rocks.  For that matter, so does the book of Genesis, but that record is not usually […]

Is It OK When Astronomers Sell Stars?

Most people have heard the ads for companies that sell you a certificate for a star they will name after you.  Professional astronomers have usually been quick to discourage people from falling for the schemes that have no professional or international authority for naming stars (for instance, see this article on Wired.com).  But now, according […]

This Place Really Has Atmosphere

Of all the bodies in the solar system, only eight have a substantial atmosphere.  If you add in those with tenuous atmospheres, you can add in Triton and Mercury, and maybe a few others, till it becomes pedantic to call it an atmosphere if there are only a few short-lived molecules hovering over a moon.  […]

Scientific Data Can Mislead

Some recent stories should remind scientists that data do not exist in a philosophical vacuum.  Sometimes empirical measurements can be downright misleading. Pillars of creation:  The famous Hubble photo of the Eagle Nebula’s “pillars of creation” seemed to have a straightforward explanation: nearby stars were eroding the pillars with blasts of radiation.  Scientists have been […]

Whoops, the Wrong Star Exploded

“Our understanding of the evolution of massive stars before their final explosions as supernovae is incomplete, from both an observational and a theoretical standpoint.”  That’s how a paper in Nature begins.1  Avishay Gal-Yam was not kidding; a star exploded that theory says was not supposed to.     The famous supernova 1987A was already an […]

Kepler On the Way to Search for Earth-Size Planets

The long-awaited launch of the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft was successful Friday night, announced the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Named for the 17th-century German astronomer-mathematician Johannes Kepler, the spacecraft will stare at 100,000 stars for over three years, looking for variations in their light that indicate the presence of planets.  Follow-up studies may determine if some of […]

Habitable Zones Are Not Forever

A new realization has broken on the astrobiological community: planetary habitable zones have no fences.  Michael Sherber wrote for Astrobiology Magazine (see Space.com) that planets around low-mass stars tend to be pulled out of the habitable zone toward the star.  They have just a billion years before migration can pull them in and cook them.  […]

Earth from Space Is a Special Place

The Deep Impact spacecraft, 31 million miles away, captured images of the moon circling the Earth, reported Space.com (for the sequence of images, click here).  “Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earth-like alien world would […]

Beware of Starstuff

Stars can be dangerous.  They spew out deadly particles, unless you are protected from them in a safety bubble – like Earth has.  The Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere only let in the life-giving part of sunlight.  Studies of other stars, and our own moon, show that things could be far worse. Record flare:  A […]

Planet Formation: Just Add Water?

The Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence of water in a dust disk around a star.  Does this mean we understand how the earth, with all its water, formed?     Using the Spitzer infrared instrumentation, John Carr (Naval Research Laboratory) and Joan Najita (National Optical Astronomy Observatory) found spectra of organic molecules and water in […]

Million-Degree Plasma Found in Orion

The Orion nebula, an object of beauty to stargazers (picture, Hubble view) is pervaded by plasma heated to two million degrees Kelvin, reported astronomers in Science.1  Two funnel-shaped regions of x-ray emitting plasma in the extended nebula were observed by astronomers using the X-Ray Multi-Mirror (XMM)-Newton satellite.     “The energy requirement to heat the […]

Is Making Planets Child’s Play?

Are star children good at child's play? Like making mudballs, it should be easy to roll up dust into planets.

Hubble Explodes Star-Formation Assumption in Globular Clusters

The Hubble Telescope found three episodes of star formation in a globular cluster.  While this announcement might make a layman yawn, what’s interesting are the expressions of grief and anguish coming from astronomers about what this does to their theories.  For many years, astronomers had prided themselves on their understanding of globular clusters.  These massive, […]

Are the Red Dwarfs Ready for SETI?

There are oodles of M-type red dwarf stars.  Before now, most SETI researchers didn’t pay them much attention, because their habitable zones are narrow.  Also, because the habitable zones are closer in, any planets in the lucky radius would most likely be tidally locked to the star, leaving one hemisphere in darkness and the other […]

Stardate: Destruction Estimate Was 0.1% Correct

According to a press release from JPL’s Spitzer Space Telescope team, the famous Eagle Nebula “Pillars of Creation” are eroding fast.  A supernova that was possibly witnessed by humans 1,000 to 2,000 years ago is sending a blast wave at the structures.  An earlier supernova that may have occurred 6,000 years ago has probably already […]
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