August 2008

On Science and Public Scrutiny

August 16, 2008

Hanny’s Voorwerp, that odd object discovered by Dutch school teacher Hanny van Arkel via the Galaxy Zoo project, has provoked press reaction all over the world. And Chris Lintott, a key player in the Galaxy Zoo’s ongoing survey of galaxies, notes the uneasiness he feels in discussing theories about the object before the paper that […]

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‘Arabian Nights’ on Enceladus

August 15, 2008

As someone who has always been interested in how we name things, the choices on Enceladus have been particularly pleasing. On the remote Saturnian moon, place names are chosen from the The Arabian Nights, which is how we wind up with Damascus Sulcus, as seen in the photo below. A sulcus is a large fracture, […]

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A New Look at Near Earth Asteroids

August 14, 2008

We could do with as much information as possible about near-Earth asteroids. A manned mission is a natural step, both for investigating a class of object that could one day hit our planet, and also for continuing to develop technologies in directions that will be useful for our future infrastructure in space. You would think […]

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Online Research: Narrowing the Possibilities?

August 13, 2008

I want to take a momentary detour from interstellar topics to talk about how we go about doing research, astronomical and otherwise. Some years back I debated the then new trend of online peer review with an opponent who argued for the virtues of traditional print journals and their methods. At the time, what would […]

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Enceladus Flyby Data Streaming In

August 12, 2008

Although the Cassini spacecraft has just passed no more than fifty kilometers from the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the investigation of the intriguing object will only intensify in October, when Cassini moves to within half that distance. With astrobiological interest high, Enceladus is a hot place to be. Data from the most recent flyby […]

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VASIMR and the Nuclear Question

August 11, 2008

It’s safe to say that Franklin Chang-Diaz knows what he’s talking about when he discusses the space experience. An astronaut who has logged seven flights and over 1600 hours in space (a period that includes three spacewalks), Chang-Diaz has been making even more impressive news in recent times with his Ad Astra Rocket Company, where […]

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Radiation Shielding and Jupiter’s Moons

August 9, 2008

The latest Carnival of Space is now available at the Mars Odyssey blog, where Nancy Houser has gathered space-themed materials from the past week, many of them dealing with the question of perchlorates on Mars and the implications of that possible discovery. I’ll send you straight to the Carnival for the perchlorate story, where many […]

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Anomalies, Chance Finds and SETI

August 8, 2008

‘Hanny’s Voorwerp’ may soon enter the astronomical lexicon as a reference to anomalous objects in deep space. ‘Hanny’ is Hanny van Arkel, a 25-year old Dutch school teacher and participant in the Galaxy Zoo project, where she and 150,000 other volunteers worldwide help to scan galaxy images online. ‘Voorwerp’ is the Dutch word for ‘object,’ […]

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A ‘Rare Earth’ After All?

August 7, 2008

A supercomputing cluster operated by a team at Northwestern University is giving us fresh simulations of the birth of planetary systems, with results that may dismay terrestrial planet hunters. For if this work is correct, the ‘rare Earth’ hypothesis is back, this time bolstered by computer models that are the first to simulate the formation […]

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‘Slow Life’ and its Implications

August 6, 2008

Imagine a form of life so unusual that we cannot figure out how it dies. That’s exactly what researchers are finding beneath the floor of the sea off Peru. The microbes being studied there — single-celled organisms called Archaea — live in time frames that can perhaps best be described as geological. Consider: A bacterium […]

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