Union and Reunion

Splendid, isn’t it. It’s UGC 8335 — one name, so once it was apparently mistaken for one thing though obviously it’s two. They’re spiral galaxies in the process of running into and through each other. This is a photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope; the galaxies are really there; this is real.  You could think […]

Giving History the Finger

The middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is a satisfying sight. Not because the resemblance to an obscene gesture is unmistakable (though that’s pretty amusing). And not because such a gesture might suggest that in the end a scientist who suffered persecution for the sin of being correct had gotten the last word—well, two words (though that would be amusing, […]

Anti-Copernican Shock

[NOW WITH NEW VISUALIZATION:  see below] Planets around other stars, exoplanets, have given me a long-running case of boredom – how long can you sustain OMG LOOKIT THAT PLANET HAS TWO SUNS? not long.  I keep writing about them anyway.  I do it because 1) sometimes somebody pays me to; and 2) the planets may […]

Science Metaphors (cont.): Tidally Locked

I’ll go home tonight, I’ll open the front door, I’ll yell, “Hey sweetie, hi!”  Then Sweetie will yell, “Hello, young Ann.” I’ll look at the mail, then I’ll yell again, “Did you pick up the salmon?” And he’ll say, “Yep, it’s in the refrigerator.”  And then I’ll look over the mail and start to throw […]

Repeat After Us

I was reading the end-of-semester student essays in the Science as Narrative course I teach when one phrase stopped me. Stopped me as in, I didn’t go on: “Darwin was happy to be tasked with telling a fire by its ashes.” Was it an actual thing, I wondered, this “telling a fire by its ashes”? I […]

Exoplanet Oliver, Oh Please?

I was interviewing an astronomer for a story about planets outside our solar system, extrasolar planets. Exoplanets have names like Kepler-11 e, or HD 106906 b, or HAT-P-54b. (Googling those names will get you some satisfyingly weird planets and in fact, most exoplanets are satisfyingly weird.  I mean, 51 Peg b is 150 times more […]

Abstruse Goose: TV on the Stars

You get this, right? that light travels at a certain fixed rate so TV programs (yup, light) leaving Earth in, say, 2010 would have gotten 4 light-years away and any star 4 light-years away would just be getting the program now.  I’ve understood this idea for decades and I still get confused by it. __________ […]

Kepler on the Moon, Part (Who Knew?) 3

Kepler strikes again! A couple of weeks ago, in a two-part essay, I wrote about a 1608 book by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler that scholars consider the first work of science fiction: Somnium—Latin for The Dream. This past week, I got to thinking about Kepler’s book again, after the discovery of dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (which the discoverers have nicknamed […]