There Goes the Sun

During a total eclipse of the sun, the landscape darkens. But you knew that. What you might not know—what I didn’t know, anyway, when I observed a total solar eclipse on August 11, 1999—is that the experience comes with a lot of other sensory overload. I found myself thinking about that total eclipse while reading about the one […]

Another Brick in the Anti-Copernican Wall

The Hubble Fellows are — forgive me — young stars: young PhD astronomers granted the money to go to whatever astronomy-doing place they want to go to and do whatever astronomy they want to do.  And once a year, the Hubble Fellows give public talks about what they’re up to, so any astronomy writer with […]

Picking Your Brains

Dear LWON readers, I’d like to ask you a question. Twice recently I’ve written about properties of black holes that blow my mind. In each instance, my inspiration was a detail from a movie. First was Interstellar. The great gravitational grip of the black hole in that movie, as is the case for all black holes, distorts […]

11:59:59:59:59:59:59….

In the 1992 documentary A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking describes what we would see if we were observing an astronaut nearing a black hole’s event horizon—the barrier beyond which gravitation is so great that not even light can escape. He invites us to imagine that the astronaut is wearing a watch, and that […]

Hiding in Plain Out-of-Sight

If you haven’t seen the movie Interstellar, you might not recognize the image above. It’s the black hole that figures prominently in the climax. But even if you have seen the movie, chances are excellent you still don’t know what you’re looking at. I didn’t, anyway, at least the first few days I spent staring at […]

Yay Philae! Yay Europe, Europe, Europe!

I’ve just about recovered from my trip to Darmstadt, just outside Frankfurt, which was home to mission control for the recent landing of the tiny and now ‘sleeping’ Philae lander onto the surface of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  One of the joys of covering a European mission is the variety of accents and backgrounds involved; just as […]

Cosmopomorphism

I’ve just finished a story about gas and galaxies.  You’re bored already, aren’t  you.  After I’d sent the editor a query about it, he took months to respond and then wanted several rewrites of the query; I think he was bored too.  If gas and galaxies are so boring, why did I want so much […]