Rosetta and Philae: Plucky siblings for life

On September 30, the Rosetta orbiter will make a controlled collision with Comet 67P/C-G. It is not designed for landing, so this is the last we will hear from it. This date also marks an end to a happy period for my family that started in 2013 when my son was just four years old […]

What We Talk About When We Talk About Intelligent Life

Two weeks ago, while sitting on the floor building a puzzle with my toddler, I heard a window-rattling thud. I figured it was the neighbor’s soccer ball hitting the glass door again, so I got up feeling somewhat ticked. When I looked out the window, the first thing I saw was an absolutely apoplectic male […]

A Concatenation of Extraterrestrials

The past few days have been a cosmic convergence of opinions about extraterrestrial life.  First, I’ve been interviewing scientists and engineers who think that funding searches for planets that might support life isn’t unreasonable.  Second, a neighbor told me he’d read in the New York Times that extraterrestrial life almost certainly had evolved somewhere, some […]

On Getting From “Wow!” to “[yawn]”: Yes!!!

A few weeks ago I was talking to one of the founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), the collaboration that last September made the first detection of gravitational waves. Even if you’re not science-savvy, you will almost certainly recall the worldwide breathless news coverage following the February announcement of that detection. Now Rainer Weiss, MIT […]

“The Martian” and Ice Age Astronauts

Two nights ago I sat in a theater watching the film “The Martian.” I loved seeing a viable spacecraft making gravitational slingshots around planets while a stranded, potato-growing astronaut claimed himself the first colonist on Mars. What’s there not to love? Meanwhile, in my coat pocket I carried an object from an entirely different age […]

On the Discovery of Liquid Water on Mars

The first memory I know for sure is the smell of rain. I remember a screen door with holes in it big enough to let in a hummingbird, and outside I could see blue bellies of clouds over a dirt road. I can only figure it was somewhere in Arizona where I was born. I’ve always […]

Mocking Tricks

Caveat: I’m possibly having something like a Cassie-Willyard-Hubble-Moment here – in this case, I learn something new, don’t quite understand it but get all excited about it, and it’s, you know, wrong.  Never mind because I’m all excited anyway because science has found a new way of being confident that what you know is right.  […]

Truth vs. Beauty, Again

I haven’t got much on my mind today that I want to think about so I distract myself with pictures. This one, as science pictures often do, conflates beauty and truth and let me repeat, beauty.  It’s a result of letting the Hubble Space Telescope take repeated pictures of a single cluster of galaxies.  Clusters […]