Not Shilling for NASA But Really, This Is Good

Astronomers irritate the hell out of me, NASA’s in particular, not the people but their press releases: never met a superlative they didn’t like, Biggest Black Hole, Farthest Quasar, Youngest Galaxy, and on and on, far into the night.  The black hole’s size isn’t interesting unless it says something about how galaxies form.  The quasar’s […]

Chasing Transits

CELESTE: How long this time? LE GENTIL: How long will I be gone? Three years. I swear to you, Celeste, on everything that’s holy: three years, no more. CELESTE: What if you miss it? LE GENTIL: The transit? I won’t. CELESTE: You missed the last one. Venus (the small dark dot) crosses the Sun. That […]

That’s One Small Step For Deuterium

The death of Neil Armstrong in August prompted no end of tributes invoking heroism, patriotism, vision, courage, valor, and all sorts of other abstractions. Understandably so. Armstrong’s giant leap was in fact the first baby step in one species’ attempt to leave home. Less in the news, though, was a more concrete matter: hard science. The […]

Abstruse Goose: A Walk on Mars

__________ This reminds me of that idiot, Walt Whitman,  who thought his appreciation of the stars was so superior to the learn’d astronomer’s.  The guy needed a pie in the face. But here’s the question:  is good poetry (not AG’s) as enlightening, meaningful, or interesting as a walk on Mars — or any kind of […]

The Scarlet Letters

Back in 1984, when he was a new hire at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, David Soderblom got to thinking. STScI was—and still is—the science and operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope, which was then scheduled to launch in 1986. Soderblom suggested that a memento of some sort be aboard the space […]

How to Beat a Closed System

Christie wrote a post about the suckiness of power-point presentations and of scientific conferences in general.  Conferences are an occupational hazard for science writers:  walk into a big-city convention center; find Session 425B which is in a narrow, fluorescent-lit room with sliding walls, little chairs in rows, a podium, and a screen; sit down; the […]

Stop the Presses. Please.

The subject line in the e-mail was, “Congratulations, I think….”  The message itself said, “Just read about Dark Matter finally outing itself.” “Huh?” I wrote back. “Haven’t you heard??? Dark Matter has been telescopically (is that a word?) observed!” The message came from a graduate student of mine during holiday break this past December. He […]

Alien Planets & Astronomers Behaving Like the Rest of Us

Remember a month or so ago, when astronomers running NASA’s Kepler satellite announced they’d release the data on 300 possibly earth-like planets but keep the 400 best possibilities proprietary to NASA and announce it all next February?  And non-Kepler astronomers, the media, and the internet fussed at the Kepler astronomers for being dogs-in-the-manger?  And then […]