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 […]

Giant Stack of Spacecraft

On Saturday I went to the visitor’s center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showed my driver’s license, and got a yellow paper badge to hang around my neck. The occasion: the friends and family day for MMS, the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission. MMS isn’t one of NASA’s better-known missions. When I googled […]

Ancestral Dreams in NewSpace

Last week when NASA Administrator Charles Bolden addressed the sparsely-attended Humans to Mars Summit in DC, he moved the institutional goalpost past space exploration and toward space settlement. 

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 […]