Given the limited and limiting nature of the discussion of the Large Hadron Collider firing up in a very short time, which could then destroy this corner of the solar system according to some, I have been hoping that blogger Jennifer Ouellette would chime in and make sense of it all.And she certainly has taken a stab at it.Go read this now!!! Before it is too late!!!!!

An utterly incomprehensible paper has been produced by a team of physicists, designed to make everyone feel better about the possibility that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that will suck the Earth into themselves.There is no effort whatsoever in this paper to speak to normal people. The most I can get out of it is that yes, black holes can form, and possibly very many of them, but it will take them longer to destroy the planet than it will take the sun to destroy the planet by exploding on its present schedule (of some billions of years from now). Which makes no sense to me at all until I saw this in the paper:i-3e69757bc7246d8a6a0807af04327d1d-stopping_black_holes.jpgAh, that makes me feel so much better….


To stop this obnoxious flashing, just hit the ESC key!
It’s like gold, but better. It’s ice! On Mars!If there’s ice, there is water. If there is water, there cold be life. Maybe.I’m pretty sure the presence of H2O on Mars is not that surprising. But what are the chances of scooping up a robot-fist full of dirt and having visible chunks of ice right there, unless this stuff is actually very common?NASA is reporting “Bright Chunks at Phoenix Lander’s Mars Site Must Have Been Ice”Bits, or more accurately, crumbs, of some whitish stuff was visible in the Martian soil, and then it disappeared over time … almost like it had evaporated.This animated GIF shows the ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of possible ice, which showed up in the ground then went away. Continue reading

Jason-1 Will Make its 30,000th Orbiti-365fc70dd3bba485e5fc1316786a6d9f-jason-1-orbit2.jpg

The Jason-1 spacecraft will make its 30,000th science orbit this week. Revolution number 30,000 will begin at 10:27 UTC (3:27 a.m. PDT) on June 14th, 2008 and will be completed at 12:19 UTC (5:19 a.m. PDT). From its vantage point 1,336 kilometers (830 miles) above Earth, Jason-1 uses its radar altimeter to precisely measure the topography of the ocean surface.Jason-1 was launched December 7, 2001, as the follow-on to Topex/Poseidon, which successfully collected science data from 1992 to 2005. Both missions are a partnership between NASA and the French space agency, CNES. Covering 95% of Earth’s ice-free ocean every 10 days, Jason-1 continues the critical data record of ocean surface topography, increasing our understanding of ocean circulation and the oceans’ role in climate. ….

Read the rest here. International Mission Studying Sun to Concludei-736c9e185dea3d909e4538a93482cf4f-ulysses-20080222-browse.jpg

After more than 17 years of pioneering solar science, a joint NASA and European Space Agency mission to study the sun will end on or about July 1.The Ulysses spacecraft has endured for almost four times its expected lifespan. However, the spacecraft will cease operations because of a decline in power produced by its onboard generators. Ulysses has forever changed the way scientists view the sun and its effect on the surrounding space. Mission results and the science legacy it leaves behind were reviewed today at a media briefing at European Space Agency Headquarters in Paris.

More here.


“We are going to visit a living, breathing star for the first time,” says program scientist Lika Guhathakurta of NASA Headquarters. “This is an unexplored region of the solar system and the possibilities for discovery are off the charts.”
The best job you’ll ever love! Travel! Excitement! Join NASA on an amazing new venture. A trip of a life time.To where you ask?Why, THE SUN, of course!The mission will be called Solar Probe+. Launch may happen as early as 2015. Continue reading

… of Martian Dirt.i-a805c6548ec88a86b7a822be7571ce9b-242641main_13339-226.gif

Phoenix used its Robotic Arm to test a “sprinkle” method for delivering small samples of soil to instruments on the lander deck. Bigger picture here.
The Phoenix Lander is preparing to sprinkle Martian soil onto a flat place for a microscope to look at.”On Monday, Phoenix tested delivering Martian soil by sprinkling it rather than dumping it. The positive result prompted researchers not only to proceed with plans for delivery to the microscope, but also to plan on sprinkling a sample in the near future into one of the eight ovens of an instrument that bakes and sniffs samples, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA.” Continue reading

Pluto is the ninth planet in our solar system. In our planetary mythology, it is the ninth planet, it is small, far away, cold, and there is an important cartoon dog named after it. But astronomers decided a while ago that Pluto is not a planet. That throws everything out of balance. Nine Planets is not just some number (nine, in this case) and the word “planets.” It is a balanced equation, an iconic formula. Like the Holy Trinity. Or the Ten Commandments. Or the Three Stooges. Can you imagine a world in which there are only two stooges?Well, Pluto has been given a kind of compromise …. a fully inadequate one … but also a kind of honor. Continue reading

And this is the resulting divot::i-a8a865e8ca82020aad53afe123537e22-SoilSample.jpgNASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager took this image on Sol 14 (June 8, 2008), the 14th Martian day after landing. It shows two trenches dug by Phoenix’s Robotic Arm.Soil from the right trench, informally called “Baby Bear,” was delivered to Phoenix’s Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, on Sol 12 (June 6). The following several sols included repeated attempts to shake the screen over TEGA’s oven number 4 to get fine soil particles through the screen and into the oven for analysis.The trench on the left is informally called “Dodo” and was dug as a test.Each of the trenches is about 9 centimeters (3 inches) wide. This view is presented in approximately true color by combining separate exposures taken through different filters of the Surface Stereo Imager.The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M UniversityMore details in the following press release: Continue reading


Surveyor 1 Lunar Lander
On June 2, 1966, a robot alien sent from the United States landed on The Moon. This was the first US “soft landing” on Moon (the Soviets had a previous soft landing, known as Luna 9, four months earlier).Surveyor transmitted 11,237 photographs to earth.

A video that purportedly shows a living, breathing space alien will be shown to the news media Friday in Denver.”It shows an extraterrestrial’s head popping up outside of a window at night, looking in the window, that’s visible through an infrared camera,” he said. The alien is about 4 feet tall and can be seen blinking, Peckman said earlier this month.An instructor at the Colorado Film School in Denver scrutinized the video “very carefully” and determined it was authentic, Peckman said.source

I’m confused, but I think we are going to get to see the Alien this coming Friday. Unless, of course, other aliens intervene to make that not happen.

This just in from NASA:

This image shows a ghostly ring extending seven light-years across around the corpse of a massive star. The collapsed star, called a magnetar, is located at the exact center of this image. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope imaged the mysterious ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 in infrared light. The magnetar itself is not visible in this image, as it has not been detected at infrared wavelengths (it has been seen in X-ray light).

i-7750d488cdd2afe095c26d0df04c0e37-231303main_magnetar-516.jpgPersonally, I think what we’ve got here is one of these: Continue reading

And by this, I mean really, really big…This was sent to me by my colleague Christian Reinboth in Germany. This video was created by Mike (Metafis), a retired PC support guy, who has also been kind enough to comment below.

…. It shows a massive zoom (315 times) into the famous Mandelbrot set. The astonishing thing is this (and I am quoting the filmmakers): You would need a monitor 2^316 times the size of a normal one to view the whole of the first frame by the time you get to the last frame. That’s approx 2^176 times the size of the known universe.

Here it is: Continue reading

In clear, nontechnical language, string theorist Brian Greene explains how our understanding of the universe has evolved from Einstein’s notions of gravity and space-time to superstring theory, where minuscule strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe. (This mind-bending theory may soon be put to the test at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.)

Continue reading

i-fc0baa42c324cefa8495fdb0044234b2-dice.jpgGood question … what IS in the air?The simple answer is that the air … the Earth’s atmosphere … is about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, with a tiny amount of some other gases including water vapor. Then, there’s dirt. I want to talk a little about the oxygen, one of the other gases (carbon dioxide to be exact), the water vapor, and the dirt. Continue reading

Several thousand intelligent beings have surrounded two funny looking blue trees. On some planet. Elsewhere. [Image source]
Back in the old days, when Carl Sagan was alive and at Harvard, there was an annual (or at least frequent) debate between Sagan and my adviser, Irv DeVore. The debate was about the possibility of intelligent life having evolved on other planets.You already know Sagan’s argument: There are billions and billions of Galaxies, each with billions and billions of stars, so there are billions and billions and billions and billions of stars. Even if the probability of planets forming around a star is low, and of an earth like planet being one of them, and being at the right distance from the star, etc. etc. etc. there are still going to be a very large number of worlds amenable to the origin of life, and some of those, the evolution of complex life, and some of those will give rise to intelligent life, and some of them will ask the same question we are asking now and seek to explore the possibility of life on other planets.Then, I guess we get together in a coffee shop on Alpha Centauri and talk about it. Continue reading