on Cassini’s Final Year

On September 15, 2017, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere and be destroyed. It will be a sad day for science, but it’s one that we’ve known would be coming for a long time, and it’s decidedly not an accident.

on the Proxima Centauri planet

According to ESO’s latest press release, there is indeed a small slightly-larger-than-Earth-mass planet (1.3 earth masses) in orbit of the closest star to the solar system, Proxima Centauri. It’s even close enough to the star that liquid water could exist on the surface. That’s mighty close indeed – the year is only 11 days long!…

on Star Trek: Beyond (with spoilers)

Star Trek: Beyond finally delivers both a good sci-fi action movie and a good Star Trek movie. And it’s an odd-numbered one! Truly, we live in interesting times.

on Juno and Orbital Motion

The Juno spacecraft has arrived at Jupiter, settling into orbit on July 4th after a trip of just under four years. Juno’s arrival was a flurry of enormous excitement. It’s the first time we’ve actually visited Jupiter since New Horizons blasted past it in 2007 (after a trip of only one year, but then again, New Horizons…

on the objects orbiting KIC 8462852 and the things they might be (part 4)

KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s Star), the “most mysterious star in the Galaxy” is just becoming visible in the dawn sky after spending October-early May behind the Sun, and astronomical observations are starting up again as it becomes available to telescopes. With them comes a new opportunity to get involved in the study of this fascinating object.


TRAPPIST-1 (also known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285, which handily contains its location on the sky) is about 12 parsecs away, or 39.5 light years. That means it’s one of the closest 500 stars to the Sun, and we now know it has THREE planets. And if that’s not enough, the planets are all in the habitable…

on Gaia

Our knowledge of where things are in space is going to be changed forever. Over the summer, the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission is going to release its first data, and with it, distances to two million stars. Eventually, once the full mission is complete, there will be distances to somewhere between one and three BILLION stars. This is…

on the Status of JWST

The James Webb Space Telescope isn’t actually complete yet, but its mirror is now together. As has been stressed repeatedly in places like Twitter, this sight isn’t an unfamiliar one, but this time it’s not a model or a computer animation… it’s the real thing. And that means the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is…

on Second-Wave Planets

By “second-wave planets” I mean a planet forming long after the protoplanetary phase of the star system (it’s not the technical term, and I’m not even entirely sure there IS one). Can that happen? It’s entirely possible, and astronomers may have now seen evidence of that.

on the Search for Planet Nine (Part 2)

A little over a month ago, Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown announced new calculations that suggest there IS a ninth planet in the outer solar system. The planet has to be very distant and can’t be very big or hot, otherwise we would have seen it already. Of course, to prove it’s more than just a mathematical curiosity, you need to find it. Now other astronomers are starting to weigh in.

concerning the uniqueness of Earth

Is Earth totally unique? Perhaps it is, as reported by a recent study covered in a few places.

This would be kind of sad, in a way. No aliens to meet, and no other planets like the Earth… an awful waste of space, as Carl Sagan called it. It’s also an odd idea, philosophically, because for hundreds of years astronomers have considered the Earth as nothing particularly special (the “Copernican Principle” from the Mic.com article). This idea has been backed up by discoveries that the laws of physics and the laws of chemistry are the same everywhere in the universe… If that’s true, there should be nothing preventing the processes that formed the Earth from happening somewhere else.

on Steven Hawking’s new theory of black holes

As has been recently reported online, (well, in some places, and confusingly in others), Stephen Hawking and his collaborators have a new theory (see also this brief, more easily understandable synopsis) about black holes that might solve one of the more serious problems with their existence. Basically, Hawking is trying to solve a problem he…