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 Gravitational Waves

Light waves are a fundamental way we interact with and understand the universe. It’s what our eyes see, and it was the first thing we saw through a telescope. In fact, when it comes to astronomy, light waves (whether gamma rays, X-rays, UV, optical, infrared or radio) are basically the ONLY way we can detect…

on the objects orbiting KIC 8462852 and the things they might be (Part 3)

The mystery of KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s Star), the Kepler star with unusual structures apparently in orbit discovered by Yale’s Tabetha Boyajian, continues… I’ve covered it twice before, but practically every day a new paper appears on the astronomical preprint server examining one aspect of Tabby’s Star or another, all with the same intent: figure…

on the Saga of Planet Nine

  The story of the new ninth planet in the Solar System is quite possibly the most exciting stories to come out of solar system astronomy in quite a long time.  Largely because it suggests that the solar system is still a kind of wild west, full of the strange and the unknown, and we…

on what’s going on with Astronomy

  In the past four months, four high profile cases of sexual harassment in astronomy have come to light, prompting such headlines as “Astronomy’s snowballing sexual harassment scandal picks up even more cases”, “Astronomy’s sexual harassment problem gets Congressional attention” and “Astronomers Are Finally Doing Something About Sexual Harassment” and (with a thesis very similar…

on visible light from a Black Hole

Astronomers from Kyoto University in Japan have made an announcement that’s being reported as “Visible Light from a Black Hole Spotted by Telescope, a First” and “How to spot a black hole from your back garden: Researchers say astronomical phenomena CAN be seen using visible light”. But black holes are supposed to be black. They…

What is NASA’s budget really?

Just before Christmas, Congress announced a new budget… with an unexpectedly large budget for NASA of $19.3 billion dollars, higher than the $18.5 billion Obama was requesting earlier last year. This is a large bonus*, given that it allows NASA to maintain and expand funding for a few of the big projects it’s working on….

on The Force Awakens (major spoilers)

I want to discuss the entire movie, but I also recognize (and seriously appreciate) the internet’s commitment to avoiding discussing spoilers. I won’t be the one to ruin that, so all my spoilerriffic comments are below this cut.

on The Force Awakens (no spoilers)

It is a good movie. It is, most importantly, definitely a Star Wars movie, and a downright fun one at that. It feels like the original trilogy, (the only trilogy, as my wife would say, and now that we have better Star Wars to look forward to I don’t feel any need to perpetuate any…

on Vertical Landing

One of the most iconic sci-fi images is the gleaming rocket landing vertically, at which point our intrepid heroes step out onto that brave new world and… well, probably get shot at by the natives. It’s in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, it’s in The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon; it’s in The…