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 the supposed Warp Drive

When people find out I’m an astronomer, one of the first questions I’m usually asked is if I want to be an astronaut. I always say no, because human spaceflight has been stuck in Low Earth Orbit since before I was born. I don’t want that; I want to go to distant worlds hundreds of…

on TRAPPIST-1

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 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…

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 “The Martian” (with spoilers)

Yes, it’s The Martian, the latest great hope of science fiction, after a decade that’s given us a few high-concept contenders for classic sci-fi. Based on a novel by Andy Weir that I read faster than anything I’ve read recently, it’s basically a fictional descendent of Apollo 13: A mission in space gone horribly wrong,…

Astronomy on Tap

One of the great things I’ve been able to do in New York City is take part in Astronomy on Tap, a public lecture/happy hour series organized by Emily Rice (CUNY-CSI), Summer Ash (Columbia), Brian Levine (AMNH), and their less-mild-mannered alter egos. Astronomy on Tap takes place in bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn and consists…

The Mysterious Island

Right now, there’s a story going around (again) about the magic islands on Titan. In brief, the Cassini orbiter can see the flat seas of Titan as reflective patches, and the rough terrain above sea level as bright busy spots. Cassini has seen some rough patches appear and disappear in the large lakes of Titan….

on Interstellar and Internal Consistency (spoilers!)

A fair warning: There are spoilers within.  Read at your own discretion. Christopher Nolan’s interstellar is out this week, and us regular astronomers are finally getting to see what critics have been gushing about and calling “the most scientifically accurate movie ever” (ok, not those words, but if you’re reading this at some point in…