Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Clearing the decks

While (quasi-dyslexically) clearing my desk. That is to say, I have a new PC arriving in a day or so. Seems like a good time to clear out my backlog of astro-centric news items.

In "The *big* picture (part 2)," I noted the recent find of a lake on Titan. Had I waited a bit, I could have reported an entire ocean. See "Saturn moon Titan may harbor ocean below surface." A most interesting world, Titan.

Wonder when an asteroid might rain down on your head? You're not alone. See "The B612 Foundation Announces The First Privately Funded Deep Space Mission." 

And if you think B612 is an obscure vitamin ... add The Little Prince to your to-read list. From Wikipedia:
The novella is both the most read and most translated book in the French language, and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects, selling over a million copies per year with sales totaling over 200 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the best-selling books ever published.
Meanwhile, it turns out Pluto has yet another companion. See "It's not lunacy: Not-a-planet Pluto boasts 5 moons." The newly discovered body's exact size remains uncertain, but it's no more than fifteen miles across. I find it inspiring that such a tiny rock can be spotted from billions of miles away.

And on the topic of small things far away, see "New Planet Found, Smaller Than Earth, Orbiting Distant Star." (That said, I have a quibble about the headline. Although all stars -- including our sun -- are distant by earthly standards, as stars go this one is a neighbor at a mere thirty-three light-years.) And to be clear, this newfound world wasn't seen per se; it was merely detectable as a slight stellar dimming as the exoplanet passed between star and Earth.

And moving from astronomy to astrobiology ...

Suppose humanity landed a probe on Titan. (Yes, I know about Huygens. I have in mind a robot, ideally mobile, able to survive for more than a few minutes.) Could we investigate Titan's ice-locked lakes and oceans? It's hardly an easy problem, but the Russians are trying something of a related nature. See "Russians drill into previously untouched Lake Vostok below Antarctic glacier." That's 3768 meters deep, in "a vast, dark lake that hasn’t been touched by light for more than 20 million years." Who knows what kind of life they might find down there?

Remember the excitement about exotic, arsenic-based life here on Earth? Critical studies and papers continue to accumulate. See "New studies nix report of arsenic-loving bacteria."

And now, astrophsyics.  

Pioneer 10
Wouldn't it be nice to visit far-away places? If your answer is yes, I think you'll agree it's important to understand how the universe works. And in that regard, two of humanity's farthest-ranging emissaries, the Pioneer probes, have puzzled scientists for years. It looked as if the sun's gravitational pull on the distant probes was not quite what Newton and Einstein would have predicted. So you may be happy to read (I know I was) that "Pioneer Anomaly solved: No need to rewrite physics just yet."

Let's hope my upcoming PC installation/migration is also without anomaly -- and that its inevitable curious, unexpected behaviors don't take years to resolve.

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