Astronomers find colossal ring system putting Saturn’s to shame

An astronomy professor at the University of Leiden, Ignas Snellen,called brown dwarfs ‘failed stars‘ because they were too heavy to be typical planets (13-75 times as heavy as Jupiter) and too light to sustain the fusion of hydrogen into helium. As a result, they exist in a limbo in astronomers’ textbooks, with the precise mechanism … Read more

Rosetta’s comet sheds its coat for warmer times

Fascinating things are happening to the world’s most-watched comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as it approaches the Sun. A new study from NASA and ESA scientists published in Nature reports that by January 20, 67P shed a crust of dust built up on its surface over the last four years. In fact, by the end of January – about a week from … Read more

Why does sodium react so explosively with water?

In January 1947, the American War Assets Administration dumped drums of sodium left over after the end of World War II into Lake Lenore in eastern Washington state. A video of the event – it really was an event – is available from the Internet Archive. Sodium’s reaction with water – or most other substances in … Read more

Caution: This piece contains a lot of mentions of the word ‘jargon’.

When writing one of my first pieces for The Hindu, I remember being called out for using a lot of jargon. While the accusation itself may have been justified, the word my supervisor chose as an example of the problem was surprising: “refraction”. He wanted me to spell it out in 10 words or so … Read more

HESS telescopes discover new source of gamma rays called a superbubble

Astronomers using the HESS telescopes have discovered a new source of high-energy gamma rays. Dubbed a superbubble, it appears to be a massive shell of gas and dust 270 light-years in diameter being blown outward by the radiation from multiple stars and supernovas. HESS also discovered two other gamma-ray sources, each a giant of its … Read more

‘Nothing in the history of science is ever simple’

Once I finished Steven Weinberg’s book Dreams of a Final Theory, I figured I’d write a long-winding review about what I think the book is really about, and its merits and demerits. But there is a sentence in the seventh chapter – titled ‘Against Philosophy’ – which I think sums up all that the book essentially attempts … Read more

Curious Bends – Lack of scientific temper, Sikkim’s gamble, disappearing rare fauna and more

1. Will the most advanced Indian state’s gamble payoff? “Sikkim’s own energy needs of 409 megawatts (MW) were met by 2012, and Chamling already sells 175 MW of extra power to India’s power-starved northern grid. If all 26 hydel projects come on stream, Sikkim should generate 4,190 MW of electricity. But there are a few problems.” … Read more

Debating the business of beauty in ‘Dreams of a Final Theory’

In his book Dreams of a Final Theory, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg discusses the various aspects of the journey toward a unifying theory in fundamental physics. One crucial aspect is the aesthetic of such a theory, and Weinberg’s principal contention is that a unifying theory must be beautiful because if it weren’t beautiful, it wouldn’t … Read more

Astronomers strike gold with find of unique star-system only 150 ly away

Even after the loss of a critical stabilization system on-board, the NASA Kepler space telescope has made an important discovery. Scientists from the University of California have used the telescope to find a nearby star-system comprising a cool red M-dwarf and three planets slightly larger than Earth orbiting it. The find’s significance stems from various … Read more

Spam alert

If you had subscribed to receive email alerts from my blog, then you might’ve received a few hundred emails about 20 minutes ago. That’s entirely my fault. I was trying to restore some old posts that I’d deleted by mistake when I accidentally restored all my deleted posts –  850+ – go. I’m really sorry this happened, and … Read more