New category: Exoplanets

Of late, telescopes like Kepler, Spitzer and ALMA are revealing new things about exoplanets as much as they’re exposing how clueless we are about their origins. Unlike in the search for life, where our only precedents are terrestrial, the search for and study of exoplanet systems is aided by Kepler’s revelation of hundreds of them,…… Continue reading New category: Exoplanets

Why do tilted/eccentric orbits form?

For all its mysteries, the Solar System is uniquely ideal in many ways. For one, while it has rocky inner planets and giant, gassy outer ones, astronomers have found that elsewhere, massive exoplanets often orbit close to their stars, as if they formed at a greater distance and then moved in. For another, the orbits of the…… Continue reading Why do tilted/eccentric orbits form?

No country for new journalism

Through an oped in Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor makes a timely case for explanatory – or explainer – journalism being far from a passing fad. Across the many factors that he argues contribute to its rise and persistence in western markets, there is evidence that he believes explainer journalism’s historical basis is more relevant than its technological one, most simply by virtue of having been necessitated by traditional journalism no longer connecting the dots well enough.

Dying in a finite universe

In his book Infinite In All Directions (2002), Freeman Dyson, one of the tallest intellectual giants of our times, attempts to rescue eschatology from the specious grip of religion and teleology with a mix of scientific reasoning and informed speculation. During this, when describing the big crunch, which is one way our universe could end, he moves smoothly from the rational track he has been sprinting on to a less exact but more pertinent and romantic description.

Kepler data reveals a frost giant

I’ve been most fascinated lately by studies of planet formation. Every small detail is like that one letter in the crossword you need to fill all the other boxes in, every discovery a cornerstone that holds together a unique piece of the universe. For example, using just the find that the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b has a very short day of eight hours, astronomers could speculate on how it was formed, what its density could be, and how heavy it could get over time. And it isn’t surprising if a similar tale awaits telling by Kepler 421b.

Inspecting nuclear warheads like they were passwords

Nuclear weapon inspectors have a weighty but tricky job. An inspecting state relies on them to verify if a weapon is a nuclear warhead, but the state whose weapons are being inspected doesn’t want to divulge too much information about the weapon’s design or performance. As David Cliff, a researcher at the Verification Research, Training and Information Center,…… Continue reading Inspecting nuclear warheads like they were passwords

A gamma ray telescope at Hanle: A note

A gamma ray telescope is set to come up at Hanle, Ladakh, in 2015 and start operations in 2016. Hanle was one of the sites proposed to install a part of the Cherenkov Telescope Array, too. A survey conducted in the 1980s and 90s threw up Hanle as a suitable site to host telescopes because…… Continue reading A gamma ray telescope at Hanle: A note

Did Facebook cheat us?

No. There were some good arguments on this topic, swinging between aesthetic rebuttals to logical deconstructions. Here are four I liked: 1. Tal Yarkoni, Director of the Psychoinformatics Lab at University of Texas, Austin, writes on his blog, “… it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s nothing intrinsically evil about the idea that large corporations might be trying…… Continue reading Did Facebook cheat us?

Science Quiz – June 30, 2014

Every week, I create a science quiz for The Hindu newspaper’s In School product. It consists of 10 questions and only developments from the week preceding its day of publication (Monday). The answers are at the end. A team of Scottish scientists announced the discovery of the world’s oldest animal-built _____ in Africa in the week of June 23. According to…… Continue reading Science Quiz – June 30, 2014

Looking for life? Look for pollution.

Four-thousand years on Earth and we’ve a lot of dirt to show for it. Why would an advanced alien civilization be any different? That’s the motivation that three astrophysicists from Harvard University have used to determine that powerful telescopes could look for signs of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in alien atmospheres as signs of alien civilization. “If the civilization reaches…… Continue reading Looking for life? Look for pollution.