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Blogging on EARTH

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16 Sep 2009

Super-Earths: Mirrors of our world?

Fifty light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus, burns a yellow star not unlike our sun. The star, called 51 Pegasi, was one of 142 stars under the watchful gaze of Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva in 1994. From the La Silla Observatory at the southern end of Chile’s vast Atacama Desert, Mayor and Queloz were tracking how these stars move in the sky, hoping to determine whether the stars were alone — or whether any of them might be accompanied by a planet or two.

31 Jul 2009

Benchmarks: July 4, 1054: "Birth" of the Crab Nebula

On July 4, 1054, Chinese and Japanese astronomers observed a new, iridescent yellow point of light in the constellation Taurus. This “guest star,” said to be as bright as the moon, failed to disappear with the rising sun — for a month, it shone both night and day. Even after fading during daytime, it remained in the night sky for nearly two years, by some accounts. Historians and scientists think that this event was likely the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, one of the most spectacular and rare astronomical features in the known universe.
04 Jul 2009

Benchmarks: May 29, 1919: Solar eclipse "proves" relativity

By Nate Burgess

On May 29, 1919, the moon’s silhouette crept slowly over the sun, bringing premature night to observers in a broad swath of the Southern Hemisphere between South America and Africa. Few onlookers realized that this event would provide the first successful test of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

01 Jun 2009

Down to Earth With: Marc Kuchner

Marc Kuchner likes to joke that when he feels sociable at a party, he tells fellow guests that he is an astronomer. But when he wants to be left alone, he says, he tells them he is an astrophysicist. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Kuchner spends his time thinking about planets outside the solar system and looking for ways to better see them — and he’s devoted some of his time to working on the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a proposed NASA mission to look for and image Earth-like exoplanets. For his work on improving the detection and understanding of exoplanets, SPIE, an international society that advances light-based research, awarded him the group’s Early Career Achievement Award earlier this year.

23 May 2009

Down to Earth With: Paleontologist and astronomer Tom Kaye

What do paleontology, astronomy and paintball guns have in common? For one, they have all been pursuits of Tom Kaye. Kaye, a research associate at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Wash., is a self-taught paleontologist and an amateur astronomer. But he’s not content with just digging fossils and observing constellations. His ambitions are much greater. In July, for example, he set off a paleontological debate when he and his colleagues suggested in PLoS One that soft tissue that was discovered in a tyrannosaur fossil in 2005 was nothing more than bacteria trapped in tiny grooves on the bone.
04 Oct 2008