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A Little Perspective on the New "9th Planet" (and the 10th, and the 11th)

By now you've probably heard the announcement that astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown think they’ve tracked down “Planet 9,” a long-rumored large world orbiting far beyond Pluto.

Best of 2015: The Idiot's Guide to Pluto

What was the biggest news in astronomy this past year? The editorial board of Discover has helpfully provided an answer, one that I heartily endorse (and not only because I wrote the related story in the magazine): It was the exploration of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft.

What I'm Thankful For: The Science and Technology Edition

It can feel inappropriate celebrating the exploration of the universe while the media are saturated with grim stories about warfare, terrorism, and other forms of human suffering.

The Designer Behind the Greatest Fake-Mars Mission Ever

With its terrific performance at the box office, The Martian joins Gravity and Interstellar in the club of science-fiction movies that succeed by emphasizing the science and downplaying the anything-goes fantasy elements.

How to Build the Machine That Will Find Another Living Earth

The 20-year stretch since the discovery of the first exoplanet—a planet circling a star other than the sun—has seen a wholesale relocation of cool ideas from science fiction over to science fact.

From 0 to 5,000 Planets in Exactly 20 Years

Twenty years ago today, an invisible object circling an obscure star in the constellation Pegasus overturned everything astronomers knew about planets around other stars.

The Twin Planet That Nobody Talks About

There is a mysterious nearby planet that is shockingly similar to Earth. It is just 5% smaller in radius and 15% smaller in mass.

10 Quick Thoughts about Water on Mars

NASA generated quite a bit of buzz today with the apparent discovery of flowing water on Mars. Now to anybody who follows science news--especially news about space and alien life--those words may sound awfully familiar.

Your BS Detector for Warp Drives, Double Moons, and Other Implausible Claims

Today is the day when, according to a widely circulated email/Facebook hoax, Mars will appear as large in the sky as the full moon.

10 Amazing Things You Should Know About the Perseid Meteor Shower

The most consistently reliable meteor shower—the Perseids—peaks tonight. Under clear, dark, unobstructed skies you might see 60 to 100 meteors an hour.

The Eye-Popping Astonishment of Pluto

I spent the past week at Pluto central--aka, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland--watching images and data come in from the New Horizons spacecraft.

The Man Who (Almost) Discovered Pluto...and Also (Almost) Discovered the Expanding Universe

As the New Horizons probe closes in on Pluto--now less than two days away!--there have been a lot of thoughtful articles looking back at the people responsible for the discovery of this remarkable little world.

How New Horizons Survived the 40-Year-Glitch and Made it to Pluto

In space exploration, there are a million ways that things can go wrong and just one way that they can go right.

White Spots, Lone Mountians, and Other Funny Stuff on Ceres

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka' but 'That’s funny...'" That quote, delivered by the remarkable science writer Isaac Asimov, keeps popping into my head as I look at the remarkable new images of Ceres.

Space Junk is a Problem. Is a Laser Cannon the Solution?

There’s a general rule in media reporting called Betteridge’s Law: Whenever a headline poses a question--especially a sensational one--the answer is “no.” I’m going to break the law this time.

7 Remarkable Lessons from Messenger's Mission to Mercury

Through most of its life, NASA's scrappy Messenger probe was something of a unsung hero. The first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury didn't have the you-are-there appeal of a Mars rover, the daredevil appeal of landing on a comet, or the romance of visiting a beautiful ringed planet.

The Many Resurrections of the Hubble Space Telescope

If you are old enough to remember news stories from 1990 (or if you are a devoted student of astronomy), you'll recall that the Hubble Space Telescope was not always regarded as the technological triumph that NASA is loudly celebrating today, on its 25th anniversary.

The Fertile Crescent of Space Exploration

The new image of Ceres that NASA released today is doubly thrilling. It unveils more of the landscape of this mysterious in-betweener world--an object classified both as a giant asteroid and as a dwarf planet, a type of object never before observed up close.

Alan Stern on Pluto’s Wonders, New Horizons’ Lost Twin, and That Whole "Dwarf Planet" Thing

You don't have to wonder what is on Alan Stern's mind. The planetary scientist and former NASA associate administrator is a relentless champion of all things Pluto; he is both the principal investigator and the prime mover behind the New Horizons mission, which will fly past Pluto and its moons this July 14.

In Praise of NASA's Ambitious Asteroid Grab

If you pay attention to stories about space exploration, you may have seen some skeptical stories about NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission.