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.
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.
In space exploration, there are a million ways that things can go wrong and just one way that they can go right.
"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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
If you pay attention to stories about space exploration, you may have seen some skeptical stories about NASA's proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission.
The past couple weeks have seen a brain-sparking series of discoveries that advance the search for life beyond Earth.
What is consciousness? That question has been fertile ground for millennia of philosophical debates, centuries of scientific research, and decades of juicy movie plots, going back at least to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
The death of Leonard Nimoy yesterday inspired an outpouring of moving testimonials about his vast impact: as an actor, as a supporter of science and smart science fiction, as a voice of reason in media both traditional and digital.
There is a cliche you hear all the time when scientists describe their experiments: "We expect the unexpected," or its jokier cousin, "If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be called research." (That second one is often, but dubiously, attributed to Albert Einstein.) But like many cliches, this one is built on a foundation of truth--as the comet explorations by the Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander keep reminding us.
They can't all be hits. Whenever you are trying to do something as ambitious as exploring the universe, some things are bound to fail.
I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for year-end lists. If I'm reading one, it is a fun provocation for disagreement.
During the darkest days of December, it makes me feel better to think about all the other, more profound darknesses out there in the universe.
HL Tauri, an infant star in the constellation Taurus, is surrounded by a swirling disk of gas and dust.
Taking a cosmic view could be healthy for our politics. (Credit: NASA/ESA/HFF Team) Out There is not a political blog.
Stephen and Jane Hawking on their wedding day, in film (left) and real life (middle and right). [Credit: Jane Hawking; Liam Daniel/Focus Features]The Theory of Everything–the long-awaited biopic about physicist Stephen Hawking, opening this Friday–is admirable for the things that it does not do.