Discovery image of AT2018cow – nicknamed The Cow by astronomers – acquired by the ATLAS telescopes. Image via Stephen Smartt/ATLAS.

Watching the COW Come Home


The COW in this case is a star – well, the remnants of a star – in a galaxy called CGCG 137-068. It’s about 200 million light years away. And COW is a stellar anomaly, something new in the heavens, whose light and other radiation is just now reaching us here on Earth. COW – technically,…

NASA artist's concept of Kepler doing its job

R.I.P. NASA Satellite Kepler, 2009-2018


NASA Satellite Kepler, the exo-planet-discovering super hero, was taken off life support on October 30, 2018.1 The 2,750 pound satellite will be left in solar orbit, trailing the Earth by some 94 million miles. Kepler was the child of William Borucki, the retired Kepler principal investigator, who first proposed the satellite in 1992. It was named…

Artist’s concept of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the Sun. (NASA)

Tacking Into the Solar Wind


University of Chicago physicist Eugene Parker observed in 1958 that, no matter which way it was traveling around the sun, a comet’s tail always pointed away from the sun. From those observations, he inferred that there must be some kind of stream of particles flowing away from the Sun. He called that stream of particles the…

Redoubt Volcano, Chigmit Mountains, Alaska, Ranked No. 4 (Very High Threat)

Gasp! Dangerous Volcanoes Sighted Near America


The U.S. Geological Survey has released its update to 2005’s Volcano Threat Assessment. The 2018 Report is a good read, especially if you live on the west coast, in Alaska or in Hawai’i in these United States. But the press coverage has been a little hysterical. The Associated Press lead, for example: “Government scientists have…

Dr. Stephen Hawking's gravestone in Westminster Abbey

The Temperature of a Black Hole


In a stylized engraving of a black hole, in Westminster Abbey, London, England – not far from the stones marking the remains of Sir Issac Newton and Charles Darwin – is the signature achievement of the late Stephen Hawking, his formula for the temperature, the radiation level, emerging from a black hole. In the formulation…

Red Hill from the Loop Trail, Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds Nat'l Monument, Oregon

Notes on Geologic Time


Geologic time can be beyond human comprehension. Sure, geologists have broken it into units: periods, epochs and stages, but it is still mind-numbingly vast. And at the same time, just a bit facile. Let’s use the Oligocene Epoch as an example. On the one hand, in terns of the history of the planet, the period…