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No, we haven’t found life on Titan

by Phil Plait, Jun 09 2010

There has been a bit of an uproar the past day or so that scientists have found evidence of life on Saturn’s giant moon Titan. As soon as I saw the press release I knew this was going to be a problem. So let’s be clear:

First, have we found life on Titan? No.

Have we found evidence that there might be life on Titan? Sorta. The results are preliminary and not yet confirmed; in fact, some of the evidence is from computer modeling and has not been directly observed.

Bear in mind as well that evidence is not proof. Evidence just means an observation was made that is consistent with life on the moon, but doesn’t say much else. There are non-biological explanations for the observations as well.

Of course, speculation is running rampant, so much so that Chris McKay, an exobiologist who studies Titan, has released an article clearing things up.

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What we should’ve learned about science before we started doing it

by Phil Plait, Jun 02 2010

Eric Schulze just received his doctorate at the Keck School of Medicine. Asked by his colleagues to give a commencement address, he opted to discuss the things he should’ve been taught about science when he started out. His speech is an excellent introduction into why we need more gifted speakers talking about what science is and isn’t:

At 3:20, he quotes an "eminent cosmologist [sic; the man to whom Eric is referring is actually more of a general astronomer-type and smart ass] and teacher". I’m very sure the man to whom Eric is referring is grateful.

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A lunar crater illusion you’ll flip for

by Phil Plait, May 19 2010

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has a great blog where they post images from the hi-res camera onboard. I was perusing a recent image, and was a bit befuddled:

What the heck? Is this a plateau of some kind? Is that a small dome just below the center of it? The whole thing looks pitted around the edge, too, like some sort of erosion has taken place. But that can’t be right! (continue reading…)

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Wooing away the oil leak

by Phil Plait, May 12 2010

A man in Boulder — yes, my home town — is trying to meditate the oil leak away. His idea?

"The basic concept is to try and get as many people to visualize that the valve is actually functioning and is working and closing."

This is part of the Intention Experiment, what is basically telekinesis:

Lynne McTaggart, who started the Intention Experiment, has organized more than a half dozen mind-over-matter experiments — most recently to try to improve the water quality in Lake Biwa, Japan — that involve people focusing their thoughts on something in the physical world to make change. She claims to have scientific evidence that it works.

Scientific evidence? Really? I wonder if she’s interested in making a quick million bucks.
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‘ow old’s the Earth, Bruce?

by Phil Plait, May 05 2010

Wow. Just wow. You need to watch this to — ahem! — believe it. This guy, Steven Fielding, an Australian Parliamentarian, dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges so well he could be an American politician!

Did you notice anything about what he said? Like, how he never answered the actual question? I do have to wonder about his exact reasons for dodging Richard Dawkins’ questions about the age of the Earth. It’s almost as if he’s embarrassed by his own beliefs, knowing how old-fashioned, provincial, and downright wrong they must sound.

Tip o’ the Mintie to Michael Rosch. Originally posted on the Bad Astronomy Blog.

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An alien ate Stephen Hawking

by Phil Plait, Apr 28 2010

Apparently Stephen Hawking read my book, but not very carefully, because he thinks aliens will come here ala "Independence Day"* and eat up all our resources and move on.

I disagree with him. I think in fact it’s more likely that an aggressive alien race would create self-replicating robot probes that will disperse through the galaxy and destroy all life that way.
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The Quest for a Living World

by Phil Plait, Apr 21 2010

If you are in the Pasadena area tonight (Wednesday April 21), then I hope you can attend a pretty cool panel I’ll be moderating at Caltech. The topic is "The Quest for a Living World": how modern astronomy is edging closer to finding another Earth orbiting a distant star.

[Click on image for a higher-res version.]

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Four decades later: Failure is still not an option

by Phil Plait, Apr 14 2010

This week marks three related anniversaries.

April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space. That was 49 years ago.

April 14, 1970: An oxygen tank disrupts on Apollo 13, causing a series of catastrophic malfunctions that nearly leads to the deaths of the three astronauts. That was 40 years ago.

April 12, 1981: The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, launches into space. That was 29 years ago.

I wasn’t yet born when Gagarin flew, and I was still too young to appreciate what was happening on board Apollo as it flew helplessly around the Moon instead of landing on it. But I do remember breathlessly awaiting the Shuttle launch, and I remember thinking it would be the next phase in our exploration of space. I was still pretty young, and hadn’t thought it through, but I’m sure had you asked me I’d have said that this would lead to cheap, easy, and fast access to space, and by the time the 21st century rolled around we’d have space stations, more missions to the Moon, and maybe even to Mars.

Yeah, I hadn’t thought it through. Of all these anniversaries, that one is the least of the three we should celebrate.
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Indian guru fails to murder man on live TV

by Phil Plait, Mar 24 2010

With all the religious nutbaggery going on in the US of A, it’s sometime easy to forget that there’s a whole planet of wackiness out there.

The outspoken and hard-working Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku had enough. When the "guru" Pandit Surender Sharma claimed he could kill a man using nothing but magic powers, Edamaruku challenged Sharma to kill him on live TV in India.

For some reason, Sharma eventually agreed, and what played out on the air is pretty funny to watch:

Gee, this would’ve looked silly without the dramatic music.
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Erie UFO not so eerie

by Phil Plait, Mar 17 2010

A wave of reports is coming in from the town of Euclid, Ohio, from folks there who are seeing a mysterious light hovering over Lake Erie and Cleveland. The light, they say, is very bright, lasts for a couple of hours, stays near the horizon, changes colors, and keeps coming back to the same spot night after night.

Here’s an MSNBC report about it:

Could it be an alien visitor from another world?
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