While in Cambridge last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting the astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees and touring the master’s rooms and gardens in Trinity College–which is something like heaven on Earth. So I knew the Templeton program was a big fan of Rees–but I didn’t know he’d be the next winner of the Templeton Prize.
Until recently the head of the Royal Society, Rees is credited with asking the “big questions” in his explorations of astrophysics and the nature of the universe–or multiverse–but also with being a leader in the scientific community in drawing attention to the problem of climate change.
There’s a very notable fact here: Rees is not religious, though he calls Anglican traditions the “customs of my tribe.”
Let’s end with some words from Rees in acceptance of the prize:
Some people might surmise that intellectual immersion in vast expanses of space and time would render cosmologists serene and uncaring about what happens next year, next week, or tomorrow. But, for me, the opposite is the case. My concerns are deepened by the realisation that, even in a perspective extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past, this century may be a defining moment. Our planet has existed for 45 million centuries, but this is the first in its history where one species – ours – has Earth’s future in its hands, and could jeopardise not only itself, but life’s immense potential.
I applaud the Templeton Foundation for choosing such a distinguished scientific leader to receive its biggest award. For more on the Templeton Prize, see here.
Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.
Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.
For now I’ll say I’m intrigued, but also somewhat skeptical–at least until we learn more. What do readers think?
[Update: Phil's got a great post up on the possibility of fossilized microscopic life forms.]
Somehow I missed this earlier last month: Eris, the non-planet whose discovery helped impel Pluto’s downgrade, may not have been bigger than Pluto after all.
Can this be? We lost Pluto for nothing? Can we have a do-over?
In the New York Times this morning, novelist Michael Byers attempts to be sane about all of this: “If Pluto’s odyssey teaches us anything, it’s that whenever we think we’ve discovered a measure of certainty about the universe, it’s often fleeting, and more often pure dumb luck.” And further:
All of which is to say, science is imperfect. It is a human enterprise, subject to passions and whims, accidents and luck. Astronomers have since discovered dozens of other objects in our solar system approaching Pluto’s size, amounting to a whole separate class of orbiting bodies. And just this week, researchers announced that they had identified 1,235 possible planets in other star systems.
We can mourn the demotion of our favorite planet. But the best way to honor Lowell and Tombaugh is to celebrate the fact that Pluto — while never quite the world it was predicted to be — is part of a universe more complex, varied and surprising than even its discoverers could have imagined.
I suppose I can live with that. Schoolchildren may still be upset, though.
Water on the moon… Just wow!
According to NASA, this discovery may ‘hold the key to the history and evolution of the solar system‘ if the water is billions of years old. Potential sources include molecular clouds, solar winds, comets, or even somehow activity within the moon itself. There’s already discussion about the potential for development of a lunar space station. Phil’s got the details.
During the final month composing The Science of Kissing, it can be challenging to maintain a sense of the manuscript’s ‘big picture‘ while getting lost editing a single paragraph at a time. Fortunately, The Daily Dish has provided the distance and perspective I need–perhaps even a glimpse of the ‘first kiss’ ever–with this view of NGC 6302, a butterfly-shaped nebula surrounding a dying star. It’s just 3,800 light-years away in the Scorpius constellation:
Looks like a kiss to me too… Thanks Andrew!
Cool news from space I’ve been meaning to post…
WASP-17, a newly discovered planet about 1,000 light-years away, orbits in the reverse direction as the star it revolves around! This is BIG news in science because every other world we’ve observed does the opposite. Most likely, a near collision with another planet early on led to its strange orbit. The discovery was made by graduate students David Anderson at Keele University and Amaury Triaud of the Geneva Observatory with the UK’s Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP) project. WASP-17 is also estimated to be two times the size–but half the mass–of Jupiter meaning this becomes the largest known planet in the universe.
I just did a Huffington Post piece keyed straight to the news of the day–the Apollo 11 anniversary. It’s entitled “The American Science Deficit–And What to Do About It.” Here’s an excerpt:
Today, on the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we will hear a great deal about NASA’s woes, the nation’s declining interest in space exploration, and much else. It is crucial, though, to set such observations in the context of a far broader disengagement with science that has occurred in this country since the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Launched by President Kennedy, the Apollo program was just the most prominent example of America’s dramatic investment of science in the wake of the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik. The first Earth-orbiting satellite, beeping at us from above, inspired stark competitiveness fears in the nation: Were we falling behind in technology? Would the Soviets fire on us from the skies, and if they tried, could we stop them?
In response, the U.S. Congress jacked up the budget of the recently formed National Science Foundation to $ 134 million, an increase of nearly $ 100 million in just one year. And that was just the beginning–NSF’s budget continued to explode in subsequent years, so that by 1962-1963 it had reached $ 12.2 billion. [This statement is mistaken: the 1962-1963 figure represents the total federal government R&D expenditure.] Meanwhile, Congress created NASA and passed the National Defense Education Act, providing generous funding to encourage American students to pursue careers in science and engineering.
And still, that’s just the beginning of the response to Sputnik. At the same time, President Eisenhower pulled science into the White House by creating the office of the president’s science adviser and the President’s Science Advisory Committee; even as the National Science Foundation drew upon the nation’s elite researchers in an attempt to remake the high school science education curriculum. Science journalism also boomed, as a generation of enthusiasts wrote about each daily step of the thrilling space race.
In sum, the policies and cultural changes unleashed in the wake of Sputnik shaped the course of American science for decades–and made us world leaders. But then, something went very wrong. Science budgets stopped rising and began to fall. Educational investment also declined. Science became ensnared with politics, first the foe of the religious right, and then something to be spiked at will by the Bush administration.
You can read the full piece here….