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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded


Discussion and news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology
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  • Profile

    Caleb A. Scharf Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His latest book is 'Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos', and he is working on 'The Copernicus Complex' (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.
  • Summer Shorts: 101 Geysers Point To Enceladus’ Deep Ocean

    3D map of 98 geysers across the southern polar region of Enceladus (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

    It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories. The NASA/ESA Cassini mission to Saturn first spied plumes [...]

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    Summer Shorts: A Cometary Rubber Duck

    Rosetta images of comet nucleus (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team)

    It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories.   ESA’s Rosetta mission, reported on in an earlier [...]

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    Sneaking up on a Sweaty Comet

    (ESA)

    Over the coming month the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta mission will fire its main engines no less than eight times to tweak its interplanetary intercept course with Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko; eventually sidling up to the 4 kilometer wide cometary nucleus at about 7.9 meters per second in early August. At that point, with some gentler [...]

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    The Photons Of Your Life

    Starry Night Over The Rhone (V. van Gogh, public domain)

    An unusual question raises an intriguing idea. At a party a few nights ago a friend approached me with a dilemma. A relative of theirs had died, and the spouse was trying to understand if it was at all possible that there was still ‘something’ of their partner in existence; a tangible part of their [...]

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    Space: A New Hope or an Old Dream?

    (Credit: NASA)

    The release of a long-awaited National Academy of Sciences report on the state and future of the US space program has triggered wide-reaching commentary on what it means to be space-faring. For hundreds of billions of dollars spent over the next 20 years, the report suggests, NASA could get humans (reasonably safely) to Mars. Along [...]

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    Exoplanet Size: It’s Elementary

    (Credit NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

    Since quite early in the history of the discovery of planets around other stars it’s been apparent that the likelihood of certain types of planets around a star is related to the abundance of heavy elements in that system. Specifically, astronomers can study the spectrum of light from a star and deduce the mix of [...]

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    Snow, a Slowing Planet, and a Last Dangerous Dance with Venus

    20140516_Venus_Express_aerobraking_f537

                    In about a month’s time, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft will adjust its orbit and dip into the outer venusian atmosphere. This hypervelocity skimming will allow scientists to not only obtain a little more data on Venus’s atmosphere, but to also learn more about [...]

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    Watch the Earth From Space, Live!

    ISS from STS118 Shuttle (NASA)

    Live streaming video by Ustream It doesn’t get much better than this (well, of course being in space might be better, albeit colder). The above is streaming video, live from the International Space Station and the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment that was lofted to orbit by a SpaceX Dragon craft just days ago. [...]

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    Exomoons Can Spoof Exoplanet Biosignatures

    earth-titan.001

    Astronomers hope that one day soon we’ll obtain a spectrum of light that might tell us whether or not an Earth-sized exoplanet harbors life. This spectrum could be of starlight filtered through the planetary atmosphere, or of reflected and emitted radiation. In either case it would probe the chemical composition of an alien world. The [...]

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    Heads Up! Thirteen Years Of Asteroid Impacts On Earth

    pia17016-640

    Since the Chelyabinsk event in early 2013, when a brilliant meteor fireball streaked across Russian skies and exploded with the energy of thirty Hiroshima bombs, humans have paid slightly more attention to the potential danger of asteroids than before. A combination of media attention and the viral spread of eyewitness videos and photos perhaps did [...]

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