Category Archives: Astronomy

How the Pentagon started taking UFO’s seriously

Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes: Leslie Kean is a self-possessed woman with a sensible demeanor and a nimbus of curly graying hair. She lives alone in a light-filled corner apartment near the northern extreme of Manhattan, where, on the wall behind her desk, there is a framed black-and-white image that looks like a sonogram of a Frisbee.… Read More »

How radio astronomy reveals the universe

Emily Levesque writes: If you ask an astronomer to choose the single most exciting picture in all of astronomy, many of us will point to a familiar orange ring. At a glance it may not look like much — a fuzzy glowing doughnut, bulging slightly at the bottom and, as of last month, streaked with… Read More »

What makes Elon Musk and Carl Sagan worlds apart

Shannon Stirone writes: There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems… Read More »

Have we already been visited by aliens?

Elizabeth Kolbert writes: On October 19, 2017, a Canadian astronomer named Robert Weryk was reviewing images captured by a telescope known as Pan-STARRS1 when he noticed something strange. The telescope is situated atop Haleakalā, a ten-thousand-foot volcanic peak on the island of Maui, and it scans the sky each night, recording the results with the… Read More »

Astronomers get their wish, and a cosmic mystery deepens

Natalie Wolchover writes: On December 3, humanity suddenly had information at its fingertips that people have wanted for, well, forever: the precise distances to the stars. “You type in the name of a star or its position, and in less than a second you will have the answer,” Barry Madore, a cosmologist at the University… Read More »

The surface of the moon is a galactic time capsule

Paul Sutter writes: You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but the moon is a time capsule. Its surface has been completely exposed to vacuum for almost 4.5 billion years; meanwhile, it has been soaked by particles from the sun and beyond the solar system. Those particles remain, buried under the lunar surface, providing… Read More »

What Earth owes to black holes

Marina Koren writes: The first picture ever captured of a black hole, one situated in the center of another galaxy, was pretty blurry. Seen in silhouette, it appeared fuzzy, as did the ring of hot gas surrounding it. The reaction of the public did not necessarily match the unalloyed joy of astronomers accustomed to extracting… Read More »

On the origin of an interstellar species

Caleb Scharf writes: Once upon a time there was a molecule. That molecule, when it reacted with other molecules, set in motion a story that would result in the universe making another molecule almost exactly like that first one. Then that new molecule, when it reacted with other molecules, set in motion a story that… Read More »

The hidden magnetic universe begins to come into view

Natalie Wolchover writes: Anytime astronomers figure out a new way of looking for magnetic fields in ever more remote regions of the cosmos, inexplicably, they find them. These force fields — the same entities that emanate from fridge magnets — surround Earth, the sun and all galaxies. Twenty years ago, astronomers started to detect magnetism… Read More »

Pentagon is open to replacing base names linked to white supremacy, but Trump shuts down the discussion

The New York Times reports: Monuments and memorials bearing the names of men who fought to preserve slavery and uphold white supremacy are facing a reckoning, as demonstrations against police brutality have erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The protests have also reignited a… Read More »