Nearer Ceres to Thee

Detail of 'xkcd' #1476, by Randall MunroeOh, yes. There is that.

What, you mean the mission where we chuck a metal box into space, fly it out to the asteroid belt, find a big rock, drop into orbit, survey the gravitational field and some other stuff, then kick out, maneuver through the storm of flying rocks, find another big rock, and do the whole orbit thing all over gain?

Yeah. That one.

Next stop, Ceres. ETA: 6 March 2015, SCET.

Say hello to Dawn.

No, really. This is already a great show. And it’s about to get even better.


Munroe, Randall. “Ceres”. xkcd. 21 January 2015.

NASA. “DAWN: A Journey to the Beginning of the Solar System”. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 2015.

Astronomy and Human Progress

This morning, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory issued a press release, which in and of itself is hardly extraordinary. Its contents, however, are extraordinarily awesome:

ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Astronomers have captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities.

This revolutionary new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star.

“These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk. This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder.

While this photo is not about to save a life or help a man improve his intimate relations, it occasionally occurs to us to remind that astronomy is not just about fancy photos. The human species needs astronomers.

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Might we suggest some light, enlightening reading?

Linden-2014-FermiGC-detail-smDark matter?

• Or, maybe, zebra stripes around planet Earth?

• Perhaps contemplating the multiverse?

• Or puzzling over the “strangest magma on Earth”? How about extraterrestrial volcanoes?

• Would you believe the Permian-Triassic extinction was caused by microbes?

• Was that whole skydiver and meteorite thing true?