There’s a lot of waiting in science. Collecting and interpreting evidence demands skill and commitment, creativity and curiosity — and time. Though Saturn has been known since ancient times, Galileo first observed it with a telescope in 1610. He saw the rings, but didn’t identify them as such. Not until the 1650s did Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens report a flat ring around Saturn. The...
Letters to the Editor
Locked up08/23/2017 - 16:00 Astronomy, Microbiology, Physics
Simulations suggest that heat from an infant Earth, the sun and the moon could have vaporized the moon’s metals into a thick atmosphere, Lisa Grossman reported in “Metallic air may have swaddled moon” (SN: 8/5/17, p. 7). One way to test the idea would be to look for a ring of extra sodium in rocks around the moon’s twilight zone, where sodium snow would have accumulated. This zone...
Take a bow, Cassini. It’s been a marathon performance: 20 years in space, more than 200 orbits around Saturn, and hundreds of thousands of images of the giant planet, its splashy rings and its many moons. On September 15, the veteran spacecraft will use its last burst of fuel to plunge into the sixth planet from the sun. Scientists and space enthusiasts around the world will watch it go with...
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Predatory sea worms just aren’t as spiny as they used to be.
These arrow worms, which make up the phylum Chaetognatha, snatch prey with Wolverine-like claws protruding from around their mouths. Researchers now report that a newly identified species of ancient arrow worm was especially heavily armed. Dubbed Capinatator praetermissus, the predator had about 50 curved...
Spacecraft have gone bite-sized. On June 23, Breakthrough Starshot, an initiative to send spacecraft to another star system, launched half a dozen probes called Sprites to test how their electronics fare in outer space. Each Sprite, built on a single circuit board, is a prototype of the tiny spacecraft that Starshot scientists intend to send to Alpha Centauri, the trio of stars closest to the...
Mention “the pill,” and only one kind of drug comes to mind. The claim that oral contraceptives have on that simple noun testifies to the pill’s singular effect in the United States. Introduced in 1960, the pill gave women reliable access to birth control for the first time. The opportunity to delay having children opened the door to higher education and professional careers for many women....
Just a stab in the dark, but you’ve probably heard: There is a total solar eclipse today, August 21.
For the first time since 1979, the moon’s shadow will zip across the continental United States. The shadow will travel from Oregon to South Carolina in a swift 92 minutes. For those in the path of totality, total darkness will last only a couple of minutes. There and elsewhere in most of...
A total solar eclipse shines a light on the sun's elusive atmosphere. When the moon blocks the sun, it’s finally possible to see how this diffuse cloud of plasma, called the corona, is magnetically sculpted into beautiful loops. The material there is about a trillionth the density of the solar surface. From its delicate and diaphanous appearance, you might expect the corona to be where the sun...
August's total solar eclipse won’t be the last time the moon cloaks the sun’s light. From now to 2040, for example, skywatchers around the globe can witness 15 such events.
Their predicted paths aren’t random scribbles. Solar eclipses occur in what’s called a Saros cycle — a period that lasts about 18 years, 11 days and eight hours, and is governed by the moon’s orbit. (Lunar eclipses...
The sun can’t keep its hands to itself. A constant flow of charged particles streams away from the sun at hundreds of kilometers per second, battering vulnerable planets in its path.
This barrage is called the solar wind, and it has had a direct role in shaping life in the solar system. It’s thought to have stripped away much of Mars’ atmosphere (SN: 4/29/17, p. 20). Earth is protected...