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Oh, Be a Fine Girl!

Readers, help me sort out an egregious detail of astronomical lore. The most common method of classifying stars — Harvard Spectral Classification — was thought up by one of the most famous female astronomers of all time, Annie Jump Cannon. Adapted from a cumbersome older method which sorted stars into 22 alphabetical categories of observable…

Peripheral Vision

I believe the world is a complex phenomenological experience that can be explained, rationalized, and lived in myriad different ways. The way I see it, we all begin with the same fundamental mystery — why are we here? what is life? — and we attack this problem with whatever tools we find work best; some…

Meeting an Astronaut

Last week, fresh off the fourth-to-last Shuttle mission, STS-131, NASA astronaut Jim Dutton came to speak at OMSI, my local science museum. When I got the email about this event, I RSVPed immediately — after all, an astronaut in my town? How urbane. Surely the intelligentsia of Oregon would come in droves to discuss the…

Send Your Face to Space

If it has always been your fantasy to send your physical likeness out into the cosmos, now is your time! To commemorate the final two Shuttle missions, NASA has created a bonkers “Face in Space” initiative, which allows you to upload a picture of yourself to send to the International Space Station. What this actually…

Synthetic Life Lives

What do these three quotations have in common? Hint: it lives in a petri dish. “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, and to recreate life out of life.” — James Joyce “What I cannot build, I cannot understand.” — Richard Feynman “See things not as they are, but as they might be.” —…

As NASA’s Space Shuttle program winds down — Endeavour’s final mission is slated for later this year, then that’s it — let us take a moment and remember the Shuttles. Sure, they had a tendency to explode into balls of fire. Sure, they were expensive, risky, and besieged by problems. But now is not the…

Weird Stars!

What are stars? Despite their ubiquity in our universe, their praises often go unsung. A friend admitted to me once that he hadn’t realized — you know, really viscerally realized — that our sun was itself a star until he was in his twenties. From that moment forward, however, every glance at the night sky…

Ideological State Interface

The North Korean government has made an operating system called “Red Star.” Despite the fact that very few North Koreans have a computer, let alone Internet access, Red Star is designed to provide a safe operating environment in line with North Korean political philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance (as well as, admittedly, monitor user activity).…

Terrifying Science News Roundup

A large part of my affection for science comes from the thrill of terror I get when a particularly insane piece of science news hits the presses. When an article begins with a sentence like, “there is something strange in the cosmic neighborhood,” or “all the black holes found so far in our universe may…

Information Overload!!!

I don’t have the attention span to write this article. In the course of penning this introductory paragraph, I’ve taken umpteen email breaks, gotten distracted by several Wikipedia wormholes, and taken an hour’s time out to watch Frontline documentary clips on YouTube. It has taken me, in toto, seven days to write a five-paragraph article…