If we found it orbiting another star, this world would surely be hailed as the most Earthlike exoplanet known: the best place yet to search for alien life. No doubt you sense there is a catch, and indeed there is. It is not orbiting another star; it is the planet closest to home right here in our own solar system. The world I’m talking about is Venus: The Earth-Twin Planet That Nobody Talks About
We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
In a Multiverse, What Are the Odds? "Testing the multiverse hypothesis requires measuring whether our universe is statistically typical among the infinite variety of universes. But infinity does a number on statistics." (previously) [more inside]
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
Chandra Sky Map - Joe DePasquale runs through the process of creating the map and some helpful tips for using the interactive tool.
One of my favorite blogs happens to be local to me. Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle's "SciGuy" usually reports on the weather. But he also posts entertaining and serious stuff as well. [more inside]
The discovery indicates there are many more free-floating Jupiter-mass planets that can't be seen. The team estimates there are about twice as many of them as stars. In addition, these worlds are thought to be at least as common as planets that orbit stars. This would add up to hundreds of billions of lone planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone.
Welcome to the Universe - III: The Size of Things . . .we take a breif trip through the Solar System and beyond to see the size of the Universe. A youtube video by AndromedasWake about the scale of the Universe.
A fascinating talk about the composition of the universe [Youtube, approx 1 hour], presented by Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at CIT. [via] [more inside]
Five years and 800,000 images went into producing a 4 gigapixel mosaic image of the galactic plane, which when printed out is 180 feet long. But it has been made browser-sized by GLIMPSE, the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire, the research group which, along with MIPSGAL, created the image: A Glimpse of the Milky Way.
Leave the planet to travel into the largest structures of the universe, then plunge into the tiniest. Forty two orders of magnitude in thirty six minutes.... Cosmic Voyage. (single link Google video via) [more inside]
Astronomers find a giant hole a billion light years across & located 8 billion light years away from us. They believe it could be evidence of another Universe at the edge of ours.
Prominent cosmologist Simon D.M. White has written a provocative paper posted to the astrophysics arxiv complaining that too much time is being devoted to the quest to understand the nature of the elusive dark energy: "Dark Energy is undeniably an interesting problem to attack through astronomical observation, but it is one of many and not necessarily the one where significant progress is most likely to follow a major investment of resources." He worries generally that observational cosmology/astrophysics/astronomy may turn away from the construction of instruments of general utility (such as the Hubble Space Telescope), to concentrate on a small number of massive experiments narrowly focused on solving particular problems (such as WMAP and the Large Hadron Collider), to the detriment of the "quirky small-science" type of astronomy.