Monthly Archives: April 2007

the red sun of krypton

Two news items caught my attention today. Though they don’t actually have anything to do with each other, reading them one after the other evokes a certain comic-book planet:

An international team of astronomers from Switzerland, France and Portugal have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date. The planet has a radius only 50 percent larger than Earth and is very likely to contain liquid water on its surface.

Unlike our Earth, this planet takes only 13 days to complete one orbit round its star. It is also 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun. However, since its host star, the red dwarf Gliese 581, is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus less luminous – the planet lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid.

“We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” said Stiphane Udry from the Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and lead-author of the paper in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The planet is about 20 light years away, definitely visiting distance. It would definitely be a strange new world, but the presence of water (and all that implies) puts it at the top of the list of Places To Investigate.

In other news, a new mineral was discovered in a mine in Serbia:

“Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral’s chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns.

“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”

Super-Earths, kryptonite… it just goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction. Now where’s that jet pack I ordered?

Mr. Bush, tear down this wall

Oh, you have got to be kidding me:

A U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to cut off one of the capital’s most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq’s most populous and violent city.

U.S. commanders in northern Baghdad said the 12-foot-high barrier would make it more difficult for suicide bombers to strike and for death squads and militia fighters from sectarian factions to attack one another and then slip back to their home turf.

Although Baghdad is replete with blast walls, checkpoints and other temporary barriers, including a massive wall around the Green Zone, the barrier being constructed in Adhamiya would be the first to be based in essence on sectarian considerations.

More details at the LA Times story.  So, how much of this has to happen before the Bush administration admits we’re in the middle of a civil war, and losing?

National High Five Day

In the spirit of peace, love, and general awesomeness, I high-five you!

National High Five Day falls on the third Thursday of April each year, which falls this year on April 19, 2007. The holiday originated at the University of Virginia in 2002, and has since spread across the nation, and around the globe.

Imagine that while on your way to class, you pass a dignified looking middle-aged man in a suit. Instead of noticing this respectable pillar of society fifteen seconds or so before your interaction is fated to occur, and lowering your head to avoid his disapproving scowl, you and the businessman simultaneously raise your hands and wordlessly high-five. You both walk on, and likely relate the story to whomever you eat dinner with that night.

Special thanks to Nate and Ted for bringing this to my attention.

finally a lottery ticket i’d buy

Buzz Aldrin announced something awesome today: a lottery to send some lucky winner into space.

Details of the competition are still sketchy, Aldrin said at a space investment conference on Wall Street Tuesday, with the legal status of selling lottery tickets still to be resolved.

He said the idea was to offer the top prize of a flight into Earth’s orbit, but it was not yet decided on what spacecraft.

So it’s not exactly “WIN A TRIP TO THE MOON!“, but it’s a nice first step in that direction.

[Hat tip to Patrick for the story link]