Cassini: Space probes, history and women

I have just read a lovely article by Rebekah Higgitt on the various Cassinis that worked in France as astronomers. One of them was Giovanni Domenico (or Jean Dominique) Cassini (8 June 1625 – 14 September 1712), the first director of the observatory founded by Louis XIV, and discoverer, amongst other things, of four satellites of the planet …

Something for nothing

This is a blog post about nothing in particular. It’s more a stream of thoughts and associations… But in the end I’ll be talking about Kepler and snowflakes and Pluto and its moon. Nix The other day I was talking to my sister. She asked in German whether I had an idea for my next …

The mystery of the missing Martians

When the present is depressing and the future uncertain, it is sometimes nice to retreat to the past, especially to past futures. I recently tried to distract myself from the present by staring at Venus, Moon and Mars illuminating the evening sky. I then led my eyes wander around the internet and I inadvertently came …

Jupiter and Juno

Once in a while I write a blog post about space missions – and there have been quite a few recently. I especially enjoyed the Rosetta mission to 67P and the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Now another mission has crossed my horizons, namely the Juno mission to Jupiter. While Pluto was believed to be …

Ripples of rumour and ripples in space: LIGO and gravitational waves

For some days now I have been seeing announcements on twitter that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) would make an announcement about the detection of gravitational waves today. (The best description of these self-referential announcements can be found on Mark Hannam’s blog!) In 2014 I got a bit excited about an announcement that gravitational …

‘Serendipity carried through to perfection’ – thoughts on the Cassini mission

I am, as some of you might have noticed, an avid follower of …. not fashion but space exploration. I have ‘flown with’ Hubble, Voyager, Rosetta, Philae and New Horizons; I ‘follow’ Curiosity’s progress on Mars; and now I am entranced by some of the images that Cassini is sending back from Saturn and its …

Pluto and pareidolia

As everybody knows by now, New Horizons has been flying past Pluto and has beamed down astonishing images. One of these shows a peach or bronze coloured planetary object with a lighter pattern on the side that I first saw as a ‘heart’. Many others did so too, including NASA (it will now name this …

Joining the dots: Pluto, Kant and the nature of scientific knowledge

In his Critique of Practical Reason (1788) Immanuel Kant wrote these most beautiful words: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them …

Kissing a comet

I began writing this post this morning and I have just read that Philae has reached its landing spot Agilkia (sort of)! Touchdown happened at 1605 GMT. Congratulations!! Rocks, robots and us When I switched on the ESA live feed about the comet landing this morning, I heard one of the lead scientists say that landing …