Philip Plait's Blog
February 28, 2017
“What in the living fuck happened at the Oscars?” A shocked Trevor Noah posed this question to Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr., who provided a simple but convincing explanation. “Peak blackness,” Wood explained, a “rare metaphysical anomaly that can only occur when an amalgam of black excellence comes together at the same societal intersection.” Sunday night’s awards ceremony, he said, was the culmination of Black History Month, Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement, and the apparent...
January 31, 2017
We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.
On Nov. 12, 2012, I posted my first blog article for Slate. This article you are reading right now is my last.
After 1,541 days and more than 3,000 articles, I’m moving on. Starting Wednesday, I will be writing at my new blog home: Syfy Wire.
I know, this may seem like an odd jump, but it actually makes perfect sense. Syfy Wire (formerly Blastr) has always been a news outl...
January 30, 2017
Hands down, the biggest science story of 2016 was the detection of gravitational waves. Even the discovery of the planet Proxima Centauri B takes second seat to it.
Gravitational waves are ripples in the very fabric of space-time, created when massive objects are accelerated. The existence of these waves in reality was a natural byproduct of Einstein’s relativity equations, but their detection has been difficult. That’s because the waves are incredibly weak, at least in everyday life. To get...
January 27, 2017
Friday is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts. I wrote the following article a few years ago, but my feelings have not changed at all. Space calls to us, and we must answer, even when we know we will lose people along the way. We can minimize this loss, but we cannot eradicate it. If you ask any astronaut, I expect they would agree.
Today marks the second in a week of three tragic anniversaries in space exploration. On Jan. 27, 1967, we lost three astronaut...
January 26, 2017
This post is what Boing Boing calls a “unicorn chaser,” a bit of eye candy to cleanse the brain after a particularly off-putting article. So, after Wednesday’s distressing news, here’s something to make your cerebrum a bit happier.
A new image of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft reveals a fantastic vista that looks like an impressionistic painting. When it took the frames making up this image, Juno was looking down on Jupiter from about 17,000 kilometers above the cloud tops, when the spa...
January 25, 2017
Welcome to our new, terrifying reality: According to reports, President Donald Trump’s administration has ordered a media blackout of people who work at the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture.
It gets worse: According to Reuters, Trump has also ordered the EPA to remove its climate change pages.
I want to be very careful here. The EPA and USDA media blackouts might be due simply to Trump’s transition team trying to minimize confusion during the cha...
January 24, 2017
On July 5, Jupiter acquired a new moon: NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Launched in 2011, Juno passed by the Earth in October 2013 to pick up some energy and fling itself to Jupiter. Once it arrived, it burned its main engine for over a half hour, slowing enough to place itself into a highly elongated orbit that took it over Jupiter’s poles.
The orbital burn went perfectly, but a potentially serious problem arose. In October, after two complete orbits (each about 54 days apiece), the main engine was...
January 23, 2017
The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since Aug. 6, 2012. In the more than four years it’s been there, it’s seen wonders beyond our Earthly reckoning: evidence of ancient flowing water, evidence of ancient standing water, methane in the atmosphere now, carbon in the rocks, dark basaltic sand dunes, weird lumpy moons circling a dusty red planet.
Mars is indeed an alien world. But even with all that, sometimes Curiosity still manages to find things on Mars that are able to surprise and delight:...
January 20, 2017
Today is a difficult day. And it’s just the latest in what have been very, very difficult times.
I’ll be honest with you: Over the past few months, in between bouts of fury and incredulity, like so many of you I have felt real despair. Watching the country I love, the people I care about, and the science to which I have devoted my life come under such attack has been extraordinarily difficult and painful.
It can be hard to find any comfort in situations like these. And I have no desire to utt...
January 19, 2017
When I saw the image above, I literally gasped. It’s an amazing photo, showing the small moon Daphnis inside a gap in Saturn’s rings. The beauty of this shot is apparent, but the science behind it is even cooler.
Allow me to explain.
On Nov. 30, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn took on a new and risky mission. It began a series of orbits that are taking it over the planet’s north pole and then down just outside the main rings.
In mid-January it dipped through the ring plane on one of th...