Astroengine Live Bonus Show, Today at 4pm PST/7pm EST

You may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet on the airwaves these last couple of weeks. This doesn’t mean all the space news of the world has slowed, or I’ve been any less active article writing, it’s just that life seems to happen during my regular Wednesday slot and I have to keep cancelling!

But not today, I’ll be on the air at 4pm PST/7pm EST for an extra special show, just before Captain Jack hits the mic in his brand new and shiny Badlands Radio (formally known as Paranormal Radio).

For more information about how you can listen in to today’s Astroengine Live, go to the Astroengine Live section of »

Colbert: Entomologists Succeed Where NASA Failed, Introducing The Agaporomorphus Colberti

Agaporomorphus colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela (Kelly Miller and Quentin Wheeler)

You remember last month’s fuss over a certain component of the International Space Station, don’t you? You know, the NASA node-naming competition that a certain US comedian managed to dominate, ultimately winning the popular vote to name the node after himself? Come on, you must remember? The vote that NASA ultimately decided wasn’t very suitable and went with “Tranquillity” instead? Ah yes, that competition!

Although Stephen Colbert, presenter and award-winning comedian on “The Colbert Report”, was denied having Node 3, NASA did recognise his efforts and named the brand new microgravity treadmill after him. The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (or COLBERT), is not only to remember Stephen’s landslide public vote, it is also a marvel in acronym construction.

Although space scientists are not so keen on naming components of the space station after Colbert, zoologists don’t have the same concerns about naming something after a living person. Two entomologists, Quentin Wheeler at Arizona State University and Kelly Miller at the University of New Mexico, have named a Venezuelan diving beetle after him, the mighty Agaporomorphus colberti. This is in honour of Colbert’s 45th birthday on May 13th.

Although it is great to be named after a small creature that enjoys paddling in the depths of South American ponds, I wonder if it’s any match for being named after an orbiting running machine for astronauts? After reading the honours list in the beetle world, I think I’d still prefer to have the unique privilage of astronauts saying, “I’m off to the COLBERT to stave off any muscle wastage…”

The pair have named beetles to honor the late rock ‘n’ roll legend Roy Orbison and his widow Barbara (Orectochilus orbisonorum); for fictional “Star Wars” character Darth Vader (Agathidium vaderi); and for former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi).

Agathidium vaderi? No way! Can I get one as a pet?

Still, good for Wheeler and Kelly. They’ve drummed up some interest in diving beetles and created some popular media attention for their area of science.

What does this have to do with space? Not a lot, just thought Agaporomorphus colberti sounded cool.


Chances of the World Being Destroyed by the LHC is 50:50. Yes, Walter Wagner Is Back!

It’s one of those occasions when you’re not sure whether you should laugh… or hold back your giggling because you realise you’re witnessing some very well produced train-wreck TV.

Oh yes, it can mean only one thing, Walter Wagner is back! But this time, the media came prepared.

They made fun of him.

Yes, it was the Jon Stewart Show, and yes it was satire, but this time the joke was on the crackpot notion that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could actually cause harm to the world.

The subject of the LHC drove me insane last year (it also annoyed some very high profile physicists); it became almost impossible to report on the research CERN scientists were hoping to carry out, as every day Wagner (with his ‘lawsuit’ craziness) or Rossler (with his ‘infringement of human rights’ nonsense) would pop up, forcing any decent physics article into a defence of the LHC. Needless to say, this annoyed many physicists involved in the LHC, but excited media doomsday headlines into a frenzy of doomsday crackpottery.

Now, Wagner has been caught out and been made a fool of. Although I hate to see anyone in this situation, in this case, I think it is needed. Wagner only has himself to blame. He started these doomsday theories, now it’s up to mainstream comedy shows to debunk his authority on the subject.

Hold on, did he ever have an authority over physics? Oh yes, that’s right. No, he didn’t. He used the media as a tool to gain attention.

On the other hand, physicist Prof. John Ellis is an authority on physics… in fact, he’s the authority on LHC physics. I think I’d put my trust in an evil genius with a PhD and decades of experience, rather than the Caped Wagner Crusader any day.

For more on the subject, check out Ethan’s Starts With A Bang, he has more patience than me and delves into the subject a bit more »

Here’s more LHC goodness if you’re hungry for more »

Source: Gia via Twitter

Slow News Day: Alien Skull On Mars


This just came in from the Telegraph, apparently Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has spotted a random skull on the Martian surface. This is obviously the only interpretation… as we know what an alien looks like, don’t we? Big head, big eyes, pasty grey skin. Something like this? Or, more likely, like this? Or this? Wow, it could be any one of them.

However, it’s not quite that exciting.

It’s a rock, as you may have already guessed. And no, the Telegraph isn’t taking it seriously either. (Although The Sun’s microreport could be taken either way.)

Although the newspaper’s article resembles a badly conditioned April Fools gag, there is one glaring error, well two actually. No, three.

Firstly, Spirit is not a camera – it’s a whole robot with a camera attached (called the Panoramic Camera, or Pancam for short). If it was just a camera, could you imagine the movie location costs?

Second, I’m not sure why this was filed in “Science News”. It obviously needs to be filed under “It’s a Slow News Day, We’ll Report Anything”.

And thirdly, I seriously doubt this image got “space-gazers talking”. When I last looked at one of Opportunity’s panoramic shots, I could see all kinds of strange things in the Mars dirt. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d love poking around the shapes and shadows, thinking I could see skulls, flying hubcaps and mysterious plant-like features. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m a “space-gazer”, but I’m not “talking”.

As it’s late, I’ve given up trying to find the source of the article (no links – come on Telegraph, if you’re gonna play blogging for the day, at least reference your lead!). Apparently some “UFO hunters” were being serious, but then joking, about this rock that looks like a skull. So, what the Telegraph is really trying to tell us is:

A stone. On Mars. Might look like a skull. Doesn’t really. Even ufologists don’t take it seriously. So it’s not really news. Move along.

I’m not suggesting the Telegraph isn’t a good newspaper, on the contrary, but really, what’s the point?

Why did I even bother to report on this? Oh yeah: It’s a stone that looks like a bunny skull. Now try explaining how a rabbit got up there…

Astroengine Featured on CNET


In an article written by Don Reisinger for CNET News, was selected as one of the “18 cool sites and apps that teach you about space.”

This is awesome as one of my main effort on Astroengine is to not only promote space news, opinion, skepticism and logical thinking, I also hope the site serves as an educational medium, so readers can understand the science that hides beneath the headlines. “Outreach” is a lot more than a group of scientists trying to work out how best to promote their work to the world; it’s a way of communicating advanced scientific theories to an audience who don’t necessarily have a specialized knowledge of the subject matter. Even though I have an education in a small aspect of astrophysics, it is often hard to understand the next big discovery in cosmology (don’t get me started on quantum dynamics, that stuff is insane!), so the more explaining the better in my books.

Also, to add to the coolness, by virtue of alphabetical luck, takes the #2 slot in the top 18 space websites. And to top the whole thing off, Don Reisinger’s article hit the front page of this morning. Needless to say, Astroengine was busier than Grand Central Station on a Friday evening this afternoon (thank goodness I have a brand new server to deal with demand)!

Thank you Don, I really appreciate the mention and the really cool review!

For more, check out “18 cool sites and apps that teach you about space” on »

A Hole In Arizona

©Stan Gaz

This picture was posted by Phil Plait and I was mesmerized. Stan Gaz, the photographer of Meteor Crater in Arizona, will be laying on an exhibition in New York from April 30th to June 6th. If this is anything to go by, it’s an event you can’t afford to miss out on… if you’re in or near New York that is. As I am quite literally on the other side of the country, I’ll miss it, but here’s more info if you are more fortunate.

100th Carnival Of Space. Oh Yes! It’s the Centenary Edition!


One hundred Carnivals. Wow.

I think it goes without saying that this is a huge Carnival of Space, a celebration of the first century of space blogging as we move into the second. So long as I blog about space and science I will continue to participate in this supreme celebration of the space blogosphere.

So, over to Brian Ventrudo at One Minute Astronomer, for the huge 100th Carnival of Space!

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan (from One Minute Astronomer)