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Rocket Science

Skimming the Surface of Planetary Life

Humans are surface dwellers, evolved to thrive within a very slim portion of Earth’s atmosphere. We’ve come to recognize the rich diversity that spirals down into the soil, rock, ice and ocean depths, but the space above our highest mountains is often dismissed as a mere runway to the stars—a place for the occasional Himalaya-soaring goose, bust mostly the realm of human technological accession.

But the wide blue yonder is far from lifeless. It’s a realm where spiders and other invertebrates sail to dizzying heights on silken threads, amid waves of “aeroplankton” microbes: viruses, bacteria, fungi and more.

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Astronomers Spot Trio of Promising Exoplanets Orbiting Ultra-Cool Dwarf

Not to be superficial, but it’s hard to ignore an exoplanet press release when it comes with artwork that looks like it was ripped from a Michael Whelan paperback cover.

Specifically, we’re looking at Martin Kornmesser’s depiction of an Earth-like planet orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1—a dim, Jupiter-sized star roughly 40 light years away. Using the Belgian TRAPPIST telescope*, ESO astronomers were able to detect the presence of three planets as they passed between us and TRAPPIST-1’s bloody glow—thus promoting such “red worlds” from the realm of theoretical to confirmed astronomy.

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Hawking and Milner Set A Course for Alpha Centauri

If you’ve ever played Sid Meier’s “Civilization,” you know the value of reaching Alpha Centauri. Located a mere 4.37 light years (25 trillion miles) away, it’s is the closest star system to our own and the obsession of astrophysicists and sci-fi dreamers alike. If we’re to become an interstellar species, we have to reach it, even if it’s infested with CGI cat people.

Now we might be a step closer.

In a news conference held Tuesday, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and billionaire investor Yuri Milner expressed their desire to win our real-life game of “Civilization” within a generation via an armada of super-fast nanocraft.

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