astronomy

We Lost It at the Eclipse

Until last Monday morning I was what Berkeley astrophysicist Alex Filippenko calls an “eclipse virgin.”  I’d seen partial solar eclipses before, which mostly meant observing the shadows cast on the ground through leaves or through a pinhole in cardboard. A total solar eclipse is different. It’s like a brief opening of the heavens, a fleeting glimpse at celestial perfection. The lead up is an interesting mix of sensations. The temperature drops, the light takes on an eerie quality, and shadows become impossibly crisp. Read more about We Lost It at the Eclipse »

Reading Roundup: Planet Nine, UC and Trump, the Woolly Mammoth

The Sad Last Days of the Woolly Mammoth

Hoping to shed light on the woolly mammoth’s decline, UC Berkeley bioinformatics researcher Montgomery Slatkin and a colleague compared the genomes of two of the hairy giants and found that they were mutational hot messes in their last days, with trouble finding where to pee and translucent satin coats that may have looked cool at parties but were hardly enough to protect them from the elements. Read more about Reading Roundup: Planet Nine, UC and Trump, the Woolly Mammoth »

After Star Prof Resigns, UC President Calls for Rethinking Sexual Harassment Policies

In the wake of astronomy professor Geoff Marcy’s resignation—after a campus finding that he had been sexually harassing female students for years—University of California President Janet Napolitano says there’s an “urgent need to review University policies that may have inadvertently made the investigation and resolution of this case more difficult.” Read more about After Star Prof Resigns, UC President Calls for Rethinking Sexual Harassment Policies »

Turbo-Charging the Hunt for ETs: This Will Give our Decade a Shot at Cosmic Stardom

In the 3.5 billion-year history of life on planet Earth, a century seems barely mentionable and a decade seems insignificant—but the new revelation of a project involving a Russian billionaire, three UC Berkeley researchers and $100 million just may have laid the groundwork for this decade’s shot at eternal distinction. Read more about Turbo-Charging the Hunt for ETs: This Will Give our Decade a Shot at Cosmic Stardom »

Lick Gets Googled—But Is Cool Million Enough to Save the Endangered Observatory?

For everyone who cares about saving the University of California’s cash-strapped Lick Observatory, news that Google is donating $1 million is a boon in more ways than one. Not only will the contribution—a full third of Lick’s current barebones operating budget—support the observatory’s day-to-day activities, but it’s already inspiring other donors to chip in. Read more about Lick Gets Googled—But Is Cool Million Enough to Save the Endangered Observatory? »

Starry, Starry Fight: University of California Says it Will Keep Funding Lick Observatory

Lick Observatory has received a reprieve after all. The University of California has reversed its plan to pull funding from the world’s first mountain-summit observatory.

Instead the UC system will provide continued funding (next year, that amounts to $1.5 million), an amount that astronomers characterized as sufficient but frugal. To achieve its full potential, the university’s only fully-owned observatory will still need outside donations. Read more about Starry, Starry Fight: University of California Says it Will Keep Funding Lick Observatory »

Stardust Captured: Scientists Likely Find First Bits from Beyond Our Solar System

Today UC Berkeley scientists are announcing that they have probably identified, in samples returned from a NASA probe, particles of interstellar matter—the first samples of “stardust” from beyond our solar system.

Obtaining the dust motes has been an achievement of staggering technical proficiency in extracting the infinitesimal from the infinite. Read more about Stardust Captured: Scientists Likely Find First Bits from Beyond Our Solar System »

Doomsday 1: An Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs—Will We Be Next?

Editors’ Note: The Summer 2014 issue of California magazine is called “This is the End.” Every day this week: a different catastrophic scenario.

It started with a flash.

At a few minutes past 9:00, one crystalline morning last February, a burst of light brighter than 30 suns illuminated Chelyabinsk, Russia, a southern industrial city known mostly for making tractors. Thanks to smartphones, surveillance cameras, and Russian auto-dash cams, we have a voluminous record of what happened next. Read more about Doomsday 1: An Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs—Will We Be Next? »

From the Summer 2014 Apocalypse issue of California.

Aliens Are Almost Surely Out There—Now Can We Find the Money to Find Them?

Dan Werthimer thinks his testimony last week before the House Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology went pretty well. As director of the SETI Research Center at Berkeley, Werthimer updated committee members on the search for extraterrestrial life, and provided a generally upbeat evaluation: ET microbial life likely is ubiquitous throughout the galaxy, and new technologies have improved the chances of detecting signals from advanced alien civilizations. Read more about Aliens Are Almost Surely Out There—Now Can We Find the Money to Find Them? »

Not Licked Yet: The Fight to Keep an Iconic UC Observatory Open

A move to pare a modest $1.8 million from UC’s operations budget has blown up into a public relations storm, with the fury directed at the Office of the President. That’s because the savings would result from halting funding for Mount Hamilton’s Lick Observatory, the world’s first permanent mountain summit observatory and a facility still responsible for major cosmological findings—most recently the discovery of scads of earth-like exoplanets. Read more about Not Licked Yet: The Fight to Keep an Iconic UC Observatory Open »

Astro Bling: Finding gold in our stars

Moby had it right: we are all made of stars. Astronomers have long known that stars fuse hydrogen and helium, ultimately creating somewhat heavier elements, which are then expelled through the universe when stars explode as supernovae. All the carbon and calcium in our bodies, all the oxygen we breathe, originated in stars.

But where is the cosmic factory that manufactures the heavier elements—say, gold?

Now a Cal computational astrophysicist may have helped solve that mystery. Read more about Astro Bling: Finding gold in our stars »

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