Physics, Astronomy and Space

Room-temperature superconductivity has been achieved for the first time 15 October 2020

It was in a tiny sample under extremely high pressure, so don’t start dismantling the world’s energy infrastructure quite yet.
Room-temperature superconductors—materials that conduct electricity with zero resistance without needing special cooling—are the sort of technological miracle that would upend daily life. This is a short news story about the first announcement of their fabrication.
[MIT Technology Review]

NASA announces plans to send a drone to explore Titan for signs of life 27 June 2019

Get ready for Dragonfly’s autonomous flight on Saturn’s largest moon.
Is there now, or has there ever been, life on Titan? Dragonfly will carry a suite of scientific instruments meant to address this question.
[MIT Technology Review]

What Neil Armstrong got wrong 26 June 2019

Space technology has changed the world—but not in the way the dreamers of the 1960s imagined it would
Even though humanity hasn’t returned to the moon since 1972, there has been slow and steady progress in human spaceflight, remarkable robotic exploration of the solar system, and—perhaps most important—a profound reordering of life on Earth by satellites orbiting it.
[MIT Technology Review]

The write stuff: ten of the best astronaut memoirs 26 June 2019

Very short excerpts from books about space by people who have been there
At the time of writing, 558 people have orbited the Earth. Approximately 10% of them have written books about the experience.
[MIT Technology Review]

Scientists didn’t just “reverse time” with a quantum computer 14 March 2019

Amazing headlines about time machines are a long way off the mark.
Debunking some bunk science journalism.
[MIT Technology Review]

The Future of the International Space Station 12 June 2018

NASA’s leader wants to privatize it. That’s a remarkably terrible idea.
There’s a case for killing the space station. There’s no case for turning over the keys to a private company.

The Saudi prince who took a joyride on the space shuttle
and other space misadventures
30 March 2017

International Collaborations in Space Always
Reflect Politics on Earth

A brief history of the countries that send people to space, and why.

Cosmic Certainties 19 September 2016

More trouble with string theory, an attempt to do away with inflation, and a novel theory of dark matter, critiqued.
A review of “Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe” by Roger Penrose.
[Wall Street Journal]

What Justin Trudeau got wrong about Quantum Computing 18 April 2016

A video of the Canadian Prime Minister giving an apparently impromptu riff on quantum computing had a few mistakes in it.
This is a critique not so much of his minor errors, but of the media storm which treated his lecture as a sign of genius.
[Washington Post]

A small step backward for mankind 5 November 2014

Why America needs to embrace a culture of risk in order to build the next-generation space program.
How and why to be resilient in the face of failed spacecraft, and the loss of life.
[Foreign Policy]

Chang’e 3 5 December 2013

The Second Space Race
Short voiceover of a photograph of China’s lunar rover.
[The Weekly Wonk]

How High the Moon? 4 October 2013

Book Review: ‘Dreams of Other Worlds’ by Chris Impey and Holly Henry
Where the Milky Way’s missing arms went and other tales of astronomical discovery.
[Wall Street Journal]

Voyager, the Pioneer anomaly, and NASA’s good old days 15 July 2013

The modest, mighty Voyager and Pioneer probes are still generating news today.
An essay on what made the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft great, with special emphasis on the Pioneer Anomaly, treated in more detail in my new book, The Pioneer Detectives.

Warp Factor 1 April 2013

An investigation
The saga of a NASA scientist who claims to be on the verge of faster-than-light travel.
[Popular Science]

Why Didn’t We Know the Russian Meteor Was Coming? 15 February 2013
Baumgartner’s leap 4 October 2012
Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator 25 June 2012

Technology is doing to math education what industrial agriculture did to food: making it efficient, monotonous, and low-quality.
How and why graphing calculators, educational software, interactive whiteboards and the like undermine actual learning in elementary, middle and high schools.

“Privatizing” Space 16 May 2012

Companies Shoot for the Stars, but Uncle Sam Still Pays the Bills
Why the false dichotomy of public versus private isn’t the real story with SpaceX’s launch. What really matters is competition.
[Zocalo Public Square]

NASA needs one “highest priority” not 16 of them 1 February 2012

More numbers, more problems
The flaws of a new National Research Council report on what direction NASA should take

Promise me the moon 31 January 2012

The emotional appeal of Gingrich’s space policy
The Republican presidential candidate wants to build a base on the moon. So do I.
[Huffington Post]