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Scott “marsroverdriver” Maxwell
I'm a pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory.
I'm a pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory.

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Seven -- seven -- Earth-sized, possibly life-capable planets orbit a single star just 39 light years away. SEVEN.

Who wants to go there with me?
The NASA announcement of seven earth-sized planets orbiting a nearby red star, five of them within that star's Continuously Habitable Zone (CHZ) or Goldilocks (just right) zone is wondrously thought provoking in several ways:

1) Just the awe and wonder of it. And how amazing it is that the transit method has found so many systems, when it can only catch 5% of what's out there.

2) Note the scale of this system. The star puts out 0.05% as much light and heat as our sun. All of the planets orbit within the same distance range as Jupiter's outer moons.

3) Ponder what science fiction foretold. This is essentially the mini solar system that Arthur C. Clarke envisioned surrounding an ignited Jupiter, in his novel 2010. (This is Arthur's Centennial year.)

4) With that in mind, ponder Goldfinger's Rule. One planet in a Goldilocks Zone is happenstance. Two might be coincidence. Three....? Five...? I'm not "sayin'"... just hinting.

5) Before you get excited, remember these planets are likely to be tidal locked, with one face permanently starward. And tiny red stars tend to be Flare Stars, intermittently burping radiation. So any life would face challenges.

6) This system would seem an excellent target for some kinds of exoplanet direct viewing missions. Advantages: Well-understood orbits and a very dim star, allowing better contrast. Disadvantages: planets are very close to their star and hard to separate... only the system is close to us, so that's partly offset.

7) Should we aim SETI scopes in that direction? Yep! Should we send "messages" before thoroughly talking it over? Nope. A sure sign of immaturity and unscientific cultism.

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Cool-looking interactive tour of NASA concept Mars base to be released later this week. <drools>

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It took a long time to get to Pluto -- including a long wait even before New Horizons launched, decades of patiently building the case for that destination. As Alan Stern describes in his talk to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, it was worth the wait.

It's a fascinating place, and I certainly hope we don't wait so long to go back the next time!

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How exciting -- Ceres has organics! Next step, IMHO: sample the surface to find out which organics.

It's hard to imagine poor cold Ceres as harboring life (and, to be clear, none was found there) -- but this still fills in the story about the abundance of organic molecules in the solar system. Looks like we're just lousy with the stuff, and of course with water, which makes it more and more likely that life was more or less inevitable.

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I cannot express how embarrassed and ashamed I am that articles like this are necessary.

Hot on the heels of Hidden Figures, here's an infographic (that G+ is treating weirdly; sorry about the raw link) introducing six black pioneers in Computer Science.

From which infographic I learn, incidentally, that the first black CS Ph.D. got that degree from my own alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Neat!

Via +Adafruit Industries​.

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Math never ceases to amaze me.

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"When you are called to account for your life, how will you have spent it?"
The political analysis continues: What might the next six months of the Trump administration bring?

This is both a dig into some recent items in the news, and a discussion of how it relates to our recent history, our not-so-recent history, and what it could mean for each of us individually.

Also, I have included plenty of pictures of cute animals.

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Landing site selection for the 2020 rover (Hindsight? Vision?) is getting real. The top choice from a Friday science team meeting in Monrovia was Jezero Crater, an ancient delta.

Jezero's a great candidate site, to be sure. But for obvious reasons, I'm rooting for the dark horse: the Columbia Hills, where Spirit explored. Sure, it's going back to a place we've been -- but for a mission like this, a mission that's gathering samples for later return to Earth, that's perfect. Spirit gave us strong reasons to believe that the samples will contain the hoped-for signs of life if anything on Mars will.

And even if it's a return to a known site, going there with new instruments still gives us a chance to learn more about what we knew already. That's no bad thing.

And, oh, man, the inevitable 2020 rover selfie with Spirit in the view -- I'm getting all teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Jezero's fine, Jezero's great. If Jezero gets selected, I won't lose sleep -- well, not too much sleep. But for me, it's the Columbia Hills or bust!

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Sending a spacecraft to a star four light-years away is ... well, it's hard. It requires materials that haven't been invented yet, highly robust electronics, super-smart software (you thought light-time delays to Mars were bad), and possibly space lasers (no, not mounted on sharks) to accelerate the solar sail. It's hard.

But sending humans to the moon was hard, and we did that. Sending still-functioning spacecraft outside of our solar system was hard, and we did that. This is next.
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