Browsed by
Author: Robert Mann

An Ode to Cassini

An Ode to Cassini

I couldn’t wait for 2004.

In early 2001, I was a fifth-grader and had been obsessed with our solar system’s planets my entire life. But, thanks in part to the Internet, I came to realize our solar system is more than just the row of planets on my placemat. It is a dynamic system with asteroids, comets, and moons, a lot of moons which look nothing like the one in our sky, each with its own story to tell. I spent countless hours reading about them — the fiery sulfur volcanoes on Io, the nitrogen plumes on Triton, the mysterious ocean of water underneath Europa’s icy crust.

But what was I to make of Saturn’s moons? The best pictures of Titan showed a hazy, orange orb and that was essentially all we knew about it. Enceladus was unusually bright — could that harbor an ocean underneath its ice like Europa? I wondered. Iapetus was oddly two-faced, but the data available was inconclusive as to the nature of the yin and the yang. And were the rest of the moons hiding secrets as well?

I learned that a spacecraft called Cassini was set to orbit Saturn for four years beginning in the summer of 2004. Moreover, a separate probe would detach from the main spacecraft and land on Titan! It was official: for the next three years, no other year in my mind mattered more. The countdown to 2004 had begun.

Read More

This Is Who We Are

This Is Who We Are

President Donald Trump holds up his signed executive orders.
President Donald Trump holds up his signed executive orders.

Donald Trump wants to make America great again, but his election proves America is still “great,” as he defines it.

Our president’s hostility to Mexican immigrants, his travel ban on seven countries, his religious preferences toward refugees fleeing the same butchery, and the chaos he has inflicted upon legal residents are often cast as un-American and not who we are as a people. The Declaration of Independence eloquently affirms “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Surely, many opine, a nation with such a founding creed has no room for a president like Trump.

I disagree.

Read More

Our First Step Out of the Solar System

Our First Step Out of the Solar System

An artist's illustration of the planet bathed in the red light of Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
An artist’s illustration of the planet bathed in the red light of Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers today announced the discovery of a potentially habitable Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to the Sun, Proxima Centauri.

Proxima Centauri is 4.24 light-years away. To put that in perspective, the Milky Way galaxy (of which our solar system is a part) is about 100,000 light years across. If trekking the Milky Way from one end to another was equivalent to walking from New York City to California, Proxima Centauri would be within the first 200 yards. So on a cosmic scale, our nearest star is extremely close.

Read More

Who Lies More: A Comparison

Who Lies More: A Comparison

It recently came to my attention that a graph I created and shared on an online forum has become rather popular. Dan Savage, journalists from CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Verge have all shared the graph on Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. See below:

who-lies-more-a-comparison

Many people are also asking questions, such as when it was created, why it includes certain names but excludes others, whether or not statements have been cherry-picked, and what I wanted people to take from it. These are all valid questions and, with the launch of this blog, I can now answer them.

Read More