"Our Solar System Is a Bit of a Freak"

In a paper to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, researchers say they have found that "Tau Ceti, one of the closest and most Sun-like stars, may host five planets, including one in the star's habitable zone."

Very interesting quote from Steve Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, who is one of the paper's authors:

"We are now beginning to understand that nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than 100 days. This is quite unlike our own solar system, where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up."

This is, among other things, a good reminder that the local patterns you are familiar with are not necessarily representative of the broader world (or universe!). It is easy, and tempting, to assume that the politics/family dynamics/fill-in-the-blank that you see around you daily is common elsewhere; but often, it's simply not.

Guilty Thought of the Day

Kenneth Chang, writing in the N.Y. Times about recent findings from the planet Mercury:

Mercury is as cold as ice.

Indeed, Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, possesses a lot of ice — 100 billion to 1 trillion tons — scientists working with NASA’s Messenger spacecraft reported on Thursday.

Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for Messenger, said there was enough ice there to encase Washington, D.C., in a frozen block two and a half miles deep.

My first thought: encase Washington in miles-deep ice? -- let's do it!

Monkeys to Mars?

We've blogged repeatedly about the fascinating capabilities of monkeys and now it seems our primate cousins may beat us to Mars. Russia's Cosmonautics Academy, which first sent monkeys into orbit in 1983, is in talks with Georgian scientists to prepare monkeys for a simulated Mars mission.

Sand Dunes on Mars

If you've never really gotten a good look at Mars, here's your chance: The Big Picture has collected 35 striking photographs from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting and photographing the planet since 2006.

What's More Likely: That Your Vote Will Matter or That You'll Help Discover Extraterrestrial Life?

Here's an e-mail from a reader named Nadaav Zohar of Akron, Ohio. I like the way he thinks.

Every election season, I can usually count on a Freakonomics blog entry or three about voting and why it is pointless. I very much agree with your analysis, and I don't vote.

Buzz Aldrin Answers Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for former astronaut and second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin, and we asked him a few of our own:

Bring Your Questions for Buzz Aldrin

Aldrin has agreed to take your questions -- about NASA, walking on the moon, the value to society of space exploration, or anything else you can conjure -- so ask away in the comments section below. As with all Q&A's, we will post his answers here in a few days.

FREAK Shots: Eclipsing Anxiety

If you couldn't see the eclipse firsthand, you can see a collection of photos from Flickr users in India and China, posted on Flickr's Group Pool. Here are some of our favorites:

Can't NASA Find a Better Launch Site?

After bad weather foiled several launch attempts, the Space Shuttle Endeavor finally took off last night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida's Cape Canaveral. With stormy weather so typical there, why does NASA continue to use it as a launch site?

The Television Universe

| In its highly anticipated series finale, Battlestar Galactica ended with a meditation on humanity’s evolutionary baggage and our tendency toward technology-driven, apocalyptic violence. That’s where this episode of Carl Sagan‘s groundbreaking public television series Cosmos picks up. Happily, Sagan’s entire series is now available free on Hulu. [%comments]