All posts by Ron Cowen

NASA’s Visit to Solar System’s 2nd Biggest Asteroid Vesta Yields New Data about Asteroid Families [Nature]

Vesta confirmed as venerable planet progenitor

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft won’t end its 13-month-long visit to Vesta, the Solar System’s second biggest asteroid, until August, but researchers have now solidified the rock’s reputation as an archetype for understanding planetary evolution. In six reports in the 11 May edition of  Science, Dawn mission scientists have confirmed several long-held assumptions about Vesta and detailed some puzzles about the roughly 520-kilometer-diameter body.

My article highlights Vesta’s importance in our understanding of asteroids and meteorites, as well some remaining mysteries that continued study may illuminate.

Update: The Knight Science Journalism Tracker once again notes my science reporting by highlighting this and my previous Vesta-related story:

NatureNews (blog) Ron Cowen: Vesta confirmed as venerable planet progenitor ; the ‘confirmed’ in the hed is a good way to say this is not surprise news, but incremental news. Cowen, on constant prowl for news before it is wide news, includes a link to a previous post on Vesta’s topography and what it might mean, from meetings last fall.


Off to Harvard for a Stay as Visiting Journalist at the Center for Astrophysics

Ron is a visiting journalist at Harvard from April 23 to May 18, 2012. He’ll be a guest at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Institute for Theory and Computation, attending seminars and lectures and chatting with scientists at both Harvard and MIT. Hope to come back with several cool stories so stay tuned!

Where’s the Dark Matter? New Study Finds None Near the Solar System [Nature]

Survey finds no hint of dark matter near Solar System

In the largest survey of its kind to date, astronomers scouring the space around the Solar System for signs of dark matter — the hypothetical material believed to account for more than 80% of the mass in the Universe — have come up empty-handed.

If confirmed, the surprising result would upend a long-established consensus, researchers not involved in the study say.  For decades, cosmic theories have relied on dark matter — which exerts gravitational pull but emits no light — to be the hidden scaffolding that explains how structure arose in the Universe, how galaxies formed and how the rapidly spinning Milky Way manages to keep from flying apart. Without dark matter, theorists say, the visible material in the Universe, such as stars and gas, would not have the heft to do the job alone.

The rest of the article explains how the research was conducted and what the scientific community thinks of the finding.

Credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer
Credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

(SCOOP) Coverage of My Recent Early-Universe Scoop

Several sites highlighted my breaking news story on what may be the most distant galaxy known in the Universe:

  • Knight Science Journalism Tracker, one of the most respected trackers of science stories, highlights the article:

    [NatureNews’] ace scoop-hungry reporter Ron Cowen late last week filed on a report, at the preprint server for physics-related news arXiv, that a large international team has gotten an image of a galaxy as it was when the universe was a mere 490 million years old.


    Cowen writes the story well, and includes the enticing angle that if NASA’s Webb Telescope survives its budgetary excesses and goes into operation, its large IR mirror should offer a much better look at this galaxy – dubbed MACS1149-JD1.

  • American Scientist republished part of the article as part of its Science in the News section, which is a roundup of the most important and exciting science news pieces.

The article was mentioned here, on my Tumblr site, shortly after publication.

Update: The National Science Foundation’s Science360 also highlights the scoop.

(SCOOP) about the Early Universe! [Nature]

Infant galaxy offers tantalizing peek at early Universe

Astronomers are claiming a new benchmark in the quest to see the Universe’s first galaxies. By taking advantage of a rare cosmic zoom lens — where the gravity of a large mass magnifies light from objects in the distant background — a team of US and European researcher has spotted a galaxy so remote its light was emitted just 490 million years after the Big Bang, when the Universe was a mere 3.6% of its current age.

Read my entire article, which includes how existing and upcoming telescope capabilities could be used to investigate this galaxy further and what the find means for our understanding of the Universe’s number of galaxies.


A Moon-Sized Mystery [Nature]

My latest article is about new research that adds to the uncertainty of how the Moon was formed by looking at the Moon’s isotopic composition:

Question over theory of lunar formation

A chemical analysis of lunar rocks may force scientists to revise the leading theory for the Moon’s formation: that the satellite was born when a Mars-sized body smacked into the infant Earth some 4.5 billion years ago.

If that were the case, the Moon ought to bear the chemical signature of both Earth and its proposed ‘second’ parent. But a study published today in Nature Geoscience1 suggests that the Moon’s isotopic composition reflects only Earth’s contribution.

Read about this research as well as some of the other moon-creation theories!


Successfully Modeling Snowflakes [Scientific American]

My latest Scientific American article reports a major breakthrough in modeling…snowflakes:

Snowflake Growth Successfully Modeled from Physical Laws

Mathematicians have re-created the intricate patterns of ice formation, a breakthrough that could lead to new models of red blood cells, soap bubbles and other surfaces that evolve over time

Scientists as far back as Johannes Kepler have pondered the mystery of snowflakes: Their formation requires subtle physics that to this day is not well understood. Even a small change in temperature or humidity can radically alter the shape and size of a snowflake, making it notoriously difficult to model these ice crystals on a computer. But after a flurry of attempts by several scientists, a team of mathematicians has for the first time succeeded in simulating a panoply of snowflake shapes using basic conservation laws, such as preserving the number of water molecules in the air.

Read the article and find out why this is so important!

Image: Barrett/Garcke/Nurnberg
Image: Barrett/Garcke/Nurnberg

Restored Edison Records Feature Bismarck and the 1800s [New York Times]

You haven’t heard it all until you’ve heard Bismarck and others from the 1800s. In my recent New York Times article, recently discovered Edison records and the work that went into identifying who is featured on those records is covered:

Restored Edison Records Revive Giants of 19th-Century Germany

Tucked away for decades in a cabinet in Thomas Edison’s laboratory, just behind the cot in which the great inventor napped, a trove of wax cylinder phonograph records has been brought back to life after more than a century of silence.

The cylinders, from 1889 and 1890, include the only known recording of the voice of the powerful chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Two preserve the voice of Helmuth von Moltke, a venerable German military strategist, reciting lines from Shakespeare and from Goethe’s “Faust” into a phonograph horn. (Moltke was 89 when he made the recordings — the only ones known to survive from someone born as early as 1800.) Other records found in the collection hold musical treasures — lieder and rhapsodies performed by German and Hungarian singers and pianists at the apex of the Romantic era, including what is thought to be the first recording of a work by Chopin.

Read the full story.


Exoplanets and the 2012 American Astronomical Society Winter Meeting [NPR Science Friday]

NPR’s Science Friday invited me to talk about exoplanets and the 2012 Winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society:

Kepler Telescope Spots Tiniest Exoplanets Yet

At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, scientists talked about mapping dark matter, measuring the ‘graininess’ of spacetime, and discovering the smallest exoplanets ever, using the Kepler space telescope. Ron Cowen, who reported on the meeting for Nature, discusses those findings.

Go ahead and listen to me with Ira Flatow on the Science Friday Web site!