March 24, 2018

Review: Life at the Speed of Light by J. Craig Venter

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Genetic engineering may well be the next big revolution of our age. Sparked with the discovery of the DNA double-helix by Watson and Crick in 1953, we may just now be on the edge of being able to custom tailor life.

And no one has been farther out on the cutting edge of that revolution than geneticist J. Craig Venter. This week, we take a look at Mr. Venter’s latest book, Life at the Speed of Light: from the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life out from Viking Press. Mr. Venter is the author of a Life Decoded and the CEO and founder of Synthetic Genomics Inc. [Read more...]

Review: From Dust to Life by John Chambers & Jacqueline Mitton

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How did “we” come to be? How did lowly hydrogen atoms congregate together to eventually build laptops and blog about the cosmos? The formation of our solar system is a key to this mystery, a riddle that we just now may finally have the hard data to solve. This week, we take a look at From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of the Solar System by John Chambers and Jacqueline Mitton out from Princeton University Press. [Read more...]

Review: The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View by Aaron Adair

A great holiday read!

By now, the seasonal discussion will once again have reached a fevered pitch. Just what was the Star of Bethlehem? Mentioned only in the Book of Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible, this astronomical allusion has tantalized astronomers and historians for centuries. And in the modern Internet age, the controversy now comes back around every Christmas season. Is there anything to the parable from an astronomical perspective? Or is the tale simple flourish and allegory, a Jewish midrash told to flesh out the story of the birth of Jesus? [Read more...]

Review: The Star of Bethlehem by Michael R. Molnar

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It’s a biblical tale of astronomical intrigue that comes around every Christmas.

Just what was the Star of Bethlehem? Mentioned only in the Book of Matthew, many have tried over the years to link the Star that led the Magi to Bethlehem to astronomical phenomena. As Christmas draws near, planetariums will once again present their yearly shows on “The Star,” and science bloggers will dust off and recycle their posts on the subject. Heck, even we couldn’t resist doing a post on the controversy as a fledgling blogger, oh so long ago. [Read more...]

Review: Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill

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What’s the ‘next big thing’ in particle physics?

In early July 2012, the announcement came out of Geneva Switzerland that the Higgs boson, a.k.a. the “God Particle” had been caught in the act by researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider. [Read more...]

Review: Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey and Holly Henry

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Robotic space exploration has finally come of age. Recent successes, such as the pioneering landing via sky crane of the Mars Rover Curiosity by NASA have demonstrated a capability to triumph after a hard-won history often marked by failure.

This week’s review titled Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry chronicles the often overlooked history of robotic exploration of the solar system. Robots can go more cheaply and effectively where humans can’t, and don’t demand a return ticket. Out from Princeton University Press, Dreams of Other Worlds is a timely snapshot of the state of unmanned space exploration. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week- The Weekly Space Hangout

A Stellar Show!

Interested in space? One of the great things we love about the modern Web-based world is the way that we can streamline our information flow. Back in the “olden days” (i.e., just over a decade ago), we were all forced to sit through a mind-numbing drone of sports and entertainment stories masquerading as “news” to catch a brief glimpse of what’s going on in science and space. [Read more...]

Review: Magnificent Principia by Colin Pask

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Thank Newton for orbital mechanics. This week, we’ll take a look at the masterpiece that started all with Magnificent Principia by Colin Pask out from Prometheus Books. Sir Isaac published his Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica on July 5th, 1687. And although every high school physics student is (or hopefully, should be) familiar with the three laws of motion that it advanced, few have ever actually read the original work. [Read more...]

Review Magnificent Mistakes in Mathematics by Alfred S. Posamentier & Ingmar Lehmann

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We’ve all be there. Standing at the chalkboard, (remember chalkboards?) we’ve all forgotten to “carry the two,” or made the cardinal sin of mathematics by attempting to divide by zero. Hey, it happens to the best of us sometimes.

So it’s comforting to realize that the rock stars of mathematics are prone to slip up on occasion as well. Only in their case, their mistakes may be so monumental as to approach greatness.   [Read more...]

Review: Rocket Girl by George D. Morgan

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The untold tales of the early Space Age are legion. Many of these were shrouded in secrecy, while others simply fell to the bureaucratic wayside. There’s no doubt some amazing stories are still left to tell in the piles of dusty documents and long lost archival footage in vaults that no one remembers… [Read more...]

Review: Signatures of Life by Edward Ashpole

Out in July!

Where are they? That’s the central question that Enrico Fermi asked in what has now become known as the Fermi Paradox. For the past half century, scientists have attempted to answer that question, scouring the skies for searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. [Read more...]

Review: Galactic Courier by A. Bertram Chandler

Out now from Baen Books!

Traverse the worlds of the Galactic Rim lightly, and carry a big laser cannon. Those might be the words of wisdom of starship captain and all-round opportunist John Grimes in this week’s latest science fiction review.

Galactic Courier is a magnum opus by A. Bertram Chandler out from Baen Books that covers no less than four novels in the Commodore Grimes saga; Star Loot (1980), Matilda’s Stepchildren (1979), To Keep the Ship (1978) and of course,  Star Courier (1977). [Read more...]

Friday Review: Gulp. By Mary Roach

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Author Mary Roach has a knack for taking our modern manicured life and looking just underneath its surface for the truly bizarre. Fans of this space will remember our review of her previous space-based opus, Packing for Mars. For her latest adventure, the author takes us from the depths of outer space to the brave new worlds of inner space as we explore the digestive tract, literally from one end to the other. [Read more...]

Review: Brilliant Blunders by Mario Livio

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Many scientific discoveries often come out of left field.

The history of science (if we learn any of the history of science at all in school) is often depicted as a neat, tidy progression from ignorance to enlightenment. How could Isaac Newton not have formulated his laws of gravity and motion, or Einstein not have stumbled on his Theory of Relativity? It all seems foreordained in hindsight. [Read more...]

Review: Heart of Darkness by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton

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Cosmology is “where it’s at” in modern astronomy. With advent of observatories such as Planck, COBE and WMAP, the study of the origin, nature and fate of the universe has gone from the prevue of late night philosophers to a mature science backed by hard data. [Read more...]

Review:Total Addiction by Kate Russo.


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Thank our good fortune for our one large Moon. While many an astronomer might curse its presence in the night sky, its very existence gives us an astronomical phenomenon that may well be unique in our neck of the galaxy; total solar eclipses. And that happy coincidence of having a Moon that’s roughly 1/300th the diameter of our nearest star but 300 times closer is also a happenstance of our position in time as well; the Moon is receding from us at about 3.8 centimetres a year, meaning that about 0.6 billion years hence, the last total solar eclipse will be seen from the surface of the planet Earth. [Read more...]

Review: Hypatia of Alexandria by Michael A.B. Deakin.

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It seems that the further back you go, the less certain we are of facts in our very own history. Stories become more legendary, tales more fantastical. History seems to love a good story and never cares for any of the pesky hard truths that sometimes get in the way. [Read more...]

Book Review: Power Under Pressure

In Power Under Pressure, the third in Andrew P. Mayer’s Society of Steam trilogy, the steampunk super heroes known as the Society of Paragons is all but eliminated by Lord Eschaton and his growing army. The battle continues between good and evil in the forms of fortified steam and fortified smoke. Lord Eschaton is furthering his quest for the purification of mankind, starting with New York City residents, by use of fortified smoke. Evil has the decided advantage at the onset.

Sarah Stanton holds the heart of the Tom the automaton and represents the balance of the Society of Paragons. Her challenge — defeating Eschaton and his minions — is all up-hill and there is no shortage of obstacles in her way. Still, with a fantastic array of heroes and villains, old and new, Lord Eschaton and his Children and Sarah and her very slim entourage make for a compelling story.

Tom’s reappearance in the story line is timely and spectacular. The reader gains a deeper understanding of what he is, what Darby meant him to be, and what he could become. Will he be a hero? Or represent chaos? The answer to that question is well developed and completely unexpected.

I have really enjoyed this trilogy from onset to conclusion. The last 30 pages or so of this book are a roller coaster ride of story evolution. Nearing the end of this ride, I found myself wishing there were going to be a fourth book. I wasn’t ready to be done with these characters or Mayer’s steampunk New York City. Happily, I believe there will be more adventures with the Society of Steam. Mayer leaves us with a not-so-subtle indication that that is the case. A new leader for the villians is introduced, the Society of Steam is introduced as replacement to the Society of Paragons, and a third element is also waiting for action…’til mankind is ready and reaches out.

I, for one, cannot wait to see where Mayer takes this story.