APS 2010: Science and secrecy

APS 2010: Science and secrecy

Is the censorship of sensitive science becoming more or less pronounced? Yesterday, during a session on ‘science and secrecy’, Steven Aftergood, who leads the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, had numbers that told a mixed tale.  Read more

APS 2010: Sculpting physics

APS 2010: Sculpting physics

During a press conference today, I was pleased to meet the artist Jim Sanborn, a specialist in scientific sculptures who is probably one of the Washington DC’s most important artists. Sanborn is currently most famous for a piece, pictured here, that sits near the entrance to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Using techniques taught to him by a former CIA spook, Sanborn in 1990 created the undulating copper screen with its 1,800 encrypted characters. Most have already been hacked, and the letters translate to three ambiguous and slightly sinister messages. But the last part, 97 or 98 characters long, has remained unsolved.  Read more

APS 2010: American Physical Snowciety

APS 2010: American Physical Snowciety

So the physicists have arrived in Washington DC for the April APS meeting to find themselves surrounded by a couple feet of snow. This is because the April meeting, this year, is in February. Nice one. Normally, February wouldn’t be so bad in Washington. This year was different. For arriving physicists who have somehow ignored the news over the last week, Washington has been hit by two blizzards within a single week. First was Snowpocalypse (aka Snowmageddon), followed up four days later by Snoverkill. But everyone seems to be cozy here in the Mariott Woodley Park hotel, and attendance isn’t down too much. I hope to check in through the President’s Day weekend with newsy bits and blurbs.  Read more

AAS 2010: Another super-Earth! Are you yawning?

AAS 2010: Another super-Earth! Are you yawning?

Astronomers have found the second smallest exoplanet, HD156668b, a so-called “super-Earth” that’s just four times the mass of the Earth. With an orbit of just 4.6 days (compare that to Mercury’s 88-day orbit), this planet would not be a nice place for life. Yet, that such a small planet can be duly reported at AAS amid shoulder shrugging by the scientists and press alike shows just how far the exoplanet field has come in a few years.  Read more

AAS 2010: Charlie Bolden, science cheerleader

AAS 2010: Charlie Bolden, science cheerleader

The astronomers heard what they wanted to hear. Even as NASA sits in limbo, awaiting a presidential decision on the future of the human spaceflight programme, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told hundreds of astronomers that their budget would be sacrosanct. “The future of human spaceflight will not be paid out of the hide of the science budget,” said Bolden on Tuesday in a jam-packed NASA town hall at AAS.  Read more

AAS 2010: Mind the gap

AAS 2010: Mind the gap

UPDATE: I have a story on a slightly different aspect of the Kepler results — asteroseismology — up on the main Nature News site. So the Kepler mission announced its first exoplanetary discoveries today: four huge planets bigger than Jupiter, and one about the size of Neptune, all hotly hugging their parent stars in tight orbits of a few days. There were a few neat tidbits that Kepler PI Bill Borucki offered up about the finds in talks today. One of the hot Jupiters has a density as fluffy as styrofoam. Some of them are hotter than molten lead. Looking  … Read more