Mercury, closest planet to the sun, is as hot as you would expect, with daytime temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit/450 degrees Celsius and because of its small size, its gravity is weak, only about 38 percent of Earth's.

These conditions make it hard for the planet to hold on to its extremely thin atmosphere, which can can only be seen by special instruments attached to telescopes and spacecraft like MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging).  Even then it's not easy because Mercury's magnetic field gets in the way. MESSENGER's first flyby on January 14, 2008, confirmed that the planet has a global magnetic field, as first discovered by the Mariner 10 spacecraft during its flybys of the planet in 1974 and 1975.
We're somewhat lost in how to meet future carbon footprint goals.  Heck, Germany should have been able to just close a few Soviet-era East German factories and hit their Kyoto protocol targets but even they couldn't do it.   

The answer, as always, may be in nature.   Some parts of outer space are great at getting rid of excess carbon, including an unusual carbon-rich star that was part of a mystery stellar explosion recorded in 2006.
I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.
  - Richard Feynman

I just read a neat HST result on dark matter on I also enjoy peeking at Astronomy Picture of the Day to find out about stuff I don't know. Basically, I get my fix from the same sites I recommend to others curious about astronomy.  So I'm not just a professional astronomer. I'm an astronomer fan when it comes to fields other than what I work on.

Researchers using data from NASA's THEMIS mission have pinpointed the impact epicenter of an earthbound space storm as it crashes into the atmosphere - and given an advance warning of its arrival. The team's study reveals that magnetic blast waves can be used to pinpoint and predict the location where space storms dissipate their massive amounts of energy. These storms can dump the equivalent of 50 gigawatts of power, or the output of 10 of the world's largest power stations, into Earth's atmosphere.

The joint Japan-U.S. Suzaku mission is providing new insight into how assemblages of thousands of galaxies pull themselves together and, for the first time, Suzaku has detected X-ray-emitting gas at a cluster's outskirts, where a billion-year plunge to the center begins.

Suzaku ("red bird of the south") was launched on July 10, 2005. The observatory was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in collaboration with NASA and other Japanese and U.S. institutions.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a cosmic "ghost" lurking around a distant supermassive black hole. This is the first detection of such a high-energy apparition, and scientists think it is evidence of a huge eruption produced by the black hole.

This discovery presents astronomers with a valuable opportunity to observe phenomena that occurred when the Universe was very young. The X-ray ghost, so-called because a diffuse X-ray source has remained after other radiation from the outburst has died away, is in the Chandra Deep Field-North, one of the deepest X-ray images ever taken. The source, a.k.a. HDF 130, is over 10 billion light years away and existed at a time 3 billion years after the Big Bang, when galaxies and black holes were forming at a high rate.
A post-doc is extremely low on the totem pole of authority.  The ranking goes roughly: Principal Investigators and Branch Heads, Staff Scientists, Secretaries, Soft-Money Scientists, Technical Staff, Support Staff, Janitors, the stray cats in the garage (yes, we have them!), Post-docs, Students.

Naturally the branch head asked me to manage the pre-launch efforts to ensure our science pipeline would be ready on time and able to produce scientific results from day one.

I found the situation extremely amusing.  There I was, a newcomer to the group and a lowly post-doc to boot, assigning tasks to senior scientists, shifting people to must-do items, and chiding them for missing deadlines.  And you know what?  Everyone was fine with that.
Astronomers have found more than 300 alien (extrasolar) worlds so far. Most of these are gas giants like Jupiter, and are either too hot (too close to their star) or too cold (too far away) to support life as we know it.

Sometime in the near future, however, astronomers will probably find one that's just right – a planet with a solid surface that's the right distance for a temperature that allows liquid water -- an essential ingredient in the recipe for life.

But the first picture of this world will be just a speck of light. How can we find out if it might have liquid water on its surface? If it has lots of water – oceans – we are in luck. is broadcasting live images of galaxies, to be compared with reference images in search for supernovaes. A commentary is provided in Italian and English. Join NOW!

Below is a screenshot of what is being shown now.

This week's PhD Comic lists the 4 'research topics guaranteed to be picked up by the new media':

  1. Chocolate
  2. Robots
  3. Unrealistic Sci-Fi gadgets
  4. Experiments that might blow up the world