By Zaina Adamu, CNN
Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the third installment.
Thousands of families were left devastated when Superstorm Sandy destroyed their homes in October. When it comes to these extreme climate events, according to Chris Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, the worst is yet to come.
Field is also a professor of biology and environmental earth system science at Stanford University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change delegation that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He holds a doctorate from Stanford University.
CNN Light Years spoke with Field before he headed to Boston for the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Here is a transcript, edited for brevity and clarity:
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Will the Mars rover Curiosity catch a glimpse of a manned spaceship in this decade? That could be even more exciting than the gray powder it found by drilling.
A nonprofit organization called the Inspiration Mars Foundation is hosting a press conference next week in which plans for a trip to Mars and back will be revealed. The proposed launch date is January 2018, and the venture is called "Mission for America."
The press release doesn't explicitly state that the mission is manned, but it does say that the organization "is committed to accelerating America's human exploration of space as a critical catalyst for future growth, national prosperity, new knowledge and global leadership."
The leader of this effort is millionaire Dennis Tito, who's no stranger to space travel. He spent $20 million to jaunt up to the International Space Station in 2001, making him the first private space traveler.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Mars may have a lot of orangey dust flying around, but now that a rover has retrieved a sample by drilling a rock there, scientists believe the Red Planet may have another color beneath the surface.
The two-ton Mars rover Curiosity, which has been exploring Gale Crater since its miraculous landing on August 6, has become the first robot to drill into a rock to collect a sample on Mars, scientists reported Wednesday. Chemical analyses are still to come, but for now the big news is that the material from the drill appears to be gray.
"We’re sort of seeing a new coloration for Mars here, and it’s an exciting one to us," said Joel Hurowitz, sampling system scientist for Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
By Matt Smith, CNN
It's not the kind of place you'd call home: an airless, rocky planet so close to its sun that some metals will melt on its surface.
But it's a big little discovery for NASA's space observatory Kepler. The space agency says the planet, dubbed Kepler-37b, is the smallest yet found beyond our solar system.
Slightly larger than the moon and about a third the size of Earth, it's one of three planets circling the star Kepler-37, NASA announced Wednesday - and the first of dozens of discovered exoplanets known to be smaller than any that orbit our sun.
The findings were reported in this week's edition of the journal Nature.
NASA restored communication with the International Space Station on Tuesday after connections went dark following a routine computer software update.
Before the fix, the space agency said the craft was able to communicate only every 90 minutes when it passed over ground stations in Russia.
"This is the same way they used to do it in the 1960s, with Gemini and Apollo," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said.
The station, which is carrying two American astronauts, three Russian cosmonauts and a Canadian astronaut, did not appear to be in danger.
A $10 billion machine that smashes particles together is shutting down this weekend, taking a staycation in its 17-mile tunnel near the French-Swiss border while receiving maintenance and upgrades. The Large Hadron Collider, one of the world's largest science experiments, will resume operations in 2014 or 2015 at unprecedented energies.
Do you care?
Judging from the many comments that we get at CNN.com about what people perceive as a "waste" of money for scientific exploration, you might not. That may be because what happens at the LHC seems far removed from everyday life, and even farther from the study of stars.
"Everybody is, in some sense, an amateur astronomer. We all look up at the stars and wonder how the universe works," says Joel Primack, professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "People are not amateur particle physicists."
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
A whole lot of science is about to hit your Twitter feeds, with #AAASmtg.
This weekend is the world’s largest general science conference, where up to 11,000 scientists, journalists, educators and general fans of science are descending upon the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. It’s the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, and it’s a total paradise for a science writer.
For me, having attended the meeting since 2009, it feels a little like college. During the day, in the sessions and press briefings, it is as though we journalists are in “class” together, taking notes for our deadline-driven assignments. Then, in the evenings, we schmooze and catch up on our lives, having made connections already in social media or during other science conventions or fellowships.
This is where you might pick up some Twitter followers, get ideas for future collaborations and hear the adorable foreign accent behind a byline you respect.
Like college students, we are all trying to figure out who we are and why we are here. But this time, I mean that in the broadest sense possible: What is the universe made of and how did individual components come together to create the world that we see today?
“It’s just one of the things that distinguishes humanity, that we can actually answer questions that are deep and fundamental, make predictions and do science, and that it actually works,” said “Knocking on Heaven’s Door" author Lisa Randall, a professor at Harvard University who will be speaking at the conference, told me for a recent article.
Last year, I learned about how scientists are trying to create a meatlesss burger and how cat poo relates to marine life, among other things. I also met renowned primatologist Frans de Waal, with whom I followed up later to produce this piece on chimpanzee fairness and morality.
Follow along at @CNNLightYears for some of the interesting things I'll come across this weekend.
It came closer ... closer ... and then it started heading away. But you may not have noticed at all.
An asteroid passed relatively close to Earth around 2:24 p.m. ET Friday. As scientists had been predicting all week, it did not hit.
A different and unrelated meteor exploded over Russia Friday, hours before the much larger asteroid's fly-by, injuring about 1,000 people. Scientists say this was a pure coincidence.
By contrast, the asteroid, called 2012 DA14 never got closer than 17,100 miles to our planet's surface.
By Matthew Rehbein, CNN
A lot of scientists dream of making a discovery that will make an impact. Planetary scientist Don Yeomans is not one of them.
Yeomans manages the Near-Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which means he spends his days monitoring the thousands of asteroids and comets swirling around the solar system, making sure that none of the bigger ones are on a collision course with Earth. He and his team play a “Men in Black” type of role, constantly finding, assessing and ruling out threats to the planet from outer space.
The importance of Yeomans’ work was especially in the spotlight Friday, when an asteroid about half the length of a football field passed relatively close to Earth - closer than many of our orbiting communications satellites - going roughly eight times as fast as a speeding bullet.
Yeomans and his team were among those who helped forecast this event. He assured us that it would not hit, and it looks like he was right.
CNN Light Years recently spoke with him about his work and how it might impact - not literally - humankind’s efforts in space in the future. Below is an edited transcript of this interview, conducted via e-mail.
Editor’s Note: Ed Lu is an explorer who loves mapping the unknown – whether it’s the oceans at Liquid Robotics, our neighborhoods, leading Google Advanced Projects Teams, or unveiling the secrets of the inner solar system and saving the world with the B612 Foundation, where he serves as CEO. A NASA Astronaut, he’s flown three missions, logging 206 days in space to construct and live aboard the International Space Station. Watch Ed Lu’s full plan to save the world, this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. on “The Next List”
By Ed Lu, Special to CNN
Today's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk is a reminder that the Earth orbits the Sun in a shooting gallery of asteroids, and that these asteroids sometimes hit the Earth. Later today, a separate and larger asteroid, 2012 DA14, will narrowly miss the Earth passing beneath the orbits of our communications satellites. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot do anything about the objects we don't know exist.
Discovered just one year ago by an amateur citizen observer, 2012 DA14 will fly only 17 thousand miles above Earth – the distance the Earth travels in just 15 minutes, and not much longer than many people travel on common air flights. So this truly is a close shave. In fact, 2012 DA14 will pass underneath our communications satellites as it flies by Earth.