3 more homes for life in the universe?
This illustration depicts Kepler 62f, a planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, in the same system as Kepler 62e.
April 22nd, 2013
10:22 AM ET

3 more homes for life in the universe?

Is anybody out there?

For millennia, humans have gazed at the night sky, asking this question. That's why scientists and NASA are eagerly searching for "exoplanets" - that is, planets that orbit around stars other than our sun.

Last week NASA's Kepler satellite reported the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets within the so-called "habitable zone," defined as the neighborhood of a star where liquid water - essential for life as we know it - can exist.

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Filed under: Commentary • Kepler • Voices
Near death researcher describes 'afterlife'
April 9th, 2013
08:53 AM ET

Near death researcher describes 'afterlife'

You're about to go to "heaven" and live to tell about it. And your story will become the subject of scientific research.

It's the perfect day. You're strolling down a sidewalk, listening to an ensemble of bird songs, soaking up a balmy breeze fragranced with fresh spring flowers, and gazing up at a cloudless sky of pure azure.

Pleasantly distracted, you step off the sidewalk into the street. Brakes screech; horns blare; people shriek in horror. You snap back to reality ... just as the truck hits you.

You fly for yards like a rag doll; you land hard. You're numb all over and fading fast. It's all over; you know it. Your life flashes before you like an epic movie. The End.

You leave your body and look down at it. People are bending over it. Someone is sobbing uncontrollably. As the ambulance rushes up, a blinding light surges above you. It beckons you softly.

You follow it through a tunnel to a place much more vividly real and spectacular than the banner Sunday afternoon you just left behind. You are sure you have arrived in the hereafter.

Weeks later, you wake up to the steady beeps of an EKG monitor next to your hospital bed.

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Filed under: Commentary • Discoveries
Opinion: Let's create a Department of Space
A new agency could oversee international manned missions, while NASA focuses on its core competency, the author says.
July 16th, 2012
10:09 AM ET

Opinion: Let's create a Department of Space

Editor's note: Madhu Thangavelu is space projects director of the Cal-Earth Institute and a fellow at NASA's Institute of Advanced Concepts. He is an advisory board member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics with a focus on the design of complex space projects, including space stations and exploratory missions. He also teaches at the University of Southern California.

By MadhuThangavelu, Special to CNN

The vehicle had that new-car smell, but this was no used car lot.

It was space exploration history in the making.

Astronauts said they noticed the familiar scent in May when they opened the hatch of SpaceX's unmanned Dragon crew vehicle and peered inside the first private spacecraft to visit the orbiting international space station.

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Overheard on CNN.com: New shuttle needs space plane 'coolness'
Designed by UK-based engineers Reaction Engines Ltd, the Skylon project is a radical idea for future space travel.
June 8th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: New shuttle needs space plane 'coolness'

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

CNN commenters - clearly energized about the promise of a new, privately developed space shuttle - are buzzing about winged spacecraft versus capsule-based vehicles like Dragon, which SpaceX used for its historic visit to the space station last month.

A commenter called "gregory" points out the Skylon space plane project in the UK. The theory behind space planes is they would be able to take off from a runway, rocket into low orbit, and then fly to a landing on a runway.

Gregory suggests that space planes are preferable because their engines would be designed to "breathe air like a jet at lower speeds" and then "switch to rocket mode in the high atmosphere." CNN reported on Skylon last year and one insider estimated development cost to be around $10 billion. NASA's program to fund private spacecraft development offers only a fraction of that amount - less than $400 million awarded so far.

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Did 'Avengers' really own box office records?
May 18th, 2012
05:30 PM ET

Did 'Avengers' really own box office records?

Editor's Note: Matthew Lane is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at UCLA, and is the founder of Math Goes Pop!, a blog focused on the surprisingly rich intersection between mathematics and popular culture.  He is also a contributor to the Center for Election Science.  You can follow him on Twitter at @mmmaaatttttt.

When the Avengers assemble, the world opens its collective wallet.  In just under three weeks since its international opening, "Marvel's The Avengers" has earned more than $1 billion worldwide.  In America, it blew through the $200 million mark over opening weekend alone, and now holds the title of best three-day opening in film history.  Or does it?

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Filed under: Commentary • Math • On Earth
Why we shouldn't wait to go to Mars
Robert Zubrin, chief of The Mars Society, says the Red Planet has everything needed to support life and technological civilization.
April 23rd, 2012
11:32 AM ET

Why we shouldn't wait to go to Mars

Editor's note: Robert Zubrin, an astronautical engineer, is president of The Mars Society and author of “The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must,” recently updated and republished by Simon & Schuster.

In the opinion piece “Mars can wait. Oceans can’t,” published recently on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni says that we should defer Mars exploration because the seas have a higher priority. While I have the highest regard for ocean exploration, the fact of the matter is that there are numerous agencies – including the U.S. Navy, the navies of other countries, academic institutions, research organizations, corporations and James Cameron personally – that are more than adequately financed and equipped to carry it out.

The idea that we need to suspend space exploration in order to provide the necessary resources to probe the oceans is categorically absurd. So let’s call it like it is: The argument that we should explore the oceans instead of space is not a call to search the seas, but simply a disingenuous way to give up our effort to reach the Red Planet.

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Data: It's how stores know you're pregnant
April 20th, 2012
01:59 PM ET

Data: It's how stores know you're pregnant

Editor's Note: Matthew Lane is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at UCLA and is the founder of Math Goes Pop!, a blog focused on the surprisingly rich intersection between mathematics and popular culture.  You can follow him on Twitter at @mmmaaatttttt.

Whether you are trying to make the best decisions for your fantasy baseball league, looking to capitalize on an opportunity in a fluctuating stock market or simply filtering through the results of a Google search, it is hard to deny that we are surrounded by more data now than ever before.  As such, the task of organizing and drawing conclusions from data can be a challenge, but thankfully mathematics can, in many cases, rise to the occasion.

The application of mathematics to such a rapidly increasing pool of data, however, is not without controversy.  For example, in February The New York Times published an investigation written by Charles Duhigg about the value of consumer data to major corporations, and how those corporations can use your data in an instinctively creepy way.

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April 19th, 2012
01:23 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: 'This was my space shuttle moment,' reader says of Discovery

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Star-struck space lovers gazed skyward Tuesday to watch space shuttle Discovery's journey to Washington after a series of nostalgic fly-bys on the back of a NASA Boeing 747. The flight departed from Florida's Kennedy Space Center en route to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. It will spend its retirement at a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum facility in Chantilly, Virginia.

Space shuttle Discovery arrives in Washington

The photo at the top was shot by rocket technician Danny Mills of Cape Canaveral, Florida, who joined several other iReporters in documenting the shuttle's journey from point A to point B. Mills went over to Cocoa Beach to see the shuttle. He used an often-mentioned word to describe his feelings.

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NASA's greatest hits: Musical moonlighting
Chris Hadfield, seen here during a 2001 spacewalk, plans to moonlight as a recording artist aboard the orbiting space station.
March 22nd, 2012
11:49 AM ET

NASA's greatest hits: Musical moonlighting

Music and space travel have been pairing up since the early days of NASA, including hundreds of wake-up tunes, a moonwalking crooner and even an orbiting duet.

Now, astronaut Chris Hadfield plans to do a little moonlighting as an orbiting recording artist. Hadfield, an accomplished acoustic guitarist, is scheduled to rocket to the international space station in December, where he hopes to lay down some tracks using an acoustic sound-hole pick up, a Shure microphone and Cakewalk software, reports space.com.

A Larrivée Parlor guitar is already waiting for him aboard the ISS and Hadfield's "studio" will be a "whisper zone" with a nice view of Earth.

"I think it would be really good to record a bunch of songs on orbit, original music on orbit," Hadfield told Space.com. "Some of the earliest spacefaring songs, I'm going to write and play up there."

There must be something special about making extra-terrestrial music, because it always gets attention. Maybe it's the romance of adding something uniquely human to the vast emptiness of space.

But sometimes the juxtaposition of the two borders on bizarre.

Take for example Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan's song and dance routine on the surface of the moon in 1972.

What about those NASA musical wake-up calls? Seems like there must have been hundreds of them over the decades. The tradition of waking up orbiting astronauts with music began in the 60s - and it's chronicled here.

Hadfield - who's chosen some of the wake up songs - once said, "You don't want to play a dirge or something uninspiring. You want to get going in the morning."

Among the first tunes played aboard a NASA spacecraft was a 1965 Gemini 6 performance by Jack Jones singing a rousing version of "Hello Dolly." Astronauts love show tunes.

By the time the shuttle program started winding down, iconic artists like R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe sang custom musical messages.

Another unearthly musical highlight: the flute-playing astronaut Cady Coleman performed an Earth-to-orbit duet with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in 2011.

Ron Garan proved that you can indeed play the blues in orbit, specifically inside a Soyuz spacecraft docked at the ISS. Watch him pick and grin three- and-a-half minutes into this video.

Ed Lu showed us how awkward it is trying to play heavy music in zero gravity. See it here at about one and a half minutes in.

Of course space geeks are very aware of the all-astronaut Houston, Texas, rock band Max Q, which formed in the 1980s and continues to perform today. Check out Max-Q's stellar rendition of The Romantics' "What I Like About You."

And finally, space music ain't just for humans.

NASA has proven that a planet can get into the act too. Listen to sounds of Jupiter recorded by NASA spacecraft. You can hear the interactions of Jupiter's magnetic field with the solar wind.

So what do you think? Is music somehow better when it's performed out of this world? Write us a comment below and let us know.

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Filed under: Commentary • In Space
March 13th, 2012
10:21 AM ET

Why exploring the ocean is mankind's next giant leap

Editor's Note: Philippe Cousteau, a special correspondent for CNN,  continues the legacy of his ocean-exploring family -  including his late grandfather Jacques Cousteau - through his work with EarthEcho International. The non-profit organization, which he co-founded with his sister and mother, empowers youth to become involved with environmental causes.

By Philippe Cousteau, Special to CNN

“Space…the final frontier.” Not only has this classic phrase dazzled the many millions of fans of the Star Trek franchise, some could argue it has defined a big part of the American ideal for the last 50 years.  The 1960s were dominated by the race to the moon and Americans were rightfully proud to be the first nation to make it there.

However, another incredible feat happened in 1960 that is largely forgotten today.  For the first time in history, on January 23, 1960, two men, Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Picard, descended to the deepest part of the ocean, the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench located in the western Pacific Ocean.  While this feat made international news,  the race to the depths of this planet was quickly overshadowed by the race to the moon - and no one has ever gone that deep since.

And for the last 50  years, we have largely continued to look up. But that trend may be changing.

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