On Pi Day, finding strength in numbers
Daniel Tammet painted this picture of how he sees the first 20 digits of pi.
March 14th, 2013
09:03 AM ET

On Pi Day, finding strength in numbers

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

In Daniel Tammet's mind, three is a dotted green crescent moon shape, one is a sort of white sunburst and four is a blue boomerang. Every number has a distinct color and shape, making the number pi, which begins with 3.14, unfold like a beautiful poem.

For math enthusiasts around the world, March 14 (3-14) is Pi Day, honoring the number pi, which is the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle. On Thursday, Tammet is promoting France's first Pi Day celebration at the Palace of Discovery science museum in Paris.

Tammet's relationship to this number is special: At age 25, he recited 22,514 digits of pi from memory in 2004, scoring the European record. For an audience at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, he said these numbers aloud for 5 hours and 9 minutes. Some people cried - not out of boredom, but from sheer emotion from his passionate delivery.

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
Pi Day: 25 years in San Francisco
Young pi fans prepare for the Exploratorium's annual parade, holding handmade signs.
March 14th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Pi Day: 25 years in San Francisco

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Happy Pi Day, everyone! Pi Day honors the number pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle, which is approximately 3.14. It is also Albert Einstein's birthday. And it sounds like "pie."

It's hard to know who was the first person who decided to bake a pie on March 14. These days, there are celebrations worldwide - on the Internet, in schools and among friends who like to eat sweets. But the San Francisco Exploratorium takes credit for the first Pi Day in 1988. The day was "founded" by Larry Shaw, who worked in the electronics group at that time.

The Exploratorium is going all out for its 25th anniversary of pi parties. It just so happens that the museum is moving to Pier 15 next month. Thursday, in front of its new location, the museum is unveiling a circular "pi shrine" where Pi Day will be celebrated. The shrine consists of a pi symbol with digits spiraling around it that will be embedded in the sidewalk.

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
March 12th, 2013
02:38 PM ET

NASA: Yes, Mars could have hosted life

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Curiosity, humanity's most powerful rover  to land on Mars, has made a startling discovery: Conditions that could have supported life once existed there.

"We have found a habitable environment that is so benign, and supportive of life, that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it," John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a Tuesday news conference.

This discovery is based on the chemical analysis of powder that the rover recovered by drilling a hole in a rock. This was the first time a robot sent from Earth had drilled on another planet.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
Your thoughts: Will Mars trip break a relationship?
This is an illustration of the envisioned Inspiration Mars Foundation space capsule, which would launch in 2018.
March 5th, 2013
04:57 PM ET

Your thoughts: Will Mars trip break a relationship?

It was fun reading the responses to our recent article about the relationship issues surrounding a proposed mission to Mars, which the Inspiration Mars Foundation is aiming to launch in 2018.

The organization has said it wants to send a man and a woman on the 501-day voyage in order to "represent humanity," and that potentially this would be a married couple. Some readers had humorous takes on why this would not be a good idea. Here are some quotes from the comments:
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Filed under: In Space • Mars • Voices
March 5th, 2013
10:52 AM ET

501 days in space with your spouse: Could you handle it?

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

One man. One woman. Five hundred and one days in an RV-size space capsule. Will they still be speaking when they return?

The Inspiration Mars Foundation is seeking to send two people - potentially a middle-aged married couple - to space in a capsule that would pass within 100 miles of Mars.

Although no formal application process has begun, the Mars mission masterminds are already receiving résumés and technology ideas from interested people, said Jane Poynter, president of Paragon Space Development Corp., which is developing technologies for the mission that's hoping to launch in 2018.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
Black holes rapidly spinning and twisting spacetime
Scientists analyzed X-ray light to determine the spin of the black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 1365.
February 27th, 2013
05:37 PM ET

Black holes rapidly spinning and twisting spacetime

Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter.

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Scientists have been able to pin down the most accurate estimate yet for how fast a supermassive black hole is spinning. The answer is "fast": near the speed of light.

The black hole in question is more than 2 million miles across, with a surface traveling near the speed of light. It is at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 1365 and is the equivalent of about 2 million solar masses. Don't worry, this black hole not an imminent danger to us, given that it's in a galaxy 60 million light years away.

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Filed under: News
February 22nd, 2013
03:11 PM ET

Astronauts chat in Google+ Hangout

NASA hosted its first Google+ Hangout with astronauts on the International Space Station, allowing Earthly onlookers to ask questions by video.

Astronauts Kevin Ford, Chris Hadfield and Tom Marshburn answered questions, such as how they prepare for medical emergencies.

The answer is that they have on-board medical kits with everything from aspirin to an IV to a defibrillator. But if there were a real problem with one of the crew members, the Soyuz shuttle would act as an ambulance, they said.

The clip above shows the part of the video chat about dealing with medical problems. NASA also posted the full conversation, lasting more than an hour, on YouTube:

Read about this in Spanish on CNN Mexico

More from Light Years: Peter Gabriel hears his song from space

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Filed under: In Space • Voices
February 21st, 2013
03:21 PM ET

Human mission to Mars may be planned for 2018

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.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
February 20th, 2013
06:35 PM ET

Mars rover drills, sees planet's true colors

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.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars • News
How particle smasher and telescopes relate
The Hubble Space Telescope is looking for indications of dark matter in star clusters.
February 17th, 2013
04:25 PM ET

How particle smasher and telescopes relate

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."

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