• The Return of the Countdown! Countdown to 11/22/2011

    The countdown is back! Now that PaleBlue.blog has more writers, we’re going to share countdown duties. So come by here to get a daily rundown of what’s happening in astrobiology, planetary sciences, and earth/climate research. We’ll also continue to post more thoughtful “essays,” and will try to stack these on weekends when we have more time to write and you have more time to read and we all have more time to think.

    Today there are some political things in the news that will affect our communities, so please keep in mind these are just my thoughts, and not those of any the other bloggers here, anyone I work with, or my dog.

    4… There’s a new article out challenging the faster-than-light neutrinos study. The group has data claiming the neutrinos did not lose energy, and show how this result would not be consistent with a faster than light particle. Note there still is not an explanation for the raw data from the original experiment… but this result (at the least) makes a faster than light particle even more confounding. Also note neither this paper nor the original have yet been peer reviewed.

    3… Catching up from last week, there is a new study out on the “end Permian event,” Earth’s most severe mass extinction, with over 90% of species going extinct. The data from this paper constrain the timeline of the extinction event, and suggest it should have occurred in 200,000 years or less. This is ridiculously fast, especially given the high number of species that went extinct.

    2… One of the big news stories in the world today will likely affect science: the failure of the “super committee” to reach an agreement to reduce the U.S. Federal Government’s annual deficits. Nothing is set in stone yet, as Congress has a year to act before automatic reductions kick in starting in 2013… but this brings us to a point where action has to be taken by Congress to prevent those changes from taking place. And while I could see some things changing, I would be surprised if the cuts to agencies will be spared. NASA, NSF, NIH, and other federal agencies have already started planning for 5-10% cuts in their budgets, starting in 2013. The direction is not to make across-the-board cuts, so some programs will receive smaller cuts, others no cuts, and others may be eliminated. No matter the solution, you should expect budgets to tighten significantly across all federal science agencies, barring a dramatic change in this always-developing story.

    1… In other NASA administrative “news,” there are rumors floating around that John Grunsfeld will be NASA’s next director of the Science Mission Directorate. Grunsfeld, an astronaut, is also known as the “Hubble Repair Man” as he has flown on multiple Hubble servicing missions. But to focus on his time as an astronaut is telling an incomplete story, as he also has quite a few publications as an astrophysicist. (I believe this is one of the reasons he ended being the astronaut to repair the Hubble.) I must stress that at this point, there has been no formal announcement and THIS IS ONLY A RUMOR. Even if it were official, I don’t know enough about him to speculate on what this means for the future of [INERT YOUR FAVORITE MISSION/RESEARCH HERE]. In other words, for now I’m just going to think about how cool it would be if this guy ended up being my advisor’s boss’s boss’s boss: