Even in Deep Space, There Are Shades of Black

How a Planet Hunter Finds Faint Objects in a Sea of Darkness

In my line of work, I stare at shades of black.

My work starts on dark, black nights, when there is no moon or reflection from it. The telescopes I use have to be in places with three qualities: High, dry, and—you guessed it—very dark. And so, I search for planets atop the summit of the highest, driest, and darkest peak in Hawaii. Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano—where the world-famous Keck Observatory is located—minimizes the “noise” in the images from Earth’s constantly swirling atmosphere and the light drifting in from …

What Do Raindrops Look Like in Outer Space?

How Arizona’s Monsoons Got Me Chasing Storms on Titan

Living in Tucson, Arizona—a Sonoran desert city surrounded by tall mountains—can make you obsess about rain. In 1993, I had just moved into a new office at the University of …

Why Pluto Still Deserves Our Love

Nine Years After Its Launch, a NASA Spacecraft Is About to See What the Formerly Major Planet Can Tell Us About the Origins of the Solar System

One of my first memories as a child in the 1950s was a discussion I had with my brother in our tiny bedroom in the family house in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. …

The Potential for Life on Jupiter’s Moon

NASA’s Europa Flyby Mission Has Tantalized Scientists Eager for Clues About Possible Alien Life

This week we are one step closer to understanding a world in our solar system that I believe has the best chance of supporting life beyond our own planet. NASA …

The Vivid Dispatches from Space That Made Me Want to Become a Scientist

Images From Historic Voyager 1 and 2 Missions Introduced Me to the Vastness of Space—and the Exciting Reality of Its Deep Exploration

I remember hearing about the launches of the twin Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft on the evening news in 1977. I was 12 then, and in love with the …

Ursa Major | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Ursa Major

Old she-bear, pent
in her rocky den,
gnaws a footpad
dry as dust,

solitary rakes in sticks
and scratches the scar
that marks a hunter’s
mis-aimed lead.

Shaking the ice
off her …