NASA Announces an Exoplanet Bonanza

715 confirmed new plants.  Whew, that’s impressive.  Especially considering that Kepler, a space ship, stopped working in May 2013.

Astronomers working on NASA’s Kepler mission announced 715 new confirmed planets today – an increase of almost 70% in the number of planets outside our Solar System known to date.

Some quick background on Kepler: the spacecraft launched in March of 2009, and observed almost 150,000 stars continuously for just over three years looking for the telltale sign of a transiting planet. The results were slow at first and then steadily, more and more planets were discovered.


But the longer astronomers looked, the more they started to see signs of smaller and smaller planets: Neptune-sized and even Earth-sized.

As a caution, Earth-sized should not be confused with Earth-like, as we don’t yet have the technology to fully probe the composition of these planets yet, let alone their habitability.


Another exciting thing about this announcement is that these 715 new planets were detected in data astronomers already had on hand. Kepler actually stopped working in May of last year and hasn’t been able to make any new observations since. However, astronomers used a new approach to pour back over the data they already had in hopes of extracting additional information. Just goes to show you that your data might always have more to tell you.

Exoplanet Bonanza | MSNBC.

Did the CIA fund creative writing in America?

Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom

How Iowa Flattened Literature – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This Machine Kills Trolls

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia “anyone can edit,” and as of this writing it’s had nearly 700 million edits — not all of them well-meaning. Sometimes the mischief is directed […] Mostly, though, it’s predictably uninteresting — shout-outs, profane opinions, keyboard-mashed gibberish — happening thousands of times a day over more than 4 million articles.

But you’ll likely never see any of it. Within minutes if not seconds, bad edits are “reverted,” banished to a seldom-seen revision history. As Wikipedia has grown in size and complexity, so has the task of quality control; today that responsibility falls to a cadre of cleverly programmed robots and “cyborgs” — software-assisted volunteers who spend hours patrolling recent edits. Beneath its calm exterior, Wikipedia is a battlezone, and these are its front lines.

This machine kills trolls | The Verge.

There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written

A lovely intersection of science and literature:

[S]ome of the bowhead whales in the icy waters today are over 200 years old. Alaska Dispatch writes:

Bowheads seem to be recovering from the harvest of Yankee commercial whaling from 1848 to 1915, which wiped out all but 1,000 or so animals. Because the creatures can live longer than 200 years — a fact George discovered when he found an old stone harpoon point in a whale — some of the bowheads alive today may have themselves dodged the barbed steel points of the Yankee whalers.

Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick in 1851, after a brief stint on a whaling ship. (You can hear the whole book read aloud here.) Sparknotes summarizes the trip this way:

Finally, driven to desperation at twenty-one, Melville committed to a whaling voyage of indefinite destination and scale on board a ship called the Acushnet. This journey took him around the continent of South America, across the Pacific Ocean, and to the South Seas, where he abandoned ship with a fellow sailor in the summer of 1842, eighteen months after setting out from New York. The two men found themselves in the Marquesas Islands, where they accidentally wandered into the company of a tribe of cannibals. Lamed with a bad leg, Melville became separated from his companion and spent a month alone in the company of the natives. This experience later formed the core of his first novel, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, published in 1846. An indeterminate mixture of fact and fiction, Melville’s fanciful travel narrative remained the most popular and successful of his works during his lifetime.

There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written | Smart News | Smithsonian.