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Dr. Sten Odenwald
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Dr. Sten Odenwald is an astronomer and educator at the National Institute of Aerospace, who also runs an online resource called The Astronomy Cafe. He received his PhD in astrophysics from Harvard University in 1982. He is an active science popularizer and book author, and has a number of websites promoting science education and mathematics: The Astronomy Café and SpaceMath@NASA. He has also appeared on National Geographic TV specials and a number of YouTube video productions. His latest article 'String Theory' appeared in Astronomy magazine, and 'Preparing for a Solar Superstorm' in Scientific American. His latest e-book is 'Mind, Space and Cosmos: Exploring the mystery of space and how we think about it'.

Entries by Dr. Sten Odenwald

The Myth of Space Mining

(36) Comments | Posted October 30, 2015 | 6:38 PM

We hear it all the time whenever the arguments are made for space travel and interplanetary commerce: 'We can mine the asteroids and comets and sell the ores for millions of dollars!' In reality, these pronouncements tend to underestimate both the astronomical realities and what actual ore extraction costs.

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The Journey to Mars: Past, Present and Future

(8) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 7:51 PM

The spectacular computer graphics effects and designs of the recent movies Interstellar and The Martian remind us that it is easy to get to Mars and beyond via fantasy technology, but real-world travel is still a hard nut to crack.

In my book Interplanetary Travel: An Astronomer's Guide I...

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Happy Birthday Einstein! 100 years of General Relativity

(4) Comments | Posted September 30, 2015 | 7:52 AM

On November 25, 1915, Albert Einstein finally announced the complete mathematical details of his General Relativity Theory in the last of a series of four papers, but gravity and the nature of space itself, remain as mysterious today as they were back then.

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Space Travel: Dreams and Prospects

(13) Comments | Posted September 22, 2015 | 7:15 PM

Why is it that we are not further along with 'space travel' despite over 60 years of steady effort? It's very simple! For interstellar travel we have dreams but no technology, while for interplanetary travel we have technology but no dreams!

Interstellar Travel: Dreams without technology

The biggest problem is...

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A Closer Look at the Pluto Photos

(4) Comments | Posted July 15, 2015 | 6:56 PM

We did it! After nine and a half years of travel, the New Horizons spacecraft has finally reached Pluto. In an instant, this indistinct dot of dim light has now become yet another brilliant world known by humans in glorious detail!

2015-07-15-1436984609-4991593-PlutoCompare.jpg Pluto before...
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The Pluto Encounter: A View From Afar!

(4) Comments | Posted July 13, 2015 | 5:18 PM

Next week on July 14, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons will have completed its nine-year journey to Pluto. There is no telling what we will discover when we get there, but it will certainly be both alien and exciting!

For most of the 70 years since Clyde Tombaugh first discovered...

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Watching the Earth From Space

(3) Comments | Posted June 15, 2015 | 11:04 AM

The iconic Apollo 8 image of our Earth rising over a barren moonscape taken in 1968 started the environmental movement by revealing the fragility of our home in the vastness of an implacable universe. Recent images of Earth from across the solar system serve to remind us about the uniqueness...

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The Argument Against the 'Scientific' Origin of Life

(88) Comments | Posted June 4, 2015 | 3:45 PM

You have heard Creationists and their sympathizers evoke the comment that you cannot assemble life from randomness. What you don't know is that this is an intentional misunderstanding of science that, unfortunately, works to sway millions of people.

In his 1983 book, The Intelligent Universe, astronomer Fred Hoyle wrote the...

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Our Pathetic War Against Cancer: Part III

(0) Comments | Posted April 14, 2015 | 11:43 AM

You have a 1 in 2 chance of getting cancer in your lifetime, and a 1 in 4 of dying from it. With those odds in Las Vegas, you would be a winner all the time. So why do you NOT fervently support cancer research to literally save your life?

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Interstellar Travel: So Where Should We Go?

(193) Comments | Posted April 2, 2015 | 3:12 PM

Far beyond the issue of whether interstellar travel is technologically possible is the very practical issue of where we should go once we have built our first "starship."

2015-03-30-1427741663-8792436-Neighborhood.png A few of the thousands of stars within 50 light years of Earth.(Credit: Wikipedia/Andrew Z....
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When NASA Had Nuclear Rockets

(96) Comments | Posted March 17, 2015 | 2:51 PM

Most people think that Star Trek-style nuclear rockets are a thing of the future, but the fact is we had them in the 1960s... and gave up on them.

The Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application...NERVA... program was a joint effort between NASA and the US Atomic Energy Commission, and...

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Supermassive Black Holes at the Edge of Space and Time

(12) Comments | Posted February 27, 2015 | 11:53 PM

Astronomers have known about these objects for decades, but in the depths of cosmic time, it's hard to understand how they can grow so quickly -- or maybe not!

Thanks to the painstaking research conducted by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s, the consensus is that virtually...

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A Gold Digger's Guide to the Universe

(0) Comments | Posted February 18, 2015 | 5:26 PM

The first documented use of gold by humans was found in the jewelery recovered from the Varna Necropolis in Bulgaria and dated to about 6,500 years ago. Since then, enough gold has been mined from Earth's crust to form a cube 60 feet on a side.

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(Still) Waiting for the Big One

(4) Comments | Posted February 13, 2015 | 11:43 PM

The sun is a stormy star that, across the centuries, has gifted our Earth with some incredible moments of calamity. Telegraph and radio technologies and even satellites and human safety have been placed in the breach of near-destruction. Is there a major "superstorm" in our future?

The Past as Prologue

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The Betelgeuse Supernova

(52) Comments | Posted February 2, 2015 | 1:43 PM

Astronomers have been waiting for this for a long time, and at some time in the not so distant future the brilliant red star in the constellation Orion will explode. What will it look like?

Betelgeuse is so big and close...

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The Future of Physics

(93) Comments | Posted January 26, 2015 | 5:48 PM

In another few months the Large Hadron Collider will be powered up to explore its maximum energy range. Many physicists fervently hope we will see definite signs of "new physics," especially a phenomenon called "supersymmetry." In the simplest view, the Standard Model souped-up with supersymmetry will offer a massive new...

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The (Not So) Curious Case of Galaxy IC 335

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2014 | 1:28 PM

This odd-looking galaxy has recently become famous in the media, not for what it has but for what is missing!

IC 335 (credit: Hubble)

A recent Hubble image of this galaxy shows it to be a star-filled galaxy with a flat shape not unlike...

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The History of Interplanetary Colonization

(7) Comments | Posted December 18, 2014 | 10:32 PM

Forget star travel! Let's get busy and really have some fun with our own back yard first!

One of my earliest introductions to how this would work comes from Robert Heinlein's wonderful books 'Red Planet' (1949), 'Between Planets' (1951) and 'The Rolling Stones' (1952) and 'Have Spacesuit. Will Travel' (1958)....

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It Doesn't Get Better Than This

(33) Comments | Posted December 16, 2014 | 1:31 PM

If you are a planetary scientist, you are having one of your best years... ever!

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko seen by Rosetta mission (Credit:ESA/Rosetta)

You all remember the hoopla last October when the Philae lander was dropped from the Rosetta space craft and...

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Fifty Years of Quarks... More Particles to Discover!

(3) Comments | Posted December 9, 2014 | 1:30 PM

Fifty years ago, in 1964, physicists Murray Gell-Mann at Caltech and George Zweig at CERN came up with the idea of the quark as a response to the bewildering number of elementary particles that were being discovered at the huge "atom smasher" labs sprouting up all over the world. Basically,...

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