Ann Finkbeiner

Ann Finkbeiner

Most Recently: Beth Willman Really Does Have A Galaxy

Ann Finkbeiner is a science writer. For several years now, she's been mostly writing books. She's just finished her last book, has no idea for another one, and hasn't a clue what to do next. She's co-owner of The Last Word on Nothing.

Beth Willman Really Does Have A Galaxy

She does. Actually, it's not much of a galaxy, it's more of a sub-galaxy, a dwarf galaxy, or maybe not even any kind of galaxy at all, maybe just a cluster of stars. It's hers because she found it, hanging around the edges of the Milky Way. That's it, above. If you look with the eye of love, you can see in the left-middle what she calls a "slight overdensity" of dim blue stars. It's named Willman 1. READ MORE

Higgs and the Certainty of Physicists

The room is 100 percent physicists, 75 percent of them are likely to be under age forty, under 10 percent of them are likely to be female. They're all unusually quiet, no scrooching, no whispers, motionless. READ MORE

A Terrifying Incident in Space!

Hanny's back, this time with a plausible story. Back in 2007, Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher, was on her computer happily classifying galaxies on Galaxy Zoo and was about to click Next, when she thought, "Wait. What was that?" At first, nobody knew: it was green, it glowed, it was shapeless, they called it Voorwerp. READ MORE

The NASA Announcement: A New Form of Life? Maybe!

After several days of hoo-ha brought on by a vague NASA press release about mysterious life forms that will change how we see alien life, the story finally was published in Science and announced by NASA and so, okay, I'll bite. It turns out that a geomicrobiologist found a bacterium in a California lake full of arsenic, and the bacterium was full of arsenic too. The arsenic atoms were being used by the bug in place of phosphate atoms; and if you'd paid attention back when you were supposed to, you'd know that phosphate atoms are crucial to 1) DNA which is the molecule that makes up genes; and 2) ATP which is the molecule that provides cells' energy. So: genes and energy, about as basic as you'd want to get. READ MORE

Passing the Turing Test: Killing Machines Now Indistinguishable From Humans

Poor Alan Turing proposed a test by which you'd know whether The Machines are thinking: converse with someone you can't see and who might be a human or might be a machine, and you'll always know which. Test after test, we always know; machines are inferior conversationalists. But recently from the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-an extremely large, ruthlessly intelligent, highly organized professional association-comes troubling news. Change the test from conversing to killing, and all hell breaks loose: machines are indistinguishable from humans. READ MORE

Their Nobel for Graphene Today, Your Products Tomorrow

This picture is not chicken wire or a tesselation or a patchwork quilt or a cross-section of a honeycomb-amazing how many things are linked hexagons-but a material called graphene, which is just plain old pencil-lead graphite sliced thin, sliced as thin as you could imagine thin could be. It's thin enough that electricity flows through it effortlessly. It's thin enough to see through. It's one atom thin. Those atoms are carbon and their little arms hold tight and so in spite of being thin, it's also flexible and strong. Its possible applications are making the technoratiat fall all over itself with joy and lust. It just won its discoverers, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, the physics Nobel Prize. READ MORE

First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found! So What's the Big Deal?

Read enough astronomy press releases, and you'll know that "habitable" is better than "earth-like," which means a certain distance from a star, which is better than "earth-sized," which could mean Venus which looks like pizza right out of the oven. So "Potentially Habitable," this is good. The planet's name is Gliese 581g, it's around three earths, it's probably not made of gas, it could conceivably hold on to an atmosphere, and it's at the right distance from its star, Gliese 581, to have liquid water on the surface. Gliese 581g for some physics reason always faces Gliese 581, so half of it may or may not be always a 70°C degree daytime and the other half, a -35°C degree night (I'm not converting these to Farenheit, life is already short). READ MORE

The Bookmobile: An Excerpt from Ann Finkbeiner's "A Grand and Bold Thing"

Ann Finkbeiner's A Grand and Bold Thing: An Extraordinary New Map of the Universe Ushering In A New Era of Discovery documents the founding of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-and is out today! "Delightful," says Publisher's Weekly! "Totally awesome," says The Awl! The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, begun ten years ago, is mapping 100 million celestial objects-and measuring distance between a million galaxies, giving us the first real map of where we live. And here, an excerpt! READ MORE

The Great Baltimore Earthquake of July 16, 2010

Okay, Washington felt it too, probably more than Baltimore. It was the biggest earthquake in the history of recorded Baltimore/Washington earthquakes, meaning since the 1970s or something, and magnitude 3.6. Southern California doesn't even roll over in bed for a magnitude 3.6. It woke me up at 5:04 a.m., the room was vibrating, a rumble moved through and on out, and by 5:05 I was asleep again. Of no concern, right? The east coast doesn't get earthquakes, right? READ MORE

The Story of Hanny, So Far

Hanny van Arkel was 24 years old and teaching primary school in Heerlen, the Netherlands. She also played guitar and during summer vacation back in 2007, she was noodling around on the website of a famous rock guitarist named Brian May. Brian May got famous in the middle of a doctorate in astronomy on interplanetary dust, so his website had links to astronomy websites, and Hanny clicked on a new site called Galaxy Zoo. A week or so before, Galaxy Zoo had posted a million galaxy pictures and asked the internet to please classify each one according to whether it was a spiral or an elliptical or something else-astronomers need these classifications, a million galaxies is a lot to classify, computers are no good at it and humans are spectacular. So Hanny took a little online lesson and started clicking-spiral, elliptical, spiral-and after each click, another galaxy popped up. She'd just classified IC 2497 as a spiral and was looking at the next one, then thought, "Wait, what was that?" and clicked the back button. READ MORE