'What is Leg?': 'Jeopardy!' Supercomputer Debuts With Some Weird


   

The long-awaited three-night "Jeopardy!" face-off between the show's biggest past champs and IBM's supercomputer Watson began last night, and the thing did pretty well, but not without a few hiccups (like the inability to understand a human appendage).

 

After dominating the first part of the game, Watson ended up tied with Brad Rutter, who famously has won the most money on "Jeopardy!" ($3.25 million) with a score last night of $5000. Ken Jennings, who has had the most consecutive wins on the show (74) trailed with $2000. 

 

Because the three-night event is an exhibition game, last night's game was short so that Trebek could explain Watson's rather complicated artificial intelligence system and take us on a tour of the computer's home at IBM in suburban New York. The computer seen next to to the contestants is just an avatar, and the real one takes up an entire room and consists of ten linked servers representing the power of 2,800 PCs. 

 

A few observations about this first night of Watson:

 

— Watson had at least two funny flubs. After Ken Jennings gave an incorrect response to a clue, the computer buzzed in and said the exact same thing.  The program also answered "What is leg?" to a clue about an unusual Olympic athlete. ["What is leg?" is already a bit of a catchphrase on Twitter (like here and here) and blogs today.]

 

Here's the "What is leg?" answer that at least I thought was so outrageously hilarious (also note how great Brad Rutter looks now that he's an aspiring actor!):

 

 

— While the show stressed that Watson is "not hooked up to the internet," it was hard for a non-computer-scientist regular "Jeopardy!" fan not to notice that Watson's brain seems to resemble a search engine. This was particularly noticeable when Watson kept getting the clues in one category "Beatles People" correct—each clue consisted of Beatle's song lyrics—something that would seem always easier for a computer than a person. (Think about it: how often do you do a search for song lyrics to try to remember the name of a song?)

 

— When Watson first took off, and was so heavily dominating the game, it was amusing to watch audience members—presumably IBM employees involved in the project's creation—beam at each other with almost parental pride. 

 

 Alex Trebek promised more of Watson's "weird little moments" in the next two nights of the game, so check back here to see those, because it's fun to mercilessly ridicule smarty-pants computers.    

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The Woman Behind Superman: Inspiration for Lois Lane Dies


   

Here's some super-sad news: Lois Lane has died. The woman who inspired the character from the " Superman" comic, Joanne Siegel, was 93. Her husband, Jerome Siegel, modeled Lois Lane after the woman who eventually became his wife.

 

The Cleveland native met the Man of Steel co-creator Siegel and his partner Joe Shuster when she was just 15 or 16. The teen had placed a classified ad in the local paper offering her services as a model. Shuster answered the ad, and the sketches he made were the basis of iconic Lois Lane.

 

The love interest of Superman eventually became the real-life love interest of Siegel. She was introduced to Siegel by Shuster in the 1930s, but the two didn't marry until 1948, when Siegel's divorce to wife Bella Siegel was finalized.

 

"Superman," introduced as a DC comic book in 1938, became one of the best-known superheroes of all time, but the writers were not credited. In 1978, with the Warner Brothers movie about to come out, DC finally added the co-creators' names to every Superman story and agreed to pay a lifetime stipend.

 

After Jerome Siegel died in 1999, the Siegel and Shuster families filed for partial ownership of the character from Warner Brothers. Joanne Siegel could not leap tall buildings in a single bound, but she would end up doing something more important: preserving the legacy of the Superman creators.

 

Brad Ricca, who teaches a comic book class at Case Western University, described her determination for justice this way: "Siegel would call DC Comics in New York and say, 'You need to help these people who made you all millionaires.'" The professor added, "Kind of like Lois Lane, she just wouldn't give up."

 

In 2008, a ruling gave the families a right to a large share of "Superman," but details are still being worked out.

 

All that, and looks, too: An expert on Siegel tweeted, "Just heard Joanne Siegel passed away. Lois Lane herself. One of the most beautiful people I ever met."

     

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The Six Lamest Superhero Teams


1. Darkstars

The Darkstars came into existence for one reason, and one reason only: to be knock-off Green Lanterns. This being the ’90s, and everything has to be all shaken up, the Darkstars basically took over the role of intergalactic cops from the Green Lanterns once said corps of heroes was killed off, only instead of rings that could create anything the Lanterns could imagine through sheer force of will, they had costumes that fired energy bolts and made them really strong.     
 

 

In other words, they were the lame replacements until DC brought the Green Lanterns back. Appropriately, once they came back, the Darkstars vanished and thankfully haven’t been seen since…oh, wait, no, no, apparently DC has decided to drop hints that they’ve become space priests. Great, because that’s what we need, Jehovah’s Witnesses with laser blasts.     
 

2. Champions

Here’s the thing about the Champions; individually, you’ve got awesome here. There’s Hercules, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman. Well, OK, maybe the guy with pretty bird wings is a lame superpower to have in a team, but everything else, aces.     

 

But as a group, it just didn’t work. First of all, Hercules is a Greek demi-god, whatever he can’t handle is generally something pretty heavy-duty. Secondly, Ghost Rider is a demon from hell, so if Hercules and Ghost Rider can’t handle it, we’re getting into crossover territory danger here. What are Iceman, Black Widow and Angel going to do? Freeze it, fly it up, and then hit it really hard? 

Unsurprisingly, the Champions didn’t last that long, but the flame is kept alive. By the Great Lakes Avengers, who you might recall as a joke team.     
 

3. Suicide Squad

If you’re a comics company, almost inevitably you wind up with a lot of extra characters, and equally almost inevitably, they’re one-off villains that never quite achieved the panache of a Joker, or a Lex Luthor, or a Firebug. So what do you do with all these losers you own the rights to? Kill ‘em. Kill ‘em all! And do it as creatively as possible! 

 

This team existed for two reasons: the hilarious murder of D-list losers, and to explain how villains who didn’t seem smart enough to get out of jail or successful enough to hire a good lawyer got out to antagonize superheroes again; if they survived the mission they were on, they got a full parole. This pretty much meant that if you were below C-list, you were dead meat, and if you were above C-list, you were coming right back, because apparently being sent on missions with a team named the “Suicide Squad” was so incredibly fun that you just had to immediately waste your unconditional parole trying to use your stupid gimmick on some hero instead of getting a real job, and be sent right back to the jungles of Wherever-the-Heckistan. In other words, it was kind of like “The Dirty Dozen”, minus the suspense and interesting parts. 

On the bright side, there’s really nothing like an annoying, badly conceived villain get shot in the face by his own teammates, or eaten by gorillas, or sucked into a trans-dimensional vortex, or any of a pretty long list of creative fates the writing team liked to hand out to these failures. If only they’d killed off Captain Boomerang, because, really, how useless was he?

       
4. Defenders

The Defenders make this list despite not being a team. You might be confused, as this is a list of lame or but that was their entire gimmick, they weren’t a team. 

Basically, instead of having a lair and interpersonal relationships and all that crap we read team books for, what would happen is somebody, usually Doctor Strange, would stumble on something he couldn’t fix alone. Instead of calling in, say, the Avengers, or the X-Men, or S.H.I.E.L.D., or any of the other large groups of heroes who exist pretty much to deal with this stuff, he would bug the Hulk, the Silver Surfer and Namor to team up with him to deal with it.     

 

Yeah, Namor, the fish guy. You’d think that between the Hulk’s near-infinite strength and the Surfer having access to, oh, unlimited cosmic power that the ’40s leftover could stay at home, but apparently they needed his extra-strength jerk powers. 

Anyway, they’d solve the problem, maybe mope a little bit about how they were all loners, and then split up…until the next issue. It was like taking the biggest powerhouses in the Marvel Universe and putting them into Degrassi, except nobody in Degrassi can destroy the universe last we checked. 
 

5. Alpha Flight

Unlike anybody trying to get comedy from comics, we are not going to make fun of Alpha Flight for being Canadian, even if they seem like an attempt to be the single most stereotypical collection of Canadians ever. Canada has been home to entire legions of men who could pick their teeth with our delicate, lady-like femurs. This is a country that is largely woods, ice and oil, a real man’s man country. And they were created by a Canadian, John Bryne, who really wanted to properly represent his home country.

  

 

No, we’re making fun of Alpha Flight because they suck. Look at this line-up; Sasquatch, a hairier and smarter Hulk; Shaman, the team sorcerer and Native American stereotype; Northstar and Aurora, who are basically the Flash with a flash-bang grenade and one of the creepiest family histories in comics; Snowbird; who can turn into any Canadian animal (form of a beaver!); and Puck, who’s basically a tough midget. Marvel’s tried to turn this team into a success we don’t know how many times, lately falling back on making it “dark and gritty”. Oh, yeah, because THAT worked out so well.     
 

6. Justice League Detroit

Before DC decided to turn the team into a joke in the ’80s, DC did it unintentionally. You see, there was this big arc where the Justice League all broke up because all the heroes were busy doing things like saving humanity on their own. So Aquaman threw a hissy fit, dissolved the team, and started it back up in Detroit.     

 


 

The new team roster was Aquaman, Zatanna, Martian Manhunter, the Elongated Man, Vixen, and three new teenage heroes that were so popular, this part of the book climaxed with them being murdered. Then Aquaman quit to try and save his marriage, probably realizing what a douche he’d been in the process by demanding the team all have no personal lives, and Zatanna quit because she loved her abusive scumbag boyfriend so much for carving her up to perform genetic experiments on her. Yes, that last part actually happened. 

Anyway, the team eventually dissolved, like everything in Detroit, and became a joke, like everything in Detroit. But at least they gave us those noble fallen teen heroes, that we’ll remember always…um…geez…what were their names? You’d think DC would have rebooted them by now or something…     
 

Image sources:

  • – Darkstars :
    http://img2.pict.com/1c/a3/bb/009bfddb82830dbbeb74ce42f8/Yx1HW/800/darkstars2300fc.jpg
  • – Champions :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Champions-1.jpg
  • – Suicide Squad :
    http://spider-bob.com/teams/dc/images/SuicideSquad_02.jpg
  • – Defenders :
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/47/DefendersIII1.jpg
  • – Alpha Flight :
    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/alpha-flight.jpg
  • – Justice League Detroit :
    http://onceuponageek.com/images/aquacover18.jpg     

 

http://www.weirdworm.com/the-six-lamest-superhero-teams/    

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NASA craft snaps pics of comet in Valentine fling

     

PASADENA, Calif. – A NASA spacecraft zipped past a comet half the size of Manhattan in a Valentine's Day rendezvous that scientists hope will shed light on these icy solar system bodies. 

Speeding at 24,000 mph, Stardust zoomed by comet Tempel 1 on Monday night, snapping six dozen high-resolution pictures along the way. At nearest approach, the craft passed within 112 miles of the potato-shaped comet — closer than the original prediction. 

Instead of erupting in cheers, mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory puzzled over why images from the flyby were not downloading in the order that they want. 

NASA had planned to wow the world by playing back the images in reverse order, starting with five close-up shots of Tempel 1's nucleus. Instead, the first images to pop up on scientists' computer screens showed the comet as a tiny speck. 

"We still don't understand fully why this didn't work the way we planned," said Chris Jones, an associate director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the mission.

All the flyby pictures were stored aboard Stardust. "They're not lost," Jones said. 

The glitch means scientists will have to wait several more hours for everything to download to study changes on the comet's surface. 

The Valentine flyby, which occurred 210 million miles from Earth, is the second time that Tempel 1 has been visited up close. 

Onboard dust detectors revealed Stardust took several hits as it swooped past Tempel 1. The craft is armed with bumpers designed to protect it from comet shards as large as half an inch. 

"We made it through," said mission control commentator Mykal Lefevre, of Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. 

Shortly after closest approach, Stardust turned its antenna toward Earth to begin the downlink. The playback was delayed an hour due to inclement weather at a ground station in Spain. 

When the close-up images didn't show up as planned, project leaders were seen pacing around mission control or huddling in groups to troubleshoot. 

Space enthusiasts who stayed up all night watching the coverage streamed over the Internet by NASA grew weary and signed off from Twitter and other social networking sites after failing to get an up-close peek. 

Comets are like frozen time capsules because they're thought to contain primordial material preserved from the aftermath of the solar system's birth some 4.5 billion years ago. Studying comets could yield clues to how the sun and planets formed. 

The last time NASA visited Tempel 1, it ended in violence. In 2005, Deep Impact fired a copper bullet that slammed into the surface and gouged a crater. The high-speed collision spewed such a huge plume of dust that it obscured Deep Impact's view. 

It was not immediately known whether Stardust photographed the Deep Impact crater. 

Launched in 1999, Stardust's original destination was comet Wild 2, where it scooped up minute interstellar dust and comet grains that were later stored in a capsule and jettisoned to Earth. The $300 million mission gave scientists their first collection of comet bounty gathered in space. 

Since Stardust had ample fuel after visiting Wild 2, NASA in 2007 tapped it for a $29 million fling with Tempel 1 — cheap by space mission standards.

Hours before the dalliance, two scientists who met while working on the mission got engaged. During a presentation to team members, Steve Chesley, of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program office, slipped in an extra PowerPoint slide that read: "Will you marry me?"  

Jana Pittichova, of the University of Hawaii, who has imaged the comet through ground telescopes, responded by running across the room and hugging Chesley.

The ring came from — where else? — a jewelry company named Stardust.  

"It's Valentine's Day. It's a Stardust ring. It's a Stardust mission," Chesley said.  

Unfortunately for Stardust, its comet-chasing days are over after traveling 3.5 billion miles. It has about a cup of hydrazine fuel left — not enough to visit another target.    

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Lucy was a walker, study finds

      

Lucy may be 3.2 million years old, but she still has the ability to surprise. Scientists recently reported that Lucy, aka Australopithecus afarensis, likely walked on two feet.

The findings came when researchers discovered a new foot bone belonging to Lucy. The bone's structure suggests that Lucy walked much like we do today. National Geographic explains that "until now it had been unclear just how upright -- in a sense, just how human -- Lucy really was."  

The bone, which was found in Ethiopia, connected the toe to the base of Lucy's foot. It helped researchers confirm that Lucy's feet had "well-defined" arches, which likely helped the famous fossil to strut around on two feet and not via a grasping movement. 

So, is an ancient foot really a big deal? Well, yeah. An article from LiveScience.com explains that this discovery "could change the story of human evolution, or at least the story of human foot evolution." The presence of an arch is key, because it makes "climbing trees much harder" and serves as a kind of shock absorber. 

The news launched a slew of Web searches on Yahoo!. Immediately, online lookups for "lucy discovery" and "Australopithecus afarensis" surged over 500%. Impressive, but we were even more impressed that so many people knew how to spell "Australopithecus afarensis" on their first attempt. You guys are good. 

Lucy's partial skeleton has, of course, been around for a while. The New York Times writes that she was first discovered in 1974, and has retained her title as the "most famous fossil hominid" ever since. However, she isn't the oldest skeleton from the human family tree. Several years ago, scientists discovered a skeleton that was 4.4 million years old.  

Sources:
National Geographic: "Lucy" Was No Swinger
The New York Times: Lucy Walked Tall, a Foot Bone Study Suggests
Live Science: Foot Bone Puts Prehuman Lucy on a Walking Path    

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All About Apophis


Who says the world is only full of bad news? NASA has largely dismissed a Russian report that an asteroid larger than two football fields could hit Earth by 2036. In other words, you can relax.  

Known as "99942 Apophis," the 900-foot-long asteroid has had the attention of scientists for some time. According to an article from SPACE.com, back in 2004, NASA scientists announced that Apophis could hit the planet in 2029. But, after further number crunching, that prediction was later retracted. 

The asteroid hurtled back into the news when Russia recently predicted 99942 Apophis may hit Earth on April 13, 2036. NASA acknowledges that there is a chance this may happen, but it is far from likely. Donald Yeomans, who heads up NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, estimates the odds at around 1 in 250,000. And, don't worry — NASA does have a backup plan. Should the need arise, the space agency will construct machinery to change the asteroid's orbit.  

The Russian scientists are also hedging their bets. Professor Leonid Sokolov of St. Petersburg State University remarked that 99942 Apophis would most likely disintegrate before hitting Earth.  

Still, a chance is a chance, and Web searchers immediately sought more information on the errant asteroid. Online lookups for "99942 Apophis" jumped sharply while "pictures of asteroids" and "apophis nasa report" also posted strong spikes in the Search box.  

And while the odds of 99942 Apophis "hitting home" are blissfully slim, there are some in the scientific community who believe its high time for " Earth protection strategies" just in case. Discovery.com lists several theories as to how best tackle any objects that might be on a collision course with Earth.   

Odds are we'll never need them. But it's better to be safe than to end up in a situation that resembles a Michael Bay movie.    

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Alien Planet Hunt's Next Big Step: Finding Another Earth


NASA's Kepler mission has already found more than 1,200 potential alien planets, but it will likely be a few years before it hauls in the exoplanet "holy grail" – an alien Earth. 

Scientists announced yesterday (Feb. 2) that the Kepler space telescope spotted 1,235 exoplanet candidates in its first four months of operation, including 54 that orbit their host stars in the so-called "habitable zone," that just-right range of distances that allow liquid water to exist. 

While these finds are intriguing, none of the new planet candidates is likely to be a close Earth analogue, researchers said – even if a planet lies in the habitable zone, it may not be the same size and composition as Earth. Since our planet is the only world known to host life, finding and confirming an Earth twin could be a huge leap forward in the search for alien life. 

"No one is more eager to get to that than the Kepler team," Douglas Hudgins, a Kepler program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., told reporters yesterday. "However, that's going to take time." 

Making the finds

The Kepler space telescope, which launched in March 2009, finds alien planets by searching for tiny, telltale dips in a star's brightness caused when a planet transits — or crosses in front of — it from Earth's perspective. 

The finds graduate from "candidates" to full-fledged planets after follow-up study — usually with large, ground-based telescopes — confirms that they're not false alarms. This process can take about a year. The Kepler team has already done a lot of vetting work on the 1,235 candidates, so most of them will probably pan out, researchers said. 

"My feeling is, it'll be better than 80 percent," Bill Borucki, Kepler's science principal investigator, told SPACE.com. 

To flag a potential alien planet, Kepler needs to see a few transits, not just one. For that reason, it spots close-in planets more quickly and easily than planets found farther away, because the close-in ones move faster and transit more frequently. 

And that's the pattern in the 54 potential planets — including the five that are around Earth's size — that Kepler found in their stars' habitable zones. The host stars are cooler than our own sun, and their habitable zones are thus closer in — which is where the planets are found. 

Spotting an alien Earth

Finding an alien Earth — a rocky, Earth-size planet that orbits in the habitable zone of a sun-like star — will take longer than four months of observing. If intelligent aliens were studying our solar system, after all, they would see Earth transit just once a year. 

"It'll require at least three years of Kepler data, as well as painstaking observations from some of the world's largest ground-based telescopes, before those types of planets are going to begin to emerge from the data," Hudgins said. 

This is not to diminish the 54 planet candidates in their stars' habitable zones, or to imply that life cannot evolve on them. But if scientists are after a true Earth analogue — and many are — they'll probably have to wait a little longer. 

Looking farther ahead

As productive as it's proving to be, Kepler still represents just one step — and an early one at that — in humanity's search for life beyond Earth, researchers said.

"We are in some sense the first generation," Borucki said. "We're finding them [planets]." 

But new instruments will be needed to look for signs of life on the many worlds that Kepler discovers, researchers said. Scanning most alien planets' atmospheres for biomarkers, for example, is beyond the capabilities of today's instruments.  

New missions, such as NASA's proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder — which would use an array of telescopes orbiting Earth to generate detailed images of alien worlds — could carry the search forward, Borucki said.  

Making that happen would take money and require some patience. TPF, for example, is in limbo, with no firm funding and no launch date. So how Kepler's finds will be followed up remains a bit of a mystery.  

"This is only one step," Borucki said. "It's an important step, but there are other steps that must follow."    

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NASA's Prolific Planet Hunter: Kepler Telescope By-The-Numbers


NASA's Kepler space observatory has found more than 1,200 potential alien worlds since it began hunting for extrasolar planets in 2009.  

Observations from the mission's first four months alone have unlocked a flood of exoplanet possibilities, including 54 candidates for habitable worlds orbiting distant stars. Today (Feb. 2) NASA unveiled the latest set of observations from that four-month period.  

NASA officials expect the $600 million Kepler observatory to continue staring at its target patch of sky until at least November 2012. 

Here's a by-the-numbers look at NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission and its alien world discoveries, as of Feb. 2, 2011: 

$600 million: The cost of the Kepler planet-hunting mission at its launch in March 2009. 

156,000: The number of stars in the constellations Lyra and Cygnus that the Kepler observatory is staring at 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the search for extrasolar planets. Kepler's field of views covers about 1/400th of the sky.  

1,235: The number of potential alien planets that Kepler has discovered. NASA has repeatedly cautioned that all of Kepler's findings must be confirmed by follow-up observations using other space and ground telescopes.  

662: The number of planet candidates found by Kepler that would be about the size of Neptune. Neptune has a radius of about 15,388 miles (24,764 km) wide and has a mass that is 17 times that of the Earth, according to NASA.  

288: The number of exoplanet candidates discovered by Kepler that are in the super-Earth class. Super-Earths are planets with masses between two and 10 times the mass of Earth, according to NASA. 

170: The number of stars that seem to have more than one planetary candidate orbiting them – which would make them parts of alien solar systems. 

165: The number of potential planets found to be the size of Jupiter, which is the largest planet in our solar system. Jupiter has a radius of about 44,423 miles (71,492 km) and has a mass that is 318 times that of the Earth. 

68: The number of Earth-size planet candidates in the Kepler data release. 

54: The number of the planet candidates that appear to be in the "habitable zone" around their parent stars.  The habitable zone is a belt just far enough from the star for any orbiting planet to be able to have liquid water on its surface. 

More on the Habitable Zone planets from Kepler:

Of the 54 potentially habitable planets found by Kepler, only five are about the size of Earth, NASA officials said. The other 49 have sizes that range between the classes of super-Earths ( twice the size of Earth) and jumbo Jupiters. 

19: The number of potential alien planets larger than Jupiter. 

 15: The number of planets discovered by Kepler that have been confirmed to exist by follow-up observations by astronomers using other instruments. 

4: The number of months Kepler spent searching for extrasolar planets for the data set used to compile the statistics above. The space telescope was gazing at the same patch of sky from May 12, 2009 to Sept. 17 of that same year.

 1: The number of Earth-size and Earthlike habitable planets confirmed to exist with intelligent life. We call this planet Earth.    

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NASA Identifies 54 Potentially Habitable Alien Planets


NASA unveiled a wealth of new data from its planet-seeking Kepler space telescope today (Feb. 2) - observations that significantly increase the number of possible alien planets and identify potential Earth-size worlds, including 54 planets that could be habitable. 

To date, more than 500 alien planets outside of our solar system have been discovered, but that number could more than double if all the candidate exoplanets from the new Kepler data are confirmed. Amid the 1,200 possible alien worlds, Kepler has already found 68 potentially Earth-size planets. 

"We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone - a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Some candidates could even have moons with liquid water," said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the Kepler mission’s science principal investigator. "Five of the planetary candidates are both near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars." 

The new data also reveal that smaller worlds and multi-planet systems may be more common than previously thought. The data release is based on observations conducted between May 2 and Sept. 17, 2009. 

"What's incredibly interesting is that they're now going to give us a list of small planets," said Lisa Kaltenegger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "Some of them could actually be in what we call a habitable zone. If they were rocky or if they are rocky, they have a potential for being habitats." 

And while astronomers are ultimately searching for an Earth-size rocky planet in the habitable zone, a lot can be learned from studying planets and systems that are less

"We can learn a lot about planet formation and start to understand how these systems form," Kaltenegger said. "So far, we only have our own system, so the more samples we have, the more we can learn about how planets form, how they move, how they migrate." 

NASA announced the planetary discoveries during a press conference today. 

At the same time, the space agency and a team of astronomers announced the discovery of a six-planet alien solar system, a find also made using the Kepler observatory. The planetary system was found around the star Kepler-11, which is 2,000 light-years from Earth. 

The Kepler spacecraft is the first NASA mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets in or near the so-called habitable zone – the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet orbiting its host star

Although additional observations are required over time, Kepler is detecting planets and planet candidates with a wide range of sizes and orbital distances to help better understand our solar system's place in the galaxy. 

During a scheduled contact with the planet-hunting telescope yesterday (Feb. 1), engineers discovered that the spacecraft was in safe mode, with its photometer and star trackers powered off. This is a self protection mechanism that the spacecraft enters when something unexpected occurs, and Kepler is currently rotating along a sun-aligned axis with its solar arrays pointed at the sun. 

Analysis of all spacecraft data indicates the subsystems remain healthy, NASA officials said. Engineers have begun the recovery process and are evaluating data from the spacecraft subsystems to determine what triggered the safe mode.

   

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OLD MEN DESERVE RESPECT


An old prospector shuffled into town leading a tired old mule.  The old man headed straight for the only saloon to clear his parched throat.

He walked up and tied his old mule to the hitch rail. As he stood there brushing some of the dust from his face and clothes, a young gunslinger stepped out of the saloon with a gun in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

The young gunslinger looked at the old man and laughed, saying, "Hey old man, have you ever danced?"

The old man looked up at the gunslinger and said, "No, I never did dance... never really wanted to."

A crowd had gathered as the gunslinger grinned and said,  "Well you old fool, you're gonna dance now," and started shooting at the old man's feet.

The old prospector --not wantin g to get a toe blown off-- started hopping around like a flea on a hot skillet.  Everybody was laughing, fit to be tied.

When his last bullet had been fired, the young gunslinger, still laughing, holstered his gun and turned around to go back into the saloon.

The old man turned to his pack mule, pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, and cocked both hammers.

The loud clicks carried clearly through the desert air.

The crowd stopped laughing immediately.

The young gunslinger heard the sounds too and he turned around very slowly. The silence was almost deafening.  The crowd watched as the young gunman stared at the old timer and the large gaping holes of those twin barrels.

The barrels of the shotgun never wavered in the old man's hands, as he quietly said, "Son, have you ever licked a mule's ass?"  The gunslinger swallowed hard and said, "No sir..... but.... I've always wanted to."

There are a few lessons for us all here:

Never be arrogant.
Don't waste ammunition.
Whiskey makes you think you're smarter than you are.
Don't mess with old men, they didn't get old by being stupid.

I just love a story with a happy ending, don't you?    
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