An Embarrassment of Riches

Week in Review / by Lee Billings /

Kepler’s planetary gold rush, a Japanese spacecraft that rides sunlight, a virtual Cambrian explosion, and the problem of performance metrics.

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In Brief:

Motivated by the seemingly unstoppable and ever-worsening oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, on Tuesday President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the first time. Just like his past eight presidental predecessors, Obama assured viewers that he would act decisively to develop new alternative energy sources to shift the US away from a dependence on foreign oil.

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, had a banner week, with the first-ever successful deployment of a solar sail in space, as well as the dramatic finale of a trouble-plagued interplanetary mission, Hayabusa, which aimed to return samples of an asteroid to Earth. In contrast, NASA spent much of this week continuing to wind down the Moonward-bound Constellation program initiated under President George W. Bush, despite protests from Congress that it had not authorized the switch. In its place, NASA is pursuing a new plan from the Obama administration, which relies heavily on commercial launch providers.

Extended international negotiation between rich and poor countries on combating climate change ended in stalemate in Bonn, Germany late last week, and the UN created a new overseeing body, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, to monitor how human activities affect biodiversity.

Meanwhile, a new addition was announced for the virtual “ecosystem” of the Game of Life, a classic cellular automaton developed by the mathematican John Conway in the 1970s. A computer programmer named Andrew Wade successfully created a mathematical organism that self-replicates within the game. The organism, named “Gemini,” may enable an in silico Cambrian explosion of diversity and complexity.

Lee Billings is a staff editor for Seed. He likes space.

Originally published June 18, 2010

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