Cosmic Space

Jupiter and Saturn pair up to make a Christmas Star

Are you ready for a remake of the Christmas Star story? Depending on how much stock you put in historical hypotheses, this year’s solstice on Dec. 21 could bring a replay of the phenomenon that the Three Kings saw in the Gospel of Matthew.

That’s when Jupiter and Saturn can be seen incredibly close together in the night sky. If the skies are clear, the two planets will be hard to miss in southwest skies just after sunset, as seen from mid-northern latitudes. Jupiter will sparkle brighter, and Saturn will be shining only a tenth of a degree to the upper right. With a small telescope, you might be able to see both planets and their moons in a single field of view.

“Some astronomers suggest the pair will look like an elongated star, and others say the two planets will form a double planet,” NASA says in a blog posting about the Dec. 21 conjunction. “To know for sure, we’ll just have to look and see. Either way, take advantage of this opportunity because Jupiter and Saturn won’t appear this close in the sky until 2080!”


Books let you explore parallel universes in print

Parallel universes
One hypothesis for the nature of the cosmos visualizes parallel universes as huge membranes, or branes, that are stacked alongside each other in extradimensional space like books in a cosmic bookcase. A “big bang” results when two branes touch. (NASA Illustration / Dana Berry)

Parallel universes are big in science fiction, popping up in shows ranging from the “Terminator” movies to “The Man in the High Castle” to “Hot Tub Time Machine.” And strangely enough, those fictional tales have their parallels this year in a pair of nonfiction books about parallel universes.

We’re leading off our annual holiday roundup of science books with “The Number of the Heavens” and “Something Deeply Hidden,” and continuing the theme with six other thought-provoking picks about other realities, fictional and factual. If that’s not enough, you’ll also find links to geeky book recommendations from outside sources, plus our own top picks from previous years.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Robo-reindeer bring holiday cheer and fear

Image: Robot reindeer
Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots star in a hilariously terrifying Christmas video clip.

Santa Claus is coming to town, pulled by robot reindeer. But is that a promise, or a threat?

To celebrate the holidays, Boston Dynamics put out a video that brings a Futurama nightmare to life. The 28-second clip shows the company’s four-legged Spot bots fronting a sleigh as it trundles over a snow-free lawn. But instead of a death-dealing Robot Santa Claus, a smiling Ms. Claus is holding the reins.

“Happy holidays, from Boston Dynamics!” she says with a wave.

There’s a deliciously dark side to this slice of holiday cheer: First of all, Boston Dynamics (which was purchased by Google a couple of years ago) is working on Spot and other bio-inspired robots for use on future battlefields.

Then there’s the fact that seeing robots that move like dogs, or cheetahs, or humansis eerie at best … and Terminator-level scary at worst. Putting antlers on the darn things definitely does not help.

Get the full story and video on GeekWire.