Galaxy "littered with planets"

Paul Gilster reflects on the latest information from the space-based observatory Kepler, which in a period of months has trebled the number of planets outside of our own solar system. Its haul of 1,200+ candidate bodies includes five that are believed to be near-Earth sized planets in the "habitable zone" of their parent suns, or orbits where liquid water is likely to be present. Follow up observations on the ground will further characterize these finds.

Above left is the field of view for Kepler. And at right, candidate planets are identified by their approximate location in the field of view. To put this in perspective, fifteen years ago we knew of no other worlds besides the nine described textbooks. Isn't it amazing that as soon we are able to detect planets elsewhere in the Milky Way, there they are?


Images: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech (l) and NASA/Wendy Stenzel (r)

Lessons from the IdeaFestival

Having met and been exposed to some of the most innovative and creative people around during my time with the IdeaFestival, I like occasionally to reflect on what I've learned. A couple years ago I put it this way in a post, "The IdeaFestival Is about "This Too.'"

I've learned from many people at the IdeaFestival. From Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I learned history will occasionally deliver overwhelming news from the clear blue. It just happens. I learned from Jane McGonigal that games can be used to make a better reality rather than as a means of escape. I learned from Teller that knowing secrets behind the curtain didn't diminish the joy of staring slack jawed at dancing golden spheres. I learned from Burt Rutan that with supreme imagination and determination, we can trip to space in safety and return in comfort. Someday, I'll do that. The elfin and poised Daniel Tammet argued during the most recent IdeaFestival that when we think in similes and puns, we're thinking not unlike a savant. I learned that his prodigious mathematical and language abilities are not so far removed from yours or mine.

I learned that there isn't a mind to waste....

So in the spirit of the holiday, today I wanted to pass along some of the things I've learned while working with the IdeaFestival.

Whether one is an entrepreneur or artist, productivity comes from habits and routines. Work matters. Creative productivity, however, often comes from changing up the routine. Creativity Post:

The best ideas come from living life. From talking to others, reading, and watching and trying and testing and traveling and experimenting. Even an interaction at the grocery store or an observation at school can be the seed for an article or research inquiry or character background, if I’m paying attention.

It reminded me that discomfort will often let you in on a secret, if you're paying attention.

Breakthroughs are not about process, but changing a mindset, about looking at the same problem from a different angle, as Kris Kimel talked about in this video. For any business, an over-reliance on process can leave it vulnerable to the change it didn't see coming. Yes, you get more of what you measure. But not everything of value can be measured.

From entrepreneurs, I've learned that an abilty to concisely and memorably explain an idea is the difference between having it remembered in the future and having it forgotten. As an introvert, I'm still working on speaking up - as well as unapologetically spending the time alone that will let me be my best.

From Stephen Cave and other philosophers who have appeared at the IdeaFestival, I've learned that reason can take one anywhere, that uncertainty is a friend, doubt a friendly antagonist and that a radical skepticism should be avoided. Belief is indispensable.

It's just about putting one foot in front of the other.

From IdeaFestival 2013 speaker Maria Konnikova, I learned that observation is still the most useful and accessible of tools, if we can but manage to live in the moment. In an age of endless distraction, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Daunting challenges are conquered one step a time. From Philippe Petit I learned that it's the first - and last - steps that matter most.

Watching the fantastic Creative Capital artist Robert Karimi (pictured here) in October, I realized that enthusiasm flowing from a love for what you are enthusiastic about can win over an audience.

Thinking about thinking, I know now that our conscious, sentient selves, the mysterious part of us that can hold out possible worlds and slowly turn them over and around for examination is a feature, not a bug. Consciousness for computer, as Nicholas Carr pithily put it, would be a bug-as-bug. Humans can find deep meaning and value in a reading of Shakespeare's Henry IV as well as in spreadsheets and big data. We are the wiser to remember that. 

In the midst of dire statistics about growing economic inequality, I learned from Tyler Cowen that because information is so widely available, the humanities (and some technical expertise), may be more important than ever. For this humanities major, that observation was comforting.

From Oliver Burkeman, I learned that at the summit of human kind is not happiness, but meaning, which can be had in nearly any circumstance. And from interative artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer I learned that the pleasure of great art isn't isn't about information. It's about communion, about a set shared experiences. What we know depends in part on how long we can sit quietly with each other.

I've learned that poets are systems thinkers and that One Big Idea can be all consuming, if not an outright danger, because creativity and new beginnings can mean, and so often do mean, letting go of ideas.

Have a great weekend!

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee




One to One: Mining Astroengineering Talent in Eastern Kentucky

Kentucky has natural resources beyond coal in the eastern mountains. In fact, it's been mining astroengineering talent for a few years now.

In this KET video, Morehead State University Profs. Ben Malphrus and Roger McNeil talk about the work being done at the university to teach the space sciences, as well as the growing recognition it has received for its expertise in very small spacecraft.

The craft you see on the table is a full-size engineering, or non-flying, model of the Cosmic X-ray Background Nanosatellite, or CXBN, designed to characterize specific energies from the Big Bang's remnant X-ray radiation. On board the flight model is some of the world's most sophisticated X-ray detection hardware.

Spacecraft of this size are almost always boxy "cubesats," which can be mixed and matched like Legos to create satellites of various shapes and sizes. CXBN is an example of a two-unit Cubesat, or 2U. The creator of the Cubesat is professor emeritus at Stanford University, Bob Twiggs.

He's now teaching a new generation of rocket scientists in his role as a professor at Morehead State.

We'll continue to highlight videos from our friends at KET as they are released.

Stay curious.


Join us for IF @ Lunch

Seats are going fast for the January 27 Kentucky Center IF @ Lunch event! Join William Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine, to discuss his new book "Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways To Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself."

The $12 registration covers lunch.


Pic: Sunset on Mars

The sun setting over Gusev crater on Mars, snapped by the now-mired Spirit. Notice the smaller size of our star. Incredibly, you can follow the driver of Opportunity, Spirit's twin, @marsroverdriver on Twitter. Now that's a cool job! 


Image credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

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