Category Archives: astronomy

Woolly bears and northern stars

Woolly worm season is upon us. The other day I spotted one of these fuzzy caterpillars behind my car, and I moved it to avoid backing over it. Woolly worms were one of the many surprises that awaited me when I moved to Indiana. The first one I ever saw was hitching a ride on a letter I… Read More »


Given that the Mars rover Curiosity is in the news (it did not find methane in the planet’s atmosphere, contrary to earlier reports), this seems like a good time to pass along something I learned this week about the geological periods on Mars. Mars is currently not a very happening place, geologically speaking—at least in terms of big… Read More »

Relics of science past

Sometimes a name tells us about the way people used to think about something. An initial understanding or categorization may look odd or confusing in late of later findings, but a name may stick anyway because it has become so widely used. Here are a few examples from astronomy. Planetary nebulae: These were named purely for a superficial… Read More »

Naming the heavens

The International Astronomical Union announced recently that public input will be considered when names are assigned to “planetary satellites, newly discovered planets, and their host stars.” These public names will be distinct from the scientific designations, which I gather will follow the rules they always have. This seems as good a time as any to look briefly into… Read More »

Suns, moons, galaxies … earths?

One of the things I had to decide when I started this blog was how I was going to treat the word earth. Should I use earth or Earth? Do I need to use the word the? It may seem that I’m taking the geek part of the title Science Word Geek far too seriously here, but if… Read More »

Who put the meteors in meteorology?

While we’re on the subject of meteors, what have meteors got to do with meteorology? It turns out that the link between meteors and meteorology is a Greek word, meteoron, that refers to things in the air, or sky—what today we would call atmospheric phenomena. Clouds, lightning, rain, storms, wind: these are all features of the sublunary sphere… Read More »

The meteor family of words

Sometimes words that describe the natural world come in a rather confusing clump. I’m hoping to explore many of these groups of words describing interrelated or similar concepts. Because one of the best-known meteor showers, the Perseids, is peaking this weekend, let’s start with the meteor family of words. A meteor, of course, is that thin needle of… Read More »