Marcelo Gleiser

As the fox told the prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's wonderful fable The Little Prince: "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

If the fox had not been talking about love, she could have been referring to the elementary particles of matter, the building blocks of everything that exists. The poetry here is in knowing that the world is made of tiny, invisible bits of stuff that carry, in them, the story of creation itself.

On Tuesday, Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched its most ambitious rocket to date, the Falcon Heavy.

This is a transformative spacecraft, a behemoth that essentially straps three Falcon 9 rocket cores together. At 224-feet tall, it's smaller than NASA's giant Saturn V (363 feet) — but it is the largest privately built spacecraft to date. The Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting 70 tons of payload to low-Earth orbit and almost 30 tons to a geostationary transfer orbit.

If Victorians were offended by Charles Darwin's claim that we descended from monkeys, imagine their surprise if they heard that our first ancestor was much more primitive than that, a mere single-celled creature, our microbial Eve.

I'm old enough to have grown up in a household with a single rotary telephone.

I imagine that most children would not know what to do with one today. Conversely, my grandparents, if I could bring them back to life, would have had no idea of what to do with a smartphone.

Technology changes the way we live — and it also changes us.

In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay Nature: "A man is a god in ruins."

Ever since people contemplated the existence of a divine dimension — and this belief must go back to the very early stages of Homo Sapiens or even earlier — with Neanderthals, a split occurred between the human condition and the eternal.

As humans, it is our curse and our blessing to be aware of our own mortality — and to suffer with the loss of our close ones — and, in a broader sense, with the predicament of others.

To close the door on 2017, the strangest year I can remember, there's nothing more appropriate than the revelation in December from the U.S. government that it, indeed, had an office dedicated to the investigation of UFO-related phenomena.

It's enough to make X-Files and conspiracy-theory fans rejoice.

Unless you do live in a galaxy far, far away, you know episode VIII of the Star Wars saga opened last week to much anticipation.

I took my family on Saturday afternoon, making sure I didn't talk to anyone that had seen it already.

[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't watched the movie you may want to wait to read this review until you do.]

Two years ago yesterday, Dec. 12, nearly 200 countries came to a consensus that greenhouse emissions — mostly caused by the burning of fossil fuels — had to be drastically cut if we were to halt the planetary-changing consequences of a choking atmosphere.

Trial and error, experimentation, the understanding that some questions have complex answers or no answers at all, the notion that failure teaches, the acceptance that mistakes can actually guide you in the right direction, persistence in the face of difficulty: These are some of the everyday components of scientific research, accumulated wisdom that can serve us well in many walks of life — from how to face challenges as individuals to running corporations.

Last week, my 13.7 co-blogger Tania Lombrozo reported on a study she developed with graduate student Sara Gottlieb on whether science can explain the human mind.

As Tania wrote, this was a survey-based study asking the participants "whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love."

For this post-Thanksgiving week, I'd like to suggest a remarkable video produced over two decades by NASA scientists.

Satellites monitored populations of plant life on land and oceans, mapping variations of green regions of vegetation and snow cover on the North and South Poles. As seasons pass, we witness a rhythmic dance between white and green, as if the planet itself were breathing.

Since my last post was on Earth's hosting of life, it's natural to follow with a discussion of life elsewhere.

From the outset, we must state two essential facts: first, that we have no concrete evidence that intelligent aliens have ever visited our planet; and, second, that we have no evidence that there is life outside Earth, intelligent or not.

Let's look into the alien visitation question first — and leave the question of life elsewhere for another time.

Living in cities or suburbs, amid the race of everyday routine, we have little time to care about what goes on at the planetary level — or about the uniqueness of our planet.

As Europe was being torn apart in the early 17th century by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants — that would lead to the devastating Thirty Years War in 1618 — the German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote:

"When the storm rages and the shipwreck of the state threatens, we can do nothing more worthy than to sink the anchor of our peaceful studies into the ground of eternity."

Some 130 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed Earth, two dead stars in a far-away galaxy collided violently, after spiraling around each other for millions of years.

The dead stars were neutron stars, exotic objects the size of Mount Everest and with the mass of the sun. Being this small and dense, the gravitational force is fierce. Someone once compared the pull of gravity near the surface of a neutron star to having all the population of Paris tied to your feet.

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