Our retinas and brains have been wired by a hundred million years of evolution to find outlines in a visually complex landscape. This helps us to recognize prey and predators.

Frankly, I'll believe in horoscopes the day I can describe my personality to an astrologer and they tell me what date I was born.

In the four years since its launch, Kepler has chalked up 122 new and confirmed planets. It's also caught the scent of nearly three thousand additional objects, of which probably 80 percent or more will turn out to be other-worldly orbs.

The total funding of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in the U.S. is 0.0003 percent of the tax monies spent on health and human services. And it's not even tax money. The SETI Institute's hunt for signals is funded by donations.

The bottom line is that finding orphan planets - small, faint, and located who-knows-where - is not for the faint of heart. The task is comparable to observing a match flame at the distance of Pluto. The WISE satellite, a hi-tech, space-based infrared telescope especially suited for such work, has found only a few.

There's no doubt that the Moon is more than a handy night light and a hair restorer for werewolves. It's responsible for the substantial amplitude of earthly ocean tides. These are of obvious influence if you're a geoduck, a type of clam that people dig up at low tide.

Humans have existed only for the last 0.001 percent of cosmic time. All of which says that - unless the Homo sapiens brain is the one-and-only instance of cogitating machinery - nearly all the intelligence that's out there is beyond our level. And that intelligence is more than just a little bit beyond.

This plucky NASA telescope is able to find planets en masse. If you compare planet hunting to prospecting for gold, then Kepler is equivalent to trading in your trusty pan for a diesel-powered sluice box.

Astronomers still can't decide what the shape of our universe is. Is it closed and finite, which is to say, is there a countable tally of all the galaxies that exist, even beyond the ones we can see? Or is it infinite? The latter possibility is still on the table.

Our computers double in capability on time scales of only a few years. It's hardly outrageous to believe that we will successfully develop thinking machines within a handful of decades, or at most a century or two. If that happens, these artificial sentients will quickly leave us behind.

Look, science is hard, it has a reputation of being hard, and the facts are, it is hard, and that's the result of 400 years of science, right? I mean, in the 18th century, in the 18th century you could become an expert on any field of science in an afternoon by going to a library, if you could find the library, right?

Engineers are now experimenting with 4,096-line TV systems, suggesting that with the next generation of sets you'll be able to count the grass blades on the Superbowl field, an obvious lifestyle improvement.

Forecasting Armageddon has become trendy of late, with a great deal of attention being given to an interpretation of the Mayan Calendar suggesting that Mother Earth is destined for doom in December of 2012.

Certainly the history of astronomy shows that every time we thought we were special, we were wrong.

The bottom line is that the position of the Sun relative to the stars slowly changes for any given date, and over the course of 26,000 years, it can easily slide between constellations. So you may think you're a Pisces, but you're actually an Aquarius.

The Moon is a ball of left-over debris from a cosmic collision that took place more than four billion years ago. A Mars-sized asteroid - one of the countless planetesimals that were frantically churning our solar system into existence - hit the infant Earth, bequeathing it a very large natural satellite.

Clearly, unless thinking beings inevitably wipe themselves out soon after developing technology, extraterrestrial intelligence could often be millions or billions of years in advance of us. We're the galaxy's noodling newbies.

Today's voguish threats, including climate change, population growth, massive war, and resource depletion, are all amenable to a fix if we act prudently. And even if we don't, these problems are incapable of obliterating all of humanity, let alone destroying the Earth. No, the real End of Days will happen slowly, as the Sun ages.

Mars still remains the astrobiology community's number one choice for 'nearest rock with life,' but there are many researchers who argue that the moons of Jupiter are better bets. In particular, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are all thought to hide vast oceans of liquid water beneath their icy, outer skins.

The longtime standard for American TV was 525 lines from top to bottom of the image. As a practical matter, that was roughly equivalent to 350 thousand pixels - pretty crude, given that photos made with your iPhone boast five million pixels.

We can never prove that we're alone in the universe. But the Allen Telescope Array could prove that we're not.

Everything you see is filtered through your visual system (imperfect) and your brain (also imperfect, despite what your mom told you). Witness testimony is the worst kind of evidence in science.

Admittedly, it would take industrial-grade chutzpah and a massive dose of malevolence for anyone to bulldoze the spot where Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle lander. But even innocent visits could be damaging.

In general, when moviemakers talk to scientists, they usually see them as a resource to solve particular technical problems or script problems for them. So, something like: what sort of weaponry would aliens be able to wield?

Sending greeting cards to aliens is hardly a new idea. In 2005, Craigslist solicited messages for broadcast to space by a transmitter in Florida, and in 2008, NASA beamed a Beatles song to the North Star (Polaris), on the assumption that any putative Polarians would appreciate the Fab Four's 1960s-genre compositions.

Sure, our three-pound brains might be inadequate to understand the universe. But perhaps they're just good enough to build something that can.

It's easy to reckon that the oomph to hurl even a Smart Car-size spacecraft to another star at, say, 20 percent the speed of light (and land it when it arrives) is the energy contained in 50 billion gallons of gasoline. The tank's not big enough.

I studied Latin in high school, and I was reading stuff from Cicero. And that signal took a few thousand years to get to me. But I was still interested in what he had to say.

Give consideration to the fact that alien astronomers could have scrutinized Earth for more than 4 billion years without detecting any radio signals, despite the fact that our world is the poster child for habitability.

'Dating Game' wasn't social commentary, political analysis, Shakespearean-level drama or even blunt-force comedy. It was just the televised equivalent of meeting someone at a bar. But it appealed to our most basic Darwinian instinct: selecting a good mate. You can't go wrong when a show's premise is hard-wired into human DNA.

Are we the only members of the Galaxy that can actually understand what a galaxy is? Could Homo sapiens really be the pinnacle of Creation - the cleverest critters in the cosmos? If we learn the answer is 'no,' that would affect our philosophies forever.

I still remember my dismay in the summer of 2007 when - for the first time in the history of planet Earth - America's share of auto production dropped below 50 percent.

Five centuries ago, Copernicus upset humanity's applecart with the news that the Earth is not the center of the cosmos. It could be that, before you've paid off your house, we'll learn that the universe is not the center of the universe, either!

When I was a kid, which was just after Edison invented moving pictures, there were films that involved aliens coming to Earth for bad purposes.

Just knowing that there's somebody else out there - that what's happened on this planet has also happened in many other places - that might change our lives in a very subtle way, but it's interesting to know and worth looking for.

The cosmos is three times as old as Earth. During most of creation's 14 billion year history, our solar system wasn't around. Nonetheless, the early universe still had the right stuff for life, and contained worlds that were just as suitable for spawning biology and intelligence as our own.

When I graduated high school, nearly a half-million people subscribed to 'Popular Electronics' magazine. Soldering up some radio or hi-fi amplifier on the basement workbench was not just a personal passion - a lot of young people were doing the same. The magazine expired in 1999 for lack of interest.

Television is ephemeral, a fact that some will find reassuring. But earthlings will continue to pump the kilowatts into the ether. And eventually, when those signals have washed over a few hundred thousand star systems, someone may notice.

We can no better imagine what will be happening on the moon 500 years from now than Columbus could imagine contemporary Manhattan. Except to say that it will be a place familiar to billions of people.

The principal reason for the universe's poker face is that its constituents are far away. Stars careen through space, and galaxies spin at speeds thousands of times faster than a jet plane. But given their distance, you'd need the patience of Job to notice much change in their appearance or position.

Neil Armstrong was no Christopher Columbus. In most respects, he was better. Unlike the famous fifteenth century seafarer, Armstrong knew where he landed. He also spent his time in public service, not in jail, and his passing was marked by world-wide encomiums. He ended his days as a celebrated explorer rather than a royal inconvenience.

Estimates are that at least 70 per cent of all stars are accompanied by planets, and since the latter can occur in systems rather than as individuals (think of our own solar system), the number of planets in the Milky Way galaxy is of order one trillion.

Given the tendency of many to picture God's realm as somewhere high above Earth - an idea that sounds suspiciously like the Greek stories of deities perched on inaccessible mountain tops - it may seem plausible to assume that astronomers have special insight. Well, of course they don't.

By 2020, most home computers will have the computing power of a human brain. That doesn't mean that they are brains, but it means that in terms of raw processing, they can process bits as fast as a brain can. So the question is, how far behind that is the development of a machine that's as smart as we are?

Like prospecting in the 19th century, reconnaissance of the asteroids would of necessity take place in an arena where trouble is likely and help is distant. Heroic stories of individual triumph and failure, set on landscapes never seen by humankind, are in the cards.

Many people suggest using mathematics to talk to the aliens, and Dutch computer scientist Alexander Ollongren has developed an entire language (Lincos) based on this idea. But my personal opinion is that mathematics may be a hard way to describe ideas like love or democracy.

If aliens are really hanging out in our 'hood, it's hard to imagine any other fact more worthy of study. If not, then why does such a large fraction of the populace insist on believing they're here?

The ideas of science germinate in a matrix of established knowledge gained by experiment; they are not lonesome thoughts, born in a rarified realm where no researcher has ever gone before.

Diminutive worlds are more likely to be rocky, and lapped by oceans and atmospheres. In the vernacular of 'Star Trek,' these would be M-class planets: life-friendly oases where biology could begin and bumpy-faced Klingons might exist.