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Goldilocks, red dwarfs and techno-babble

Not all astronomers are bent on coining techo-babble terms to define natural objects or phenomena, such as quasi-stellar object or stellar nucleosynthesis.

Sometimes, a fun nickname or a quaint turn-of-phrase comes along that truly excites the non scientist. How about black hole or big bang?

Compare the two Anglo-Saxon words above to their less descriptive, and certainly non-romantic scientific terms: gravitational and space-time singularities. (A little more wine, my dear?)

In the case of a quasi-stellar object, the original term used to describe a massive energetic or (radio)active galactic core was quasi-stellar radio source. (Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?)

Ah, but when a few hip astronomers started using the shortened quasar instead, regular folks like you and me took an interest; even the pop culture fell in love with the artificial word's outer limits imagery (maybe you're old enough to remember Quasar brand home electronic products?).

So, as a science writer, I enjoy it when humanity sticks up like a stubborn nail on the parquet floor of science.

Ok, now add a small family of brand new astronomical terms that has infatuated the news of late-they are "Goldilocks zone" and "Goldilocks planet", used to describe possible habitable zones and their Earthlike planets around distant stars.

While it's not clear which astronomer actually coined the term, suffice it to say he or she was clearly thinking of childhood. "Goldilocks zone" hails from English author Robert Southey's 1837 classic children's tale "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". In that sense, both scientists and news reporters are now using the term "to describe conditions that are not too hot or too cold for life as we know it."

"Goldilocks" just got a boost with media flourish last month... with the announcement of yet another possible habitable super-Earth found orbiting the 20-light-year-distant red dwarf star Gliese 581.

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