Interstellar Medium

Collisions in the Interstellar Medium

April 13, 2012

Memories play tricks on us all, but trying to recall where I saw a particular image of a laser lightsail is driving me to distraction. The image showed a huge sail at the end of its journey, docked to some sort of space platform, and what defined it were the tears and holes in the […]

Read the full article →

Lasers: Protecting the Starship

April 12, 2012

Interesting new ideas about asteroid deflection are coming out of the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow), involving the use of lasers in coordinated satellite swarms to change an asteroid’s trajectory. This is useful work in its own right, but I also want to mention it in terms of a broader topic we often return to: How […]

Read the full article →

Starship Surfing: Ride the Bow Shock

March 21, 2012

We’ve been looking at slowing down a starship, pondering ways the interstellar medium itself might be of use, and seeing how the stellar wind produced by the destination star could slow a magsail. A large solar sail could use stellar photons, but the advantage of the magsail is that it’s going to be effective at […]

Read the full article →

Braking Against a Stellar Wind

March 19, 2012

This morning I want to pick up on the ‘problem of arrival’ theme I began writing about on Friday, and we’ll look at interstellar deceleration issues a good bit this week. But I can’t let Monday start without reference to the Icarus results from Gran Sasso that finds neutrinos traveling at precisely the speed of […]

Read the full article →

IBEX: The Heliosphere in Motion

February 1, 2012

The beauty of having spacecraft that far outlive their expected lives is that they can corroborate and supplement data coming in from much newer missions. That’s the case with our Voyager spacecraft as they continue their progress at system’s edge. The Voyagers will be moving outside the heliopause in not so many years, and when […]

Read the full article →

Voyager: Solar Wind Velocity Zero

December 14, 2010

When Voyager 2 was passing Neptune back in 1989, I stuck a video tape in the VCR and recorded the coverage — two video tapes, actually, because I wasn’t sure how much coverage there was going to be, and I didn’t want to miss anything. That meant getting up in the middle of the night […]

Read the full article →

Dust and Fast Missions

October 14, 2010

The recent debate between Jean Schneider (Paris Observatory) and Ian Crawford (University of London) is the sort of dialogue I’d like to see more of in public forums. When I began researching Centauri Dreams (the book) back in 2002, I was deeply surprised by the sheer energy flowing into interstellar flight research. True, it lacked […]

Read the full article →

Into the Interstellar Void

September 1, 2010

We often think about interstellar probes only in the context of what they find at the end of their journeys — astrobiologically interesting planets seem to be the whole story. But not so fast. As Ian Crawford (University of London) notes in a recent paper, there are quite a few fascinating — and indeed critical […]

Read the full article →

IBEX: From System’s Edge to Nearby Space

August 17, 2010

When the Project Daedalus team went to work to design a starship back in the 1970s, they contemplated using the atmosphere of Jupiter as their source for helium-3, an isotope needed in vast quantity for Daedalus’ fusion engines. More recently, though, attention has turned to the lunar surface as a possible source. Now the IBEX […]

Read the full article →

A Dusty Finish in Glasgow

April 16, 2010

I’m always sorry when a good conference like the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2010 gathering ends, even if I’m attending it ‘virtually’ from the other side of an ocean. But virtuality has its advantages, as I’m reminded by several conference attendees who have struggled with Icelandic volcano ash when trying to book flights out of the […]

Read the full article →