March 2005

Tweaking Einstein on the Nature of Light

March 22, 2005

It makes sense to this former Midwesterner that Alan Kostelecky can compare light to waves propagating across a field of grain. After all, Kostelecky works at Indiana University, in a state where fields of grain are not so far from view. The theoretical physicist argues in research published online today in Physical Review D that […]

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Puzzling Stars in Omega Centauri

March 21, 2005

Globular clusters are vast cities of tens of thousands of stars, traditionally thought to have been formed from a single interstellar cloud at roughly the same time. But Omega Centauri is different. As viewed by Hubble, this southern cluster (15,000 light years away in the direction of the constellation Centaurus) contains two separate stellar populations. […]

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Surprise at Enceladus

March 19, 2005

How does a moon that would fit within the state boundaries of Arizona manage to hold an atmosphere? That’s the question following Cassini’s most recent flyby of Enceladus. The spacecraft found magnetic field oscillations that scientists now attribute to ionized water vapor. The odd magnetic field signature has shown up on both Cassini flybys, the […]

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On Propulsion, Dark Energy, and Humility

March 18, 2005

Exotic forms of propulsion like warp drives or journeys through wormholes often seem like pure fantasy. It was Harvard’s Edward Purcell, no stranger to the study of the cosmos through his work as a radio astronomer, who made the classic negative case: “All this stuff about traveling around the universe in space suits — except […]

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New Exoplanet Findings Promised for Next Week

March 17, 2005

NASA will announce “… major findings about planets outside our solar system…” in a press conference to be held at 1 PM EST on Wednesday March 23. NASA TV is planning to cover the event live. The new data come from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which works in the infrared and most recently made the […]

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Using Desktop PCs to Find Planets

March 17, 2005

PlanetQuest is a distributed computing project aimed at using spare computer cycles to search for extrasolar planets. The search will use the transit method, in which a planet is detected when it crosses the face of its primary as seen from Earth. That requires subjecting the data from thousand of stellar images to analysis, a […]

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Autonomy and the Hunt for Life

March 16, 2005

As our space probes go deeper into the Solar System and beyond, they’ll be required to become fully autonomous, making decisions about courses of action in space or on distant planetary surfaces. Each time we test a technology in a nearby environment, we’re building toward such autonomy. Consider the announcement that Carnegie Mellon scientists have […]

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European Space Agency Eyes Europa

March 15, 2005

With the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) on hold, NASA is talking to the European Space Agency about a possible joint mission to Europa. A BBC story reports that a prime driver for ESA is the need to use radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) on the mission, a power source with which the Europeans have little […]

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Pluto/Charon Mission Taking Shape

March 14, 2005

January 11 to February 14, 2006 marks the launch window for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. At the moment, New Horizons is in pieces, or as principal investigator Alan Stern puts it in an update on the mission, it’s in “…boards, boxes and a spacecraft bus on the cleanroom floor […]

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Finding Dark Energy in the Data

March 12, 2005

We always thought that the real impetus to the theory of ‘dark energy’ came from the discovery that the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. But an article in New Scientist points out that Allan Sandage (Carnegie Observatories, Pasadena) had studied evidence that might have led to the theory of dark energy way […]

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