May 2005

Microwave Beaming and the Cosmos Sail

May 31, 2005

We’re closing in on the launch of the Cosmos 1 solar sail, the first free-flying spacecraft to be powered by the momentum of solar photons. Yes, there have been deployment experiments before this, such as the Russian Znamya missions and the Japanese deployment of a thin film just last summer. But Cosmos 1 will be […]

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How to Observe a Wormhole

May 30, 2005

If wormholes exist, is it possible to observe one? A fascinating, decade-old paper argues for the possibility, based on the observed phenomenon of mass curving space, which shows up in numerous instances of gravitational lensing. Just as the image of a background object like a distant galaxy can be bent by an intervening mass to […]

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On Shielding a Starship

May 26, 2005

Just how empty is interstellar space? We know that atoms of hydrogen and helium are the primary elements found there, but widely scattered atoms of every other element also show up in greater or lesser densities, along with grains of dust that are pushed into deep space by the pressure of stellar winds. You can […]

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Voyager at the Edge

May 25, 2005

NASA is now confirming that Voyager 1 has entered the heliosheath, where the solar wind and interstellar materials begin to mix. The heliosheath is the outermost layer of the heliosphere, beyond which the spacecraft passes into interstellar space. Among the confirmatory data noted by the Voyager team: the magnetic field carried by the solar wind […]

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Microlensing Finds Distant Planet

May 24, 2005

One of the most distant planets ever discovered has been found 15,000 light years from Earth by an international team of astronomers helped by two amateurs from New Zealand. The method of discovery was gravitational microlensing, which occurs when a massive object like a star crosses in front of a star shining in the background. […]

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Webb Telescope Joins Voyagers on Endangered List

May 23, 2005

The mundane facts of finance continue to threaten our far-flung Voyager spacecraft as NASA looks for dollars to keep the missions alive. Adding further significance to the issue is the upcoming news conference on May 24, in which Voyager scientists will present information that has led them to conclude Voyager 1 has reached the heliosheath […]

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On ‘Central Projects’ for a Civilization

May 21, 2005

“The space program stands with the cathedrals and pyramids as one of the great ‘central projects’ of history, epic social feats embodying the worldview of a culture and the spirit of an age. On the launch pads, the rockets point heavenward like Gothic spires. Searchlights intersect on a waiting ship to form a great candescent […]

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Space Technology Viewing Itself

May 20, 2005

Sometimes the fuzziest image carries a sense of awe that later, far more detailed photographs do not quite convey. Such were the early photographs from the Palomar Observatory showing planetary images that forever fixed in my mind the dream of seeing these places up close; even Cassini’s extraordinary views can’t eclipse the memory of Palomar’s […]

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Is Dark Energy Real?

May 19, 2005

The expansion of the universe ought to be slowing down — gravitational attraction working on the ordinary matter of the cosmos should see to that. So evidence produced during the last eight years that the universe’s expansion seems to be speeding up continues to confound astrophysicists. To explain it, a provocative notion has been introduced: […]

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Fine-Tuning the Interstellar Lightsail

May 18, 2005

Robert Forward’s early work on the beamed-energy lightsail, exemplified by the 1984 paper “Round-trip Interstellar Travel Using Laser-Pushed Lightsails,” came to grips with the central challenges of interstellar travel. As described in a recent paper on beamed energy requirements for laser sails, these are: How to reach a nearby star within a human lifetime? How […]

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