August 2005

Brown Dwarfs in the Billions

August 31, 2005

Brown dwarfs are often called ‘failed stars,’ objects without enough mass to sustain the hydrogen-to-helium fusion reaction that powers the Sun. They’re dim enough that it was only in 1995 that the first brown dwarf, Gliese 229B, was discovered and the spectral classes L and T created to accomodate the category. The nearest known brown […]

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On the Evolution of Science Fiction

August 30, 2005

Is science fiction a predictive medium, or is it, as I have opined before in Centauri Dreams, a diagnostic form of writing, telling us more about the times we live in than any purported future it describes? The question is occasioned by SF writer and scholar James Gunn, whose essay “Tales from Tomorrow,” available online […]

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Barnard’s Star: A Planetary Detection Gone Wrong

August 29, 2005

The Project Daedalus starship, designed by members of the British Interplanetary Society in the 1970s, was the first full-scale attempt to work out the parameters of a realistic interstellar mission. The target of this unmanned probe was Barnard’s Star, a red dwarf some 5.9 light years from Earth. The Daedalus team leader, Alan Bond, made […]

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7th Annual NIAC Meeting in October

August 27, 2005

Among papers to be presented at the upcoming NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts meeting are several that catch the eye from an interstellar perspective: Alexey Pankine, Global Aerospace Corporation Sailing the Planets: Science from Directed Aerial Robot Explorers Constantinos Mavroidis, Northeastern University Bio-Nano-Machines for Space Applications John Slough, University of Washington The Plasma Magnet These […]

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A Stunning View of Interstellar Dust

August 27, 2005

Centauri Dreams has discussed the problem of interstellar dust for fast-moving probes before. Here the issue is highlighted in a Gemini Observatory image of NGC 6559, part of the large star-forming region in the southern constellation Sagittarius. The dark structure — Gemini likens it to a Chinese dragon — is the result of cool dust […]

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Recent Water on the Martian Surface?

August 26, 2005

It’s hard to imagine water lasting for long on today’s Martian surface. But a team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has been studying gully sites that seem to indicate water outflows from what could be a subsurface aquifer. Indeed, the team’s computer simulations show that if liquid water did emerge from underground, it could create […]

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On Expansion into the Galaxy

August 25, 2005

How much do human cultures change over cosmically tiny time frames? Specifically, how alien would we find the Sumerian outlook on life if we could immerse ourselves in it today? How foreign would the world of pre-Columbian America appear to our touchy 21st Century ethics? Would we be comfortable, or capable of, adopting the cultural […]

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Michael Brown and the 10th Planet

August 24, 2005

The New York Times offers a feature story (free registration required) on Caltech scientist Michael E. Brown, who used Palomar data to find 2003 UB313, the Kuiper Belt object thought to be larger than Pluto. Working with David Rabinowitz of Yale and Chad Trujillo of Hawaii’s Gemini Observatory, Brown is also behind the discovery of […]

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Space Elevator Competition Planned

August 24, 2005

Be aware of The Spaceward Foundation’s Elevator:2010 program, a challenge award offering a prize for the first laser-powered tether climbing demonstration that can meet specific criteria. A space elevator of the sort discussed in yesterday’s entry would send 20-ton elevator cars with about 900 cubic meters of space up a tether at 200 kilometers per […]

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Pondering the Space Elevator

August 23, 2005

It was the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who first proposed the idea of a space elevator — an incredibly strong cable stretching from the surface of the Earth to a point 100,000 kilometers in space. Along this track elevator cars would move, powered by electricity and whisking people and cargo into space at a tiny […]

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