October 2005

New Horizons Readied for Flight

October 19, 2005

With liftoff scheduled for January, the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon (and, if we are lucky, at least one flyby of a more distant Kuiper Belt object) continues to generate excitement in the scientific community. The spacecraft is now at the Kennedy Space Center and will be moved to the launch pad in […]

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A Multi-Tiered Approach to Planetary Exploration

October 18, 2005

As we saw in yesterday’s post on microbots, one of the problems of robotic exploration is that we put our equipment into relatively smooth terrain. That makes sense, given the time and cost of getting rovers to Mars, for example; what a shame it would be to see a priceless instrument package slam into a […]

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Surface Exploration by Microbot

October 17, 2005

One way to explore a planetary surface is by rover, much as we are doing now on Mars with Spirit and Opportunity. The amount of data we’ve received from these missions has been nothing short of sensational, but as we look to the future, a key problem looms: rovers can sample only small areas of […]

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Viewing Continents on Distant Worlds

October 15, 2005

It was in 1999 that former NASA administrator Dan Goldin spoke to the American Astronomical Society about what future telescopes might be able to see around distant stars. He imagined a classroom filled with images of exoplanets. “When you look on the walls, you see a dozen maps detailing the features of Earth-like planets orbiting […]

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Via Nanotechnology to the Stars

October 14, 2005

What a pleasure to discover that Robert Freitas’ Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines is now available online. The 2004 book (from Landes Bioscience of Georgetown TX) is the most comprehensive study of nanotechnology yet written, a compendium of information on self-replicating systems both proposed and experimentally studied. Moreover, it contains a survey of the historical development of […]

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Changes at Centauri Dreams

October 12, 2005

When I began the Centauri Dreams site in August of 2004, the motivation was utilitarian. I was looking for a way to keep up with ongoing research into deep space exploration, figuring it would be helpful to establish a site that followed news day by day and maintained it in a searchable archive. Centauri Dreams […]

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Life’s Origins in the Cosmos

October 12, 2005

To make life happen you need organic molecules that contain nitrogen. Now new work at NASA’s Ames Research Center, to be reported in the October 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, reveals that organic molecules found throughout the galaxy do, in fact, contain nitrogen. “Our work shows a class of compounds that is critical to […]

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Studying the Atmosphere of Terrestrial Exoplanets

October 11, 2005

Of the 161 planets so far detected around other stars, eight have been discovered by the transit method as they moved between that star and the line of sight to Earth. Such transits, effective as planet finders in themselves, are also useful because they allow scientists to study the properties of the atmospheres around these […]

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Refining the Tools for Life Detection

October 10, 2005

If you’re looking for a terrestrial analogue to one part of the Martian environment, you could do worse than the ice vents inside a frozen volcano on the Norwegian island of Svalbard. There, in a one million year old volcano called Sverrefjell, a team of researchers has found a community of microbes both living and […]

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Bright Spot on Titan Still a Mystery

October 7, 2005

What is that bright 300-mile wide patch on Xanadu, the continent-sized region on Titan, that Cassini noted last March? The area outshines everything else on the moon in long infrared wavelengths (it’s described as “…spectacularly bright at 5-micron wavelengths…”), and after considerable investigation does not appear to be a cloud, a mountain or a geologically […]

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