November 2006

Hawking: The Need for an Interstellar Mission

November 30, 2006

About to receive the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, Britain’s highest scientific award, Stephen Hawking told a BBC radio audience that if the human race were to survive, it would be necessary to go to another star. Here’s a quote from a story on this in the Daily Mail: “The long-term survival of the human race […]

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Close Pass Through a Stellar Magnetosphere

November 29, 2006

Tau Boötis, a billion year old star some 50 light years from Earth, would be a fascinating place to see up close. The star is orbited by a gas giant some 4.4 times Jupiter’s mass, one of those ‘hot Jupiters’ that close to improbably tight distances with the primary. In this case, the planet/star separation […]

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Star Mission of a Lifetime

November 28, 2006

We seem to have accepted in our time the notion that technology always moves forward. But a key factor in the Drake Equation, that long and interesting conjecture that parses the possibilities for extraterrestrial life, is the question of whether technological societies have an average lifetime. Do they invariably survive to reach the stars, or […]

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Are Other Solar Systems Like Our Own?

November 27, 2006

We’ve identified over 200 planets around other stars, but in many ways we know little about other solar systems. The problem is in extrapolating from our knowledge of one or two planets to an entire planetary system, much of which we cannot detect. Can we expect to find gas giants mixed with small terrestrial worlds […]

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Fine-Tuning Our View of Orion

November 25, 2006

It’s a gorgeous day in the mid-Atlantic states following one of the most colorful autumns in memory. Most of the leaves are down now, which gives me plenty to do. I had intended to look at the new paper from the California & Carnegie planet finder team, but the great outdoors beckons. Instead, we’ll examine […]

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Barnard’s Star and the ‘Wait Equation’

November 24, 2006

When do you decide to launch a starship? It’s a question based as much on cultural assumptions as technology. Start with the premise that we can ratchet up today’s velocities to 150 kilometers per second, roughly ten times the speed at which New Horizons will cross Pluto’s orbit. If we want to send a probe […]

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Clumpy Dark Matter in New Simulations

November 22, 2006

More on growth scenarios for interstellar flight soon. But I don’t want to let the recent dark matter news get past us, so a quick nod to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where researchers have run a powerful computer simulation to probe the dark matter halo that evidently surrounds our Milky Way. It’s […]

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Growing Our Way to Centauri

November 21, 2006

In a book so stuffed with insights and quirky oddments that it belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in interstellar flight, Carl Sagan and I.S. Shklovskii once made a stunning calculation. Their 1966 volume Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day) presents the argument that with an average annual growth rate of just […]

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An Economic Answer to the Fermi Paradox?

November 20, 2006

Those who ponder the Fermi Paradox might want to consider Myrhaf’s solution, one based on economics. If advanced technolgical civilizations really are out there, maybe they simply can’t afford to build interstellar spacecraft. Myrhaf assumes that the only realistic way to travel between the stars is via a slow generation ship, what Isaac Asimov once […]

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Between COROT and New Worlds

November 18, 2006

If we’re lucky, the COROT mission, to be launched December 21, will be the first to detect rocky planets not much larger than the Earth around other stars. We’ve looked at COROT recently, and discussed how it and the Kepler space telescope will use transit methods to find these distant worlds. But as you go […]

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