January 2007

Hubble’s Woes, JWST’s Promise

January 31, 2007

With its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, Near Infrared Camera Multi-Object Spectrograph (NICMOS), and Fine Guidance Sensors still operational, the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t exactly blind. But the loss of the Advanced Camera for Surveys would be a serious one, and the bad news is that the next servicing mission, scheduled for mid-2008, probably won’t […]

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A Close Eye on Fomalhaut

January 30, 2007

It took six years to develop the design for the ‘microshutters’ that will fly aboard the James Webb Space Telescope. They will work with its near infrared spectrograph to screen out light from foreground objects. The advantages are enormous: The Webb telescope will be able to adjust its light mask with exquisite precision, something that […]

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Hot Jupiters: The Metallicity Question

January 29, 2007

A globular cluster is a glorious thing. Consider Omega Centauri, a vast city of stars about 15,000 light years from Earth. Clusters like this one are composed of millions of Population II stars, meaning they’re among the oldest observed stars and may date back as far as twelve billion years. A result of their early […]

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First Views of 21-Lutetia

January 27, 2007

Centauri Dreams‘ view is that the more we can learn about asteroids, the better. And the interest isn’t purely scientific. One day we may have to set about nudging an approaching asteroid so as to prevent a collision with Earth, and if that day comes, we’ll need to have a plan in place that depends […]

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The Big Questions Explored

January 26, 2007

Sometimes what we don’t know is more interesting than what we do. I’m always confounded when I hear people lay out confident scenarios for the human future, each different from the next, when we’re still at a stage where we don’t even know what the universe is made of. While we’re figuring out dark matter […]

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Toward a Soft Machine

January 26, 2007

When Project Daedalus was being designed back in the 1970s, the members of the British Interplanetary Society who were working on the starship envisioned it being maintained by ‘wardens,’ robots that would keep crucial systems functional over the 50-year mission to Barnard’s Star. Invariably, that calls up images of metallic machines, stiff in construction and […]

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A Cometary Transformation

January 25, 2007

Somehow I missed Mike Brown’s recent thoughts on 2003 EL61, the oddly elongated Kuiper Belt object that’s as big as Pluto along its longest dimension. Fortunately, the BBC recently covered the story. At the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Brown (Caltech) had discussed the instability of the object’s orbit, pointing out that it is […]

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First Light for COROT

January 25, 2007

The COROT space telescope doesn’t start scientific observations until February, but the protective cover of the 30 centimeter instrument has now been opened. So far so good. A preliminary calibration exercise — using the constellation of the Unicorn near Orion — delivers data of excellent quality. This news from the European Space Agency should keep […]

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‘Light Science’ Finds Titan Jet Stream

January 25, 2007

When I interviewed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s James Lesh several years ago, he explained how space scientists could use radio signals to do science. It’s the ultimate technique for taking advantage of what’s at hand. If your spacecraft is moving behind a planet it’s investigating as seen from Earth, the changes to its signal as […]

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Tweaking the Past

January 24, 2007

It was Richard Feynman who proposed that particles like positrons — the antimatter equivalent of the electron — were actually normal particles traveling backward in time. Feynman would develop the idea with John Wheeler, and it continues to resonate with John Cramer (University of Washington), whose ‘transactional’ interpretation of quantum mechanics works with particle interactions […]

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