March 2007

Einstein, Updike and the Academy

March 31, 2007

John Updike reviews Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Einstein in The New Yorker, from which this excerpt on why a job in the Swiss patent office was actually a good thing for the young genius: “Had he been consigned instead to the job of an assistant to a professor,” Isaacson points out, “he might have […]

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Freeman Dyson: Reasons for Optimism

March 31, 2007

Centauri Dreams believes profoundly in what I might call ‘realistic optimism.’ While an aggressive belief in the human future can be overstated, it’s important to remember that intellectual fashions come and go, leaving many a futurist trying to explain another failed prediction. The view here is that the vast problems that face our species are […]

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Double Stars May Be Aswarm with Planets

March 30, 2007

The number of stars with possible planets keeps going up. The astronomy books I read as a kid operated under the assumption that we needed to look at Sun-like stars to find planets, and that meant single rather than double or triple systems. The tantalizingly close Alpha Centauri stars were all but ruled out because […]

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Red Dwarf Planets: Too Dry for Life?

March 29, 2007

Sometimes I imagine an ancient place where a dim sun hangs unmoving at zenith, and a race of philosophers and poets works out life’s verities under an unchanging sky. Could a place like this, on a terrestrial world orbiting an M-class red dwarf, really exist? A new paper by Jack Lissauer (NASA Ames) casts doubt […]

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Odd Hexagon at Saturn’s Pole

March 28, 2007

Shrouded in the night of a 15-year winter, Saturn’s north pole demands specialized instruments to yield its secrets. Enter Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, whose data on the region have disappointed no one. A six-sided honeycomb-shaped feature has emerged that was first found by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft over twenty years ago. […]

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Asia Emerging II

March 26, 2007

by Gregory & Elisabeth Benford We left February 17, 2007 on a considerable, month-long trip, starting with Hong Kong, where we caught the Lunar New Year Celebration (Chinese New Year). Then on to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to visit Arthur Clarke. Arthur has post polio syndrome and thus very little memory or energy. He turns 90 […]

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Asia Emerging

March 26, 2007

by Gregory Benford Centauri Dreams is pleased to present the travels of Gregory Benford, just returned from a multi-week journey that took him to Sri Lanka to see Arthur C. Clarke, around the southern Indian coast all the way to Bombay, thence to Jaipur, Delhi and finally on to Singapore. The well-known physicist and science […]

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OSIRIS: Asteroid Sample Return

March 24, 2007

A little bit of asteroid 1999 RQ36 may wind up on Earth in 2017. That’s assuming that NASA’s OSIRIS mission launches in 2011, with the aim of investigating the properties of such Earth-crossing bodies. And while an asteroid sample may help us understand much about the early Solar System, OSIRIS offers a potentially greater benefit. […]

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Enceladus Geysers Mask Saturn’s Day

March 23, 2007

What is it about Enceladus? I doubt anyone would have thought the tiny moon would weigh so heavily in our thinking about Saturn before Cassini, but now comes the news that Enceladus is distorting the planet’s magnetic field to the point that it becomes tricky to measure the length of the Saturnian day. Count the […]

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Asteroid Deflection: The Nuclear Option

March 22, 2007

NASA’s March report to Congress on deflecting Near-Earth Objects offers some startling assessments. Specifically, the report says this: “Nuclear standoff explosions are assessed to be 10-100 times more effective than the non-nuclear alternatives analyzed in this study. Other techniques involving the surface or subsurface use of nuclear explosives may be more efficient, but they run […]

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