April 2007

Microwave Beaming: A Fast Sail to Mars

April 21, 2007

We’re at such an early stage in solar sail development that it will not be surprising if laboratory results lead us in entirely new directions. Consider James Benford’s work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he and brother Gregory experimented with an ultralight 7.5 g/m2 carbon sail to test out microwave beam concepts. If the […]

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A Brown Dwarf’s Powerful Beacon

April 20, 2007

Investigating brown dwarfs is not for the faint of heart. With a mass below what’s needed to sustain hydrogen-burning fusion, they’re hard to see, and they may be far more numerous than we’ve previously estimated. Nor do we have a good handle on how they function, to judge by a new study showing that these […]

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Building Vast Solar Sails in Space

April 19, 2007

It should come as no surprise that Eric Drexler has an interest in solar sails. Normally thought of for his contributions to nanotechnology, and especially his groundbreaking The Engines of Creation (Anchor, 1986), Drexler once discussed sail technologies in a short essay called “The Canvas of the Night.” Sails present an obvious problem — how […]

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‘Smart Dust’ for Planetary Exploration

April 18, 2007

Bringing computer networking to space exploration is a major step forward. It allows us to go beyond the old model of pointing radio dishes at a specific spacecraft and downloading information — a time-consuming process as we move from one spacecraft to another — to communicate instead with a single hub vehicle that could be […]

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Dorrit Hoffleit: An Astronomer’s Legacy

April 17, 2007

Centauri Dreams has always admired gutsy women. Dorritt Hoffleit was one of the gutsiest. She spent nearly fifty years at Yale University teaching, doing research and continuing to work in her office into her 90′s. She may have been the world’s oldest active astronomer when she died on April 9 at age 100. Here’s a […]

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Gravity Probe B: Einstein Confirmed?

April 17, 2007

Want to take a guess at what NASA’s longest running continuous research program in physics is? The answer: Gravity Probe-B. Although the satellite wasn’t launched until 2004, its origins go back to 1959, with NASA funding beginning in 1964. GP-B is a laboratory in space, one that uses four precision gyroscopes to measure two effects […]

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Dawn Mission Readies for Asteroid Belt

April 16, 2007

If you want to follow the Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta in detail, you’ll want to know about Dawn’s Early Light, the newsletter being published online to keep scientists up to date about its progress. With a launch window opening in late June, Dawn will be worth following on many fronts, not the least […]

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A Terrestrial Planet Finder That Works

April 14, 2007

Yesterday we looked at ESA’s Darwin mission, and the plan to use a fleet of space telescopes to see planets around other stars. How else could you accomplish this goal? One option is a starshade like New Worlds, working with a distant space telescope to null out glare from the star. Another is an internal […]

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ESA: Tuning Up the Darwin Mission

April 13, 2007

What on Earth (or off it) is an Optical Delay Line (ODL)? It turns out to be, according to the European Space Agency, “…a sophisticated opto-mechanical device that can introduce well-defined variations, or delays, in the optical path of a light beam…” And it’s a key player in the technique known as nulling interferometry, which […]

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Yuri’s Night To Be Observed Worldwide

April 12, 2007

April 12 is a memorable date, the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s 108-minute orbital flight in 1961. It’s also the date, some twenty years later, when NASA launched Columbia, the first Space Shuttle (and boy do I remember the trepidation of watching that one go up). Celebrating these milestones is Yuri’s Night, marked by 119 parties […]

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