November 2008

Reflections on Visible Exoplanets

November 17, 2008

The images of planets around Fomalhaut and HR8799 carried more clout than I expected, with traffic to the site quadrupling when the story ran, and substantial coverage from major media outlets as well. I ran the exciting images of both stars and their companions, but because I enjoy astronomical artwork, I now want to include […]

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Science Fiction: Future Past

November 15, 2008

Be sure to have a look at New Scientist‘s special coverage of science fiction, from which this (in an article by Marcus Chown): “As well as a mere storytelling device, science fiction often articulates our present-day concerns and anxieties – paradoxically, it is often about the here and now rather than the future. As Stephen […]

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Life’s Traces in Mineral Evolution

November 14, 2008

Now here’s a comprehensive task for you. Take about a dozen primordial minerals found in interstellar dust grains and figure out what processes — physical, chemical, biological — led to the appearance of the thousands of minerals we find on our planet today. The job was undertaken by Robert Hazen and Dominic Papineau (Carnegie Institution […]

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Exoplanet Images: Two Observational Coups

November 13, 2008

Are we really moving beyond indirect detection methods to being able to produce actual images of extrasolar planets? Apparently so, as witness the first direct images of multiple planets around a normal main sequence star. And on the same day, we have the announcement of a visible light image of a Jupiter-class planet orbiting the […]

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An Inflatable Sail to the Oort Cloud

November 12, 2008

Want to get to the outer Solar System quickly? Try this on for size: Two and a half years to reach the heliopause, six and a half years to get to the Sun’s inner gravitational focus (550 AU), with arrival at the inner Oort Cloud in no more than thirty years. A spacecraft meeting those […]

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A SETI-based Look at New Horizons

November 11, 2008

Using eleven of the Allen Telescope Array’s 6.1-meter dishes, the SETI Institute and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California (Berkeley) have detected the New Horizons spacecraft on its way to Pluto/Charon. New Horizons transmits an 8.4 GHz carrier signal that showed up readily on the SETI Prelude detection system. What I hadn’t […]

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Notes & Queries 11/10/08

November 10, 2008

Larry Klaes sends along links to four of Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe’s books on panspermia, now available online. I first encountered the duo’s Evolution from Space shortly after its publication in 1981, found it curious and unlikely, and went on to other things. But the idea that a microbe might make its way between […]

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A Balloon in Titan’s Skies

November 7, 2008

The pace of change being what it is, adjusting our time frames can be a difficult task. That’s particularly true in the planning of space missions, where the gap between what we seem able to do and the actual window for doing it can become as large as it is frustrating. NASA and the European […]

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New Study: Centauri B Planets Unlikely

November 6, 2008

Roughly twenty percent of all detected exoplanets are in binary systems, intensifying our interest in Alpha Centauri. Recent work, however, has been less than encouraging to those hoping to find one or more terrestrial worlds around these stars. Indeed, Philippen Thébault (Stockholm Observatory), Francesco Marzari (University of Padova) and Hans Scholl (Observatoire de la Côte […]

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A Lunar Refuge for Early Microbes

November 5, 2008

The Moon is, for obvious reasons, rarely considered an interesting venue for astrobiology. But I’ve been looking through Joop Houtkooper’s presentation at the European Planetary Science Congress, noting his contention that some lunar craters might hold samples of life from the early Earth, and perhaps even from Mars. If the name Houtkooper rings a bell, it […]

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