August 2009

Amino Acid Detected in Comet Debris

August 18, 2009

Chalk up another win for the ‘life is ubiquitous’ school of thought. We now know that when the Stardust spacecraft passed through the gas and dust surrounding comet Wild 2 back in 2004, it captured samples that include glycine. Living things use glycine to make proteins, which made the preliminary detection of this amino acid […]

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Hunting Asteroids (and Money)

August 17, 2009

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences points out that NASA has been tasked to locate 90 percent of the most deadly objects that could conceivably strike our planet. Yet only about a third of this assignment has been completed, and the money has yet to be found to complete the job. The […]

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STEREO: Closing on the Lagrange Points

August 14, 2009

A note the other day from astrodynamics wizard Edward Belbruno (Princeton University) has put me in mind of the ongoing study of the L4 and L5 points being conducted by the STEREO mission. STEREO is a two-spacecraft observatory designed to study solar activity, but in September and October the craft will be making their closest […]

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WASP-17b: Unusual World Bloated by Tides

August 13, 2009

Why some planets are the size they are remains something of a mystery. I’m looking at the discovery paper for a planet called WASP-17b, which is said to be twice Jupiter’s size but only half its mass. That raises questions about the mechanisms at work, for you can’t explain the bloated nature of this world […]

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In Praise of K-class Stars

August 12, 2009

When it comes to exoplanet speculations, we’re still in the era when data are few and dominated by selection effect, which is why we began by finding so many ‘hot Jupiters’ — such planets seem made to order for relatively short-term radial velocity detections. It’s a golden age for speculation, with the promise of new […]

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A Massive Extrasolar Collision

August 11, 2009

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that the early Solar System was a violent place. Mercury seems stripped of its outer crust, doubtless the result of a massive impact, while Uranus was knocked to one side at some point in its history, aligning its spin axis with the plane of the ecliptic. Venus was […]

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Titan: A ‘Fishing License’ to Broaden the Hunt for Life

August 10, 2009

An exotic planetary environment right here in the Solar System may be a useful test for answering the key question of how common life is in the universe. So argues Jonathan Lunine (University of Arizona) in an upcoming paper. Lunine believes there is a plausible case for life to form on Titan, and that if […]

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Sharp Early Returns from Kepler

August 7, 2009

Unlike the Cassini Saturn orbiter, which we looked at yesterday in the context of cryovolcanism on Titan, the Kepler spacecraft has but a single scientific instrument. It’s a photometer based on a Schmidt telescope design with a 95 cm aperture and a field of view larger than 100 square degrees. Measuring brightness variations for over […]

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Notes & Queries 8/6/09

August 6, 2009

Propulsion Book Discussion Available Give a look, and then a listen, to David Livingston’s August 3rd Space Show. Livingston talked to Tau Zero founder Marc Millis and Eric Davis (Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin) about the recently published Frontiers of Propulsion Science, calling it “the ultimate research and reference book to have for advanced […]

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Tuning Up Ion Propulsion

August 5, 2009

A story on MIT’s Technology Review site looks at ion propulsion, and specifically at improvements made in the technology at Glenn Research Center. Comparing the recent work to the engines used in the Deep Space 1 and Dawn missions, the story quotes GRC’s Michael Patterson as saying, “We made it physically bigger, but lighter, reduced […]

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